Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Today, in celebration of my new France guide, I’m sharing an excerpt from fabulous, popular Nice, France.
Hi, I’m Chrissie—an Aussie who arrived in Nice from Sydney seven years ago and still hasn’t managed to leave! I work in the wine industry and am newly self-employed, working on a variety of interesting wine-related projects. I spend most of my free time working on my wine blog, The Riviera Grapevine, and organizing or attending tastings.
What should first-time visitors do/see in Nice?
There are few things more synonymous with Nice than the Promenade des Anglais, so act like a local and take a long, leisurely afternoon stroll along it. It’s great for people watching and always a hive of activity.
From there, wander into Vieux Nice (old town)—a brightly colored maze of pedestrian streets overflowing with bars, restaurants, and gourmet shops. If you’re feeling fit, walk up the Collines du Château (there’s also an elevator). Once a military fortification, the château is now an expanse of green parkland with glorious views over the Vieux Nice rooftops and out to sea across the Baie des Anges.
What are some of your favorite hidden gems in and around Nice?
Even many of the locals aren’t aware of the tiny pocket of vineyards (called Bellet) that can be found in the hills of western Nice. Together, the 11 vineyards of Bellet comprise one of France’s oldest and smallest AOCs (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) and grow two grape varieties that you won’t find anywhere else in the world: Braquet and Folle Noire. It’s a definite highlight.
What are the best neighborhoods? Where should we stay?
I recommend Libération or the port. Libération is a neighborhood just north of the train station and is home to the city’s fresh produce markets. From Tuesday to Saturday, the streets are awash with locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as olive oils, jams, and spreads. A selection of little cafés and family-run restaurants offer a variety of cuisines and (if you visit at lunchtime) a great value plat du jour (plate of the day).
The port, where I live, is the area that has undergone the biggest transformation since I first arrived in Nice. The streets behind the port itself are full of the city’s hippest bars and there’s a great buzz to the area.
What are your favorite day trips?
The usual suspects—Cannes, Monaco, and Saint-Tropez—have to be experienced at least once. But to experience the real France, I’d head north into the verdant Mercantour Valley and medieval villages like Entrevaux, built on the banks of the river Var. Tackle the ascent to the dominating mountaintop fortress first and then reward yourself with a bistro lunch down in the pretty village. There’s even a charming train, Train des Pignes, that leaves from Nice’s Chemin de Fer de Provence station to take you there.
Let’s talk about hiking. What trails/paths do you recommend?
My favorite walk on a summer’s afternoon is the coastal trail that winds from Nice port around to neighboring Villefranche-sur-Mer along the Cap de Nice. A firm favorite of local fishermen, you’re literally on the water’s edge, so make sure you take your swimwear for a refreshing dip in the sea along the way. Keep in mind that the trail joins with the Basse Corniche road for a small stretch.
I also recommend walking up to Mont Boron, one of Nice’s most exclusive neighborhoods. You’ll pass some seriously impressive villas as you climb to the wooded park at the top, where trails lead off to a series of vantage points offering some of the best panoramic views on offer in the city.
What are the local specialties? What dishes should we try?
The quintessential Niçois dish is socca, a savory pancake made from chickpea flour. I love it piping hot, a little crusty on the outside, and gooey in the middle with lashings of black pepper. Another local specialty is pissaladière—a focaccia-like dough topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and an olive or two. Pan-bagnat (a crusty bread roll full of tuna, salad, egg, and anchovies) is a typical lunch treat. It’s essentially a salad Niçoise (another local dish, now famous around the world) in a sandwich. And don’t leave without trying a tourte aux blettes for dessert, a sweet treat made from the most unlikely of ingredients—Swiss chard!
The Côte d’Azur is also the home of delicious salmon-pink Provence rosé, the perfect refreshment on a summer’s after-noon. You’ll find no shortage of rosé in restaurants and bars around Nice, however for a more unique experience, look out for Vin de Bellet on the menu. As mentioned earlier, the Bellet wine region is in Nice itself and the handful of producers making wine in the hills of the city produce delicious reds, whites, and rosés.
What are your favorite bars and restaurants?
Cave de la Tour (3 Rue de la Tour in Vieux Nice) is one of my favorite spots to catch the last of the afternoon sun. It’s a real local’s bar and you can sit outside around one of the vintage wine barrels and order a bottle to share. The best selection of local wine in the city can be found here.
La Rossettisserie (8 Rue Mascoinat) offers a traditional French country bistro decor and the most succulent roasts in town, all at very reasonable prices. The cozy interior, including a cellar-like dining room downstairs, makes it perfect for winter months.
And if you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion, book a table at Restaurant Jan (12 Rue Lascaris; phone: +33 4 97 19 3223). The owner and head chef is a South African with a delicious take on modern French cuisine. It’s easily the chicest dining room in town and the presentation is stunning.
Any budget tips for us?
Sightseeing is not as expensive as you would imagine along the Côte d’Azur. A one-way bus ticket from Nice to Monaco or Cannes is only €1.50 and the coastal route both lines take is an attraction in itself.
The French Riviera has been a muse for many artists and today Nice is home to a selection of art galleries and museums devoted to their work. Entry to the Matisse Museum is free and the collection is housed in a glorious building set amongst olive groves and Roman ruins in the pretty area of Cimiez, an attraction in itself and a perfect picnic spot. Other galleries and museums, such as the Chagall Museum, offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month, as is custom all over France.
Food-wise, you can’t beat institutions like Chez Réné Socca (2 Rue Miralheti) for authentic local cuisine at great prices. Make sure one of you reserves a table whilst the other joins the queue for socca, as it’s a pretty popular spot. Grab an assortment of local specialties to share.
For the best happy hour in town, pull up a chair at a café on Place Garibaldi (also a good spot for people watching).
What’s the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Grab yourself a set of boules and find the nearest pétanque court! Watching foreigners struggle with a sport so engrained in the French culture is guaranteed to draw a few of the more chatty locals to give you tips and you can go from there. Night owls are best advised to try some of the bars along the Cours Saleya (like Les 3 Diables). In fact, even the local Irish bar, Ma Nolan’s, attracts a good mix of friendly locals and foreigners.
Where is the best place to take a photo?
Anywhere along the Promenade des Anglais on a sunny day. With the azure waters of the Mediterranean glistening as a backdrop, there’s no more iconic a Nice scene. I also recom-mend a snap or two of the brightly colored traditional fishing boats lined up in neat rows along the port.
If you visit in the winter months (December to early spring), a Nice rite of passage is a selfie from the Ferris wheel in Place Massena. As your basket reaches the top of the wheel, the views of the city are magnificent.
Any final notes for us?
The climate here is pretty special. We have hot (but not stifling) summers and mild winters. In fact, sunny December and January days are the norm and you’ll find that a glass of chilled Provence rosé is an essential companion year-round.
If you’re planning an off-season trip, don’t forget that ski resorts like Isola 2000, Auron, and Limone (Piemonte) are an easy day trip from Nice and there are local buses that serve the first two resorts.
Also, it’s worth treating yourself to a drink at one of the rooftop bars of some of Nice’s best hotels. With glorious views of the city and the sea, they are open to guests and non-guests alike, and drinks are not as pricey as you would expect. My favorites are the Hotel Aston and the B4 Park Nice.
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