21 May 2024

Star studded: The Hyatt Regency Palais de la Mediterranee has hosted many celebrities
Revelling on the Riviera
In glamorous Nice, Andrew Martin finds that beauty and grandeur lives on in the sizzling South of France
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y wife and I have been to Nice every summer for the last five years. Why? Because it's like being on a cruise - everything's right on your doorstep, especially the sparkling sea. Anyone who climbs to the park on a hill called the Colline du Chateau, at the east end of town, will see what I mean.

From here you can watch the planes - far enough out to sea to be inaudible - as they approach the airport at the west tip of the bay on which Nice stands. Arriving passengers can board a bus that leaves from outside the terminal and skirts the sea for 20 minutes, then you're in the middle of the curve of the bay, where most of the hotels are located. This is the Promenade des Anglais, named after the Britons who launched Nice as a holiday resort - albeit a winter one - 200 years ago. You still hear a lot of English voices, and the Niçoise French are not as intimidatingly chic as the Parisians: many of the Nicoise are mature ladies with small fluffy dogs in tow.
Stroll through the medieval alleyways in Old Town
They get through a lot of the staple Niçoise drink - rosé - while basking at the seafront cafes. The city's beauty is enhanced by its backdrop of sparkling sea and hinterland of slumberous villas. The palm trees along the centre of the prom are fairy-lit at night. It is more beautiful than any British resort but the
The beautiful view from the Colline du Chateau
"The city's beauty is enhanced by its backdrop of sparkling sea."
manager of the most select hotel, Le Negresco, might be surprised to learn that its Belle Époque architecture reminds me of the Grand Hotel, Scarborough. We stay at the Hyatt Regency Palais de la Méditerranée, a couple of blocks along. The original Palais, built in 1930, was a general house of fun, with a restaurant, casino and theatre. It had deteriorated by 2000 and was rebuilt as a hotel, although the lovely art-deco façade is preserved. The Palais is glamorous, like Nice itself. Elton John, Sean Connery and Bill Gates have all stayed.

Nice stars in many films featuring beautiful people involved in shady business, including The Jewel on the Nile (Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas), Ronin (Robert de Niro and Natascha McElhone), and The Day of the Jackal (the Jackal, played by Edward Fox, naturally stays at Le Negresco). But Nice is one of the less expensive jewels on the Côte d'Azur. It does not exist solely to exploit tourists. The streets inland of the front are full of the French being French: smoking on café terraces; discussing their ailments in the numerous pharmacies.

When my wife Lisa and I ask the way to the Museum of Modern Art, nobody knows. Perhaps it is the profusion of museums and galleries that causes the confusion. Nice has more than any French city except Paris. Many are run by the municipality, and these are free. We like the ones close to the prom – partly, I admit, because we don't have to walk far in the heat. The Musée Masséna, a blessedly cool 19th-century mansion featuring many paintings of old Nice, is right on the prom, at No 35. Five minutes inland, at 33, Avenue des Baumettes, is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, formerly the residence of a Ukrainian princess. It's full of paintings even I can appreciate.
There never seems to be more than half a dozen visitors, so I pad around the elegant rooms pretending it's my house. At the westward base of the Colline is the Old Town, with its medieval alley-ways, baroque churches and the most interesting shops, including Maison Auer, at 7, Rue Saint-Francoise de Paule, which is unchanged since 1820, and sells glacé fruits.

Lisa likes the antique/bric-a-brac market held in the main square of the Old Town, the Cours Saleya, every Monday. My role is to follow her about carrying the linen napkins she buys in bulk. The square is lined with restaurants serving good Italian and Niçoise food.
Our favourite is La Favola, where you dine on a terrace under Art Nouveau street lamps. Seafood and pasta are the specialities, and everything is on a huge scale. Plates are 2ft across; the olive oil comes in a sort of petrol can. At night, the green hill of the Colline - atmospherically illuminated - soars above the old town like a vision of heaven. Immediately east of the hill lies the small harbour, where the yachts of the billionaires look somehow less brash than those in Monaco, 12 miles along the coast. I always visit Monaco when in Nice, mainly for the scenic train ride, which costs around £6 for a return ticket. In Monaco, an entry-level property costs £5million, whereas in Nice, you can buy a two-bedroom flat with sea view for a twentieth of that – my retirement dream.

Original article published in Apr 2015. All info and prices correct at time of publication.

"You still hear a lot of English voices, and the Niçoise French are not as intimidatingly chic as the Parisians."
Shopping for hidden treasures at the Cours Saleya market
The beautiful balcony view from the Hyatt Regency Palais
Dine at La Favola
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