Oh France. The French Riviera… the Cote D’Azur… the happiest place on earth… ok, maybe not that last one, but Nice and the surrounding areas have become synonymous with some of the most gorgeous vistas, best food, and year-round amenities the world over. Not without good reason- during a recent trip there, we were treated to some truly unforgettable experiences, and we’re here to share some tips about how you can make the most of your first (or next) visit.
Mainly comprising of four major destinations- Nice, Monte Carlo, Cannes and St. Tropez, the French Riviera combines incredible seaside relaxation, day trip options that rival even the most ambitious of destinations, and cultural and historical sites dating back thousands of years. However, if we were to recommend one home base for a week or two of exploration, it would have to be Nice.
Practically smack dab in the middle of the region, the city has long been a destination for travellers and sun seekers alike. And when we say long we mean it- alongside some nearby towns (which we’ll get to later), Nice itself lays claim to the ancient settlement of Cemenulum (now known as Cimiez), which was founded in the 1st century AD and became, at the very least, a place of rest and relaxation for the Romans for hundreds of years. Seriously, you can still visit an ancient amphitheatre and thermal baths in the heart of the (now upscale) neighbourhood.
But, we mention this more as a way to set the stage for the present, not give a high school history lesson. These days, Nice is one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations, providing visitors with a wide array of activities, dining options and yes, stunning opportunities to relax beachside and take in the incredible setting.
We’ll kick things off with a little bit of culture. The city is home to a multitude of galleries and museums, ranging from the cutting edge (MAMAC) to the historical (Beaux-Arts and Villa Massena) to the, well, specific. We’ll admit we’re a little more dedicated than most, but it was very cool to hang out at the Matisse Museum, or kick back amongst some of Marc Chagall’s famed stained-glass windows. And unlike Paris or London, these are not overwhelmingly big, so it’s well worth getting yourself a citywide museum pass and picking 2 or 3 of your favourites to visit in a single day.
Moving on, the city’s cuisine is at once familiar and unique. While Nice is a French city, its history is a little more complex, with influences representing hundreds of years of Italian and other Mediterranean cultures. So yes, while it’s easy to find yourself some delicious lamb dishes or a little French onion soup, you’d be surprised at the availability (and the quality) of other cuisines, specifically those with Italian flare.
This doesn’t mean you should simply skip over the local options, though. In fact, we were surprised by the range of specialty dishes outside of a Nicoise salad, with a special shoutout going to their Tarte au Blette- a sweet tart with origins based in the abundance of Swiss Chard in the region. Would we race to order it again? Probably not, but it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting desserts we’ve ever tried.
Those seeking out some sights won’t be disappointed either. This is the French Riviera, after all, and all you have to do is walk to see that spectacular blue water, suntanned bodies, and hillside buildings that have made the region famous for decades. A word to the wise, though- while Nice’s beaches are beautiful, they are all seriously rocky.
As such, beachgoers should come prepared (with mats and more than a couple of towels for comfort), or be ready to shell out a little to make the most of the private ‘beach clubs’ that dot the water’s edge, which range from the modern (le galet) to the historic (Ruhl Plage).
Our advice though? Maybe spend a few hours in Nice’s beaches proper, but also make time to visit one of the (weirdly) rarest amenities in the French Riviera- a truly sandy beach. A mere 15 minutes away lies Villefranche-Sur-Mer, which offers a relatively low-key (and completely free) beach for you to kick back and relax at. If you’re wondering why there are so few boats parked off the coast of Nice, it’s because most of them are hanging out here (or at another spot we’ll get to in a second). The cost to visit Villefranche? About $20 CAD by Uber, or a 2 Euro bus ride. And trust us, it’s worth the trip.
While the ocean is, quite literally, right there, Nice and the surrounding areas offer a stunning range of scenery, from lush hillside gardens to dramatic mountain drives. If you want the best of both worlds, then a quick bus trip (or Uber, if you’re lazy like us) to Eze provides it in spades- the former stronghold has transformed into a beautiful hilltop town, complete with a botanical garden, providing visitors with unparalleled, 270-degree views of the beauty below. And hey, it’s also great if you want to drop a few hundred dollars on lunch at the mind-blowing Chèvre D’Or resort’s terrace, Les Remparts.
Eze has got another fun little bonus, as a factory location for one of the most famous perfumeries to come out of France- Fragonard. You won’t find them mixing the perfumes proper here, but, rest assured that even the most discerning of folks will find the birthplace of some of the most famous scents (and ingredients) on earth just a day trip away, from the lavender fields of Provence to the hillside towns of the Maritime Alps.
But back to blowing some bucks… it’s hard not to mention that Nice is less than an hour away from what is likely the most glamorous destination on earth- Monte Carlo, Monaco. Those wishing to feel like James Bond (or Molly Bloom) for a night will be right at home here, amongst the multi-million dollar cars, high fashion boutiques, and taxi fleets that start at Teslas and only go up from there. Be warned though- you could spend your entire budget in one day alone here.
Which only continues to sell to the convenience of Nice as a home base. Those looking to truly make the most of their stay will want to find a spot in the heart of the city, and it doesn’t get much more central than the 4-star Holiday Inn Nice. Walking distance from the beach, multiple museums, and some of the city’s best restaurants, it is undoubtedly the perfect blend of comfort and convenience, and your only issues will be figuring out what to do each day, instead of how to get there.
To add to the allure, the Holiday Inn Nice benefits from being a part of the global IHG brand, being part of over 6,000 destinations around the world. With the IHG One Rewards program, travellers will find themselves earning points, getting exclusive discounts, and enjoying a multitude of benefits no matter where they’re travelling.
It’s just that Nice is, well, a very nice place to start!
The author of this article was partially hosted by Holiday Inn Nice/IHG