Many associate Nice with all the glitz and glamour of the red carpet and the neighbouring Cannes Film Festival. But for the majority of us not on a celebrity budget, Nice will glimmer just as brightly for those looking to book a low-cost holiday.
The summer is a wonderful time to visit Nice; the old town market displays a spectacular array of colours grouped into rosy apples, plump raspberries and gangly haricot vert all piled high. The most romantic meals are often the simplest so pick up a bottle of Provence wine, pack a fresh baguette, some cheese and fruit then head to the beach. Alternatively, walk to the eastern end of the Baie des Anges where the park of the Colline du Château offers wonderful views and a waterfall. Just be prepared to hike up 100 steps in return.
Vieux is the prettiest area in Nice. Experience bursts of colour as you stumble out of the labyrinth of streets and into the Cours Saleya and flower market. The area is bustling and a cup of coffee in one of the many bars or cafes is pleasantly accompanied by people-watching. Nice only became part of France in 1860 so the Baroque influence of neighbouring Italy is still very evident in the ornate Baroque Eglise de L’Annonciation, Eglise de Jésus and the Palais Lascaris. For €3, a tour of the area starting at the Centre du Patrimone (75 quai des Etats-Unis) is an easy way to absorb the history and listen to interesting anecdotes about the city.
This is usually the most expensive factor of a holiday in this picturesque city. But there are a number of smaller charming hotels or you could even try a cheap hotel in Nice, many of which are close to the beach. You can stay in dormitories if you fancy meeting other travelers, but there is also the option to book private rooms and en-suite facilities if you prefer to be independent.
A visit to the Matisse Museum (164 av. des Arènes) will also give you the chance to explore one of Nice’s most beautiful neighbourhoods. Cimiez, was established by the Romans in the ninth century and the Franciscan monastery is still very much the attraction of the town. Visitors can admire the beautiful gardens rich in olive, magnolia and citrus trees or the wonderful collection of work by artists Louis and Antoine Bréa. The villa in which Matisse lived and worked between 1918 and 1954 is now the Matisse Museum and allows visitors to appreciate his work in situ. Entry is €5 and it is open from 10-6pm daily except Tuesdays.
A little sunbathing or a swim in the sea is usually seen as a free pastime but not in Nice. Prime seaside territory comes at a cost so for little luxuries like sunloungers, lockers and showers expect to pay a small fortune. You’ll be charged for the sun loungers, towels, parasols and you aren’t even allowed your own food or drink on the private beaches. But the cheap alternative is to use the stretches of free beaches between the 15 or so private ones. If you decide to go public, buying a tea or coffee from the private bars is usually an acceptable exchange for using their toilets. Take something a bit more padded than a towel, the pebbles can get rather uncomfortable after a few hours. You should also weigh-up which is more glamorous: walking down to the sea donning jelly shoes or hobbling barefoot?
Heading in the direction of the port along the Quai Rauba-Capeu you can peruse the hundred or so cluttered shop windows stuffed with antiques and second hand memorabilia. Most of the bistros are housed in the area’s staple ochre-colored buildings and you can watch the ferries depart for Corsica. You will find the port a little less touristy than the main promenades in Nice. There are fewer hotels since most people sleep on their luxury yachts which are fascinating to observe all lined up, shiny and busy with deck crews. The bars and restaurants are also a little more down to Earth and popular with locals.
If you continue east from the port along Boulevard Franck Pilatte you come to Cap de Nice. This rocky cape at the bottom of Mont Boron has some of the most spectacular views overlooking the Mediterranean. Follow the rocky footpath to discover tiny coves and stretches of flat rock which seem impossible to access except for a few discreet steps and railings. At the easternmost point is Coco Beach, a number of gravelly coves popular with teenagers who enjoy leaping from the rocks.
It’s easy to explore the area surrounding Nice without a car. A bus ticket will set you back just €1 if you wish to visit Cannes. You can pick up picnic provisions from Marché Forville on the Rue Forville. Another idea is to take the coastal train to the nearby seaside resort of Juan les Pines or visit the historic towns of Antibes and Ventimiglia.
Madeleine Wilson specialises in budget travel solutions and writes features for the accommodation-booking specialist HostelBookers.com
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