Hemmed in with the Alps on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, Nice, the capital of the Riviera has it all. Nice is one of the most romantic cities in France, people come here for warmth, culture, sumptuous Mediterranean food, and the beauty of the French Riviera. If you haven’t been to the Mediterranean coast before, then you should try Nice for a romantic long weekend break.
Nice has a reputation for glamour and beauty, a paradise for holidaymakers seeking glitz and sun on the dreamy French Riviera. But Nice, France’s fifth largest city is just as magical in the winter months which make it a hotspot for that long weekend break at any time of the year.
Nice has the most gorgeous expansive beaches on the Mediterranean coast with pedestrian walkways – great for relaxing and taking in the dreamy atmosphere. And, if you’re a serious food lover, you’re in for a treat. Not only does the city exude romance, it is also full of little restaurants and cafes specializing in Provencal specialties, the fresh tasteful and unique flavors of the Mediterranean.
If this is your first time in the city, one of the first things you’ll want is an overview of the Nice before you explore. Le Petit Train de Nice is an ideal way to take in the sites and get your bearings for what you want to visit later. The one hour train ride is good value especially as you get a fair amount of information of the city in the language of your choice.
Once you’ve done, that walking is by far the best way to get to know the real Nice and observe the locals. You could also rent a bike using the self-service bike rental system called the Vélo Bleu: with 34 kilometers of cycle paths and 1,200 bicycles it’s a great way to visit the city.
The Old Town
A walking tour of Nice’s old town called in French Vieux Nice, a typical Mediterranean atmosphere should be top of your list. This is Nice’s oldest district, the heart of the city with winding streets, colorful buildings, bars, boutiques and a plethora of restaurants. The outdoor market in the central area the Cours Saleya is always full of life.
Go to this pedestrian-only street in the morning to enjoy the bustling food market. Open from Tuesday to Sunday this is where you can stock up on Mediterranean goodies such as spices, olives, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables. The hustle and bustle start as early as 6.30 in the morning, we are after all in France where food is a way of life.
This market makes you want to get involved, to indulge your senses – you suddenly want to touch, to buy, and to cook – it’s the perfect venue for all your presents as well as your picnics – fresh bread, charcuterie, cheese, and fruit are all here.
Go to the Old Town in the evening for a long leisurely dinner. There are some cool restaurants at the Cours Saleya, the perfect place for a romantic evening out while indulging in French and Mediterranean cuisine.
Promenade des Anglais
The Promenade des Anglais is so-called because it was created by the English who used to come here for their holidays in the 18th century.
The locals call the Promenade des Anglais La Prom; it’s one of the most talked-about walkways in the world. Running parallel to 7 kilometers or so of beach front, the Nicois, (the people who live here) come for here for their daily or Sunday stroll. You can walk, cycle, jog, and skate: you can also people watch or just sit and admire the deep blue Mediterranean Sea in one of the iconic blue chairs, a symbol of Nice. It doesn’t matter what time you choose to go to the Promenade des Anglais, the show continues well into the evening, a perfect venue also for catching the evening sunset.
Castle Hill Park (Parc du Chateau)
Although the little train stops at Castle Hill for fifteen minutes you will most likely want a bit more time at this historic site.
Climb up to Castle Hill if you’re feeling energetic or take the lift for truly magnificent views of the city of Nice with the red rooftops and the fantastic views of the coastline and beyond – the views are stunning in both directions and at any time of the day.
The large fortified castle built to defend the city of Nice no longer exists, it was dismantled in 1706, but it’s worth spending a couple of hours checking out the landscaped park, the artificial waterfall, and the ancient ruins. Castle Hill is very popular in the summer, great for a picnic and a cool place to escape the heat.
Museums to visit in Nice
Another top destination especially if you are an art lover is visiting these two significant museums in the city.
The Free Musée Matisse
Noted for his colorful work, the twentieth-century painter and sculpture Henri Matisse once declared he “wanted his work to be one of balance and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.”
The artist found what he was looking for in Nice. Matisse was born in the north of France but came to Nice in 1916 and spent around 37 years in and around the city. Recognized as one of France’s most classic artists; Matisse is known for the development of Fauvism, an avant-garde modern artistic style.
The three-story 17th Century Matisse Museum, free to visitor is a must if you are familiar with the artist or curious to admire his artwork, and to study how he experimented with different styles. Interestingly, Matisse was not always a painter but had studied to be a lawyer, a job which he later described as boring.
While you’re at the museum be sure to check out the ruins of the Roman amphitheater not far from the museum.
The Chagall Museum
Also in the area is the National Marc Chagall Museum one of the largest collection of the Russian born artist including some very large murals which he designed and painted for the museum. Marc Chagall who lived close to Nice for the last 38 years of his life designed and inaugurated the museum himself.
A lot of Chagall’s work was inspired by biblical books such as the principal attraction at the museum – 12 large paintings depicting scenes from the Old Testament. The artist is also known for his work on stained glass windows in churches: some of these are also on display in the amphitheater.
You can visit these two museums on the same day.
Food and Drink
What makes food from the sun-drenched South of France so different? The short answer is that the food here is unpretentious and uncomplicated.
Vegetables thrive in this warm Mediterranean climate: the native herbs are aromatic, and the olive oil is superb. It is this combination that makes the cuisine so colorful, flavorful, savory, and healthy. Here are some typical dishes to try during your short break:
Socca a fast food delight
Act like a local and try this sizzling hot chickpeas crepe for a snack or light lunch. Socca is an irresistible specialty of Nice, a street food, that’s not expensive, and healthy. Vendors make the thin oven-baked savory pancake on the spot and hand it to you in a napkin perfect for having on the go. Order a portion, sprinkle some black pepper and share with your partner.
Nice is the city of origin for this classic crisp salad one. You’ve probably heard the controversy as to what should go into a traditional Salade Niçoise – tuna or anchovies or should you have both. Should you include potatoes? When it was first invented Salad Niçoise consisted of just a few ready and cheap vegetables put together; today you’ll find this salad in almost every restaurant in Nice.
The word Aïoli refers to a basic garlic-flavored mayonnaise. The crushed garlic and olive oil combination is what makes aïoli different to regular mayonnaise.
Aïoli, the dish, however, is a Mediterranean specialty of fish and seafood served with lots of steamed vegetables dipped in this wonderful fragrant garlic mayonnaise.
Nice isn’t just famous for Salade Niçoise, aïoli, and Socca, there’s so much more mouth-watering Mediterranean food specialties to discover.
What to drink?
Ice cold Provencal Rosé wine is the obvious choice here in the South of France. Traditional Provencal wine is both delicious and affordable; it’s the all-occasion wine, some Rosé wine you will find robust, some are light. Rosé wine comes in a range of colors and textures, but remember Rosé wine is not sweet.
Nice is a popular resort destination, it is after all the largest city on the Riviera, but there’s so much more to see in this magical Mediterranean region. A long weekend is not enough for the adventurous tourist: there are so many enticing day trips around Nice all waiting to be explored. The incredibly vivid and beautiful landscape of the mysterious Mediterranean has inspired and continues to inspire artists over the years.
As the French painter Matisse puts it:
“When I realized that every morning I would see this light again, I couldn’t believe my luck.