My kind of place: The French Riviera destination is an understated city that boasts plenty of Italian influences.
Nice oozes the allure of the Azur
The Côte d'Azur's largest city is a welcome antidote to the glittering resorts of the Riviera. Vibrant, and full of colour and beauty, it's a proper working city that wears its long history lightly. Narrow lanes zigzag through the medieval old town, Vieux Nice, where tall Italian baroque buildings in shades of ochre and terracotta loom over shops and restaurants. At its heart is Cours Saleya, where a daily market squeezes into the square ringed with restaurant terraces. Towering over Vieux Nice is Castle Hill, where a free lift whisks you up to the gardens, cafes and ancient ruins that overlook the city as well as the old port farther to the east.
In the new town, stately Belle Époque buildings line the streets that branch off from the central Place Masséna, including the buzzing, pedestrianised Rue de France and its numerous restaurants. And just below is the Promenade des Anglais, the long waterfront walkway that hugs the Baie des Anges and the many beach clubs dotted along Nice's Mediterranean coast.
A comfortable bed
Even among the waterfront hotels lining the Promenade des Anglais, the Palais de la Méditerranée (www. nice.regency.hyatt.com; 0033 4 93 27 12 34) stands out in all its Art Deco glory. Recently bought by Hyatt, this elegant five-star has an indoor/outdoor pool and large contemporary rooms, many with views of the sea. Doubles start at €220.50 (Dh1,080) excluding breakfast.
The four-star La Pérouse (www.leshotelsduroy.com; 0033 4 93 62 34 63) is built into the cliff of Castle Hill, and its rooms offer sweeping views of the Baie des Anges and most of Nice. A discreet swimming pool nudges into the cliff, and the pretty Provençal-style rooms come with a balcony or a terrace. Doubles, excluding breakfast, start at €147 (Dh720).
Hotel Windsor (www.hotelwindsornice.com; 0033 4 93 88 59 35) is a living art gallery, with French artists let loose to put their distinctive stamp on the rooms. Ask for one facing the garden and the swimming pool. Doubles from €128 (Dh627), excluding breakfast.
Find your feet
Central Nice's sights are within easy strolling distance, with Vieux Nice to the east and the 19th-century newer quarter to the west. The main tourist office (www.nicetourisme.com; 0033 8 92 70 74 07) is at No 5 on the Promenade des Anglais, not far from the extraordinary confection that is the Negresco hotel. Trams and buses cost €1 (Dh5), which is handy if you want to explore the upmarket suburb of Cimiez, to the north of the centre.
Meet the locals
Place Garibaldi, on the edge of the old town, hums with cafes under the elegant arcades of the Italianate yellow and green townhouses. Café de Turin (www.cafedeturin.fr; 0033 4 93 62 29 52) has been a popular meeting place for more than a century - just the spot for an aperitif and a plate of oysters from €13.60 (Dh67). The neighbouring Serain Cappa patisserie looks deceptively plain, but serves some of the best pastries in the city.
Book a table
You can't escape the Italian influence on the cuisine. The lively Attimi on Place Masséna (www.attimi.fr; 0033 4 93 62 00 22) serves enormous plates of homemade pasta, ranging from gnocchi with pistou (the Niçois version of pesto) for €13.50 (Dh66) to a seafood spaghetti feast with clams, mussels, prawns and squid for €17.50 (Dh86). Tucked away from the Rue de France is the shaded courtyard terrace of La Maison de Marie (www.lamaisondemarie.com; 0033 4 93 82 15 93), where you can try the menu Niçois for €22.50 (Dh110), which includes lamb terrine and roasted rabbit. Chef David Faure at Aphrodite on Boulevard Dubouchage (www.restaurant-aphrodite.com; 0033 4 93 85 63 53) shows that molecular gastronomy doesn't have to be hijacked by nitrous oxide and foam on everything. Try the €40 (Dh196) menu, for starters that include foie gras with smoked sardines and a main course of tender beef that has been cooked for 14 hours.
Nice's boutiques range from the usual Provençal souvenirs to high-quality local products. Taste the superior olive oils at Oliviera (www.oliviera.com; 0033 4 93 13 06 45) in Rue du Collet before stocking up. Nearby, Maison de l'Olive (www.olivesepices.com; 0033 4 93 80 01 61) in Rue Parolière has a delectable selection of spices from around the world. The Auer chocolate shop (www.maison-auer.com; 0033 4 93 85 77 98), near the opera house in Rue St-François de Paule, has fed chocolate lovers' addictions for nearly 200 years. Head to Avenue Jean Médecin for fashion shops and the Galeries Lafayette department store (www.galerieslafayette.com; 0033 4 92 17 36 36).
What to avoid
If your flight arrives in rush hour, your taxi into the city centre could end up costing a fortune - upwards of €50 (Dh245). Instead, take the 98 bus for €4 (Dh20), which also gives you all-day travel.
Stroll through the olive groves of Cimiez, surrounding the Matisse Museum (www.musee-matisse-nice.org; 0033 4 93 81 08 08), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer. And look out for the subtle entrance to Palais Lascaris at 15 Rue Droite in Vieux Nice. This handsome Baroque townhouse is now a museum with wonderfully ornate interiors and an impressive collection of antique musical instruments. As with almost all of Nice's museums, it's free.
A return direct flight with Emirates (www.emirates.com) from Dubai to Nice takes about six and a half hours, and costs from Dh3,705 including taxes.
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