Nice overview

Exuberant, Italianate Nice has an inimitable charm

Nice overview Baise des Anges - © Karl Blackwell/Time Out
By Elizbeth Winding

Its beach may be painfully pebbly, but Nice has never let such minor details stand in its way.

Pampering and palm trees

A winter retreat for pampered aristocrats in the 18th and 19th centuries, thanks to its mild climate and gift for self-promotion, it has thrived on the tourist trade ever since. Yet while visitors flock here from every corner of the globe, the city remains remarkably unfazed by all the attention. Less glossy than its counterparts along the coast, Nice has never bartered its soul to the tourist dollar.

Inland from Nice, the Arrière Pays, are a quietly delightful mini-wilderness of olive groves, pine woods, wild flowers and precariously perched villages, offering cooling summer breezes, spectacular panoramas and rustic cuisine.

The promenade des Anglais, crowned by the flamboyant Hôtel Negresco, is the city’s most famous sight, dotted with sun-drenched palm trees and flanked by the turquoise bay. Following its curve takes you to the Old Town, with its shuttered, ochre-hued buildings, pretty churches, gallery-filled alleys and busy bars.

The big clean up

Yet the city has always had a darker side, and a reputation for organised crime. ‘Avoid the region of Nice,’ Graham Greene advised his readers in 1982, describing it as ‘the preserve of some of the most criminal organisations in the South of France.’ This shady image stems in part from the financial shenanigans of its late, long-time mayor, Jacques Médecin (who ended up fleeing to Uruguay).

Yet although Nice is said to have a high crime rate, figures show it is only slightly more dangerous than Paris and less crime-ridden than Cannes or Antibes. In recent years, the Old Town has cleaned up its act considerably – although night-time festivities often lead to slurred 3am shouting matches (most of them in English), which echo along the narrow streets.

Cultural highs

Culturally, there is plenty happening here, from the summer jazz festival to the packed programme at the Opéra de Nice. The number of art galleries and museums is also dazzling – with free entry to municipal museums as of summer 2008. There’s also a year-round line-up of festivals, including the Carnaval in the run-up to Lent and the Fête des Mais in May.

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