We’ve recently got home from a lovely holiday in Nice, in the south of France. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. But what is there to do there?
Promenade des Anglais
Nice has the most incredible long coastline, with stunning views. You can see for miles and you can walk it too, along the Promenade des Anglais, which is a 7km promenade all the way along the coast. If it feels like a British seaside promenade, that’s not surprising, because it was financed by wealthy English ex-pats in the 1800s. The Promenade des Anglais is busy all day and well into the night. There’s plenty of seating if the heat gets too much and you want to stop and enjoy the views. There’s also lots of runners (my husband and I ran along it ourselves), as well as skateboarders in the evening.
Parc de la Colline du Chateau
Or ‘castle on the hill’ as well called it. If you look up from the Promenade des Anglais, you will see a continuous stream of people swarming up and down some steep steps to the Parc de la Colline du Chateau. In the heat of the Nice sun, the steps are surprisingly tiring, but everyone seems to cope with them. You are rewarded first with a stop about halfway on what appears to be the roof of a fortress, where you get stunning views. Then carry on up (where it gets cooler and more shady) to the park, with panoramic views of the city. Then walk along to the (manmade) waterfalls, for yet more stunning views. If you don’t fancy tackling the steps, there is even a lift to take.
The beach and sea
The beach is pebbly, but still gets very busy in the day and late into the night with sunbathers and people padding and swimming. If you want to beat the crowds, get there at just after 7am, when the locals are swimming and fishing.
There are plenty of bins, very little litter and portaloos and showers dotted along the beach. Parts of it are taken over by private restaurants and bars, so you can’t walk all the way along it – you have to use the Promenade des Anglais for that!
The sea isn’t as warm as it looks, but it is warm enough and for swimming and paddling. With no discernible tide in Nice, it is also much calmer to swim in than the Cornish beaches I’m used to.
Henri Matisse, one of the most famous artists of the 20th century, spent most of his career in Nice. So it’s only right that there is a gallery dedicated to his life and works in the city. The gallery is situated about three miles out of the centre (it’s up a hill – take a bus!). Inside, are hundreds of Matisse’s works – from sketches and early works through to sculptures, paper cut-outs and some of his most famous pieces. The gallery is cool and spacious and well worth a visit.
Nice is also home to the Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, which I would have liked to visit, but two art galleries in one short holiday is enough for my kids.
Antibes is a small town along the coast from Nice. It is much smaller and quieter than Nice, but just as beautiful, in a different way. There are plenty of old French buildings to admire, then you get the other side of Antibes – the most incredible, expensive yachts you’ve ever seen. My menfolk love looking at things like this and imagining the cost and sheer luxury of them.
My favourite part of Antibes (which the others were less keen on) was the Picasso museum, housed in an old castle, where Picasso lived briefly in the 1940s. There aren’t any of his famous works there, but there are plenty of smaller paintings, sculptures, sketches and ceramics.
Antibes is less than 20 minutes by train from Nice (it cost almost €40 return for three adults and two kids).
Monaco is another short train ride from Nice. It has the highest concentration of millionaires and billionaires in the world. It is worth seeing because it feels like another world – from the lavish casinos, to the expensive shops (a Gucci children’s shop for goodness sake, who would spent that money on a child?!) and the jaw-dropping yachts. Every other car seems to be a Lamborghini, a Ferrari or a Bentley.
Promenade du Paillon
Promenade du Paillon is a relatively new city centre park. It stretches for over a kilometre through the city, more or less parallel to the Promenade des Anglais. It offers lots of wooden play equipment for kids and plenty of shade for sitting and relaxing.
Best of all are the fountains. There are over 100 water jets that shoot up out of the paving, much to the delight of the many children playing there at all hours of the day and night. It is beautiful to look at, with all the reflections in the water, and a wonderful place for children to play and cool off in the hot climate. I know my own kids would have loved it a few years ago.
There are a couple of places to do watersports along the beach. Generally you can just walk up and get started straightaway, although it is possible to book online in advance. Needless to say, the activities aren’t cheap. There’s stand up paddle boarding, banana boats, kayaking, water skiing and one of those sofas dragged behind a boat.
My daughter wanted to do parasailing. We initially said no, because of the cost, but then realised we may never have another holiday quite like this one, so we let her have a go. They were only up in the air for about seven minutes, but she will remember it forever.
We stayed at Hotel Aston La Scala, which is very well situated, close to both the Old Town and the shopping area. It is directly behind the fountains at Promenade du Paillon and a five minute walk from Promenade des Anglais and the beach.
Eating out isn’t cheap and there is limited vegetarian or vegan options available. Our two favourite places to eat were Le Felix Faure on Felix Faure Avenue, close to the Promenade du Paillon fountains, and Yummy Burger on the Rue de l’Opera, close to the sea.
These are just the things we did. There is plenty more to do in Nice. As I wrote elsewhere, it can be quite hard to get teenagers to actually do anything on holiday!