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Nice is the biggest city on France's glorious Cote D'Azur and the second most-visited French destination after Paris. With its intriguing old town, fabulous shops and stylish inhabitants, Nice provides the perfect springboard to sample the French Riviera.
The French Riviera stretches 80 miles along France's Mediterranean coast and is home to some of the world's most sophisticated resorts, such as Cap d'Antibes and St Tropez, as well as the small but very chic principality of Monaco, where America's darling, Grace Kelly, was a fairytale princess.
Grace certainly wasn't the first celebrity to fall in love on -- and with -- the French Riviera. In the 19th century the region played host to Queen Victoria and her son, King Edward VII, and was a favourite haunt of the Rothschilds.
Later visitor lists read like a who's who of the 20th and 21st centuries. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and Aldous Huxley were all Riviera fans; more recent celebrities including Elton John have bought homes in this spectacular part of the world, which effortlessly retains its reputation as a magnet for the mega-rich of all nationalities.
The Cote d'Azur Economic Development Agency reckons that every year, the coast attracts at least half of the world's superyachts, while an estimated 90 percent of all superyachts visit it at least once. But despite its reputation as the playground of the beaux monde, there is also a very down-to-earth aspect to the Cote d'Azur.
Many residents zip about on local buses or low-priced trains; sleepy medieval villages perched precariously on the side of mountains are full of craft shops selling locally-made soaps, scented candles and other goodies at perfectly affordable prices. And in harborfront cafes, you can gaze at gleaming mega-yachts while tucking into a cheap-and-cheerful croque-monsieur, salad Nicoise or steak-frites.
Nice is bordered by Provence to the west, the Alps to the north and Italy to the east and epitomizes this blend of starry glamour with "all comers welcome" pragmatism. It's easy to explore on foot, has some excellent street markets and is an excellent -- and surprisingly affordable -- place in which to spend a few days at the top or tail end of a Mediterranean cruise.
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Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence (Livorno) • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malta (Valletta) • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Positano (Amalfi) • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Saint-Tropez • Sardinia • Sete • Seville (Cadiz) • Sorrento • Taormina (Messina) • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
In a place this sophisticated -- and the country which is home to fine cognac -- it has to be a Brandy Alexander, a smooth-as-silk combination of cognac, crème de cacao, cream and grated nutmeg.
The sunny, lavender-rich, Riviera is the heartland of the French perfume industry so locally-blended scents, room fragrances and soap are all good buys.
Foodies back home will appreciate pretty bags of herbes du Provence or bottles of locally-produced olive oil and les grand vins du France always go down well.
Vieux Nice, the old town located around Cours Saleya, is the Riviera's largest open-air shopping arcade, with more than 600 shops and boutiques and a great place to browse for souvenirs and gifts.
While English is widely spoken and understood -- particularly at main tourist attractions – do not assume everyone speaks it. Many taxi drivers, waiters and shopkeepers speak only French, so it's worth taking a phrase book or language app along.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the euro (for the latest exchange rate, visit oanda.com or xe.com).
There are plenty of banks with ATM machines and exchange bureaux in Nice and at the airport, railway and bus stations. Major credit cards are also widely (but not universally) accepted. Carry some cash just in case.
Note also that France applies VAT (Value Added Tax) to most goods and services, currently at the rate of 20 percent, which adds a hefty surcharge to restaurant and shopping bills.
As a tourist, you can claim a tax refund on any goods bought for deportation, so keep all receipts and be prepared to present them -- possibly with proof that you are taking the goods out of the country -- at a VAT refund station. You'll find these at airports, railway stations with international links and most tourist offices.
Where You're Docked
Some (smaller) cruise ships dock at the Port of Nice on the Quai du Commerce pier, about a half-hour walk away from the city centre. Others anchor in neighboring Villefranche Bay and tender passengers ashore into the delightful little port of Villefranche-sur-Mer. This is worth exploring in its own right but is also a short (and regular) train journey from Nice.
Conventional and fast-ferry operations to Corsica also operate from Nice.
Port facilities include a tourist information office, bureaux de change, toilets and a taxi rank. (NOTE: all taxis are metered and drivers are obliged to display their rates on a card. Before setting off, check that the correct rate is being applied and that the meter is on).
On foot: Pick up a local map at one of the many tourist info offices and kiosks and head off on foot. A simple stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, with occasional detours to roam the winding streets of Nice Old Town and sip coffee, citron presse or pastis at one of the many streetwalk cafes, is a delight.
By car: You can hire a Mini or small Peugot from Nice Airport and zip around the Riviera and the Cote. All major car rentals companies are represented in Nice, including Hertz, Europcar and Avis.
NOTE: Check whether your rental car runs on diesel or gas -- confuse the two and you could end up with a big repair bill. Ensure, too, that you have the right licence to drive in France. Your regular license is fine if you come from an EU country but travelers from outside the EU need an International Driving License. French law dictates that all drivers must be over 18; all car travelers (front and rear) must wear seat belts (where fitted) and children under 10 cannot travel in the front seats.
By bus: If you're spending a few days in Nice and don't want the hassle of driving (and more particularly, parking), exploring the Riviera by bus is a good idea as local services, run by various companies including Lignes d'Azur and Autobus de Monaco are frequent and affordable.
The Sunbus (Tel: +33 (0)4-9313-5313) is the city's most popular public transport; services run from Station Centrale, on General Leclerc Square, to Nice Ville railway station and Vieux Nice. Single trip tickets are available. You can also buy a one or five-day pass. Routes 8, 9 and 11 run along the Promenade des Anglais and all buses heading down Avenue Jean Medecin from the Nice-Ville railway station go to the centre of Nice, Place Massena (which is also the hub of the city's tram network).
To get from Nice to Monaco by bus costs about the same as by train. To go further afield, head for Nice's central bus station on Boulevard Jean Jaures, as services run from here along the Mediterranean coast to Cannes, Menton and other resorts. (For information call +33 (0)4-9385-6181)
By train: The SNCF railway station (Gare Nice-Ville) is on Avenue Thiers, roughly 10 minutes' walk from the Port of Nice. Frequent services run eastwards to Monaco and Menton, or westwards to Juan-les-Pins, Cannes, Antibes and other Riviera destinations. There are also fast (TGV) services to major French and Italian cities, including Paris, Marseilles and Rome.
By bike: Nice is heaven for cyclists as the city has an ever-growing network of bike routes, including one running the length of the Promenade des Anglais. Bike hire (pedal powered and otherwise) is a growing sector of the local economy.
Options include Elite Rent a Bike (21 rue de Rivoli, Tel. 33(0)4 93 81 09 41) and HOLIDAY BIKES (23 rue de Belgique, Tel. : (0)4 93 16 01 62 ). Both rent out motorbikes, scooters and buggies as well as bicycles, Be prepared to pay a hefty deposit -- anything up to E4,000 -- for a top-end machine.
Other: Roller Station (49 quai des Etats-Unis, Tel 33(0)4 93 62 99 05) rents out roller skates as well as pushbikes, so is a good option for the fit and the family-oriented.
Watch Out For
Heavy traffic. Take care crossing the busy roads
Thieves. The Riviera is a wealthy area and attracts a criminal element known for their boldness in breaking into cars and even opening the passenger doors of cars in transit to snatch bags from the front seat. Lock all valuables out of sight and keep passenger doors locked when traveling. And always keep an eye on your bags when using public transport.
A stroll along the famous Promenade des Anglais, a seven-kilometre stretch of palm-lined boulevard with glorious Belle Epoque buildings on one side, the magnificent Bay of Angels on the other and the winding streets and red roofed 17th and 18th century houses of Vieux Nice only footsteps away.
A look inside the fabulous Negresco Hotel, the Promenade's most famous building, which has been the haunt of the royal, wealthy and famous since 1913 and houses a magnificent 6,000-piece art collection. If you have time, have a drink in the lovely walnut-paneled Le Relais bar, which hosts Jazz and Latin music evenings on most nights of the week.
A wander around Nice's Cimiez Quarter, a largely residential district just up the hill from the Nice Ville station (take the number 15 bus from Place Massena). Here you'll find some glorious Belle Epoque houses, the remains of a Roman bath and an ancient amphitheatre. There's also the Monastere de Cimiez, a 17th century Franciscan Monastery with pretty gardens, and two must-see museums for art lovers: the Matisse Museum, featuring much of his work, is set in a 17th century Italian villa (164 Avenue des Arenes de Cimiez; 33 4 93 81 0808; Wednesday to Monday, except public holidays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.); and the Musée Marc Chagall (Avenue Docteur Ménard; 33 4 93 53 87 20; Wednesday to Monday, except public holidays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November to April; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May to October).
A visit to the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, a must-do for those who like to remain au fait with the art scene; it features work by artists from the 1960s to present day, including works by Andy Warhol. (Promenade des Arts; +33 4 97 13 42 01; Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except public holidays. +33 4 97 13 42).
A chance to view the sumptuous Baroque interiors of the Palais Lascaris, a gorgeous 17th century palace turned music museum, with a collection of 500 instruments. (5 Rue Droite; +33 4 93 62 72 40; Wednesday to Monday 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. except public holidays.)
A walk around Vieux Nice and particularly the lively food and flower market around Cours Saleya (open 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for food, and until 5:30 p.m. for flowers) On Mondays, there's an antiques/flea market instead (7.30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.).
TIP: The French Riviera Pass (24 hours, 48 hours and 72 hours) is worth investing in, as it combines some sightseeing bus tours with entrance to many top attractions in Nice and other Riviera destinations. You can buy one at any local tourist office.
Closest to Port: Kyriad Nice Port Hotel. Clean, simple and inexpensive. Flots d'Azur has a great location and is very sweet. Request rooms on the upper floors if view matters.
On a Shoestring: Hotel L' Oasis. Anton Chekhov wrote some of "Three Sisters" here and Lenin came to stay in 1911. Centrally located in nice with clean, well-looked after rooms. Hotel Balmoral in Monte Carlo also offers fabulous bang for your buck.
Total Splurge: Hotel Negresco offers beck and call service across from the sea in Nice. The Carlton in Cannes for sunning among the Gucci, Prada, Dior, oh my! Hotel Byblos for Hollywood hipsters who love things covered in ornate, yet tasteful glitz and clubbing at Caves du Roy. Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo because it's a lavish retreat with a lovely spa.
Been There, Done That
Get all starry-eyed in Cannes. Even when the famous film festival's not in town, this place has charm by the bucketful. For more details, read our Cannes Port Profile.
Step back in time at some of the beautiful medieval towns and villages which stud the foothills behind the Riviera, like Eze, a gorgeous jumble of stone houses, tumbling fountains and dappled squares. You must climb a steep hill to enjoy its fragrant and colorful Jardin Exotique but it is worth it to take in breathtaking views of the Mediterranean. Menton, which lies near Monaco and about a mile from the Italian border, is also worth visiting, not least for its cosy cafes and fragrant boulangeries. Artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau was a great fan of Menton and the town has returned the compliment by dedicating a museum to him (; Open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except on Tuesdays and some public holidays 2 Dock Monleon / 33 (0) 4 89 81 52 50). 13th Century St. Paul-de-Vence is another jewel: its shop-lined main street runs the length of the village, and near the main gate (La Porte Royale) you'll find the cemetery where the artist Chagall is buried.
Follow your nose to Grasse, perfume capital of the world since the 16th century. It lies, appropriately enough, amid purple lavender fields and meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. Queen Victoria loved Grasse so much she spent several winters here at the grand home of the Rothschild family. You'll fall in love with it too, after a stroll round its atmospheric 17th century Old Town and a look around the 10th to 17th century Notre Dame de Puy Cathedral, which contains three paintings by Reubens. If you've time, do visit the Perfume Museum; it charts the 3,000-year history of perfume and holds many fascinating antiques, including Marie Antoinette's valise. (8, Place de Cours; Open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m except Tuesdays and public holidays.)
A trip to Monte Carlo shouldn't break the bank, as it's only a short bus hop from Nice. For must-sees, check out Cruise Critic's guide to Monaco.
France is the home of wonderful food and the Riviera is no exception. Another plus of this sunny region is that its cuisine features plenty of healthy Mediterranean Diet options like Salade Nicoise; ratatouille (vegetable stew, fabulous with crusty bread and red wine); mussels poached in white wine, fish soup and stuffed sardines.
Only slightly less healthy and very delicious local specialities are Pissaladiere (onion tart with anchovy filets and black olives) and Socca (a flatbread made from chickpea flour and drizzled with olive oil). After all that healthy food finish your meal with cherry or chocolate-filled crepes flambeed in Grand Marnier, and some delicious local cheeses like Banon, a goats cheese from Northern Provence which is wrapped in chestnut leaves.
TIP: If you love French cheese so much you want to take some home and have time to visit Cannes, make a bee-line for Fromagerie Ceneri (22 Rue Meynadier / 33 4 93 39 63 68 /). House specialities include truffle brie, calvados camembert and goats cheese with basil.
Good for Star Spotting; La Petite Maison in the Old Town is known as a celebrity hang-out; locals say Elton John and Beyonce have both been spotted there. Pricey but with a good reputation for food (especially fish dishes). (11 rue Saint Francois de Paule; 04.93.92.59.59; Open daily, noon to 3 p.m and 7:30 p.m. to midnight.)
Good for Romantics: Le Grand Balcon (virtually opposite La Petite Maison) has warm and cosy decor, fine artwork on the walls, a library area at the rear and some fine French dishes featuring truffles. (10 Rue Saint Francois de Paule; Res 04.93.62.60.74; Open daily, noon to midnight, except Christmas Day.)
Cheap & Cheerful: Check out the indoor/outdoor restaurants which run along the Cours Saleya, near the market.
Closest to Port: If you just want a convenient overnight pre or post cruise, Kyriad Nice Port Hotel is a good choice as it is clean, inexpensive and well located near the port, walking distance from the railway station and Old Nice. It also offers free Wi-fi. (6 Rue du Pin Place / 33 4 93 55 80 00)
Best on a Budget: Hotel L'Oasis. This former Russian guesthouse in Nice's picturesque Musicians District, halfway between Nice railway station and the Promenade des Anglais and a 10-minute walk from the beach, played host to Lenin and Chekhov (who visited regularly between 1897 and 1903 and wrote part of The Three Sisters here. It's now a charming three star hotel (23 Rue Gounod; 33 4 93 88 1229.)
Total Splurge: Hotel Negresco (as mentioned) is the grandest hotel in Nice; The Carlton (now owned by Intercontinental and at 58, La Croisette/33 (0) 4 93 06 40 06) is its equivalent in Cannes, while Monte Carlo's Hotel Hermitage is also splendid and has a great spa. (Square Beaumarchais, 98000 Monaco; Tel 377 98 06 40 00.).
Staying in Touch
Nice is well served with internet cafes and wifi spots. Options include:
Stay Connecting (20 Avenues of the California / Tel 0493 445 235 ). Open Monday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., closed Sunday.
Internet Access ( 2 Magenta / Tel 0493 822 969). Open daily in summer from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Monday through Saturday in winter from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Cyber point (10 Avenues Felix Faure/ Tel 0493 927 063) Open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Best for Quick Overview: Monte Carlo, Eze and La Turbie. These four-hour tours visit Eze, the Fragonard perfume factory and another hill village, La Turbie, which is famous for its Roman monument built by the Emperor Augustus. It's also well known for its scenic landscape and as the place where Princess Grace suffered her fatal car accident. The tour then goes to Monte Carlo for a look at the Royal Palace, Cathedral and Casino Square, followed by a drive along part of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit en route back to the ship.
Best for In-Depth; The French Riviera. This full-day tour encompasses the sights above, plus includes a stop in Antibes (famed for its beautiful harbour and picturesque Old Town) and Cannes (for a drive along la Croisette and a stop at the Film Festival Palace). The tour then goes to Saint Paul de Vence, where you get about an hour's free time, and finishes with a whirlwind tour of Monte Carlo before returning to Nice.
Best for Foodies: Provencal Market Visit and Cooking Class. This full day tour takes you to Vieux Nice where you'll join a French chef for coffee and then accompany him on a shopping trip through the markets of the Cours Saleya, picking up hints and tips as you go on how to source the best produce. Then it's off to a local cooking school for a day's training course which starts with a flower syrup tasting and ends -- if all goes to plan -- with you whipping up a spectacular main course and pudding to universal acclaim. You and your fellow chefs then get to tuck into all the goodies.
Best for Active Types: Hike St. Jean Cap Ferrat. This four-hour tour takes you to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, which lies on a peninsula between Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche, for a spectacular walk around the Cap through a pine forest and along the Maurice Rouvier trail which links Cap Ferrat to Beaulieu.
For More Information
On the Web: NIce Tourism
Cruise Critic Message Boards: France ports
~ updated by Maria Harding, Cruise Critic contributor