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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.