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No visit to the south of France would be complete without at least a quick dip. The locals are unlikely to go in the sea except at the height of summer (other times of the year are considered too cold) but if you’re used to swimming in colder water (in England, for example), then the water is wonderful from about March until sometimes as late as November. Find a private beach to hire a lounger in relative comfort with waiter service or choose a more natural (but maybe more crowded) public beach. Don’t forget the suntan lotion.
Socca is the local dish, made of chickpeas and cooked in the same way as crepes. It’s eaten in the same way as a pancake – as a healthier alternative to fast food – rolled up and wrapped in paper. It’s a great way to fill up, while you wander around the town looking for your next meal. Socca booths are all over town, but especially at Nice’s flower market on every day of the week but Monday (before 1.30pm for food).
The south of France has long been known and loved for its grapes. This is rosé wine territory, although the locals might think it a huge “faux pas” to continue drinking it through winter, when most switch to red (or at least white) wine. Head to Coco et Rico to try the local wines (organic available) behind the Promenade des Anglais.
Nothing will make you feel more special than heading up to eat lunch or dinner on the top of one of the hotels along the Promenade des Anglais. Lounge by the pools and then mooch over to your (pre-reserved) table on the balcony, overlooking the thousands of people on the Prom below. If you want to blow the budget, try Le Chantecler, the two-star Michelin restaurant at the kooky Hotel Negresco. Try the 3e restaurant at the Hyatt Regency for a fine dining experience but where the waiters are a little less formal. Or maybe try the poolside lounge restaurant, La Terrasse, at Le Méridien, where you can get a burger cooked to perfection (albeit still not cheap). It’s worth a drink in one of them at least, if not just to get the exclusive sensation of being on top of the world.
Many painters like Picasso, Van Gogh and Cézanne have flocked to the region because of its clear skies and magic light. Matisse and Chagall made Nice their home for large periods of their life and the Musée Matisse and Musée Chagall are only a Boulevard apart (about a 15-minute walk).
Musée Matisse, 164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, Nice, +33 (0)4 93 81 08 08
Opening hours: Mon, Wed–Sun (closed Tues). 10am–6pm (June 23–Oct 15). 11am–6pm (Jan 2–Jan 22/Oct 16–Dec 31). Closed January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1, December 25.
Musée Chagall, 36 Avenue Dr Ménard, 06000 Nice, +33 (0)4 93 53 87 20
Opening hours: Mon, Wed–Sun (closed Tues). 10am–5pm (Nov–Apr). 11am–6pm (May–Oct). Closed January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1, December 25.
Jazz came to the region in the 1920s, brought over by American expats who came to live on the Côte D’Azur, to write or paint or party. Many of them, like F Scott Fitzgerald, hired big houses along the coast where they held ostentatious parties and invited famous US jazz bands to play. Nowadays, you can continue the tradition by visiting many local jazz bars and clubs, visiting during the Jazz festival (July) or having lunch at one of the big hotels that used to be second home to these people who called themselves the “Lost Generation”, such as the Hotel du Cap or the Hotel Belles Rives in nearby Juans-les-Pins. (Fitzgerald wrote at the Belles Rives and used the Hotel du Cap as inspiration for his books).
The Nice Jazz Festival, Nice
Hotel du Cap, Boulevard JF Kennedy, Nice +33 (0)4 93 61 39 01
Hotel Belles Rives, Juan-les-Pins +33 (0)4 93 61 02 79
Every February, thousands of people descend on Nice for the annual celebration that traditionally comes before lent (when everyone is supposed to eat up all the fattening things in their cupboards before fasting). Join in the festivities, processions, pageants, flower battles and craziness by dressing up (fancy dress isn’t obligatory but it is encouraged). Book well in advance on the website and read our guide to the carnival here.