Travelling to NICE, FRANCE. Shopping for the weekend by Sara Colohan (written for The Mail just as Covid hit)
Shopping, culture and the largest greenhouses in Europe – what’s not to love about Nice.
Despite the obligatory hassle with Ryanair’s confusing check-in policy (I had missed out the small print where it states you must choose Priority if you want to carry on a cabin case) I still came out on top, with a return flight from London to Nice a mere £40. Not bad considering I was gifted (unexpectedly) with incredibly warm the weather for mid February. Maybe it’s the Irish in me, but it felt like proper bikini weather so I spent most of my first day basking in the sunshine by the roof top pool of my hotel. ( Mercure Nice Centre Notre-Dame. €150 per night) Admittedly I was the only person there, but I can confirm it was 22 degrees!
Another huge plus for travelling at the start of the year, besides the joy of low off peak tourist numbers, is February is Nice Carnival time. The city is lit up beautifully at night, huge 20 foot sculptured characters are dotted around the streets and lots of staff from hotels and shops dress up in carnival themed costumes. Unfortunately this year, Corona Virus was just starting to raise its head and the French were very quick to act, cancelling the main carnival weekend.
After 2 nights in a lovely 4 star hotel, we decided to check out what a budget hotel had to offer. There were so many to choose from I was a bit bamboozled at first but settled on the one closest to everyone’s French fancy Galeries Lafayette. I decided the store would be the ideal point of reference to help with my terrible sense of direction. On short city trips, I find having a landmark reference point and everything within walking distance a great time saver. At €80 for a comfortable, spotless double room with buffet breakfast, super friendly staff, very much in the centre of things, I couldn’t complain about Best Western plus Hotel Massena. Choosing that particular location was also influenced by our restaurant choice for that night. Less than 8 minutes walk away, we chose Peixes (Rue de l’Opera), a fish restaurant by the port. It’s a fast paced, bustling little spot with seating outside and plenty of rave reviews. If you are open to new exciting ways to have fish and Seabream ceviche with pear, coconut puree and black truffle or scallops with passion fruit and avocado puree sound like combinations that excite you then book well in advance and enjoy. We certainly did.
One of the first shops I visited was our glamorous neighbour Galeries Lafayette. Sorry to start on a bit of a downer but I was disappointed with it’s lack of interesting French brands. It carried many of the usual suspects and of course if you are a fan of Saint Lauren and Chloe and my favourite French jeweler Agatha then it won’t be a wasted visit.
To be honest, I didn’t find much shopping joy on the major streets of Nice except for Monoprix, the local supermarket. I actually love visiting a well tended Monoprix to discover cool beauty brands (they are very big on cruelty free products at the moment) and to admire their incredible displays of fresh fruit and veg and stock up on some healthy supplies for my day. The flagship Nice Sephora is not the most exciting branch by a long shot, and the main shopping center, Nice Etolle on Rue Jean Medecin didn’t shine bright either. With just a quick visit to the Kusmi Tea shop (a fantastic Parisian brand) to stock up on my spiced chocolate tea supplies I was back out on the main strip again. I am a trainer fiend, so Nine ( 9 Avenue Jean Médecin) is the place to ogle the coolest trainers in Nice. No 33 Avenue Jean Medecin is home to the picture postcard Le Grand Café de Lyon where I always like to have a pit stop coffee and people watch. But like a lot of shopping cities that have been infiltrated by Zara and H&M, it’s the smaller side streets that yield the gold. Mooch onto Rue Longchamp and check out French brands Hotel Particulier and next door the wonderful ba&sh. Rue Marechal Joffre had a few interesting boutiques including the lesser known French brand Cotelac.
The Old Town is definitely more for the culture follower. For €10 I got a 24 hour pass for 11 different museums and palaces including Muse d’art Modern, Matisse Museum, and Lascaris Palace. (Purchased at the ticket desk of Palace Lascaris). Easy walking distance for the relatively fit, you could set aside a day to do everything on the list. Feeling extra sporty you could Climb Castle Hill in Nice (Colline du Château) if you can handle the 92m high stomp. It dominates the city and divides the seaside part of Nice into two parts: the eastern part with the port, and the western part including Old town. This is where you’ll get the most recognizable tourist style photos of Nice.
I was disappointed I didn’t get time to visit Parc Phoenix, not least because of its familiar sounding name! Unlike it’s Irish namesake, Parc Phoenix in Nice is home to one of the largest greenhouses in all of Europe and they advise setting aside enough time to explore the different zones which feature a wide variety of flowers, plants and trees. For those who prefer fauna over flora, there are plenty of animals to check out while you’re here, including iguanas, turtles, otters and even flamingos!
I’d also suggest anyone visiting Nice to consider setting some time aside to travel outside the city. Mougins, Grasse and Antibes are all wonderful spots for people watching, sea walks, swimming with some surprising shopping gems too. Also in February there’s the acclaimed Fête du Citron in Menton (sadly it was also cancelled this year due to the virus outbreak) and all are just a short drive away. So grab the wheel of your left hand drive and go explore!