NISSA LA BELLA : A SLICE OF ITALY ON THE FRENCH RIVIERA
Under Italian rule by the Dukes of Savoy until 1860, Vieux Nice (Nice’s Old Town) is a rabbit warren of streets with interesting boutiques, Niçois restaurants and Belle Epoque buildings draped in washing lines and peeling frescoes.
Living examples of the link to Italy thrive with pasta shops and Italian restaurants scattered through the narrow alleyways, and street signs merging French language with the local Niçard dialect. Strolling through the dappled light of the old quarter’s buildings you are likely to overhear passersby say both ‘Au Revoir’ and ‘Arrivederci’ walking along the same street.
Vieux Nice : The Heartbeart of the French Riviera
Vieux Nice roughly fits inside a triangle that is bordered by Boulevard Jean Jaurès, Rue Cassini and Quai des États-Unis, with the eastern end flanked by Colline du Château (Castle Hill).
Easily accessed by tram from the far end of avenue Jean Médecin near the Nice Ville train station, or from the Quai des États-Unis beside the seafront, a stroll through Vieux Nice wraps you in a compact district that brings the best of Italy and the best of France to south-eastern France’s largest city.
Vieux Nice Highlights:
Promenade de Paillon (Coulée Verte)
The revamped green corridor alongside Boulevard Jean Jaurès that separates Vieux Nice and ‘new’ Nice is a pleasant urban park covering 12 hectares with playground equipment keeping families entertained, a large mirrored square of water fountains keeping tourists cool in warmer months, and walkways past native trees, lawns and flowers.
Surrounded by rust-red Italianate buildings, Place Masséna is the threshold of Vieux Nice. The large square is dissected by tram lines, and the impressive Fontaine Apollo guards one end. The Nice Jazz Festival is now hosted here and in the adjacent Jardin Albert 1èr and Théatre de Verdure after it moved from its former site in Cimiez in 2011.
Rue Saint François de Paule
Home to the Opéra de Nice, this street has interesting shops and galleries leading to Cours Saleya. Look for Maison Auer (7 rue Saint François de Paule) with a beautiful rococo interior that has sold candied fruits and chocolate since 1820, and Alziari at number 14 who sell olive-based products of every kind including stunning tins of the best olive oil.
Undisputedly the heartbeat of Vieux Nice, Cours Saleya hosts the famous Marché aux Fleurs splendid with fragrant blooms of every colour spilling forth under striped awnings and brought into the city from the nursery gardens across the region. The finest fruits and vegetables are available every morning except Monday when an antiques market holds court until around 5.30pm. The street is dominated by restaurants dotting the pavement with menu boards offering pissaladiere, all-you-can-eat mussels (moules), or carafes of chilled rosé that are most tempting after strolling along the busy Promenade des Anglais.
Rue de la Préfecture
For an apéritif before dinner or post-charter drinks, head here to one of the many bars for a lazy glass of wine as the sun sets over the yellow-toned buildings. If you fancy a French souvenir, drop into Maison Bestagno (17 rue de la Préfecture) who have been selling umbrellas and parasols since 1850.
One of Vieux Nice’s busiest squares, Place Rossettti is overlooked by the 17th century Cathédrale of Sainte-Réparate with its cupola of coloured Genoese tiles. Don’t miss sampling one of the iconic flavours on offer at Fenocchio; their ice cream and sorbet combinations include classics such as vanilla or chocolate as well as unusual blends of pina colada, tomato and basil, cactus or lavender.
Almost hidden on Rue Droite, is the Baroque beauty of Palais Lascaris. Drop in for a visit (entry is free) and admire the Flemish tapestries, antique furniture, ceiling frescoes and the recreation of a 19th century French pharmacy.
One of Vieux Nice’s most down-to-earth streets, start at the famous fish market at Place Saint-François before wandering the local shops selling everything from herbs and spices, to luxurious soaps and Provençal fabrics.
One of Vieux Nice’s outer squares, lively Place Garibaldi’s is bordered by Baroque buildings, alfresco cafés, and a statue of Giuseppi Garibaldi, who was responsible for unifying Italy in the late 19th century and hoped Nice would become part of Italy.
If you like oysters, don’t miss reserving a table at Café de Turin – afterwards, work off a hearty lunch by visiting the nearby Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art contemporain (MAMAC) with artworks from Andy Warhol and Niki de Saint Phalle, and the esteemed Théâtre National de Nice.
Nice Port (Port Lympia)
Surrounded by fish restaurants and the Notre-Dame du Port church at one end, Nice Port is a maritime haven where luxury yachts wait for their next charter beside working fishing boats and the car ferries to Corsica. Nearby attractions include Mont Boron, Parc Castel des Deux Rois, Colline du Château and the Musée de Terra Amata with archaeological collections.
Colline du Château (Castle Hill)
Head here for superb views of the 7 kilometre-long seafront promenade, Vieux Nice’s tiled rooftops and across the turquoise-tinted Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) to Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, France’s third busiest airport after Charles de Gaulle and Orly in Paris. If the climb up to the summit via the stairs at the eastern end of Quai des États-Unis seems too daunting, take the elevator from Tour Bellanda beside Hôtel Suisse.
A melting pot for cuisine of all kinds
Vieux Nice has an excellent range of cafés and restaurants ranging from bustling Italian eateries, to Moroccan tea houses, oyster and wine bars and pizza joints. If you’re willing to walk 10 minutes you’ll find 4 Michelin-starred establishments – Le Chantecler at Hôtel Negresco, Keisuke Matsushima, Flaveur and L’Aromate. However, special mention should be given that any visitor to Vieux Nice should try socca. Socca is a chickpea pancake cooked in a wood-fired oven and tastes delicious with a glass of the local Bellet wine from the hillside vineyards of Nice. Every Niçoise resident can debate where to find the best socca but we recommend Madame Thérésa’s stall at the Cours Saleya market where the socca is delivered from her restaurant on nearby Rue Droite to be heated and served piping hot in slices.
This article was written by Rebecca Whitlocke, who with over 10 years travel industry experience loves to share ‘must-do’ destination tips and hidden spots to discover in France and beyond.
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