Since being declared a Unesco World Heritage site, Nice is having a renaissance
You’ve been to Nice. But have you stayed there? France’s fifth-largest city is often seen as a gateway to the Cote d’Azur. People fly in and head straight to Cannes or St Tropez without actually noticing that Nice is a fascinating and beautiful place in its own right. At least, they used to. This is changing now, partly since UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage site in 2021, and partly because of a resurgence of luxury places to stay, creating a new buzz around the city. Nice is having a renaissance.
But it’s always been glamorous. Just take a look at the architecture, which defines the city into two halves, the old town and the new town. The old town was originally Italian, and the city’s history shows hundreds of years of changing allegiances. Italian was traditionally the first language here, and the old town’s architecture shares more with the Ligurian tradition than the French. The Italian border is less than 20 miles away, and present-day Nice owes much to its Italian heritage.
We’re staying at the newly renovated Anantara Plaza Hotel – formerly the Plaza and before that the Hotel de France. It opened in 1848 to entertain Europe’s travelling aristocrats and was renamed the Plaza at some point in its thriving career. Fate led to it being abandoned in the 21st century before being entirely gutted and modernised by the Thai hotel group. Centrally located and a stone’s throw from the Promenade des Anglais and the sparkling Mediterranean, it’s a fabulous spot.
Our room has a sea view and large balcony from which to enjoy it – and you can admire the sea from the impressive rooftop restaurant too. It’s run by Portuguese celebrity chef Olivier da Costa and attracts non-residents from all over the region for showstopping fusion food that’s heavy on lobster, truffles and sushi, all served with dry ice, woodsmoke and other theatricalities. The bar offers cocktails themed on a world tour with concoctions for every region, including a bourbon-based Socca Sour inspired by a Nicoise chickpea delicacy.
The hotel is embarking on a busy first season and prides itself on details: every room is equipped with a realistic-looking signature edible pebble, for instance, which nobody would consider biting into unwarned. It also claims to be the only hotel in the world to offer separate monsier and madame shower gels. Make of that what you will.
The Nicoise are proud of their food culture, and the city’s Italian influence gives rise to a street food culture that’s unknown elsewhere in France. Eating on the street, outside of regular mealtimes, is not part of French culture, and remains unacceptable in most places other than Nice. Here, the Italian tradition allows – encourages, even – eating in the street and Nice’s busy market offers a host of local snacks to enjoy. There’s Socca, for instance, a chickpea flatbread eaten freshly scraped from the hotplate – it’s delicious – along with the inevitable pissaladière, an oniony, anchovy tart eaten in small slices at seemingly every opportunity. Another local speciality is tourte de blettes, a sweet cake made – improbably – with Swiss chard and pine nuts, sweetened with raisins. We tour the market sampling everything and admiring the vast selection of flowers and healthy-looking produce, all of it plumper and shinier than our British vegetables. Our lovely local guide, Sylvie, points out Henri Matisse’s former home overlooking the market square, and takes us to an ice cream shop where unlikely flavours include olive, jasmine and beer (also: tourte de blettes).
Nice claims more than 300 sunny days a year, with very little rainfall and mild winters, so it’s a lovely place to visit any time. The Promenade des Anglais is a wide beachfront strip, blessed with a long cycle path and lots of easy-to-hire Velo Bleu, so it’s easy to pedal off for an afternoon before returning to a relaxing treatment at the Anantara Plaza spa. At sunset it’s time for a drink on the rooftop terrace – don’t miss the Piscine – swimming pool – which is a vast balloon glass filled with ice cubes and Provencal rose. That’s life in Nice.
Rates start from €350 (£308) for a deluxe city
view room including breakfast for two people;