Difference between revisions of "Nice"
Revision as of 17:45, 23 March 2009
Nice  (pronounced like the English word "niece") is a large city in France on the French Riviera. It's a popular destination for vacationers both young and old, with something to offer nearly everyone. It is well known for the beautiful view on the Promenade des Anglais, its famous waterfront, and is an ethnically diverse port city.
Its origins can be found among the Gallo-Roman ruins of Cimiez, in the hills up the boulevard de Cimiez from downtown. Cimiez also contains a monastery and some museums, but nowadays, most of the city's inhabitants live closer to sea level. Nice was part of the Italian Duchy of Savoia and then the Kingdom of Sardinia until it was ceded to France in 1860. The ancient local language is Nissart, but of course, everyone speaks French. Don't assume everyone you encounter will speak English — an effort at French will always be appreciated.
Nice Airport  (IATA: NCE) is one of the busiest in France and has frequent daily flights to Paris, and direct to most major cities in Europe, including Moscow, as well New York, Atlanta, a number of destinations in North Africa and the Middle East. The airport is located at the western end of Nice on a landfill. Arrival and departure in good weather often provides beautiful views of the French Riviera.
Most airlines use Terminal 1 (the older terminal) while Terminal 2 is used primarily by Air France (and partners) and Easyjet. There is a free shuttle bus between the terminals.
Airport to Nice — The best and most reliable way to get from the Airport to central Nice or the Nice Ville train station is the airport express buses. Take the 98 to the Nice bus station (Gare Routiere) or take the 99 to the Nice main railway station (Gare Nice Ville SNCF). Routes 98 and 99 cost just €4 and are accessible from both T1 and T2. They run every 30 minutes during the following hours: the 98 from 6AM to midnight, and the 99 from 8AM to 9PM. Pay the driver on boarding and the ticket acts as a "Pass de Jour" for unlimited travel on local buses and the tram that day. The airport website  has information and timetables for ground transportation. The cheapest connection with Nice is the local bus service 23 (Terminal 1 only), costing €1, and running between 5:30AM and 8:05PM. The journey takes about 30 minutes from T 1 to the major train station (Gare Nice Thiers).
Convenient for some destinations, there is also a small train station close to the airport (Nice St Augustin) where you can pick up a TER train eastward to Nice, Monaco and all stations to the Italian border at Ventimiglia, or west back to Antibes and Cannes. The station can be reached by foot (approx. half a kilometre) via underpasses and road-crossings, on the other side of the Arenas office complex. Be sure to take out some Euro (€) coins from the airport if you are reaching Nice St Augustin before 9AM. The ticket vending machine does not accept notes. There are note-to-coin changer machines in the airport. €10 change per person should be sufficient for any journey.
Some hotels offer shuttle buses from the airport, inquire with your hotel before or upon arrival.
If there is no transportation running, it's reassuring to know that it is quite possible to walk the six km to town or vice versa to airport, in a little over an hour. This may be a useful in the current social discontent in France, where "manifestations" (demonstrations) and "greves" (strikes) frequently affect public transportation. Recently (June-08) for example, lorry (truck) drivers created a blockade to airport to protest about rising fuel prices. It is prudent to check the local newspaper ("Nice Matin") where you will usually receive advance warning of potential problems.
Nice is connected to the rest of France via the SNCF train network. A direct TGV train from Paris to Nice takes about 6 hours, fare for an adult is about €100, and on TGVs a reservation is obligatory. The train arrives in Nice at the central station, called simply "Gare Nice Ville" (not to be confused with the stations at the city limits, Nice Riquier and Nice St Augustin).
A new service called "IdTGV"  is now available: it offers low-cost TGV ticket (starting at just €19 for a single trip between Paris and Nice). These tickets have to be bought online, and are not refundable.
The A8 autoroute is the easiest way to access Nice either from the west (Cannes, Aix-en-Provence) or from Italy. From the east take exit 50 and follow the signs for the Promenade des Anglais which takes you into Nice and is a lovely drive along the coast. Coming from the west take exit 55 and follow the signs for 'Nice centre'.
Long distance buses connect Nice with other major European cities. Eurolines, and the French LER "Lignes Express Regionaux" connect Nice with Marseille, Toulon and Aix-en-Provence at a reasonable price and acceptable three hour journey time via the motorways.
Nice is right along the coast, so you should be able to find your way easily no matter if you run on gas or let the wind help you. However, remember to contact the local port before arrival to reserve a place for your boat. Otherwise there will most likely not be room for you.
By public transport
Each main town on the French Riviera has its own local bus network, for Nice its "Lignes d'Azur" (Antibes has "Envibus", Cannes has "Bus Azur", and so on) and the 100 or more Ligne d'Azur routes are the main form of urban transport for locals going to work or school. Of more interest to tourists, an inter-urban network, the TAM (Transport Alpes-Maritimes)connects all the Eastern Riviera towns between Cannes and Menton and all the main villages like Èze and Vence. Its routes radiate from the main bus station in Nice, the (Gare Routière) in central Nice on Avenue Félix Faure near the Rue du Lycée. Bus fares are only €1, with a change to a non-return connecting service also permitted within 74 minutes, so it is worth mastering the bus system to get around.
The Ligne d'Azur and TAM routes overlap in and around Nice, so the ticket and tariff system is integrated to a common ticket zone, in which the local Ligne d'Azur tickets and passes are accepted on the longer distance TAM buses, but only between Cagnes-sur-Mer to the west, and Cap d'Ail short of Monaco to the east. The fare is identical on both networks - €1 for any distance - but with TAM you must always tell the driver your intended destination, so he can judge whether you should purchase a TAM ticket or a Lignes d'Azur. Outside the common zone, Lignes d'Azur passes are not valid and you need to pay the €1 fare in cash. In January 2009 the TAM and Lignes d'Azur will be merging, so there will be no need to know any of this stuff, as they will be rationalising the fare structures to match the single transport authority area. More mergers of the other five Riviera bus companies are on the cards, with the eventual goal of a unified bus tram and train ticket. But for now you need the knowledge.
The one exception to the €1 fare is the Airport Express bus, which has a €4 flat fare. This buys you a Ligne d'Azur all day pass into the bargain - handy if you're arriving, not as beneficial if you're leaving.
The long awaited tram line opened in November 2007, and forms a U-shaped route from Las Planas to the northeast to Pont St Michel to the northwest. Whilst it links the main train station, bus station, downtown and the university, it is basically a mass transit system designed to get workers and shoppers to the centre of Nice from the suburbs, and is not of any particular value to tourists. It uses the same tickets as the buses but you buy these from the machines at bus stops, unlike buses, where it is usual to pay the driver or show your pass on entering the bus. Another innovation is the hourly "commuter express" bus service direct to Monaco via the Autoroute, the 100Express, though visitors may still prefer the slower and more scenic 100 route along the coast.
The SNCF rail service also links all the main coastal towns, so which is the best way to get around - bus or train? The journey from Nice to say Cannes by the 200 bus at €1 is considerably cheaper than the train, which is currently over €5. Meaning that the buses are liable to dreadful overcrowding and the prospect of standing for nearly two hours as it is slow with frequent stops and many traffic lights along the route. If you're short on cash and don't mind discomfort, take the bus. If you're short on time and prefer to sit, take the train.
When taking the bus, you must be aware of the somewhat odd way the bus schedules are laid out. They list the departure time at the first bus station, not the one you are currently at (unless the two coincide, naturally). At the right hand side of the bus schedule, you have a list of stations, and next to some you will find the time listed it will take the bus to get there (+20', for example). This means that you will have to do a lot of guessing. Best ask a native and leave some extra padding time if you plan to take a bus to any scheduled event that you really do not want to miss (airport, train, concerts, etc).
You can find local bus and tram route maps and timetables online . Route maps are listed under 'Maps' and timetables as 'Timetables'. They are provided in PDF format. Also, a new service ('Stop timetables') purports to display the times at your stop. From previous experience with the bus company, those should stand somewhere between educated guesses and outright fiction, due to unpredictable road traffic conditions (like one hour traffic jams around Villeneuve Loubet).
Apart from the airport express routes 98 and 99, buses rarely run after 8 o'clock in the evening. The tram however operates from around 4:30AM to after midnight. Five nightly bus routes (called Noctambus) serve the main parts of city, from 9:10PM to 1:10AM, and TAM has also now introduced infrequent buses throughout the night on the 100 line. The night buses leave from the Station J.C. Bermond, near the bus station, and the day fares apply on these night routes. If planning a visit involving a late evening return, consider train services, which provide the most reliable form of late travel.
Nice has no metro and little need for one. The main train service is the national French railway SNCF which boasts the high speed TGV (slow to Marseilles and then very very fast on to Paris), and the local TER stopping trains which serve the main Riviera towns between Cannes and Ventimiglia across the border in Italy, including the daily commute to Monaco. Less well known is the little narrow-guage railway Chemin de Fer de Provence, which runs from Nice and has its own station two blocks north of Nice Gare Ville. It runs from Nice through the Var valley and along the Route Naploeon, three hours to Digne in Upper Provence. In summer months the latter part of the journey switches to a real steam train, the Train des Pignes (pinecones).
Best access is by car from the A8 autoroute. The airport is well signed from the A8 and the A8 well signed from the airport. Just make sure that you know which direction you need to go when getting on the A8 and which terminal when leaving, especially in the morning and evening rush hour, allow extra time to deal with accidents and traffic jams. The A8 has a ferocious bend just by the airport and accidents are frequent.
Even if it is going better today, driving a car on the Riviera is for the brave: The region has one of the worst accident records in France and every local has his or her favourite story about a mad driver. However, all major car rental firms, as well as some less well known ones such as easycar and ADA, are present. Most are located by terminal 2. If you have a choice, try to pick a car that is already well dinged so that no one notices the new dings and scratches you will add. Never forget to lock the doors of the car at all times, in order to not to tempt the carjackers.
If you can, avoid the notoriously expensive taxis, though sometimes you do not have a choice. It is not always easy to find a taxi when you need one. Most will not respond to being hailed, and only ply from a taxi rank, from where cabs take passengers in turn. Taxi-drivers have great solidarity with their fellow taxi-drivers and will not accept offers to jump a line of waiting passengers. Taxi ranks will be found outside the train station and deluxe hotels (for example outside Le Meridien at 1 Promenade des Anglais).
Taxis are registered and licenced but like anywhere, it's not unknown for one to take advantage of tourists. If possible, agree on the rate BEFORE entering the cab. If running on the meter, insist on the meter being on the whole time. Try to sit where you can see it so that you can immediately query the driver when/if it goes off "accidentally." Taxi fares within Nice should be less than €20, to Antibes €50, Monaco or Cannes approximately €70 and St Tropez €250. The airport run to Nice is a fixed tariff around €35, depending on time of day, but you may be hit for surcharges on luggage or the presence of a 4th passenger (designed to discourage cab-sharing).
Under no circumstances, anywhere or anytime, get into an unlicensed "cab". That applies doubly so at times like the Film Festival, especially if you are female and have been drinking and partying late. Not unless you want your friends to read about you in the next day's newspapers, as happened (again!) this year.
Nice is a large, sprawling city of 300,000 population (5th largest in France) with large public housing projects spreading its surrounding suburbs, but most of the tourist and historical attractions are within the centre - a radius of a twenty minute walk at the most. You will most likely be concentrating your visit within the old town and the central shopping districts, so you will not need buses, taxis, or other forms of motorised travel. Car hire is a complete liability as parking is scarce and expensive. The only downside of "by foot" is the notorious volume of "dejections canine" (that's doggie-poo to you and me) and the lack of attention to the needs of those with reduced mobility - wheelchairs - as the dropping of kerbstones is entirely haphazard.
Unless you are very experienced, travelling by scooter is not recommended. By the time the first 9 months of this year was up, according to Nice Matin, there were 16 permanently fewer scooter and motorcycle riders in the city.
By inline skating / rollerblading
There is a place you can rent skates from called Fun 'N Roll on 13, rue Cassini 06300, (slightly northwest of the port/harbor/quay), .
The Colline du Chateau overlooking the Baie des Anges and harbour offers a spectacular vantage point overlooking the city. Not much is left of its ruined castle besides crumbling walls. Still, climbing up the stairs to reach the platforms 90 metres above Nice is well worth the view. There is also an asenceur (lift) which will take you three quarters of the way up. Be aware that the castle "park" closes at around sunset. Expect to be escorted outside if you stay longer.
Nice is also known for several museums, entry to most of which (as of July 2008) is free. Some of the most famous are in Cimiez, the older, upper part of the city which in a previous century was a favourite of Queen Victoria, including:
Near the central bus terminal, there is also the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC) with four connected towers featuring modern and contemporary artists and their sculptures, paintings, and conceptual installations. Its open-air roof terraces offer one of the best panoramas of the city.
To the west, there is the Musee des Beaux-Arts housing an excellent collection of pastels and other works by Jules Cheret, among other artists.
Cliff Walk — If you go past the old port (probably 15 minute walk) heading east toward Monaco, there is a little pathway that leads from Coco Beach along the side of the cliff, the "Sentier Littoral" which you can follow around Cap de Nice half way to Villefranche, but be prepared for several thousand steps up to rejoin the road. It’s a very beautiful walk and you will find mostly local people using it.
If you go to Nice for bathing or general lounging on the beach, you may wish to think again. The beaches of Nice consist entirely of large flat stones ("gallets"). A few private beaches have added a layer of sand, but the free public beaches are a stony experience. Besides towels or mats, you should definitely bring sandals as walking on the stones can be painful, and a cushion, if you want to sit. Showers are provided (for free) on all public beaches and there is a beach volleyball area that is netted off with white sand.
Although the beaches are mainly pebbles it is important to note that many visitors enjoy the beautiful light blue sea for a swim. If you can bear to walk for few steps on the pebbles it is definitely an opportunity for swimming rather than playing in the water as the beach drops quickly and the tidal pull can be very strong, and not for beginners. Lying on the beach for a sun tan or relaxation is also manageable as long as you rearrange the rocks/pebbles to a comfy surface for sitting and lying. Private beaches offer various services from restaurants/bars to the rental of lounge chairs and towels.
Much nicer beaches exist in other towns close by, such as Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes and Cannes, which are far more sandy. Villefranche is a particularly preferred beach choice, especially if travelling with children, only twenty minutes away by the TAM 100 bus.
For views of Nice the best vantage point is the heights of Mont Boron. From the derelict old Fort and the nearby villa of Sir Elton John there are fine views over the city to the mountains and east over Villefranche and Cap Ferat.
Go to Eze. It is a small village on the way to Monaco. The village is situated on a small mountain and there is a beautiful cactus garden with a spectacular view (a must see). There is also a perfume factory which you can visit for free.
Also close by is the magnificent Villa ile de France, of the Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild, straddling the magnificent peninsula of St Jean Cap Ferrat in the so-called Golden Triangle of Villefranche, Beaulieu and Cap Ferrat.
Hiking trails emanate from La Turbie high above Monaco and the Grande Corniche, which are double the height above sea level of Eze and offer the hardened walker truly spectacular vantage points over the Riviera.
There are many schools offering courses in French. Perhaps the most reputable are Alliance Française  and EF.
Generally the Riviera is a place people come to spend money rather than earn it. Unemployment levels are high, casual work hard to come by, and as everywhere, service industry jobs tend to go to those with low wage expectations.
Sophia Antipolis is a huge office/science/tech park 20 minutes outside of Nice, which is the base for many French and multinational companies.
For those with the right qualifications and experience the luxury superyachts of Antibes International Yacht Club have spawned a major industry in crew and boat services which attracts many young English speakers. Connections are equally important as the boats often post signs to deter casual enquiries - "no day-workers required"
Financial service companies abound in Monaco which is readily commutable from Nice.
Most stores and restaurants in Nice will accept the major credit cards, as well as debit cards from major banks (anything carrying the EC or MAESTRO labels). If this fails you can always get money from any of the numerous ATM machines.
Postcards (as many other things) vary greatly in price. Do some comparison shopping as the price range is between 20 cents and €1 normal postcard.
Nice's main shopping street av Jean Medecin is home to two giant music stores, the English "Virgin" and the French FNAC. FNAC definitely has the edge as their many listening stations allow you to audition almost every CD in the house, whilst Virgin push only a few promotional selections. Both run near identical pricing policy on new albums.
Designer label garments are as everywhere notoriously expensive but general fashion goods are really cheap compared to most other European countries, and Galleries Lafayette offers a lot under one roof. If that's not enough for you, they also have a huge superstore at Cap 3000 just next to St Laurent de Var past the airport (Lignes d Azur 52 and TAM bus 200, 400 and 500, stop La Passerelle). This is also home to Galleries Lafayette Gourmand, a food superstore to rival Londons Harrods and Selfridges. The wine selection is brilliant, especially aisles full of Rose de Provence, and there are a half dozen in-store lunch-time places.
Cheap bargain fashions are best sought at Ventimiglia's huge open street market each Friday, accessible by train from Nice Gare Ville to Ventimiglia a few kilometres over the Italian border. Just avoid the tempting fake luxury brands sold by the many street sellers. The war against counterfeiting is taken very seriously by the French border police and big fines are targeted at "innocent" tourists.
The central Nice Etoiles is available for anyone pining for a visit to a shopping mall, including three floors of an old British brand not seen for twenty years that is still big in France - C&A. More nostalgia can also be found in av Jean Medecins' "Damart" - yes, the people that gave you "thermoclactic underwear" to keep you warm in Winter are also big here. About as sensible as the local "Bronzage" tanning parlours.
A cautionary note: The "duty free" shops at Nice airport terminals are the absolute worst value you will ever find and should be avoided at all costs: prices are way over those of even the high street. Food, drink and cigarettes dreadfully overpriced, and there are no bargains "before you fly". If you haven't yet kicked the habit, cigarettes in particular are best bought in Italy over the border, where taxes on smoking have not reached health promoting punitive levels.
A food called "Socca", a chickpea flat bread, is a local specialty (though not universally enjoyed), as is a tuna fish sandwich called "Pan Bagnat." Other specialties include Soupe de Poisson (Fish Soup, made with chili aioli, croutons, and grated cheese), Salade Nicoise (made with tuna), and Tourtes aux Blettes (sweet tartes made with Savoy cabbage, raisins, nuts, and powdered sugar).
Check out the daily market in the Vieux Nice for fresh, local produce. You can save a lot of money if you are willing to cook at least some of your meals yourself and if you also eat leftovers, cooking can actually save you time as well since eating at a restaurant will easily cost you one to two hours per meal.
Cheap & cheerful food in Nice is hard to come by if you don't take your time to look for it, though a baguette with different fillings range from €4-6, which is very reasonable by Nice standards.
The best deals in the centre can be found in the port area.
Old Nice and all along the sea front the prices cannot be described as budget.
However, lunch-time set menus are certainly good value, if not 'cheap' per se. €10-12 should get you two courses, often with coffee and wine, and like much of continental Europe lunches can drift happily into the afternoon.
With the hot Niçois summers, carrying a bottle of water is almost a must. Bear in mind the largest single complaint to the municipal authority tourist department is the offering in restaurants of branded water bottles whose seal has been broken - ie refilled with tap water - and charged as Perrier or Evian.
You can save a lot of money by buying alcoholic drinks and such in a normal supermarket instead of the vendors geared towards tourists. Carrefour has a huge selection and unlike the other supermarkets has a policy of buying in wine show "prize winners" distinguished by their gold, silver or bronze medal stickers.
Some popular places to go out for a drink include:
Wine in restaurants is often ferociously expensive, do as the locals and order it by the "pichet" - usually a 50 centilitre jug. If however you fancy quality appellation French wine to drink back at base, Les Caves Caprioglio at 16 Rue de la Prefecture in Vieux Nice has a fabulous cellar of the wines you usually only read about in the fine wines books but rarely see. To see French wine making, the Chateau's Bellet and Cremat in the Var are nearest to Nice and will do tours by arrangement. (Reachable via the tiny narrow-guage train from the Chemin de Fer de Provence).
There are a number of hotels within walking distance of terminal 1 of the Airport and a special hotel shuttle bus serves other hotels within Nice itself. Be aware that the hotels near the airport are a long way away from Nice center (7km) and it will take a bus journey or taxi to reach the centre. A wide range of modern and traditional French hotels is available in the town, though few in the old quarter itself, which is mainly apartments.
It would seem that the simplest solution is to stay at a youth hostel. There are quite a number in Nice :
Being a heavily touristed city, it's easy to find a number of small hotels which are perfectly acceptable, and usually at a decent rate.
Holiday palaces are numerous in Nice, there are 14 four-star hotels. The following is just a sample of the four-star offerings in Nice:
There are many holiday rentals in Nice, from a low budget to very expensive. Most of the apartments are in the town centre, others are located on the hills (a car will be required for such a rental) :
Stay in the heart of all Nice has to offer in this wonderful apartment no more than a short walk from all Nice's best attractions.
Nice is no more dangerous than other cities in western countries - indeed in many cases it's a lot safer - however, you can stay more safe still following a few pieces of advice:
If you do fall foul of Nice's criminal practitioners, the National Police Station is where you need to go to report problems such as being pickpocketed. It's at the junction of Ave Marechal Foch and Dubouchage, a couple of hundred metres east of the Nice Etoiles shopping centre. They will supply you with the necessary statements to support insurance claims, but don't expect Inspector Clouseau to solve your case. You will find the station very busy with other victims towards the end of the evening.
Its not really a personal threat but Nice is attracting organised gangs of street beggars. You will see teams of women positioned at intervals on the main streets, often with a very young child in arms and possibly a "cute" pet. Be aware that there is an element of organized crime involved with some begging schemes. Also fairly recent arrivals are numbers of amputees, the disfigured and other of life's unfortunates brought in from other countries by the gangs. Also ordinary Frenchmen for no apparent reason will also sit in a doorway with a paper cup out to appeal for loose change. The local longstanding beggars are part of street-life and as professionals, will often be accompanied by pets like cats, dogs and even rabbits. If you are so minded there are plenty of opportunities to give a little help to the less fortunate.
Holy mass in Catholic churches in vicinity to the Convention center Acropolis (Palais des Congrès et des Expositions) :
Some other Catholic churches in downtown Nice:
If you're getting out of Nice towards Paris, consider taking the TGV (approx €100, 6 hours). Cruising at 300 km/h is quite fun (but the train only reaches high speed beyond Marseille) and the train has a nice route with plenty of views of the coast. Be sure to ask for a seat on the left-hand side of the train when going west from Nice. Search online in advance to find dramatically reduced advance-purchase fares for which you can print out tickets yourself. These fares change on an hourly basis so check back often.
Some nice places just to the west of Nice include Haute de Cagnes, Antibes, Cannes and San Tropez. East of Nice the trains stops at Villefranche, Monaco and Menton, and San Remo in Italy is also just a little over one hour away. To the North of Nice in the interior of Provence, Vence and St Paul are worth a visit for their hilltop old towns and boules pitches.
Villefranche is two stops east of the main station in Nice and is a rather nice village with a small beach (and it is much less rocky than in Nice). The village is quieter and more relaxed than Nice. A train ticket from the main station in Nice is just €1.40 each way.
There are express coaches from Nice Airport to most places between Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Genoa. These are run by the Lignes Express Regionaux (LER), whose offices are next door to the main local bus station (Gare Routiere).
Eze can be reached using line 82 or 112 from the Gare Routiere (bus terminal) in Nice. (Note that the train station is in Eze-sur-Mer, which is a considerable walk from the village of Eze. There is an infrequent bus service connecting the village of Eze and Eze-sur-Mer.)
There are a number of helicopter services available with regular flights to St Tropez, Cannes and Monaco. The price is quite competitive, at only three times the taxi fare, and the views are stunning.