Nice often gets overlooked in favour of neighbouring glamourpusses Cannes, Monte Carlo and St Tropez. But the Cote d’Azur’s biggest city has a slightly gritty, everyday charm that can be a blessed relief from the bling down the coast and a bourgeoning sense of reinvention. There’s a few good museums (the Musee Chagall, up on the hill above town, is a beauty and the central Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain has an amazing clutch  of works by Yves Klein), and St Paul de Vence and Grasse are close enough for an afternoon wander. Best still, it’s directly accessible by plane or train from most European cities, making for a good overnighter or weekend
destination sans car hire.

Stay: If you’re here for the beach club scene in summer, design-centric Hotel Hi will suit; the hotel proper is not waterfront but a quick stroll up the hill, with another bar on the roof. My choice is, however, Hotel La Pérouse. It’s far from hip and pushes all the Provencal décor buttons, but steers clear of fuss, has stunning views of the sea and the waterfront, a surprisingly private and quiet location given it’s just a quick stroll from the old town action, and affable, super professional service. The house tarte au citron is made with lemons from the hotel’s poolside trees; it’s that kind of place.

Eat: Many of my favourite French dishes come from the south: soupe au pistou, salad nicoise, stuffed zucchini flowers, panisse and pissaladière. These can be reproduced elsewhere pretty admirably, but soca – a chickpea flour pancake cooked on what looks like a bin lid over an open fire, then sprinkled liberally with black pepper – is something that one can only ever eat in situ. Thérésa, who has a stall in the old town’s Cours Saleya, is your woman; eat the shards greedily from their blotting paper wrap, or sit and take it slowly with a pitcher of rosé. For a smart lunch, head to Flaveur, off the tourist circuit in a pretty residential square, for local staples done with contemporary flair but no pretense.

Drink: Nicoise nightlight can frighten those of us not used to the Eurotrash onslaught. A few of the summer beach bars do transcend the tack, including the afore mentioned Hi. Any time of year, Nice’s old town does, despite the tourists, do artful grunge well. Distilleries Ideales, an airy corner pub with seating on rue de la Préfecture goes off from midday to late and the wine and cheese plates are inexpensive and bountiful. Down the road veritable Bar de la Degustation also fills up with the city’s indie kids; they’ve been pulling le pression there for well over a hundred years and aren’t’ about to get fancy on us any time soon.

Shop: If you do need some gold strappy sandals, all the big marques are represented, either lining the pretty rue Paradis or the nearby stretch of Promenade des Anglais. There’s a Bensimon and a few lowkey multi-label shops for basics along rue des Longchamp. The Gallery Lafayette here is far more manageable than its Paris big sister, and they offer the same 10% discount to non EU-residents. Other than that, hunt out one of the old town’s interesting little shops that signal the city’s cool comeback, and don’t miss the antiquarian print and book sellers around MAMAC, and the puce near the port. The market itself is small, and obviously well-combed, but has friendly dealers and the odd fascinating find. Olive provedore Alziari and the 1827 confiserie Auer, both on rue Saint-François-de-Paule are not to be missed, and while the many epiceries dealing in salt, spices and local dried herbs might be tourist traps, their fragrant wares are none the less compelling.


About Donna Wheeler

Donna Wheeler is the author of several Lonely Planet guidebooks, is a reporter for My Art Guides and the author of the upcoming Paris Precincts title for Hardie Grant. She has published on contemporary art, architecture and design, food, wine and history in a variety of publications. Travel writing follows various careers, including commissioning editor, art director, digital producer and content strategist.