My inappropriate and unseasonal choice of footwear had left me with very soggy feet. Squelching through the alleyways, I was dodging puddles and ducking under awnings, as I weaved my way back to my hotel in Old Town Nice. Despite the rain and the now ruined ballet pumps I was living the ‘belle vie’. With a baguette under my arm and Camembert in my bag, I raced up the wonky stairs of my hotel in a restored convent and couldn’t have felt more content.
The charming hotel Villa La Tour sits precisely on the edge of Old Town Nice. From my leafy terrace I could peer to my right into the cobbled alleys and shuttered windows of the historic Old Town buildings, and crane my head round to catch sight of the new tram system and Museum of Modern Art (MAMAC) on my left. For two sweet evenings a lilac floral room on the top floor became my home. The lack of a lift was forgotten as I studied the murals on the walls lining the stairs and being close to the rooftop terrace with views of the city clock tower was a bonus. Over breakfast (muesli, yoghurt, fresh pastries and boiled eggs) the owner told me a bit more about the furniture in reception. The vintage bar, coffee table and reception desk became even more charming upon hearing how they had been in the owners family for years; the former being previously discarded by relatives only to turn up in the arms of a builder working on the hotel many years later.
Exploring the alleyways of the Old Town it seems they are a haven of patisseries, boulangeries and artist workshops. At all hours of the day there appeared to a queue of conversing locals spilling out of the butchers and onto the streets. The narrow alleys abruptly expand into squares containing clusters of vendors – fish or vegetable markets. On the Cours Saleya the cobbles were covered with colourful stalls of flowers and food, the edges of the area lined with diners on heated patios. On a Monday the flower and vegetable vendors have a rest and their stalls are replaced with antique dealers selling vintage treasures ranging from furniture to Chanel handbags.
The quality of light in the Cote D’Azur attracts artists from around the world and on Rue Droit you can view some of the resident artists’ workshops and galleries. On the edge of the Old Town is MAMAC where you can find works including American Minimalism and Pop Art from the likes of Warhol, Bem and Niki de Saint Phalle. Entrance is free of charge and the exhibitions are well worth a visit.
Works of art are dotted around Nice city, a project which celebrates the new tram system. In Place Massena, the wide chequer-board-like paved square which bridges the Old Town with the new, torsos representing the 7 continents sit on columns and are lit in various colours. The city was preparing for Carnival during my visit – one of the world’s largest events of this type – which will involve parades through the centre of town. The ultimate place to take in this scenery is from Attimi; a modern, ‘slow food’ Italian restaurant that has developed its own sumptuous form of pizza and offers views over the square. The Attimi pizza is cooked in house in front of your eyes. The base is a cross between foccacia and a sweet thin crust filled with crescenza cheese. For the topping I chose Parma ham, tomato and basil and it did not disappoint – it was simply superb!
There is a huge Italian influence over the food in Nice – the city was once an Italian dominion and many residents have Italian roots. At Oliviera I sampled more amazing Italian cuisine, this time with the addition of exotic flavours of olive oil. Naseem who owns Oliviera is a fan, collector and vendor of unique olive oil concoctions. He travels the world seeking out oils flavoured with grassy, banana and lemony scents and his talented ex-wife turns them into delicious dishes in the restaurant. I gorged on 3 types of olive oil and bread and then got try to try the home-made lasagne. The piece de resistance was the tiramisu at the end of our meal, which was served with a generous drizzle of olive oil too.
It’s not hard to get lost in the alleyways of Old Town Nice and after what I discovered I would say it is a requirement for any visitors to the city. The food, shops, art and architecture cannot fail to charm you.
The Nice Carnival runs from 17th February to 4th March 2012 and by all accounts it sounds like a spectacle not to be missed. With TGV you can travel from Nice to Paris in under 6 hours – why not visit 2 charming cities in one trip? For more information on Nice Cote D’Azur visit the tourism board website.