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Soigneur Travel: Nice

Max Leonard Tekst Max Leonard Gepubliceerd 29 August 2020

Nice, in France’s south-east corner, is the queen of the French Riviera, a jewel sitting above grey pebbled beaches and the azure of the Mediterranean. There have been people living on this coastline since Paleolithic times, but through most of its recorded life–the vast majority of the time between 1388 and 1860–Nice was ruled by the Counts of Savoy, from Turin, in Italy. And from the pastel colours and Italianate architecture of the old town, as well as the really excellent pizza, you could be forgiven for thinking it still is. 

Nice came to prominence in the 19th century when it became a favourite haunt of the European upper classes, who, drawn to its mild and sunny weather like migratory birds, began to overwinter there. While the British Queen Victoria took up residence near the Roman ruins in Cimiez to the east (there is a statue of her in front of the grand old Hotel Régina, now private apartments), the Russian aristocrats preferred the rising ground to the west, and there is still a perfectly ornate Russian Orthodox church commemorating their presence. 

Thanks to its climate and proximity to the mountains, bike racing has always been big here. Long before Tenerife or Calpe, professionals flocked to the Côte d’Azur for winter training, and for decades there were scores of early-season races to service their desire to test their legs, notably Nice-Mont Agel and La Boucle de Sospel, where in 1931 local boy and future French superstar René Vietto beat all-comers for his first professional win. But in modern times the town really came to international prominence when a young Lance Armstrong moved there. 

These days, there are scores of World Tour pros here or in close proximity, and only Girona vies with the Côte d’Azur for the title of preferred home of the international peloton (those with big-money contracts and the resulting tax obligations understandably prefer Monaco, 25km down the coast). Pros are attracted by the weather, the deserted long climbs, and beautiful mountain training roads close at hand, and the major international airport that makes commuting to races easy–all things, of course, that also make Nice attractive to amateur riders for ‘training camps’ (holidays). But for once we amateurs go one better: we get to enjoy the pizza too. 

Photo: Antton Miettinen


Coffee | Café du Cycliste

Café du Cycliste on the port is the home and concept store of the Niçois cycling clothing brand. Nice is not blessed with great coffee, but the brews here aren’t bad at all, and you can slurp away while looking through the latest season’s clothing, hiring a high-end bike, or getting your gears sorted by the in-house mechanic.

Photo: Café du Cycliste

Ride | Èze–Madone

Èze–Madone is the classic loop from town. Take the Col d’Èze, made famous by the Paris-Nice time trial, up to 507m in 10km, almost from the centre of Nice, then descend through La Turbie to Menton, near Italy, where the Col de la Madone leads you 14km and 927m up into the hills. Descend back to La Turbie and freewheel down the coast roads to Nice.

Photo: Antton Miettinen

Market | Marché de la Libération

The Marché de la Libération (tram stop: Libération) is supremely seasonal. Beautiful produce comes from all around: peppers and courgettes from Provence in summer; mushrooms from the mountains in autumn; and clementines from Corsica at Christmas. Sit on the terrace at L’Altra Casa (2 Place du Général de Gaulle), drink a coffee, and watch the world go by before buying vegetables for dinner.

Pizza | Made in Sud
In the past four years Made in Sud (53 Boulevard Stalingrad) has moved from a tiny hole-in-the-wall kiosk near the port serving the best pizza in Nice to a full-on restaurant just down the road. Owned and run by a Neapolitan family, the new restaurant also serves pasta, salads and seconde piatte of meat and fish, and the pizza remains just as good. 

Photo: Made in Sud

Beach | Pebbled Inlets

Below a quiet residential road just past the ferry port, and La Réserve, which is reputedly the best fish restaurant in Nice, are some tiny, pebbled inlets and rocks, accessible by steps from the road. Trapped between the sea wall and the shining blue, they are peopled year-round by a regular cast of local sun seekers, and the vibe is a million miles away from the tourist beach on the Promenade des Anglais.

Photo: Antton Miettinen

Art | Fondation Maeght

An hour’s bus ride away is the chi-chi village of Saint Paul de Vence, home to the Fondation Maeght, the art collection of the gallerists who introduced Matisse to the Parisian art world. This modernist building, with a sculpture garden created by Joan Miró, contains some gems of twentieth-century art—but perhaps not as many as the Colombe d’Or, a surprisingly friendly restaurant also in Saint Paul where you can dine surrounded by original Matisses, Picassos, Calders and more. 

Photo: Fondation Maeght


Writer Max Leonard has been exploring the roads around Nice for years. These are a few of his favourite routes.

Easy | Backcountry

This one is a pleasant spin into Nice’s backcountry—stop at the boulangerie in Levens for a pastry! 

Medium | Col d’Èze and Col de la Madone

This classic ride from Nice takes in the Col d’Èze and Col de la Madone, before heading back down the Moyenne Corniche to town.

Hard | Mediterranean Epic

A spin out along the coast, through Monaco into Italy, this ride then passes through beautiful gorges and over three climbs back towards France.