For me, Old Nice is emblematic both of the city and southern France as a whole. Its architecture, its ambiance, its cool shady alleys in the midst of summer, the colourful stalls at the Cours Saleya markets, and a host of other things just waiting to be discovered.
A walking tour through Old Nice
One thing is for sure: Old Nice is best explored on foot! The small narrow streets will not have it any other way! The best thing to do is lose yourself amongst it all.
That said, there are a few unmissable stop-offs:
- Cours Saleya. Every day of the year, from Tuesday to Sunday, you can go to the market, while on Mondays you can visit the antique shops. After visiting the stalls, climb the stairs in the middle of the market to see it all from above. On summer evenings, a craft market takes over. Don’t miss Cours Jacques Chirac, your gateway to the Mediterranean.
- Admire the Palace of the Sardinian Kings and its magnificent façade. Unfortunately, visits are only possible on very rare occasions but never fear, you can console yourself with a pastry at the Marinette stall and relax in one of their lounge chairs. You can also visit the Museum of Photography.
- Discover the staircase through the false door that separates the old town from the rest of Nice.
- Visit the Palais Lascaris: a former aristocratic residence in Nice.
- Have a look inside the Church of Gesù: The Church of Saint Rita steals the limelight but in my humble opinion this is unjust, since this church is just as worthy of a visit.
Old Nice and its hotspots
Besides its beautiful alleys and distinctive charm, Old Nice boasts an array of hotspots, whether you want a bite to eat, a refreshing drink or a sweet treat. Here are some of the best spots if you decide to go and treat yourself:
- Eat like a Nice native at Chez Acchiardo or Lu Fran Calin, because when you come to Nice, tasting the local cuisine is a must: tourte de blettes (Swiss chard pie), ravioli, gnocchi, Daube Niçoise stew, petits farcis (Nice-style stuffed vegetables), and much more besides awaits you.
- Go Italian and soak up the atmosphere of the Cours Saleya at Carmela.
- Enjoy some delicious cuisine at Olives et Artichauts or Le Panier: two spots that are definitely worth a visit for the quality of their food and ingredients.
- Have a glass of wine at Lavomatique, Berco or Cave du Cours, my three favourite wine bars (in moderation of course).
- And don’t forget, if you come to visit Nice during the summer, indulge your sweet tooth with an ice cream from Fenocchio or Néron.
Not far from Old Nice: Castle Hill
From Old Nice you can go to Castle Hill, a park with a playground for children, a waterfall and superb views of the port of Nice, the Bay of Angels and the roofs of the old town. You can get there via a number of routes as you leave Old Nice. There’s even a lift for the less athletic among you.
Whichever way you get there, it’s a must-see and a wonderful spot to watch the sun go down.
A surprising story about Old Nice
I couldn’t leave you without sharing a little secret that surprises many visitors. Indeed, if you find yourself in Old Nice at midday, prepare to be startled! Every day you’ll hear a loud noise reverberating through the alleys of the old town and beyond. It’s actually a cannon shot fired at the same time every day.
Rather strange, don’t you think?
Here’s the explanation: the story goes that in the 19th century, Sir Thomas Coventry and his wife, from England, were staying in our beautiful city. Lady Coventry would go for a walk in the old town every day and had a frustrating tendency to linger. Her husband, whose stomach would start rumbling at lunchtime, had the bright idea (and no, there were no such things as mobile phones back then) of firing a cannon at noon to remind his wife that it was time to eat!!
After some discussion, Sir Coventry’s proposal was accepted by the then Mayor of Nice, a certain Malausséna. The cannon was then installed on Castle Hill just above Old Nice. And every day at noon, a municipal employee would fire it.
When the couple finally left Nice, they certainly went out with a bang, taking their cannon with them. But the Niçois, so used to this reminder to go to lunch, clamoured for its return. Their wish was granted in November 1875. The tradition has continued every day since.
As you can see, locals and tourists alike love Old Nice for its ambiance, its attractions and its history, making it a must-see for any visitor to the city.