Rich in its traditions and a centuries-old culture, Nice -- not to mention nearby towns and villages all along the French Riviera -- deserves your attention. Belle epoque Nice is France's fifth largest city with a population of 345,892, and it is France's second most popular destination (Paris, natch, is the first). Smack dab in the center of the French Riviera -- otherwise known as the Cote d'Azur -- it's also an excellent starting point for exploring the 80-mile landscape where tan-legged locals dressed in colorful fabrics and espadrilles sip pastis in seaside cafes. Add the brilliant fusion of medieval villages perched high on mountain ledges and swank enclaves like Cap d' Antibes and Aix-en Provence, and it's easy to understand why everyone loves a call at Nice.
It's down the road from Cannes and the planet's most illustrious film festival, where in 1949, a bikini-clad starlet dropped her top in front of Robert Mitchum, the cameras clicked, and the red carpet razzle-dazzle officially began. Once home to Colette, rumor has it that she opened a beauty shop when she first arrived (her 18th-century house is supposedly still standing on the tiny Boulevard d'Aumale).
Just beyond Cannes is St-Tropez -- an instant-oomph and anything-goes fishing village made up of tiny ornate streets and colorful pink-tinged facades. Head off in the opposite direction from Nice and you'll find yourself in the fairy tale principality of Monaco with its high-flying style. In a word, gorgeous! Smaller than New York's Central Park, it's a "toss the guidebook and just explore" destination. You'll find it easy to take the twists and turns along the cobblestone streets of the old city of Monaco-Ville, past the Prince's Palace where the Grimaldis have ruled since 1297. To peek in on the action at the Casino, just follow the Ferraris, Rolls-Royces and armored cars.
Nice is bordered by Provence to the west, the Alps to the north and Italy, another world, just 20 miles to the east. An "easy to get around on foot" seaside town, Nice itself is great for touring independently -- and even without a car, it's a snap to head for the open road.
Nice Quick Facts
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions:
Best Choice for Nosing Around the French Riviera: From Nice and Cannes to St. Paul-de-Vence and Grasse -- and even Cap d'Antibes. Duration: Up to 8 1/2 hours Price: Up to $149.
Best Choice for a Cook's Tour: Cooking Lessons in Mougins under the guidance of famous chef, Alain Llorca at the Restaurant L'Amandier's cooking school. Approximate Duration: 4 1/2 hours. Price: $185.
Best Choice for Card Sharks: Monte Carlo. Duration: Up to 4 hours. Price: Up to $75.
Best Choice for Luxe Living: A Bird's-Eye View of the Cote D'Azur by helicopter. Duration: Up to 4 hours. Price: Up to $248.
French, though English is understood and generally spoken at most tourist attractions. But it's not uncommon to find that most waiters, shopkeepers and taxi drivers don't speak English. The French consider it impolite to assume everyone speaks English -- so it's best to begin by asking if English is understood. The gesture is appreciated. The official language of Monaco is French and Monegasque -- a mixture of French and Italian -- but English is understood and spoken more readily than in France. Monsieur, Madame or mademoiselle (for very young girls) should follow bonjour. Merci should always precede a departure from any shop, whether you were helped or not. Besides, it's so much fun to say.
Car Rentals are a good bet -- and many local agencies are well priced. Major brands such as Hertz (www.hertz.com) and Alamo (www.alamo.com) are also found in Nice, both in town and at the airport. Count on spending approximately $60 (50 euros) for a one-day, economy-car rental. Cars here mostly use diesel, not unleaded gas. We're sorry to say agencies don't point this out, so check. A mistake will cost you lost time and almost $300 in repairs.
Bus service throughout the region is frequent, not just for local stops, but even to Monaco. Buses such as the Grasse-Nice bus travel through Pre-du-Lac, Le Rouret, Roquefort, Villeneuve-Loubet and Cagnes-sur-Mer with at least 10 roundtrips daily. Most of the buses connect with each other at Station Central on Avenue Felix-Faure. The fare for rides within Nice is $2.40 (2 euros), but you can buy a five-ticket carnet for $15.35 (12.85 euros). Catch the #2 or #12 bus for the beaches. For additional information, call 04-93-13-53-13. Buses for Monaco, St-Tropez and Cannes depart from the Municipal Bus Station on Boulevard Jean-Jaure. For information on long-distance bus travel, call 04-93-85-61-81.
The SNCF (French Railway) station is a 10-minute walk from the Port of Nice. Making coastal stops between Marsailles and Monte Carlo, it's easy to tour on foot once arriving at your destination. A typical roundtrip from Nice to Monaco, first-class, will run about $10. For information on destinations, timetables and fares, visit www.sncf.com.
If peddling around sounds like fun, consider renting a bike or moped from Cycles Arnaud on Rue Francois (04-93-87-88-55) for $18 (15 euros). Be prepared to leave a deposit of at least $406 (340 euros).
Where You're Docked
The Port Nice on the Quai du Commerce, about a 30-minute walk to the center of Nice. Everything you might need is close at hand -- tourist information, taxis, telephones, currency exchange, a free shuttle service (in season) and left-luggage lockers. It's a good idea to have port information in writing (port agent's telephone number, boat location, etc.) when leaving the area. Having it in writing is the best way to communicate when you and your taxi or bus driver are language-challenged.
Staying in Touch
Nice -- Cyber Cafe Bio / English keyboards / 16 Rue Paganini
Cannes -- Cybercafe 06 at Le Petit Caboulot / 8 Place de la Foux
Eze -- WiFi Hotspot / 1138 Ave. de la Turbie
Grasse -- Cybercafe 06 at Le Petit Caboulot / 8 Place de la Foux
Monte Carlo -- Stars 'N' Bars / 6 Quai Antoine 1er
St-Tropez -- FCDCI / 2 Ave. Paul Roussel.
Dine Ashore Favorites: Mussels a la anything, pizza, Nicoise salad, fish soup, stuffed sardines, Grand Marnier-flavored crepes wrapped around chocolate or cherries. Check out outdoor markets like Cours Saleya in Nice for another regional favorite, socca -- a chickpea drizzled-with-olive-oil flat bread. Keep in mind that restaurants close anywhere from two to four weeks during August, so it's best to check ahead. We do have two non-restaurant recommendations: The Ceneri Cheese Shop on Rue Meynadier in Cannes because it will take iron will to step away from the to-die-for truffle-infused Brie and -- Vogade on Place Massena in Nice because the gorgeously rich pastries and chocolates will put you over the moon and the ice cream is made downstairs (ahh, hazelnut).
Restaurants in Nice
Chantecler: Best of the best. The menu changes often, but hope for the roasted suckling lamb. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $65. Daily 12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m. Hotel Negresco, 37 Promendade de Anglais, Nice.
L'Ane Rouge: Few things taste better than the lobster risotto with truffles. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $30. Friday - Tuesday noon, 2 p.m. 7 Quai des Deux-Emmanuel, Nice.
La Merenda: Fried zucchini blossoms and pasta with Ementhaler cheese-flavored pesto. Monday-Friday noon-2 p.m. No credit cards. No phone, so show up to make reservations, which are a must. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $60. 4 Rue de la Terrasse, Nice.
Good Eats in Surrounding Areas
Chateau de La Chevre d' Or (Eze): A Relais & Chateaux member. Enough said. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run you about $80. Daily noon - 2:30 p.m. Rue du Barri.
Chez Tetou (near Cannes): Right on the beach for Oscar-worthy bouillabaisse. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $40. No credit cards. Thursday-Tuesday noon - 2:30 p.m. Ave. des Freres Roustan, Golf-Juan.
Hotel Le Saint Paul Restaurant (St. Paul-de-Vence): Owned and operated by a one-time-Relais & Chateaux executive. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run you about $65. Daily noon - 2:30 p.m. 86 Rue Grande.
Le Louis XV (Monte Carlo): Alain Ducasse 's three Michelin star dining room with diners wealthy enough to bask in his exalted aura. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run you about $160. Reservations highly recommended.Thursday-Monday 12:15 p.m. - 1:45 p.m. Open for lunch during July-August. Jacket and tie for men. Hotel de Paris, Place du Casino.
Petit Port (Menton): Homemade everything, including the bread. The grilled sardines rock. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run you about $48.Thurday-Tuesday noon - 3 p.m. 1 Place Fontana.
Spoon (St-Tropez): Alain Ducasse, take two, this time with a Mediterranean version of this Paris original. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run you about $80. Daily 8 p.m. - 2 a.m. (dinner only), Hotel Byblos, Ave. Paul-Signac.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The national currency in France and Monaco is the Euro. Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations; ATMs and credit cards make traveler's checks nearly obsolete. For the best exchange rate, use ATMs -- they're found almost everywhere in towns and villages along the Riviera (though, as you roam further into the countryside, you will find fewer ATMs). Credit cards are accepted in most restaurants, shops and tourist attractions -- the key word being 'most.' The further away from main attractions and cities, the more likely it is you'll need cash. For up-to-date information on currency exchange, go to www.oanda.com. Note: some ATMs in England require a PIN to be only four digits long, so plan ahead. Also, many display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit to memory or jot down the translation to numbers.
Hint: In France, a 19.6 percent sales tax (VAT) is tacked on to many purchases -- however, if you spend $175 or more at any one participating store, you can get the VAT refunded (with some exceptions). For additional information on refunds, visit www.ambafrance-us.org.
From culture and shopping to letting the sun go to your head on their famous rock beaches, there's nothing to deter you from loving a day or two in Nice. It's a compact city and you can easily navigate the city from one end to the other in under an hour.
Port Profies are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community, giving you objective, unbiased information to help you choose the right cruise.