Insight Guides: Explore Nice & the French Riviera (Insight Explore Guides) (2015)
COLLINE DU CHÂTEAU AND VIEUX PORT
Now a pleasant park, the Colline du Château (Castle Hill) bears the traces of medieval Nice. It sits above the site where the Niçois’ prehistoric ancestors first settled and the city’s picturesque port and antiques district.
DISTANCE: 6km (3.75 miles)
TIME: A half day
START/END: Place Garibaldi
POINTS TO NOTE: The Colline du Château can also be reached by lift from the eastern end of quai des États-Unis (daily summer 8am-8pm, winter 8am-6pm; free) up to Tour Bellanda.
For centuries, the Colline du Château was the heart of medieval Nice, which grew up around the castle, before the population moved down to the coastal plain. Today, nothing remains of the citadelle, but the park laid out in its place is an oasis in summer with gorgeous views over the bay and the Old Town.
Looking down from the Colline du Château
Start at place Garibaldi 1 [map], the beautiful arcaded square, built in 1782-92 by King Victor-Amédée III of Sardinia. Originally called piazza Victoria, it was later renamed after the Nice-born hero of Italian reunification, whose statue stands in the middle. On the southwestern side, the Grand Café de Turin, see 1, is known for its seafood. Next to it, quiet rue Neuve leads into Vieux Nice. Continue along rue de la Providence to place Ste-Claire, where the Chapelle de la Visitation 2 [map] has a remarkable trompe l’oeil façade.
View across town to Mamac
Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications
COLLINE DU CHÂTEAU
Through the gate to the left, Escalier Ménica Rondelly zigzags up the hillside to the Cimetière Catholique 3 [map], full of winged angels, tragic maidens and other funerary monuments. Next to it, towards the sea is the Cimetière Israélite (Jewish Cemetery). From here, the road climbs up to Parc du Château 4 [map], with superb views along the way. Follow the sound of water up to the Cascade, built in the 19th century on the site of the medieval keep, using water diverted from the River Vésubie. Steps around the rear lead to an outdoor amphitheatre, used in summer for La Castillada, a promenade-spectacle recounting the history of Nice.
Below, a fenced-off archaeological site 5 [map] protects the fragmentary ruins of the Romanesque cathedral and bits of houses which, though poorly labelled, give some idea of the medieval residential district destroyed in the siege of 1691. Follow the path to the southwestern corner overlooking the sea to the solid round Tour Bellanda 6 [map], a mock fortification reconstructed in the 19th century; Hector Berlioz stayed here in 1844. You can descend by a lift, which occupies the well shaft dug in the 16th century to supply water to the citadelle, or by the footpath down to quai des États-Unis.
For such an inconspicuous bit of rock, the Colline du Château has seen a lot of history. Settled in the 10th century BC by Ligurian tribes, Greek Nikaia grew up on its flank and during the Dark Ages the population took refuge here from barbarian invasions. By the 11th century, a keep stood on the highest point and a walled town with churches, monasteries, a market and noble residences emerged. Following the siege of Nice in 1543, Duke Emmanuel Philibert I decided to construct a powerful citadel, forcing the townspeople down to the plain. The Upper Town’s fate was sealed when Nice was besieged again in 1691, and in 1706 a victorious Louis XIV razed the citadel. It was transformed into a public park in the 1820s.
Boats moored in the Vieux Port
Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications
MONUMENT AUX MORTS
At the bottom turn left on quai Rauba Capeu - Nissart for ‘flying hat’ because of the breeze - to the powerful Monument aux Morts 7 [map], which commemorates the 4,000 Niçois killed in World War I. Elongated Modernist allegorical sculptures by Alfred Janniot of War (symbolised by figures of Liberty, Strength, Sacred Fire and Victory) face Peace (symbolised by Labour, Love of Home and Fecundity) on either side of a colonnaded temple.
Just beyond on place Guynemar, a statue of Sardinian king Charles Félix points his finger out to sea over the Vieux Port, which despite its name was actually excavated only in the late 18th century (previously, fishing boats were simply pulled up on the shore and Nice’s main port was at nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer). Today, big yachts and gin palaces moor along the western quay, quai Lunel, while tiny wooden pointu fishing boats can still be seen along the eastern side.
You might want to pause at the Marché aux Puces (Tue-Sat 10am-6pm) on quai Lunel, source of diverse bric-a-brac and collectables. Across the street at Confiserie Florian (14 quai Papacino; www.confiserieflorian.com; daily 9am-noon and 2-6.30pm), you can watch chocolates being made downstairs; violet- and rose-flavour chocolates are particular specialities.
Place Ile de Beauté was constructed following Genoese fashion - with arcaded ground floor, deep-red façades and ornate trompe l’oeil window frames - along the northern side of the port in the 1780s. Halfway along, the sailors’ church, Église Notre-Dame-du-Port 8 [map] (Mon-Sat 9am-noon, 3-6pm), stands out for the purity of its neoclassical style, with ribbed columns and coffered ceiling.
The Monument aux Morts
Musée d’Archéologie de Nice - Site de Terra Amata
Before continuing around the port, detour to 25 boulevard Carnot to the curious yet fascinating Musée d’Archéologie de Nice - Site de Terra Amata 9 [map] (entrance on Impasse Terra Amata; www.musee-terra-amata.org; Wed-Sun 10am-6pm; free). It is located at the bottom of an apartment block on the very spot, discovered in 1966, where a tribe of elephant hunters briefly camped on the beach 400,000 years ago when the sea level was 26m (85ft) higher than today. The centrepiece is a large cast of the site, showing traces of tools, animal bones and even a footprint left behind, while the upstairs mezzanine explains the lifestyle of these prehistoric nomadic hunters with displays of axeheads, flint tools and a reconstructed hut.
Boulevard Franck Pilatte
Double back to the port, where the eastern quay, quai des Deux Emmanuels, is lined with fish restaurants and bars, such as Ma Nolan’s, see 2, and L’Âne Rouge, see 3. Take the stairs at the end up to boulevard Franck Pilatte, popular with locals for a promenade or for a swim from the rocks, without the crowds of the main beaches off the promenade des Anglais. Look out for attractive twin villas Castor and Pollux on the left, and the castle-like Château d’Anglais on Mont Boron in the distance, built by English military engineer Robert Smith in 1857; and watch kids divebombing into the sea from the high board just before chic restaurant La Réserve.
Return to place Ile de Beauté, continuing straight on into rue Antoine Gauthier. Here, and on adjoining rue Catherine Ségurane, it is fun to browse the 100 or so antiques dealers clustered behind the port (www.nice-antic.com) before returning to place Garibaldi.
Food and Drink
1 GRAND CAFÉ DE TURIN
5 place Garibaldi; tel: 04 93 62 29 52; daily 8am-10pm; €€
This seafood brasserie has been shucking oysters for over a century, drawing a faithful Niçois clientele despite a sometimes grouchy service. The lavish platters of fruits de mer include the usual suspects and some rarer treats, such as violets (sea potatoes) and oursins (sea urchins) in winter.
2 MA NOLAN’S
5 quai des Deux Emmanuels; tel: 04 92 27 07 88; www.ma-nolans.com; daily L and D; €
This sophisticated Irish bar draws a French and international clientele for drinks and pub grub, either outside on the terrace or inside the woody interior where live bands play most nights. Salads, sandwiches and burgers are served all day.
3 L’ÂNE ROUGE
7 quai des Deux Emmanuels; tel: 04 93 89 49 63; www.anerougenice.com; Fri-Tue L and D, Thur D; €€€
At the dressiest of the portside restaurants, chef Michel Devillers serves up inventive starters and more classic mains, with an emphasis on fish. Service is excellent though rather formal, and there is a good-value lunch menu.