24 Hours On The Corniche
A swish hotel, a lazy breakfast, a spot of culture. Just point your car in the direction of the high life
Sunday 13 November 2005
1. Breakfast in the sun
08.00: So far as I am concerned, there are only two hotels in Nice and early in the morning I would cheerfully awake in either Le Grimaldi or La Perouse. Each is very comfortable, but the styles are different. Le Grimaldi (00 33 4 93 16 00 24; le-grimaldi.com) 15 rue Grimaldi, is a pair of bourgeois townhouses, elegantly restored, crossing an entire city block near the station. There is no restaurant, but that's scarcely a problem in Nice. For petit-déjeuner you just amble down to the local square, picking up a croissant and a paper on the way, choose a café, order a grande-crème, and live the French breakfast myth in dappled light under the trees. Double rooms start at €92 (£63) per night, room only.
2. The magic of Matisse
10.00: Leave the car in the garage and get on a bus to Cimiez. Since 1963, the Musée Matisse (00 33 4 93 81 08 08; musee-matisse-nice.org), 164 avenue des Arènes, has occupied a splendid Genoese villa in this lush and leafy suburb where great wealth and Roman antiquities compete to establish the spirit of the place. With its fine modern extension, the Musée Matisse is one of the great single master collections in the world. And it confirms that transforming power of the Côte d'Azur. Matisse, the master of colour, was a native of dour, grey northern France - Nice taught him to see and to feel. The painter believed that oranges were all that we needed to know of heaven on earth, a perception unavailable in Lille, but more obvious here in the south.
3. Daisies for déjeuner
12.00: Back to Nice and the fierce competition for lunch begins. Ignore the celebrated establishments, head for the perfumed anarchy of the Cours Saleya which, until about 11.59am, is a working flower market. And if you are lunching early, its detritus is still all around your feet. Before lunch, swing by Nicolas Alziari (00 33 4 93 85 76 92; alziari.com), 14 rue St Françoise-de-Paule, whose superb olive oils, rustic scents and soaps have been sold in this atmospheric old florist's shop since 1936. There is no landmark place to eat around here, but you can choose Les Dents de la Mer for hilarious indoors maritime kitsch (live fish swim past pirate treasure seen through portholes) or any number of open-air restaurants selling socca (the local chickpea crêpe), anchoiade, fritto misto or grilled rouget. A favourite is Le Safari, or have a beer in the Café des Ponchettes and compare, in terms of civilization, the respective beauties of an Airbus on final approach or an ochre baroque façade. You get them both here.
4. Take a spiritual stroll
14.30: The car is retrieved from le parking beneath the Cours Saleya and it's time to hit the road. Your first stop is Villefranche to see Jean Cocteau's playful but moving decorations at the little fisherman's chapel, which sits right in front of the charming Hotel Welcome (00 33 4 93 76 27 62; welcome hotel.com), 1 quai Courbet, where his drawings also adorn the menus. There's a pleasant, small pebbly beach for a stroll too.
5. On the road - again
15.30: It's back in the car. One thing about the Corniche is that the road's an experience in its own right, with few distractions en route. For another, you can peel off at La Reserve (00 33 4 93 01 00 01; reservebeaulieu.com), boulevard du Général, to watch the beautiful people wallowing in their "luxe et raffinement absolu" and doing what they do best - nothing.
6. A golden opportunity
1616.00: Visit the astonishing Château de la Chèvre d'Or at Eze (00 33 4 92 10 66 66; chevredor.com) in the pedestrian area of town and marvel at a site at least as terrifyingly lofty as the vertiginous prices on the menu.
7. Nip over the border
16.30: You will pass through the strange and beautiful La Turbie. This is the place of Grace Kelly's fatal car accident, and where the Romans paid tribute to themselves. There's a good restaurant here, but drive on, instead, to the end of the Corniche at Menton. Enjoy the potted palms and the company of mumbling Russians at the belle époque Grand Hotel des Ambassadeurs (00 33 4 93 28 75 75; ambassadeurs-menton.com), 3 rue Partouneaux. Or, nip into Italy and be one of the last visitors to the astonishing Giardini Botanici, established by Sir Thomas Hanbury in 1867 (00 39 0814 22 95 07; amicihanbury.com), 43 corso Monte Carlo, La Mortola Inferiore, Ventimiglia. But the Corniche was built to facilitate travel, so, back to the road.
8. Keeping abreast
18.30: Return to Nice - and the car is parked. Stop for a drink at the Negresco (00 33 4 93 16 64 0037; hotel-negresco-nice.com), promenade des Anglais - a preposterously swanky hotel, but hard to resist since its domes were modelled on a high-kicking dancer's breasts.
9. Behind the bead curtain
20.00: It's dinner in one of the world's great restaurants, La Merenda, 4 rue de la Terrasse. It has a bead curtain, hard chairs, no phone and scant choice, so you make and take your arrangements seriously. But it's worth it - the food is divine.
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