A short break in the south of France in winter can be a fun alternative to beach and snow resorts usually packed at that time of the year. A stroll on the iconic Promenade des Anglais, while viewing the azure-colored Mediterranean, and watching the sunset is a must. The Cours Saleya market in Old Town Nice is a riot for the senses with its enticing odor of olives, Mediterranean spices, cheeses, fresh produce and fruit, plus other Nicoise specialties along with bright flower bouquets.
A visit or stay at the iconic The Negresco Hotel should also be on the top of your list when visiting Nice. Stop at the concierge desk and ask for a tour to learn the fascinating history about the original owner Henri Negresco (born Alexandru Negrescu in Romania). The son of an innkeeper, he made his way to Paris and then Nice, successfully managing the Municipal Casino. The next step for Negresco was opening the first luxury hotel in Nice in 1913 to accommodate the wealthy residents and aristocracy of Europe. Negresco commissioned the most well-known architect and designer of the La Belle Époque era, Édouard-Jean Niermans.
In 1957, the hotel was bought by the Augier family, headed by Madame Jeanne Augier, who, at 95, still lives in the privately owned hotel. Madame Augier oversaw the renovation of the hotel, extending its luxuriousness to include mink bedspreads and prestigious art. Each floor of the hotel has a specific selection of Madame Augier’s extensive and eclectic art collection, from 18th-century masters to colorful Sonia Delaunay’s, hung in the halls.
The 96 rooms and 21 suites are furnished with exceptional period furniture inspired by the greatest centuries of French art. The rooms range in style from Baroque to classic to contemporary and all of them face either the beach and Mediterranean Sea or a tranquil garden. The centerpiece of the hotel is still the Baccarat chandelier.
We dined at La Rotonde Brasserie, with its circus theme and festively painted wooden horses from a dismantled vintage carousel. The Salade Niçoise was enhanced with fresh tuna and the sea scallops were bathed in a light buttery foam. The Negresco also has a two-star Michelin restaurant, Le Chantecler, headed by Chef Jean-Denis Rieubland.
As our visit was in February, we took a day trip to Menton, a convenient 35-minute train ride away, for the annual Fête du Citron (Citrus Festival). Broadway musicals were the star of the 84th festival in 2017 with floats and stationary displays decorated with oranges and lemons representing shows such as “Cabaret,” “The Lion King,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Cats,” and “Annie.” The event, which attracts more than 240,000 people each year, uses 145 tons of citrus over a three-week period.
A note to art aficionados: Menton is also home to the Jean Cocteau Museum, dedicated to the artist’s works from 1910 to 1950.
February is also carnival time in Nice and its surrounding towns, with locals and tourists flocking to parades and pageants. The theme for the Nice Carnival for 2017 was The King of Energy with 17 extravagant floats. There’s also the famous flower battle parade where floats are sumptuously decorated with flowers and the performers throw mimosas, gerberas and lilies out to the public as souvenirs.
Visitors who choose to vacation in Nice in the summer can look froward to the Nice Jazz Festival, Les Nuits Musicales de Nice (chamber music concerts), Malonat and La Castellada festivals, and more.