Winters can be very seductive on the French Riviera; at the turn of the century Nice was only a winter resort, an escape from the bleak winters elsewhere in Europe, and only the nouvelle riche who didn’t know any better would come to Nice in the heat of the summer!
Here are a few ideas for making the most of winter on the Cote d’Azur:
Small Winter Pleasures: Old Nice filled with locals instead of tourists, the uncrowded museums and markets, a cup of hot spiced wine on the giant winter-only Ferris Wheel off Place Massena, Italian-style hot chocolate so thick you can eat it with a spoon, watching the waves during the occasional winter storm, free Sunday afternoon winter orchestra concerts at Notre Dame or the Eglise on the Port, and bargain hunting the annual Winter Sales…
Ice Skating: One of the most spectacular ice skating rinks in the world is in Monaco, and it’s only 6€. In the winter, Monaco’s Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool becomes a huge fabulous ice skating rink. This is nothing like those miniature rinks for children that are epidemic in all the region’s ‘Christmas Villages’… with this one you can really leg out and get some speed! Where else can you ice skate surrounded by super yachts, and with views of the Palace, Monte Carlo, and the Mediterranean sea?
Go to the Snow… it’s just 90 minutes away! Spend a day in the mountains with the bargain-priced 4€ SnowBus: It’s an easy day-trip with the feel of a mini-vacation. Non-skiers can explore Valberg, soak up the alpine ambiance, play in the snow, warm up with raclette for lunch, hike or snowshoe the Planetary Trail in the afternoon (a multimedia GPS guide is available at the tourist office), and sip hot spiced wine in a warm chalet before napping on the ride back.
SkiBus: Skiiers can take the SnowBus to Valberg, or three other Ski Express Buses to three different ski resorts, Isola 2000, La Colmiane and Auron… so really you can ski in a different resort every weekend of the month and your transpo costs are only 4€ each way! Here is a one-stop shop website (in English) covering all aspects of the 15 mountain villages accessible from Nice.
Sunny Lunch on the Beach: Three beaches can often be found open for lunch even in the winter: Beau Rivage, Lido Plage, and Blue Beach. Obligatory selfie to make all your Facebook friends green with envy. Here’s an up-to-the-hour webcam view from the Prom.
Favorite Winter Cafés: Tucked away in the little chocolate shop just off Place Palais du Justice, L’Art Gourmand, you’ll find a little upstairs mezzanine Salon d’Thé that is not only warm and cozy, but has the aroma of chocolate. Perfect for a coffee on a chilly winter afternoon.
Favorite Italian-style hot chocolate. This amazing rich pudding-like beverage can be found at Brulerue des Cafés Indien, and Café Antonia terrace on Place Rossetti but is also sprouting up at other cafés around town.
For suggestions on the best events, festivals and happenings for specific winter months, click here: Things to do in Nice by Month
Christmas in Nice:
- After dinner walks to admire the over-the-top lighting display at Place Massena, then heading down the Promenade des Anglais lined with illuminated palm trees, finishing with the Old Town.
- Place Rossetti is transformed into a giant animated nativity scene complete with automated farm animals, over Christmas week (Dec. 22-26, 10am-6pm).
- Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at the Cathedral Saint Reparate in Old Nice (actually starts at 11pm; get there early for a good seat so your view won’t be blocked by the marble pillers).
- Discovering the 400 creches hidden in the charming village of Luceram. It’s just 1 hour away by bus 340/360, and goes all of December until mid-January. Don’t miss it.
- The pheasants and fowl that festoon the Boucherie St. Francoise in Old Nice, not to mention the wild boar sitting right out front.
- Sipping hot spiced wine while watching the children ice skate at the Christmas Village at Place Massena.
- The view from the top of the giant Winter Ferris Wheel.
- The automated creche inside the Eglise Sainte Rita in Old Nice, including santons representing everyone in the village.
- 1000-year-old Occitane Christmas carols sung acapella by Corou de Berra plus the many other holiday concerts given in Nice’s Baroque Churches.
- It must be an Italian tradition to come to the Riviera for New Year’s, because the town fills up with dapper Italians dressed-to-the-nines with furs, high heels, impeccable make up and big hair.
- Corks a-poppin’ non-stop on the Promenade at midnight.
- The Nice Philharmonic give a fantastic free New Year’s Day concert at the Acropolis, 11am New Year’s morning (free tickets available in advance from the Nice Opera ticket office, then just line up early)
- For a whole week after New Year’s, savor the delicious almond cake Galette des Rois, …just don’t chip a tooth on the feve!
- … and then, the Massive Winter Sales start…
Photo credits: Christmas in Nice and Winter in Nice by Best of Nice Blog, Monaco Ice Rink by Frantz Chavaroche et Florence Lisita, courtesy of Nice-Matin; Ski Lift courtesy of Nice-Properties apartments in Nice.
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