THERE’S a discreet but discernible flurry among the staff in the grand lobby of the Negresco Hotel. A fluttering of napkins, a smoothing of lapels, a polishing of door-handles and Mme Jeanne Augier the owner and grand doyenne of this historic hotel enters the room. An elegant, though frail elderly lady, she is swathed in folds of opulent cashmere. A fragrant cloud of vetiver and orange-blossom accompanies her, rings flash on almost every finger. If ever a woman embodied the regal and refined dignity of this glamorous hotel it is she.....
Completed in 1913 (and renovated several times since) the Negresco still has the power to enthral and surprise. Located in the heart of Nice and situated halfway between Cannes and Monte Carlo, for decades it has been the hotel of choice for princes and pop stars, keen to soak up the Riviera lifestyle.
Liveried footmen proudly guard the entrance, the spectacular 'Carousel tea-room' flanked by rearing enamelled stallions.The main lobby is a rotunda gallery for the Mme Augier's world-class collection of retrospective French art.
The French love their culture of course and never more so than during carnival time. This year, in a show of continental fraternity the annual Nice Carnival is celebrating the London Olympics – the universal themes of sport and art running through the calendar of public events.
The Nice flower parade forms one of the highlights of these celebrations. Intricate and fantastical floats carry circus-gymnasts and dancers down the Promenade des Anglais, thousands of floral bouquets are thrown to the cheering crowds.
This day-time floral festival is a vibrant, family event, but at night the procession takes on a much darker, satirical feel. Huge, grotesque puppets, several storeys high, poke fun at politicians and celebrities. Stilt-walkers and fire-eaters dangle precariously from structures high above the the procession, occasionally diving down to mischievously startle unwary spectators. It's a mesmerising and dazzling spectacular...
Nice effortlessly mixes the modernity of a high-fashion lifestyle with a strong appreciation for the historic and traditional. For a contemporary hotel on the outskirts of the old town, try the five star Beau Rivage. Large spacious rooms feature statement furniture and bespoke art. The stylish bar here serves over 15 types of brandy.
Shopping in the old town is every gourmet's dream – many of the specialist stores have been operated by the same family for over 150 years.
Wine connoisseurs will love La Cave Bianchi – reputedly the oldest wine shop in the region. The 'cave’ nestles in the shadows of the 13th century Monastery. There's an atmospheric cellar to enjoy wine-tastings and jazz far away from the bustling crowds. More of a sweet tooth? Call into Maison Auer, on Rue Saint-Francois.
This high-end confectioners has been operating since 1820, the gilt, rococo shelves fairly groaning under the weight of delectable bon-bons and caramelised fruit. The prettily-pinafored staff are aficionados of all things sugary and people travel from far outside the city to purchase their distinctively packaged red and gold treats.
Food is a huge part of life in Nice and many restaurants religiously adhere to the philosophy of the slow food movement. One of the most popular is Attimi at Place Massena. The chef insists on the finest organic ingredients and the house speciality is pizza – the dough base lovingly kneaded with mountain mineral water and truffle oil.
For authentic local cusine, try L'Escalinada. The lunch menu features beignet de artichokes, fresh salmon in pesto sauce and, of course, the eponymous salad. Start things off the Nicoise way with a kir aperitif; local white wine and cassis.
Chateau Nice is the perfect destination for an early evening stroll. Explore the shaded castle gardens, high above the town. The views across the bay are magnificent, on a clear day you can see the white mountain cliffs of Corsica.
Inspired by the carnival festivities, teenagers string ropes between the trees. Laughing and jostling they practise tight-rope walking and circus skills in the half-light, as the swallows circle the ramparts above....
The Negresco Hotel www.hotel-negresco.com
The Beau Rivage www.hotelnicebeaurivage.com
Cave Bianchi www.cave-bianchi.fr
Maison Auer www.maison-auer.com
Regular easyJet Flights to Nice from Liverpool Airport www.easyjet.com
Contact Liverpool airport for short-break parking deals... www.liverpoolairport.com
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