Nice’s history can be traced through its architecture, the city lay-out and even food. A quick history lesson: Nice was ruled by the Italians during the late 13th century, until the end of the 1700’s, when the French army sieged the city and Nice became a part of France. However when Napoleon I fell from power, Nice again came under the leadership of Sardinia, but by then, the language and culture had distanced from Italy. In 1860, Nice was finally handed over to France for good.
Though many wouldn’t consider visiting in the winter months, the city of Nice settles to a charming quiet hum as crowds thin and weather shifts. Winter temps range from a chilly to cool, yet comfortable 41 to 61 degrees F (5 - 10°C) from November to March. There are quite a few exciting winter-only activities and with the advantage of less tourists, walking the Promenade des Anglais or exploring the art collection at Musée Matisse during winter can swiftly shoot to the top of your list.
Stay At Napoleon's Apartment
Nice’s history can be traced through its architecture, the city lay-out and even food. To imagine yourself back in time, book a stay at Napoleon’s apartment. Napoleon Bonaparte was a military general who became the first emperor of France and is considered one of the greatest military leaders in history. Napoleon lived in Nice in 1793, and today his old holiday residence can be rented out as private vacation apartments in the Old Town, within walking distance to Place Garibaldi and within a 10 minutes walk to the Promenade, beach and Place Massena. Though booking fills up quickly during the summer, the chances of finding an opening during your off-season stay increases significantly. A local legend claims he used to ride his horse up the stairs to his apartment at the top of the building!
Try The Local Beverages
Although you’ll be offered a full menu of wines to try at every bar or restaurant, ordering the house wine is your best bet. The house wine is usually locally made (rosé is recommended, made locally), offered by the glass, carafe or ½ carafe and exceptionally delicious. Enjoy a meal inside as you watch the sun wash the city in honey gold.
Guiseppe & Pepino at Place Garibaldi is a great place to visit during happy hour from 6 pm – 8 pm daily for a glass of wine for 2 EUR. Le Bar Butch, a popular gay bar on Rue Rosetti has great prices on a pitcher of wine (½ carafe) for 7 EUR, which is their regular price. Also in the Old Town area is a small local hangout called Les Distilleries Ideales. It’s a great place for morning coffee or evening wine. Happy hour wine is 2.70 EUR from 6 pm – 8 pm. Pair a glass of red with a local chickpea pancake-like dish, socca, cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Italian-Style Hot Chocolate
Because Nice was a part of Italy until 1860, Italian fare has crept over the border and influenced the city’s traditional French culinary scene. One of the best ways to warm up is to tuck into a more seasonal specialty— Italian-style hot chocolate. This pudding-like chocolate decadence, made from cocoa powder, sugar, milk and a dash of cornstarch, can be found at Brûlerie des Cafés Indien and Café Antoniaterrace on Place Rossetti. Also, in the corner of the little chocolate shop L’Art Gourmand, you’ll find a small upstairs mezzanine Salon d’Thé that will soothe your nose and taste buds with the scent of chocolate. Perfect for enjoying a hot cup of chocolate on a brisk winter afternoon.
Marvel At The View From Le Chateau
Le Chateau is sadly not a castle, but a park with a tall hill that gives spectacular city views. The park does offer free elevators that will take you to the top, but the walk takes less than 10 minutes and is considered an easy walk for those traveling on foot. Whether exploring the trails throughout the park or savoring the sunset, visiting in the off-season will give you a chance to have the view all to yourself, minus other travelers and photographers.
Go Bargain Hunting
If you’re a bargain hunter and travel to France—be aware! The dates when stores can have a big sale are regulated by law. The yearly Winter Sales ‘Soldes d’Hiver’and Summer Sales or ‘Soldes d’Ete’ are the only two times French shops are allowed to mark down items and use the word sale or ‘solde’ in advertising. Similar to Black Friday in the U.S., this traditional shopping frenzy consist of big markdowns to get seasonal items out of the door. Just note: the deals get better as the weeks go on. In general, Winter Sales are mid January to the end of February, (and Summer Sales run mid July to the end of August).
For good deals outside of sale season, be sure to check out Cours Saleya during their morning market where you’ll find all kinds of local produce and items like olives, fresh flowers, and unique art. For European fashion, head to the main shopping area of Jean Medecin or the many shops lining the pedestrian street of Rue de France.
Enjoy Sunday Winter Concerts
The city of Nice appreciates sharing the sounds of nature, and offers free concerts every Sunday at 3:30 pm with Orchestre d’Harmonie de Nice, or Orchestra of Harmony. During the winter, concerts are taken indoors and usually at the Notre Dame, but sometimes held at the Eglise on the Port. Originating in 1866, the semi-professional level orchestra is composed of about 50 musicians, whose primary objective is to provide public and free concerts, as well as play for prestigious events. Over 40 concerts a year are offered to the public.
Travel To The Alps
The beauty of Nice is that you can ski during the day and spend the evening on the Mediterranean. There is a train that leaves from the main train station (Gare de Nice-Ville) called Train des Pignes that winds 151 km up to Dignes-les-Baines in the Alps. It takes about 3 hours each way and can be done as a day trip. The Snow Bus is an alternative and will take you to nearby Alps mountain, Valberg. Those who don’t ski can also explore here, soak up the alpine ambiance, go for a hike or snowshoe on the Planetary Trail (a GPS guide is available at the tourist office) and mull over hot spiced wine in a cozy chalet before taking a cat nap on the ride back. There is also a Ski Express Bus that runs from Nice to three different ski resorts, Isola 2000, La Colmiane and Auron, in only 2 hours, for just 4 EUR.
Nice is the perfect place to lay in the Mediterranean sunshine in the summer months, but the winter months are even better. You can hear a collective sigh of relief from locals as enjoying your favorite activities becomes easier. Plan your visit to Nice in the off-season for a spectacular time minus the crowds!
Leah Shaw is an AfroLatina writer who reads adventure novels, drinks good coffee and plays rugby in her spare time. She has been reporting, writing and editing since 2014 and loves travel because it gives her the opportunity to do one thing a day that scares her. She makes it a point to wake up for at least one sunrise and sunset in every country she visits. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.