When you think of the South of France, you think of steamy, sunny days; sprawls of sun loungers, and ‘beautiful people’ dining al fresco sipping rose at one of the chic restaurants. The reality is, is that it can be scorching hot and chock-full of tourists during the summer. And while the South of France’s main tourist season extends from early summer into the autumn, there is definitely plenty to do during the winter without worrying too much about the cold, unless you want to. The weather in the South of France is quite mild with winter highs between 13-15° C (55-60° F). It’s a great time to take advantage of wandering around with plenty of unique things to see and do without fighting the crowds. And you’ll often find it’s less expensive all around. Situate yourself in Nice and use that as your base. Here are my suggestions of the Top 10 things to do and see on the Cote d’Azur during winter:
1) Head to Auron Ski Resort
Nice is just at the southern end of the Alps and there are six ski resorts within varying distances: Auron, Isola 2000, Valberg, la Colmiane, Roubion et Le Boréon. The resort of Auron is the closest at only 1.5-2 hrs from Nice and you can take local transport to get there. It’s a great place for beginners to advanced skiers, along with non-ski sports, such as ice skating, ‘Airboard Luge’, snowmobiling, riding a horse-drawn carriage and even swimming and doing aqua cycling in an outdoor pool that’s heated to 30°C (86°F)! There is a dedicated ski bus called the Bus 100% Neige, which you need to reserve in advance from Lignes d’Azur and leaves just outside the Nice Ville train station. There are a few hotels, restaurants and bars, and you can easily make a day or an overnight of it. Great for fresh, clean air and beautiful views of the Southern Alps.
2) Attend a Winter Festival
During the month of February there are three popular winter festivals taking place around the same time, so you can take advantage of them all. Nice gears up for the famous Nice Carnival from 10-26 February 2017. The city of Menton, near the Italian border, hosts the Fete du Citron from 11 Feb – 1 March 2017, and nearby Mandelieu la Napoule celebrates its favorite flower during the Fête du Mimosa from around the 15-24 February. These towns will be busier during February and hotels will book up. Pulling some random dates in February, currently the 5* Hyatt Palais de la Mediterranean on the Promenade des Anglais is showing rates as low as €126 ($133) per night, which is fantastic for the quality and location. The 4* Nice Beau Rivage, just at the edge of Old Town, also on the Promenade, is coming up at €84 ($88) per night, and 3* Hôtel Le Genève conveniently located next to Place Garibaldi is at €55 ($58) per night.
3) Listen to Traditional Jazz
La Cave Romagnan is one of Nice’s oldest caves, and on Saturday evenings, they offer a Jazz apero from 7 – 10 pm. Get there early as the place is quite small and in the winter everyone squeezes in to get a glimpse of the band and grab a chair, while others are blocked, belly up to the bar trying to get a drink. You will also find various art installations (paintings, drawings, and photos) on the walls by local artists, many of which are for sale. It’s truly an old traditional treat. They are at 22, rue d’Angleterre, Nice.
4) Enjoy Lunch in the Company of Cats!
Warm up to the purr of Atyl (Oriental), Jaya (Bengal Snow), Evoli (Selkirk Rex), Edguard (Sphynx), Luke (Maine Coon) and Leon (American Curl), at La Ronronnerie, Nice’s first Cat Café. That’s correct, Cat Café! And the cats run the joint. This exotic crew of felines will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside while you enjoy a light lunch of bagel sandwiches and various salads. Make sure you go with a small pack of Kleenex. Jaya, the Bengal Snow cat, loves when you throw them up on her turf. She’ll bat the pack of Kleenex back at you! And Atys will steal the ham from your bagel when you are not looking! Very naughty! But I can’t say enough about this place. I could spend hours there. They are all exotic kitties and they are just beautiful. Le Ronronnerie is located at 4 rue de Lépante, Nice.
5) Afternoon Tea in Monaco
Treat yourself to a regal afternoon tea at the 5* Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Choose from Black, Green, White, Herbal, Flavored and Smoked tea from around the world. Add some of their delicious homemade pastries and you can while away the hours snacking in luxury in Le Limùn Restaurant. They are located near the Monte-Carlo Casino at Square Beaumarchais.
6) Enjoy Discounts with the French Riviera Pass
Buy a French Riviera Pass for 24, 48 or 72 hours, and take advantage of the numerous attractions you can see for free. Nice alone has 15 different museums with the most famous being the Chagall Museum, the Matisse Museum, and M.A.M.A.C. These are all included for free with your pass. Other attractions that are included free are: the Picasso Museum in Antibes, the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, the Nice OpenTour Bus (Hop-on, Hop-off), a cologne-making workshop in Eze, the Exotic Gardens of Eze and Monaco, a boat trip to Cannes, guided tour of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the Garibaldi Crypt, a wine tasting at Domaine de Toasc – and this is just to name a few. Well worth the price of the card if you use your time wisely. You can order online.
7) Check out the Opera
Take in some culture at the Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur. This beautiful building was re-opened in 1885 after a massive fire in 1881. The original theatre, the “petit théâtre en bois” (little wood theatre) was first created in 1776. There you can enjoy operas, symphonies and philharmonic music throughout the year. This season you can see Tosca, Eugène Onéguine and Carmen. You can also enjoy chamber music at the Chagall Museum and the Louis Nucéra Library auditorium.
8) Shop ’til you drop!
Winter sales start mid-January and go on for about a month, so you can stock up on warm-weather items at a fraction of the cost – so leave space in your suitcase. You can find great deals in the local shopping malls of Nice Etoile on Jean Medecin in the heart of Nice, Cap 3000, which is out by the airport (there are numerous buses from the center of Nice that will take you there), and there is a new shopping mall in neighboring Cagnes-sur-Mer called Polygon Riviera. Take a train from the main train station at Nice Ville and get off at the Cagnes-sur-Mer SNCF train station. From there, take the 57 bus right outside directly to Polygon. While the Polygon is an open-air sprawl, you can warm up inside the shops and restaurants. It’s quite nice so go on a sunny day, and since there are more than 300 sunny days a year, you are sure to come across at least one when you are here. Last, but not least, is Galeries Lafayette, a multi-story department store, smack-dab in Place Masséna.
9) Watch a Drag Show
Nice is very gay friendly and there’s a hot spot in Old Town Nice by Place Rosetti called Bar B*tch/Butch. It’s a very open atmosphere of young, old, gay or not converging for a cabaret-style spectacle. Each Sunday they have a show starting around 10 pm with typically 3-4 lavishly dressed ‘ladies’ who lip-synch to popular tunes. Their makeup is impeccable and outfits are out of this world. Closed during the month of January. For more gay-friendly atmosphere, head to Rue Bonaparte just on the other side of Place Garibaldi. Bar Butch is located at 2 Rue Rossetti, Nice.
10) Sample authentic Nicoise cuisine
You will find many restaurants serving traditional Nicoise cuisine, but one of the more authentic is Acchiardo Restaurant in Old Town Nice. They serve a melange of Nicoise and Mediterranean flavors. The Acchiardo family have been operating since 1927 and it is now 4 generations deep. It’s near impossible to get in here during summer. They don’t take credit cards and reservations are highly recommended. Otherwise, get there by 7pm when doors open. It fills up quick! Some popular items are their red wine marinated daube over traditional ravioli, stuffed vegetables called Farcis, fois gras, swordfish, rabbit, and duck. The desserts are interesting and local wines are reasonably priced. 38 Rue Doite in Old Town, Nice. Enjoy your stay!!