France’s fifth largest city remains the undisputed queen of the Cote d’Azur. Frederic tells us everything we need to know about Nice and its unmissable Carnival – a fortnight of fireworks, flower parades and parties
It’s Nice Carnival time again! From 15 February to March 6th there will, once again, be the flower parades, carnival parades and the Parade of Lights. If you haven’t been to Nice in carnival time, you’re missing out. Make 2013 the year, that you visit. You don’t have to be there to buy advance tickets. You can purchase your tickets in advance by phone or online and so you collect them directly at the ‘Nice Convention and Visitors Office’ just close to the events.
The Nice Carnival
Last year, the carnival’s theme was ‘The King of Sports’, a theme inspired by the imminent 2012 London Olympic Games. Huge characters of the royal family as well as phone boxes were made up some of the many giant figures that celebrated the long historical links between Nice and UK.
During the 19th century, British visitors made Nice the fashionable place to be when they came in large numbers to enjoy the mild climate and the French joi-de-vivre. Nowadays, the weather is still cool and people in Nice are pleased to welcome visitors from all over the world. However UK visitors retain a special place in the hearts of locals. The long seaside promenade, more than eight kilometres, is well-named ‘Promenade des Anglais’ in recognition of the debt that Nice owes to the British.
This year, the carnival’s theme is ‘The King of the five continents’. There will be a world tour by international cartoonists, which will be brought to life by the creative and talented ‘carnavaliers’ in Nice. It will last for nearly three weeks and events are scheduled every Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Traditionally the Flower Parade, which is the most well known feature of the whole carnival, takes place on the Promenade des Anglais. Around 20 floats, elegantly decorated in floral decorations, slowly travel in a long procession along the seaside. The boisterous music of bands will accompany the fabulous characters all dressed up in incredible costumes and various street performers, who always are a favourite with the public. To decorate the flowery floats, 10s of thousands of fresh flowers are used and need hours of work to get it all in place. Installed on board the floats, several tall and smiling young ladies throw fresh flowers into the crowd. The game for the spectators is to catch some of these beautiful flowers and take them back home. Or as many French bachelors do, offer them to any unknown woman in the crowd. A nice smile is the only expected thanks.
During the Flower Parade also called the Battle of Flowers (Bataille de Fleurs in French), spectators use confetti and those funny small spray cans that throw sticky coloured jelly streamers. The whole atmosphere is one of fun, frivolity and joy. You might think that this is just for children but adults seem to have regressed to the childhoods as well! The show is not limited to the parade itself, but invades the grandstands. Spectators become carnival participants.
The same lightly, crazy atmosphere grasps the crowds gathered on the tall stands built on Massena Square for the Carnival Parade. The floats carry the endless imagination of their creators and designers to represent the five continents. Among them is the King of the Carnival and he is the easiest to identify with his large, colourful crown. The day parade offers the best view of all floats and their enthusiastic riders. The night parade, the Parade of Lights, is more mysterious and magical, with many spectators wearing fancy dresses and pretty masks.
On the last night of the carnival, the giant figure of the King of the Carnival itself is burnt on board a barge which faces the Promenade des Anglais and that heralds the huge firework display that marks the end of carnival. It is now that Nice’s mayor announces the carnival theme for the following year.
Menton Lemon Festival
Visiting Nice during the Carnival, gives anyone a good opportunity to join another major event on the French Riviera, the Menton Lemon Festival which runs from 17-24 February. Half an hour is all you need to travel the40 kilometres of motorway between Nice and Menton, but due to a lack of easy parking during this crowded time, a 30 minute trip by local train would be by far the better option.
If Nice is well known for being in the middle of a region where spectacular flowers can be seen, then the tiny microclimate of Menton makes this town the world capital of lemon trees. So, in Menton 180 tonness of fresh lemons and oranges replace the flowers on the floats. To avoid any food wastage, every fruit is fixed on the floats by rubber bands and after the parade all fruits are sold at low prices to public. The Menton Lemon Festival is a little smaller than the Nice Carnival, but the same spirit spurs on the spectators to enjoy the feast and make it an unforgettable day.
Nice, what else?
Apart from the carnival’s events, Nice has a lot to offer to visitors. Walking on the Promenade des Anglais is what the British have done for over a century. They watch the small waves caressing the beach pebbles, admire those courageous ones who jump in the sea regardless of the temperatures and being gaze impressed by the endless panorama of buildings frontages and palm trees.
At the eastern end of the promenade, down by the Castle Hill (the castle is long gone), Old Nice awaits visitors. Depending on the day, the beautiful Cours Saleya shelters open-air markets like the antiques one, the flower market or the food market. Get lost in the small pedestrian and narrow streets around the Cours Saleya and wherever you are there will be bars, restaurants, small grocers, fresh homemade pasta shops, first quality olive oil sellers, and many more. The Palais Lascaris, a very old noble baroque house from the 17th century, which is hidden in the centre of Old Nice is worth a visit.
Close to the end of the harbour, there are to be found many antique shops in and around Place Massena, a huge square with yellow buildings and arcades. The Ségurane Street is filled with antiques dealers. For well known designer brands head for Jean Medecin Street and the surrounding area. With such a history it is no surprise to find many museums. Close to the airport is the Asian Arts Museum – small maybe but it offers a perfect overview of Asian antiquity. The concept of the white building surrounded by a small lake gives a fabulous feeling of serenity. http://www.arts-asiatiques.com
A little away from the centre in the Cimiez district, the Matisse Museum stands on top of the hill. It’s housed in an elegant 17th century Genovese style palace. The museum presents the fabulous collection of Matisse’s works left by the artist and his heirs to the City of Nice where he lived for 36 years before his death in 1954.
The choice of hotels in Nice is huge and should fit everyone’s budget. But Nice is a very large city, and during the carnival the traffic can make life difficult, so allow extra time if you are driving. Next door to the legendary Negresco which is celebrating it’s centenary this year, is the Palais de la Méditerranée is a luxurious five-star hotel right on the Promenade des Anglais. The Palais de la Méditerranée has a fabulous, white 1930 Art-Déco frontage and the sea view from the huge terrace on the third floor is impressive. Even if you don’t stay there, look as though you do, take a drink at the bar and see the view! For carnival visitors the location is great, just 200 yards from the Flower Parade route and a three-minute walk to Massena Square for the carnival parade. The Old Nice district is also within walking distance. And the Nice Tourism Office is just 10 metres away. (They will have up-to-date figures on where accommodation is available.) At the the Palais de la Méditerranée the rooms and the service are as perfect as you expect from a luxury hotel that offers its guests a very quiet and peaceful nest to rest, even with the crowd of carnival spectators moving around.
But if you want, apart from the Carnival events, to be really away from the crowd and the noise of a big city, why not move west 8km to St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat the small peninsula known to be the hippest place on the French Riviera, and stay at the Royal Riviera Hotel, another luxury hotel. Very huge rooms with sea view, a sandy beach and a fabulous ‘cuisine’ are some of the privileges that await guests. A place where the welcoming attitude of all the staff makes you feel like being back home.
If the choice of hotels is large, the choice of restaurants is even larger! Just walk by, be inspired by your food mood, look at the outside menus, have a glimpse at customers plates and ‘Bon Appétit!’ If you want to have dinner just before or after the Parade of Lights, Attimi is a good option. Set right on the corner of the Massena Square, 50 yards away from the strands, Attimi is a bio slow food Italian restaurant serving delicate meals and also fabulous pizzas.
On the Cours Saleya, among many others, the ’26 Cours Saleya’ is quite a new restaurant offering a French cuisine, modern and authentic, with a nice view on the busy market place by lunchtime.
For further information on Nice, please visit http://en.nicetourisme.com/