The French Riviera seems to exude a magical allure, as romantic as it is naturally beautiful – in its heyday it was the glamorous holiday destination of legendary movie stars and latterly has become the home of plenty of professional cyclists. In the latest part of our series on long weekend cycling destinations, we explore the seaside city of Nice, which sits in the very middle of this gorgeous area. With some of the finest roads to ride in Europe, plus some superb options when it comes to dining out – this is certainly one to add to the list.
Shadows of the winter sun – Charlie Woodall
Riding, roads & road rage 4.5/5
If you stay in central Nice then we’re sorry to say that most of your rides are going to begin with a bit of A-road slogging. Nice doesn’t sprawl as far as cities in the UK like Manchester or London, but the whopping great mountains in every direction do mean there are fewer roads in and out of town – leading to more cars. It can get a little crowded.
Then you also have to consider the uniquely ‘YOLO’ attitude of the Niçois when it comes to driving automobiles. Expect extremely short-notice turns with no use of indicators, ludicrous ‘parking’ and absolutely horrendous surfaces in the confines of the city itself. Riding through rush hour traffic has a very distinct feel of Mad Max.
Parking restrictions, strictly optional – Joel Millard.
Fortunately, all these negatives will melt away when you get out of town and into the magnificent Alpes Maritimes. To the east, the Madone and the Èze. To the west, you’ll find the Col du Vence. Head north and there’s the monstrous Turini and the no-less intimidating Braus. Everywhere you point your front wheel in fact, there’s mountainous magic.
Route de Duranus, en route to Madone d’Utelle.
These are just the road climbs, of course. There are also some incredible MTB trails also within reach of Nice – with the legendary trails of Finale Ligure also just a drive away, across the border in Italy.
In short, Nice is almost certainly the best place in France for accessing amazing climbing from a vibrant liveable city.
Bike Hire 2/5
In Nice you can rent a very good bike, but sadly it doesn’t come cheap. Cafe du Cycliste offers some seriously flash machines, but at a daily rate that’s likely to make all but the yachting set wince – we’re talking around €80 a day. That being said, if you can’t treat yourself on holiday – and their fleet of carbon frame, electronic shifting Italian bikes are nothing if not a treat to ride – then when can you?
No rental bikes here – Charlie Woodall.
At the other end of the market, we-rent-bikes.com will provide you an aluminium steed with Tiagra gearing for €30 per day.
Nice has been a popular spot for tourists for as long as there have been tourists. As such, accommodation options abound – from budget fleapits to luxury five-star hotels. You’ll pay a little more to be right in the heart of the old town, but there are perfectly good places further out of the centre. Space is short in the city, so make sure your hotel can accommodate bicycles securely before you book.
Smiles for days – Charlie Woodall.
Getting there 4.5/5
The airport in Nice is perhaps the loveliest in Europe to ride from into the city. A segregated bike lane runs all the way from Terminal 1, right along the Promenade des Anglais, to the centre of town. If you don’t fancy riding, take the tram for €1.50, or an Uber which takes 20 minutes. Flights are ever so slightly more expensive than Mallorca, which is the only reason we haven’t awarded a full 5/5.
Food and drink 4/5
You’ve probably heard about French food being, you know, ‘quite good’. Well, we’re pleased to report the rumours are true. Nice has abundant food options, from classic brasserie fare, to stodgy post-ride pizza touristico, to hip vegan eateries to restock your nutrients.
The greatest quiche Lorraine in the world can be purchased at a bakery in La Turbie, which happens to be between the Col d’Èze and the Col de la Madone. You can do the Madone from Menton then stop on your way back into Nice for a chunk of yummy, eggy, pastry-y goodness.
Provencal rosé is the speciality in this region of France. It’s yummy. You should have some.
Family friendly 4/5
The biggest draw for the non-cyclists in your party is always going to be the beach. Nice has several miles of pebble-covered shoreline facing onto the gorgeous azure waters of the Mediterranean, which should be more than enough to keep everyone occupied while you do battle with the mighty peaks inland.
If that does get a little bit dull, Nice is also packed with playgrounds and parks, with the frankly stunning Nice Chateau hill boasting lush forest, a giant climbing rope system, ducks and its very own waterfall. If things get wet and miserable, Kid’s City offers a day’s worth of indoor entertainment for the little ones – and you too, if you don’t fancy riding in the wet.
Lacets de Turini – Joel Millard.
Nice also has a good range of stores for those that like to indulge in a bit of retail therapy, from high-end designer, to independent boutiques.
The coffee in France is godawful, as a rule. It’s as though, in the midst of making the world’s best wine they neglected to learn how to make any other beverage. Mercifully, in the middle of this caffeine desert there is the oasis of the Cafe du Cycliste store at the dock. Here you can get a serviceable flat white and a tasty pastry, but as soon as you leave its luxurious environs, be prepared for dark brown swill that manages to be at once weak and overpoweringly horrible.
Another form of caffeine – Charlie Woodall.
If you fancy some early season sun, some brilliant food and delicious wine to wash it down – but, crucially, don’t mind a lousy cup of joe – then Nice is the spot for you. Most businesses tend to reopen by mid-March for the season, so you can go ahead and get booking anytime from now.
Is spring around the corner?