Nice is booming, despite and in defiance of the terrorist attack that shattered the Bastille Day celebrations here less than two years ago. Irina Brook, daughter of legendary director Peter Brook, who runs the prestigious Théâtre National de Nice, reveals her favourite art venues, restaurants and bars.
Saved from demolition at the last minute, Nice’s immense municipal abattoir has been reborn as a cutting-edge venue for parties, exhibitions and performances. Part of it is given over to the studios and gallery of La Station, an artists’ collective that started out occupying a petrol station. There is a space dedicated to urban architecture, and at weekends DJs and live bands perform everything from techno and hip-hop to funk and French rock. Le 109 is part of Botoxs, an umbrella organisation covering an amazing selection of alternative art spaces across the city, including La Maison Abandonnée, an empty villa transformed into a magical installation space, and Villa Arson, a renowned art school that exhibits work by current students and international artists.
• 89 rue de Turin, le109.nice.fr
Right across from my office and Mamac (see below), this modern coffee shop makes me feel that Nice can be as funky as Brooklyn or Soho. It has simple, minimalist decor, serious coffee (ristretto €1,80, cold brew €3), delicious cakes and cookies, and organic eggs benedict (€13) with a Brewdog Punk IPA for brunch. Fast wifi allows a young networking clientele to use this as a productive co-working venue.
• 64 boulevard Risso, workhousecafe.com
This welcoming health-food diner typifies the changes sweeping through Nice’s food scene, with a host of alternative eateries offering exciting vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free cuisine – a change from classic niçois cooking. Owners Barbara and Nico prepare everything at an open kitchen: choose a fruit smoothie or match a latte with speciality raw cakes, while a mega salad of hummus, fennel, sweet potato roasted in cocoa, braised endive and a lot more costs €13.
• 11 rue François Guisol, badaboom-nice.net
The bars and bistros round Nice’s port are increasingly popular among locals, though less well-known to tourists, who tend to stick to the old town. The latest hotspot, opened a few months ago, is this snug wine bar with a cellar stretching to 300 organic, biodynamic and artisan wines. Sit down with a bottle that costs the same as takeaway plus a reasonable €7 corkage. Small plates (from €7) include a delicious choice of pâtés and saucisson from the butcher next door, sardines and anchovies, and goat’s cheese from a local farmer. Wine by the glass costs from €4.50.
• 10 rue Lascaris, lautrepart-nice.com
Museum of Modern Art
Nice has major museums dedicated to two of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Musée Matisse and Musée Chagall. But in the historic centre, next door to the Théâtre National, stands the monumental Museum of Contemporary Art (Mamac). The dynamic curator, Hélène Guenin, has made a great effort to initiate an avant-garde programme spotlighting emerging talents alongside an impressive permanent collection including César, Arman, Ben, Yves Klein and Niki de Saint-Phalle. Apart from temporary conceptual exhibitions in the museum and its minimalist pop-up space, the Galerie des Ponchettes down on the waterfront, Mamac also runs a workshop programme.
• Place Yves Klein, mamac-nice.org
Royal negresco cocktail at the Hotel of the same name.
Dominating the Promenade des Anglais and the curving beach of La Baie des Anges, the historic Negresco is somewhere everyone must experience, and there is no need to spend a fortune by booking a room. Its famous cocktail bar now attracts a younger, hipper clientele, with DJ sets, live jazz and latino bands performing at night. The bar staff mix great cocktails, such as the signature royal negresco, with champagne, kirsch and raspberry juice. Its popular brasserie, La Rotonde, which has totally kitsch merry-go-round decor, serves tasty traditional niçois classics at acceptable prices (the plat du jour is €19.50).
Conservatory of music
A place visitors often miss is the prestigious Conservatoire de Nice, in the hills above the city. The no 15 bus winds up past the lavish villas and palaces of the exclusive Cimiez neighbourhood, including a sumptuous residence built for Queen Victoria, arriving almost at the door of the conservatory’s modern auditorium. There is a regular weekly programme of classical and experimental music, orchestras and soloists, students and masterclasses, with most concerts free of charge.
• 127 avenue de Brancolar, crr-nice.org
Photograph: John Brunton
This is quite simply the best fish restaurant in Nice. I was recently directing a production of Romeo and Juliet at the opera house, a stone’s throw away, and we would dash in at the interval. The chefs at Piexes worked miracles preparing their amazing ceviches (€13 a portion) so we could get back in time for the next act. There’s delicate sea bream marinated in coconut milk, lemon grass and tamarind and succulent scallops with tangy passion fruit juice and avocado puree, but they also serve oysters, a spicy salmon tataki, and a theatrical smoked octopus with gnocchi and courgettes (€18).
• 4 rue de l’Opéra, on Facebook
La Table d’Etsuko
Japanese chef Etsuko Fuhazawa guest cooks in Nice’s vegetarian restaurants and has taken part in the annual eco-awareness day – Mon Corps, Ma Planète – that I initiated at the Théâtre National. Now fans of her exquisite cuisine can book lunch in her home kitchen. She lives by the sprawling street market surrounding the old Gare du Sud, and shops in the early morning for the freshest produce from her favourite fishmongers and vegetable growers, then composes a lunch menu of five or six surprising dishes. Her vegetarian and seafood cuisine is essentially Japanese but adapted to use niçois produce that is 100% organic. It is a great deal at €20pp and might feature line-fished mackerel marinated in soy sauce and ginger, traditional non-pasteurised miso soup with local oyster mushrooms, wakame and kelp, or a salad of chard, apple, nori seaweed and green peas.
• Address given on booking, on Facebook
Ooh Poo Pah Doo
Hidden among the traditional bistros of the vieille ville, this great bar and dance venue is a firm late-night favourite with locals for its northern soul and 1960s rock & roll. It’s quiet before midnight, when the vinyl DJ gets going by the basement dance floor. For excellent live jazz, funk and Rhythm & Blues bands, drop in at Le Shapko next door, where sets start at 10pm and a glass of wine is €4.50 with no cover charge for the music.
• 27 rue Benoit Bunico, on Facebook
Where to stay
In a grand 1900s villa close to the station, Villa Bougainville (doubles from €77 room-only) is a great-value retro design hotel. Two blocks back from the Promenade des Anglais, the Jay (doubles from €82 room-only) is a stylish boutique property with vintage art deco furnishings.
EasyJet flies to Nice from Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted from £65 return. Ryanair flies from Stansted from £42 return. Eurostar trains go from London St Pancras from £190 return.