NICE, FRANCE- Between our visits to Paris and London last summer, my family and I came to the conclusion that we wanted to find a place that provided us with the opportunity to sit at a lovely beach by day and enjoy a lively and fun atmosphere in the evening. Nice (http://en.nicetourisme.com) located on the French Riviera, was the logical choice.

The rich blue-green sea, diverse shopping, splendid dining and art deco façades represent the true beauty of this vacation paradise. But there are several spots that a tourist simply must see, such as the Cours Saleya Flower Market, the Matisse Museum, ancient Roman ruins, the Russian Cathedral and more. Nice is second only to Paris in the number of museums and galleries.

Few spots epitomize Nice – or, in fact, the joie de vivre of the French Riviera in general — than the inviting Promenade des Anglais. It is always a beehive of activity. There are tourists relaxing in the royal blue chairs lining the shore, locals roller blading, biking or jogging and vendors selling crepes and drinks.

Old or Vieux Nice is downright dripping with atmosphere. Its narrow streets are a one-stop shop for take-home finds, such as Provençal wares, household items, wine, gourmet gifts, hip clothing and more. There are numerous restaurants in the area, as well as several fun bars and nightclubs. Be sure to stop off for a delicious ice cream in this neighbourhood. We went there twice and really soaked up the atmosphere.

We spent considerable time researching where to stay and the Radisson Blu (www.radissonblu.com/hotel-nice/location) won out for its beautiful seaside location. There are 331 rooms and suites and amenities such free high-speed, wireless internet access and complimentary entrance to the on-site health and fitness club. You can dine at the Bleu Citron or La Terrasse, both well known for delicious international and regional cuisine, or relax on the rooftop terrace with a refreshing cocktail. This Nice hotel, located at 223 Promenade des Anglais, also offers premier services, such as a rooftop pool, sauna and sophisticated meeting facilities. It is only four kilometres from the airport and five kilometres from the train station. We truly appreciated the free seasonal double-decker bus shuttle service to Old Town, which operates in July and August.

We stayed in a picturesque sea view room and let me tell you there is no better sight than opening your blinds each morning, stepping out on a balcony and looking out at the beautiful water and beach front.

First-class beach service at the Radisson Blu Resort Hotel in Nice

First-class beach service at the Radisson Blu Resort Hotel in Nice

Our rate included a generous breakfast buffet at the Bleu Citron. In order to store some perishables we asked the hotel to empty the mini bar for us, which they did at no charge. The hotel has its own exclusive private beach, open from April to October. For a fee we secured sun lounges for the days we were there. I appreciated the personalized service. By my second day all of the staff remembered my name. You are really pampered here. Not only do they set you up with towels, chairs and umbrellas, but you can order food and drinks from a menu. This is a rocky beach (no sand), so bring a pair of beach shoes. The water is warm and inviting.

For business and vacationing guests, additional services like a 24-hour concierge, bike rental and business centre make this a great choice for accommodation. The knowledgeable, multilingual staff is always willing to lend a helping hand or give a piece of advice about the area for guests. I was very impressed with the concierge staff. I had started to call and email them often in the months leading up to the trip and they always responded very quickly. Once checked in, they provided a wealth of information.

Where to dine in Nice? There are a lot of choices and we spent a significant amount of time researching the best options. Our search first stopped at Le Grand Balcon (www.legrandbalcon.net), located at 10 rue St. François de Paule near the opera house. The food is all fresh and homemade. Our meal was absolutely spectacular and I would recommend you place the first on your list of dining choices. It is located on the main drag in Vieux Nice. When we arrived for dinner there were a few tables set up on the outdoor terrace. As we dined, we noticed the staff starting to add more. Within minutes the capacity had more than doubled and in no time at all every spot was filled.

The menu is neatly set up like a stage presentation. Act I features appetizers and our server recommended the selection platter: the chef’s combination of four starters. This included: home-made foie gras; marinated Norway salmon with lime, fennel and dill; raw artichoke salad and shaved parmesan cheese and warm truffles sandwiches. We also shared a fabulous king prawn risotto. For our main course, or Act II, we chose three dishes to share: a grilled beef fillet with super home-made mashed potatoes; scallops in “tuber aestivum” truffles, with added black truffles puree; and sea bass fricassee with sautéed purple artichoke. Act III was dessert. We shared a chocolate delight with home-made caramel and passion fruits and a black truffle and salted butter caramel éclair. Once again, beautifully prepared. This was definitely the best restaurant we experienced in France, topping anything we tried in Paris.

We were excited to learn that there was a Hard Rock Café (www.hardrock.com/cafes/nice) in Nice. In fact it only opened up last November. The atmosphere was great from the moment we walked in. Our waiter, Igor from Budapest, was full of personality. He actually sat down at our table, chatted about his background and then took our order. Located at 5 Promenades des Anglais, the multi-level Hard Rock is nestled near Vieux Nice, along the Mediterranean Sea on the Promenade des Anglais. It has early 6,000 square-feet of space, including seating for 200 guests with 30 seats on a prominent outdoor dining patio. Additional features of the Nice location include a late night bar and Rock Shop filled with iconic Hard Rock merchandise. Additionally, the Café functions as a venue for unique private celebrations and memorable event functions to accommodate Nice’s growing convention market.

With great rock videos playing on the big screen, we felt very much home looking at the menu. We were in the mood for some really good hamburgers and there was no disappointment when Igor delivered them to our table. There is also a Hard Rock in Paris in the Montmartre District, so make this one of your stops.

Mike Cohen’s email address is info@mikecohen.ca. Follow him on Twitter @mikecohencsl and at www.sandboxworld.com/travel.

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