Shopping in Nice: A Sensory Smorgasbord

Marseille soap for sale in Old NiceMan buying a hat in Vieux Nice

There is a saying among Parisians, “Nice n’est pas a nous”, which translates “Nice is not ours”. Far from an insult, those who do not reside in the 5th largest city in France are merely paying homage to the city’s distinctly Nicoise flavor, the result of a heritage and culture greatly influenced by its geographic situation – the sea to the south, the Alps to the north, Provencal to the west, and Italy twenty miles to the east, with each shared border exerting its own unique influence on Nice’s soul. Since it is such a singular, colorful location, it should surprise no one visiting Nice that it is home to some of the most delightful shopping experiences in the world. Though there are countless possible sights to see and activities to explore, any savvy shopper will likely want to spend the majority of their stay in Nice taking advantage of its vast array of high fashion boutiques, matchless open air markets and unparalleled antiquing opportunities.

Those wishing to outfit themselves in high-end couture need look no further than the aptly named Rue Paradis, just off the Place Massena next to old Nice, which serves as the central square and heart of the shopping district. Rue Paradis is home to such boutiques as Bonpoint, which caters to children and babies; Sonia Rykiel, for women and girls; Faconnable for the men; and Armani, which serves up sumptuous clothing for both sexes. Men and women who need pens that will stand up to a lifetime of check writing can avail themselves of the services of the Mont Blanc staff, while jetsetters in need of new luggage or handbags can peruse Louis Vuitton. Anyone with a genuinely expansive pocketbook can then follow up their tour of these shops with a quick trip around the corner onto Avenue de Verdon, where they can visit Marina Rinaldi, and then purchase a Cartier watch to better set off their new Hermes scarf. Similar thrills can be found on other streets leading off the square, including Rue Longchamp and Rue de la Liberte, both housing a number of the best quality shops, and Rue de Massenet, a street containing the excellent menswear shop, Claude Bonucci, and one of the French Riveria’s premiere women’s boutiques, Pink.

If these stores prove a bit rich for a buyer’s tastes, or they are in need of a more diverse selection, they can trek to Avenue Jean Medecin, which runs from the Place Massena up through the heart of the city, and contains the majority of Nice’s main shopping opportunities. Though this avenue is also lined with pricey boutiques, it is home to a number of department stores as well. It might be advisable to begin at the Nouvelles Galleries, which is the largest of the chain stores, particularly if the shopper is in need of bilingual services or is a non-European seeking a place where making “tax-free” purchases is easy and convenient. Another promising shopping option is the Galleries Lafayette, a French chain store which is also located on the avenue and contains its own collection of designer clothes and goods.

If these two stores’ many departments do not offer enough variety, a relaxing stroll to Nice’s modern mall, the Nice Etoile, should soon satisfy. The Nice Etoile is enjoying a new renaissance after six months of redecorating and enhancement, including the addition of a beautiful new atrium. The mall houses dozens of clothing stores such as C&A, and also provides a number of top quality accessory shops, in addition to home furnishing stores such as Habitat and Maison du Monde. Shoppers should note that while the fashions at Nice Etoile are quite reasonable, other items can still be fairly expensive. Still, for those who prefer to drive to their shopping destinations, Nice Etoile may remain the most attractive option of all, as it offers ample parking.

Shoppers who wish to confine themselves to the market areas like the Cours Saleya or the old port, but still desire a little haute couture shopping experience can visit stores such as Agnes B and Saint James. Agnes B, located just around the corner from the Cours Saleya, is a women’s clothing shop with an ever changing cast of simple yet stylish clothes; if men want to don Agnes B’s posh fashions, however, they must visit the menswear branch on Rue Longchamp, near Galleries Lafayette. Both men and women need look no further for smart and sporty casual clothing than Saint James, which is located Ile de la Beaute just off the old port.

No matter where they choose to spend their money, shoppers should recognize that it is best to plan on shopping in the morning or mid-afternoon, as most shops will be short-staffed or closed entirely from noon to two p.m. for lunch. The good news is that during this time, attention is turned to the equally important purchase and consumption of Nice’s many fine foods and wines. Adventurous diners may even opt to try one of Nice’s most (in)famous dishes, the pungent but tasty stockfish, a stew made with dried cod. Whether one does decide to take this plunge, or prefers less challenging fare like pissaladiere, a pizza traditionally made with caramelized onions, olives and anchovies, any diner would do well to secure a table at La Merenda. A tiny bistro located in what was once a cellar/garage, La Merenda is known for its top notch food and atmosphere; the restaurant has no telephone, so all reservations must be made in person, does not take checks or credit cards, and has a strict no smoking policy. Weary shoppers wanting a decidedly Nicoise-style dining experience need look no further than La Merenda.

Perhaps an even more colourful time is to be found in the open air markets, which offer a seemingly endless selection of fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables, fish, and other delicacies. The most famous market is the aforementioned Cours Saleya, which every Tuesday to Sunday serves up a bounty of the senses in the form of stalls crammed with herbs, olives, and flowers – and that is just the beginning of its offerings. The market, only one block from the sea, is considered to have one of the best fruit, vegetable, and fish selections in France, and sells its produce and seafood, along with its flowers, until roughly noon each day. Nice is also considered to produce some of the best olive oils in the world, and a large number of oils can be sampled and purchased here. The Cours Saleya’s Mondays are reserved for its antique market, which is famous for the variety of offerings ranging from inexpensive antique postcards to priceless china and silverware to a plethora of other items both kitschy and chic, many of which may prove once-in-a-lifetime finds. A shopper searching for something new to commemorate their stay can also opt to attend the highly prized arts & crafts market, held each evening.

Those who want to find their fortunes elsewhere need only venture as far as the renowned fish market held Tuesday through Sunday mornings at Place Saint-Francois, and a solid alternative to Cours Saleya can be found at the market held each morning in the Malussena on the Ave Jean Medicin. For those wanting to purchase quality fish, meat, vegetables and fruit without having to deal with the tourist crowds, there is always Cite de la Buffa, a covered market that is equally nice but less frequented, as it is not often indicated in tourist guides. The three entrances to this market are located on Boulevard Gambetta, two blocks from the Place Massena, beside the Casino grocery on Rue de Marechal Joffre, and on Rue de la Buffa.

Finally, any shopper in Nice should strongly consider visiting the old port area, more formally known as the Port of Lympia, which began construction in 1748 and is now, suitably, home to Nice’s greatest antiquing opportunities. Although there are interesting curiosities to be found at the vendors that make up the Marche aux Puces (better known as the Flea Market) held Tuesday through Sunday on Quai Lunel, the highest quality antique shops fan out west of the port around Rue Emmanuel Philibert, each carrying items perhaps more suited to the serious antique buyer. For those who would like to view a great number of beautiful antiques without much walking, the Le Puces de Nice will surely fit the bill, as it houses one of the port’s largest merchandise collections under one roof.

Though it may not “belong” to the Parisians, Nice’s one-of-a-kind history and culture have created an atmosphere that stimulates the senses even as it threatens to empty the wallet. Though the belle epoque or “beautiful age” is said to have lasted only from 1880 to 1914, shoppers taking in the trendy boutiques, mind-blowing markets and treasure troves of antiques may beg to differ. Possessing as it does the ability to offer items for nearly every imaginable taste or budget, Nice is truly a shopper’s paradise by the sea.