What to see in Nice, Monaco and Cannes. Jahn Vannisselroy lives the high life for TNT>
I like flowers. They usually get me out of trouble. Like now, for instance, hours after I’ve just about lost all our holiday money at the Monte Carlo Casino (more on that later), so it’s lucky that Nice has a gigantic flower market to provide me with the perfect make-up present.
Gallic chitter-chatter is the soundtrack on Nice’s Cours Saleya as locals and tourists alike mingle in peace, occasionally stopping to smell the vibrant blooms or taste the local preserves.
I go for a mixed bunch of flowers; the rosebuds, some yellow petals and more than a few daisies work a treat.
A clarinet player’s dulcet notes bounce off a shadowy archway as we stroll hand in hand towards the old town, back on track.
From the moment we arrive, the city’s old town seems desperate to attract our attention through the mouths of any local we talk to.
We wander the tangle of narrow streets, the baroque architecture looming overhead as local art springs from galleries at every turn. We pass the Opera House, the Justice Palace and the City Hall (neo-classical on the outside, art deco on the interior), but settle on the Place Rosetti where we sip coffee among the ochre facades and flower-decked balconies, watching Nice locals navigate the cobbled streets by scooter, foot or bike.
Days before, Cannes beckons. There’s no film festival so no bright stars around, but this city doesn’t need celebrity to shine.
Manicured to perfection and bathed in golden sunlight, palatial hotels line the palm-shaded main street, Blvd de la Croisette. Down on the waterfront, the golden-sand Mediterranean beaches are sheer luxury compared to the stony seafront of Nice where you must pay to sunbathe in certain sections.
In Cannes, even the people are shiny. They’re seriously dressed up for a weekday afternoon; the guys in silk shirts, the women like they’re off to the film festival tonight. Fame lurks everywhere: outside the Festival Hall, the palm prints of movie stars and rock royalty line the pavement – it may be months til the next big event but it’s never far away from the city’s consciousness.
We hop aboard the nearby Le Petit Train (£8.50) for a tour of the town. If you’re of an envious nature, it’s best to avoid Cannes: our guide points out Paris Hilton’s favourite party spot, the exclusive VIP Rooms; the superyachts owned by billionaire businessmen and tax dodgers; and the Rue Antibe’s couture shops, chic boutiques and speciality jewellers and perfumeries. Lucky I haven’t been to the Monte Carlo casino yet: this place could have ended up expensive.
Blvd de la Croisette, Cannes
Monaco may be a playground for the rich and famous, but it almost becomes a burial ground for me.
After relaxing in the city’s tranquil Japanese garden, we explore the casino gardens where contemporary sculptures are nestled on sun-drenched terraces, and jealously eye more superyachts.
But bright times call for bright ideas and I come up with visiting the Monte Carlo Casino – if only to see how the rich roll.
Once inside, foolishly imagining myself as James Bond, I sprinkle chips willy nilly across the roulette table, nod to the dealer when I’m on 16 on the Blackjack table and then pump machines full of notes.
I’m in a fever and soon chasing losses, down from €600 (£520) to €200 (£174). An angry girlfriend watches as I insert my second-to-last €50 (£43) note into a slot machine and swat the max credits button. A bead of sweat dribbles down my forehead but I ignore it. Then the gambling gods smile on me. Free spins flash up in a whirl of colour and merry electronic singsong, yielding €300 (£260). I’m back, baby.
However, it’s a quiet bus ride back to Nice as we sit among the Algerian casino/ bar workers heading out of Monaco to their houses on the town’s outskirts. “There must be a way out of this one,” I think. “I wonder where they sell flowers in Nice … ”
Monaco: playground of the rich and famous
» Jahn Vannisselroy was hosted by Nice Tourism (en.nicetourisme.com) and Hotel Le Meurice (hotel-le-meurice.com) in Nice.