A family Christmas in Nice

Christmas in Nice need not be a chilly affair, says Jon Bryant

Winter in Nice is not the woolly scarves, bobble hats, mulled wine and frozen-eared experience that it is in most of the rest of France. I have had Christmas lunch outside every year for the last decade. The 25th is always a crisp, sparkly day with blue skies, bright sun and almost deserted streets.

It was so warm on Christmas day two years ago that my family and I decided to head down to the beach and join the locals for a celebratory swim off Ruhl Plage. In the end we didn’t quite make it into the water, but just being on the beach and watching the brand new bicycles, roller blades and skateboards on the Promenade des Anglais, was much more fun. Afterwards, we went to Le Negresco’s La Rotonde brasserie (tel: (Fr) 4 93 16 64 00, www.hotel-negresco-nice.com). Here they have an oyster bar on the terrace (for parents) and fairground horses from an ornate merry-go-round prancing among the tables.

Failing the swim, the Christmas ice rink alongside Place Masséna stays frozen until February. Opposite is a Ferris wheel which gives great views of the city, the hilltop observatory and the snowy Alps. You can be skiing in less than two hours’ drive from Nice, or there are buses and trains which go directly to the resorts.

Our favourite place to be in December, when the place is chilly and almost deserted, is Parc Phoenix (tel: (Fr) 4 92 29 77 00, www.parc-phoenix.org), opposite the airport. It has seven hectares of parkland, a kids’ play area and lots of parrots, emus and animals strangely incongruous for the French Riviera. There’s also a tropical hothouse if the temperature dips below 10?C.

Christmas celebrations are centred around Place Masséna with gift chalets in the Village de Noël or there’s the Galeries Lafayette department store for last-minute gifts (tel: (Fr) 4 92 17 36 36, www.galerieslafayette.com) where you’ll find children’s clothes on the third floor. The antiques market arrives every Monday in the Cours Saleya, and the Old Town is full of original boutiques where you can buy gloves in any colour at gLOVEme (tel: (Fr) 4 93 79 75 63, www.gloveme.it), original spectacle frames from the 1960s (tel: (Fr) 4 93 01 69 25, www.pourvosbeauxyeux.com), miniature toy cars at J-L Martinetti (tel: (Fr) 4 93 85 61 30, www.martinetti.fr) and a fantastically-French perfume shop called Tanagra (tel: (Fr) 4 93 87 95 00, www.tanagra-nice.com) where everyone whispers. I always leave presents till the last minute, but one hour in the Old Town and it’s all done.

This year we will be going to Les Brasseries Georges (tel: (Fr) 4 92 00 90 40, www.brasseriegeorges.com) for lunch which has a fabulous, Parisian-style dining room, complete with brass handrails, starched tablecloths and seats 200 people. It will be serving capon, oysters and foie gras, the three staples of the French Christmas.

Every year we head for the nearby village of Lucéram whose claim to fame is that it has 450 nativity scenes. It takes a few hours to find them all – some are half-hidden in cracks in the walls, others are life-size on illuminated patios – but it gets you into the festival spirit if help is needed.

Read our third installment on Christmas in Nice HERE