It's the Côte d'Azur without the attitude. Nice stitches together so much that you expect of Europe – a beautiful old town, great art, an intricate history – but combines it with arguably the continent's finest seaside promenade. The stony beach commands all the attention, but behind its back are a couple of Europe's best small art galleries and a gorgeous old town that betrays the fact that this French city named after a Greek god (Nike) was part of Italy until 1860.
The lanes of Nice's old town, Vieux Nice, are like slot canyons dropped between shuttered Italianate buildings – burrow your way into Place du Palais de Justice and you'd swear you were in Italy. Visit the open-air food market on cours Saleya for a visual and olfactory treat, then climb the stairs (or take the free lift) up the rocky Colline du Chateau promontory. A sign at the bottom promises one of the world's great views – keep expectations a little more realistic and you'll find a mighty fine outlook over the bay and Nice's rooftops.
Running through Vieux Nice, Rue de la Prefecture is the heart of old-town dining, though the Irish pubs and Mexican kitchens can be underwhelming. Immediately behind Rue de la Prefecture is a parallel lane – Rue de l'Abbaye – so narrow it doesn't even make most maps, but is wall-to-wall with restaurant seating. Seek out Le Maquis, saving room for its desserts, which are made in-house by its own patisserie chef. See lemaquisnice.com
While the bulk of visitors are reluctant to leave the beach, two wonderful art galleries linger in Nice's suburbs. Henri Matisse came to Nice in 1917 and produced the bulk of his works here, and the Matisse Museum's collection ranges from his early, dark still lifes through to the blue nudes in the years before his death. It's essentially a journey through Matisse's discovery of the radiant light of France's south. The nearby Chagall National Museum is the only French national museum to have ever been inaugurated by its living artist. The gallery is designed around Chagall's 17 enormous biblical paintings, all in his brilliantly colourful style. There's a concert hall with stained-glass windows custom-designed by Chagall, and an enormous exterior mosaic Chagall also produced specifically for the gallery. See musee-matisse-nice.org en.musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr/chagall
If you want to be seen, or just see, in Nice, a strut along the seaside Promenade des Anglais is compulsory. In summer the four-kilometre-long beach beside it is a mosaic of umbrellas and bodies lying on the flat stones. If you tire of the walk, the promenade is lined with stations for the city bike-hire scheme, so you can pedal back on its dedicated bike path.
Commanding the scene along the Promenade des Anglais is the pink-domed Negresco Hotel, which is as much a landmark as a place to sleep. Pay large at the belle époque beauty and you get balconies overlooking the sea, while there's also a gallery-quality collection of around 6000 artworks, a two-starred Michelin restaurant, and a glass dome designed by Gustave Eiffel. See hotel-negresco-nice.com
Expect to pay around €20 a day to bake among the beautiful people on Nice's private sections of beach, which offer up sun loungers, beach umbrellas, meals and drinks. If the stones are good enough for you, there are 25 sections of public beach slotted in between.
Andrew Bain was a guest of UTracks.