Before my trip to the Côte d’Azur the area was one I’d previously only seen in films and TV series, which was apt seeing as I was visiting to track down some of those very locations. For this first instalment of my two-part look at Nice I’ve stuck to the coastline of the city dubbed « The French Hollywood ».
The Côte d’Azur’s is a film fan’s dream, with over 90 years of connections to the silver screen. The first film studio to be established in Nice was the Victorine (now Studios Riviera) in 1919.
The studio found stars such as Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Robert DeNiro and Rowan Atkinson shooting, respectively, The Comedians (1967), Never Say Never Again (1983), Ronin (1998) and Mr Bean’s Holiday (2007), while dozens of other films have also been made there.
My first surprise was discovering that Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is only 7km from the city centre and that many people walk into town with their bags trundling along behind them. I couldn’t help humming the theme tune to The Persuaders! on leaving the airport, as the old Terminal 1 is seen in the opening moments of the first episode.
I didn’t have a sports car waiting for me, but the shuttle bus was the next best thing.
The next morning I decided to visit some of the higher points of Nice for a view of the surrounding area, a chance to get my bearings. At eight o’clock in the morning there were a few clouds in the sky, but the view of Nice Harbour was still impressive, with the brightly coloured buildings and blue sea brightening up the view.
La Reserve restaurant
On my way back to the city I passed La Reserve de Nice restaurant at 60 Boulevard Franck Pilatte, one of the most popular locations for locals and visitors, with its stunning views across the water enough to make any meal a memorable one.
Jean Dujardin may now be an Oscar-winning actor for his role in The Artist (2011), but rewind to 2005 and he was better known in France as man-child Brice Agosti, star of the comedy Brice de Nice. The film is one of France’s biggest homegrown hits, helping Dujardin on his rise to Hollywood stardom.
Brice’s favourite film is Point Break and he’s keen to copy his hero, Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), by swimming around the shore of Nice. In the film, Brice can be seen preparing to set off into the water from this spot.
La Promenade des Anglais
La Promenade des Anglais, or The Prom, is the main entry to Nice from the airport, taking visitors into the city from the airport and past the Mediterranean Sea.
The Promenade’s film connections are varied, but perhaps the most famous view is from the opening moments of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955), when we see a number of thefts taking place as a cat make its way along the rooftops. After one woman screams as she realises she’s been robbed, she runs onto the balcony of her hotel and La Promenade is clearly seen.
While most directors choose between filming on the road or the pavement, 2002’s The Transporter was shot on both, as director Louis Leterrier showed Frank Martin (Jason Statham) driving his clients, who have just carried out a robbery, out of Nice.
It’s only once I arrived in Nice that I discovered how cleverly the filmmakers had edited the sequence, as it starts at the city’s Chambres de Commerce (see part two for more on this location) before moving back and forth between Nice and Cannes, which is over 20 miles away!
In the above photo montage, the two lower images can be seen in The Transporter, with Frank driving through the centre of the white construction on the bottom right. The arches near the first palm tree on the bottom left photo is the entrance to Nice’s Old Town, just to the right of Le Samourai restaurant.
You can also see Le Palais de la Méditerranée in the above photo, an impressive building with a stunning art deco exterior which has also been used in countless films.
Just out of sight is Lenval Hospital, where Angelina Jolie’s gave birth to her twins in 2008.
Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2012, Le Negresco is one of the grand old ladies of Nice and France’s last privately-owned luxury palace hotel, with 96 bedrooms and 21 suites.
Located on Le Promenade des Anglais, Le Negresco was opened in 1913 to meet the needs of wealthy visitors to the Côte d’Azur. In 1957 the hotel was taken over by the Augier family, with the 89-year-old Madame Jeanne Augier still in residence on the top floor.
Madame Augier ensures that every bedroom is packed with antiques bought at auction and ornaments, makes each one a unique place to stay. Some of the famous residents at Le Negresco include Grace Kelly, Kirk Douglas, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and David Bowie. The latter stayed in the Napoleon suite during a visit in the 1970s (see below).
The hotel is an escape from reality and a chance to live like a film star, even if you’re just buying a cocktail in the bar before heading back onto the Prom.
Nice is the perfect entry point into the Côte d’Azur, with La Promenade a particularly memorable location for fans who may have spotted it in a movie.
In part two I’ll be looking at more of the city, including a spot almost visited by Cary Grant…
Staying in Nice
Although there are dozens of hotels and hostels in Nice, for my first few nights I stayed at the Villa Saint Exupery Beach hostel, located just 50 metres from the main square on the Rua Sacha-Guitry. With it’s spacious rooms, friendly staff and impressive food menu (and bar), the Villa was a low-cost way to start the trip.
The Côte d ‘Azur, within 3 hours of over 30 European destinations, offers a wide range of themed stays all year round. With France’s second airport, Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, the French Riviera is within reach of over 33 countries, 103 destinations and served by 56 airlines. The 2013 schedule is available at www.nice.aeroport.fr and the Nice tourist board website can be found at www.nicetourisme.com.
Visit the Côte d’Azur Tourist Board website for more information on visiting the region.
Main image: CRT Riviera Côte d’Azur – Photographer: Pierre Behar