Relax in Nice, a seaside city whose belle époque vibe never seems to end. This appealing spot on the legendary Riviera is France's most popular tourist destination after Paris: 4 million visitors flock here each year to enjoy the laid-back Provençal lifestyle and a Mediterranean climate of endless summers and balmy winters. France's fifth-largest city is more than just a seaside resort, however. Cultural attractions of all types – music, art, gastronomy, architecture – abound.
See what Matisse saw in Nice at Musée Matisse (www.musee-matisse-nice.org), one of several superb – free – municipal art museums. Other unmissable cultural attractions include Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (www.mamac-nice.org), which is exactly what its name implies, and the palatial art gallery in Villa Masséna (http://www.nice.fr/Culture/Musees-et-expositions/Villa-Massena). But to soak up Nice's special light and ambiance, simply stroll along Promenade des Anglais, joining joggers, skaters, families and earnest pétanque players. If the beaches of Baie des Anges are too pebbly for your angelic feet, head a little east to the sandy beaches of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
If your holiday attire isn't chic enough to match the fashionable locals, seek out Galeries Lafayette (www.galerieslafayette.com) or another upscale store on Nice's major shopping street, Avenue Jean Médecin. It's hard to resist the chocolaty temptations of Maison Auer (www.maison-auer.com), family-run since 1820 in an ornate little chocolaterie opposite the opera house. A healthier shopping experience involves browsing Nice's colourful daily markets – the most colourful being at Cours Saleya, heaped with flower bouquets along with fruit and the delicious olives, garlic and fresh basil that form the basis of cuisine niçoise.
You'll taste some of that market-fresh produce a few steps from Cours Saleya at Don Camillo Créations (www.doncamillo-creations.fr), a fine-dining restaurant where multi-course tasting menus might include "très mignon" veal or prawn tempura with chestnut cake and seaweed. For fish that practically flops from the boat onto your plate, head to Les Pecheurs (www.lespecheurs.com) – the Fishermen – in the port. If you prefer your ingredients out of the ground than out of the sea, Terres de Truffes (www.terresdetruffes.com) succeeds in putting truffles in just about every dish imaginable.
It's hard to eat badly in Nice – just as it's hard to avoid getting caught up in the fun-loving party spirit. From Casino Ruhl Barrière (www.lucienbarriere.com/fr/Casino/Nice/accueil.html) on Promenade des Anglais to cabaret at Bar des Oiseaux (www.bardesoiseaux.com) in the Old Town, you'll have plenty of opportunities to splash your cash and shake your booty. Raise the stakes with a night at the flamboyant Opéra de Nice (www.opera-nice.org), designed – like Paris' opera house – by Charles Garnier.
Parties in Nice often spill out onto the streets, particularly during festive periods like Christmas, when you can expect skating rinks, craft markets, hot wine and beautiful nativity scenes accompanied by cheerful carol singing. February's carnival (www.nicecarnaval.com) is Nice's biggest annual event, drawing over a million revellers to its flower parades along Avenue Jean Médecin. Another long-running event is July's Jazz Festival (www.nicejazzfestival.fr), going strong since 1948 – practically before jazz even came to Europe. Just don't try to do everything at once – this city was designed for relaxation.