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The French Riviera has a reputation as a place of legendary glamour. Just saying “Cote d’Azur” conjures images of glitzy luminaries in convertible sportscars zipping down the promenade, probably heading to some fabulous soiree to sip champagne while gazing over the crystal-blue Mediterranean Sea.
To me, the Riviera always seemed like a slice of rosé-tinted heaven that’s so beautiful it must be exclusive. But on a recent trip to Nice, the largest city of the Cote d’Azur, it took virtually no time to realize how delightfully wrong I was. This coastal region represents the best of French culture, with a warmth infused in the atmosphere, in the Niçois residents, and in the local LGBTQ+ community.
The first clear welcome is landing at Nice Cote d’Azur Airport, which juts out into the Bay of Angels, inviting a panoramic first peek of the promenade, hillside city, and distant mountain peaks. There are direct flights here from several U.S. cities, including aboard La Compagnie, the all-business-class French airline with competitive rates from Newark Airport. From the Nice airport, it’s a quick, inexpensive tram ride right into the city center.
Nice is wonderfully walkable, with convenient lodging options all around the main drag (and tram route) that is Avenue Jean Medecin. For me, Hotel Boscolo Nice was a perfect spot to reach Vieux Nice (the historic Old Town), the famous Promenade des Anglais, the LGBTQ-leaning Carabacel neighborhood, and other sights around town. Along with chic rooms and two ground-floor restaurants, Hotel Boscolo has good rates and a fantastic rooftop with a plunge pool, dining, and evening DJs. Its subterranean spa was an especially nice surprise for unwinding with a steam or sauna, and relaxing in the spacious hydromassage pool.
Because the Nice Côte d’Azur tourism bureau is a global partner of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), I dove right into local gay culture with a stop at the Nice Côte d’Azur LGBT Centre. The Centre offers classes, meeting spaces, and more for queer locals and visitors, and I soon got tons of hot travel tips from these friendly folx.
The Centre is integral to Irisée Naturellement, Nice’s LGBTQ+ visitor hospitality program that partners with hotels, shops, nightclubs, restaurants, and other businesses. That program supports many big annual events including Lou Queernaval, the queer version of Nice’s grand late-winter Carnival celebration. There’s also Pink Parade, the city’s annual mid-summer Pride celebration, as well as the In&Out Nice queer film festival, lesbian programming through Les Culottes, and more cultural events and soirees cropping up throughout the year.
Every day of the week, though, LGBTQ+ travelers have fun choices for gay-friendly outposts, starting with Rue Bonaparte in Vieux Nice. It’s lined with restaurants and cafés, with plenty of outdoor tables to soak up the city’s glorious weather—FYI Nice has around 300 days of sun a year. You’ll find gay club Malabar on this strip, and nearby are plenty more gay bars like Le Six, Le Couloir, Glam, and Le Swing, each serving cocktails and occasional drag shows, karaoke, and DJs into the wee hours.
Just beyond the historic center in Carabacel, browse a wide array of LGBTQ+ and feminist books and magazines (in both French and English) at lesbian-owned Librairie Vigna. A block away on Rue Delille, don’t miss tasty rum drinks and unexpected Latin-inspired dining at new queer-owned Hacienda. French speakers will appreciate compact L’Alphabet Theater on the same street, with a LGBTQ+ performances and other live shows.
Bien sur, this is France, so dining is an essential part of the journey. I was especially happy to discover early on The Sunset Nice. This gay-owned restaurant and bar is perched right on “Le Prom,” serving burgers, pasta, seafood, and Asian-inspired dishes; with an upstairs lounge for pre- or post-dinner drinks.
On the beach itself, historic Plage Beau Rivage is an open-air terrace restaurant open for lunch and daytime sunbathing. It transitions to evening aperitif time (French happy hour, with a buffet of snacks) and on into DJ’ed nights. Beau Rivage is a dreamy spot to spend a beach day, with comfy lounge chairs and umbrellas, and quick dips in the Bay of Angels—named for an angel-like small shark that once populated this swath of the Riviera.
I was quick to learn on this first visit to Nice that local “Cuisine Nissarde” is surprisingly different from more familiar French gastronomy. The deep Mediterranean waters, rocky terrain, and arid climate, plus the long history of Italian influence here (it’s just 15 miles to the Italian border), led to dishes that often include deep-sea fish like tuna, eggs, herbs, mushrooms, and, of course, olives. Seasonal ingredients define traditional Nissarde gastronomy, so expect bright vegetables and salads in summer, and root produce and rich soups in winter.
Across the Cote d’Azur, there are about two dozen restaurants that are officially labelled “Cuisine Nissarde,” eight of them in or near Vieux Nice. Gay-friendly, family-run Chez Acchiardo has been beloved by locals since 1927, serving traditional dishes like daube, beef stew made with red wine and Mediterranean herbs; trouchia, a frittata with baby Swiss chard; and pissaladière, a flatbread topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and olives.
At nearby Lou Balico, shareable portions of other Nissarde favorites draw in diners hungry for Niçoise salad—which varies from the American version, with artichokes in place of haricots verts, plus anchovies and pickled diced vegetables, served over fresh greens with tuna, olives, tomato, and a boiled egg. Here and at many other restaurants, be sure to try merda de can, green gnocchi topped with pistou, the Ligurian (Northern Italian) version of pesto, made without pine nuts.
Almost every day of the week you can also sample fresh produce and other bites at the Cours Salaya daily market in Vieux Nice, located near the 1885 Nice Opera House. Mandatory: head to the little Theresa Socca stand for a serving of the culinary treasure that is socca, a kind of crepe made from chickpea flour. It’s simple and superb, served folded up in paper so you can snack as you stroll the market.
Though Nice is an ancient city, so much about it feels fresh. Like other regions of France, here I found a mix of tradition and heritage, blended with a true local pride in contemporary life. LGBTQ+ diversity is part of the cultural fabric that makes the Cote d’Azur feel even more flavorful. And though I began my visit thinking of Nice as an overly aspirational destination, I left knowing just how welcoming and accessible it really is.