Airport eating is never a culinary treat, and Nice is no nicer than the rest. But if you’d like to give your departing summer guests a memorable last meal and a final glimpse of the Mediterranean to take away with them after take-off, there are other options, which don’t involve traipsing into unparkable Nice.
Nice Airport’s best-kept secret is its proximity to the restaurant-riddled Atoll Beach in St Laurent-du-Var, 3 car minutes away, around the back of the concrete maze known as “Cap 3000” – just follow signs for “Le Port” and the Holiday Inn, and you’ll find easy parking either behind or beneath the hotel.
There are two prongs to this seaside promenade – to one side it skirts the busy marina road and parking, but, nearer, to the east, and much more interesting - is the pedestrian Promenade des Flots Bleus, alongside a sandy beach with accompanying water sport entertainment. Both contain about 15 restaurants – from Thai to tagine, fish only to veggie only, surf to turf, steak to pancake – let’s just say, you can satisfy even your pickiest guest.
I recommend two bright, pretty Provençal restaurants, overlooking the beach. The Calypso dangles its feet, literally dans l’eau in summer, its attractive tables spilling out onto the sand. You can almost stretch out and touch the water skiers. Its good, clean, Mediterranean atmosphere and cuisine starts with menus at 18€ and 24€, and though the fact that it’s owned by the Holiday Inn knocks its authenticity a touch, it is relaxed and hard to fault.
A few doors away is the slightly more “business-like” atmosphere of the Aigue Marine, offering menus at 22€, 25.50€ and 28.50€. Their food is slightly classier and more authentic than the Calypso, and the charming family who runs it, following Escoffier’s maxim that “la bonne cuisine est la base du véritable bonheur”, has their own smokery, and grows most of their own vegetables and herbs on their farm further up the River Var. As a result it is always well supported by locals, usually opting for the good value plats du jour, sitting around the dribbling central fountain, overlooking the seascape.
I’d say that where the Calypso could perhaps be more of a summer choice, L’Aigue Marine is excellent all year round. We are regular clients of both.
But my favourite place, if we’ve got a little more time to play with, has to be the Bijou-Plage, right at the western end of the seafront of Juan-les-Pins. It’s a family business, started as a beach cabanon in 1923, and certainly visited in those days by the Fitzgeralds, Hemingways, Picasso et al (see the grainy sepia photos in the nautical loos). It is smarter now, but some of that original charm still persists – and it beats the hell out of most of those other faceless, plastic, beach-restaurants down the front. It has the distinction of being a ‘restaurant with a beach’, rather than a ‘beach restaurant’.
You can sit outside on a shaded terrace, dominated by the smart sunbeds and discreet, beige parasols on the sandbanks of its private beach, or opt for the spacious verandah inside, with its huge open windows overlooking the calm bay and its yachts sailing past the Iles de Lérins. The extensive carte is mainly seafood based, and can get expensive. But if you stick to the 21€ menu (lunch, weekdays only), which has plenty of choice, you can’t beat it for value. Which is why it is nearly always full, in winter as well as summer. We find ourselves going back time and time again., for the excellent food, the views and the very pleasant people and atmosphere. It’s also always got decent veggie options.
All three restaurants are open all year round, and benefit from maritime views, and the entertainment of accompanying water sports – and you can even keep an eye on the approach of those distinctive orange planes, making absolutely sure that you get your guests to the airport on time. It was so good to see them, but then, it’s so good, too, to bid them a fond farewell at the ‘Kiss & Fly’…Juliet Young