Nice and Genoa
Last Updated : 28/02/05
Not so Nice in Nice
The south of France may seem like a strange place for a fairly well-seasoned beer scooper like myself to visit, but it was on the itinerary for a different reason than beer; the train journey from Nice to Genoa in Italy and Genoa itself. Anything else would be a bonus, so therefore our visit to Nice wasn’t primarily aimed at finding micro brewed beers but, whilst we were there, it seemed like a good idea to drink any which were available; it’s rude not to drink some of the local produce if someone has gone to all that trouble to make the stuff. Therefore, what follows here is a short illustration of why not to go to Nice with the primary objective of scooping loads of rare brews – it isn’t going to happen! Come to think of it, don’t go there with the objective of drinking much beer at all…
NATO = Free buses!
Thursday 10th February 2005.
We flew from Stansted to Nice with easyJet and arrived at 16:20, ten minutes late, due to us executing a large circle over the sea, past Monte Carlo, and a final approach at what seemed to be at 100 metres altitude along the beach that gave a great view of the city! I had acquired some gen on bus connections into the town and the cheapest option was Sunbus No.23 that ran to the main railway station from terminal one, stand 6, for the meagre fare of €1.30 single. After catching the free shuttle bus between the two terminals (every 7 minutes so it’s not even worth walking!) we made our way to the bus stand to find a mêlée of people doing exactly the same as us. At that point, I wondered if we should have done the more expensive €3.50 navette from terminal 2 instead… it was only a few Euros extra, after all…
Luckily, the bus was a proper sized one so everyone embarked in a fairly orderly fashion. On reaching the driver I asked, in my best Français, for two tickets to the station but he waved me away with a casual shake of the hand; “Gratis!” (free) he said, as if to emphasise the matter. Confused, but unwilling to pay if we didn’t have to, we found a vacant square foot of space and off we went. I was still pondering this mystery of free bus travel when Sue spotted a sign on the roof which suddenly made it all clear and, at the same time, revealed why there had been an array of American military planes sat on the tarmac at the airport - “Owing to the NATO conference, all travel on Azur bus lines is free on 10th February” it said - in French, naturally.
That was all well and good, but the bus seemed to take forever to cover the 6km to the station owing to the very heavy traffic and roadworks caused by the construction of a tram system in the city centre. Eventually we arrived outside La Gare and, after getting a map and some information from the handily located tourist office right alongside the entrance, we walked the short (uphill) distance to our hotel which I’d booked via the easyJet website and had only cost us £57 for two nights room-only – a bargain on paper, but what would it be like? As we left the station behind I hoped it wasn’t as dodgy-looking as some of those we were walking past!
Cantillon on the Côte d’Azur.
When I say we had a hard time walking to the hotel it wasn’t due to any alcoholic overindulgence the night before, the problem was the roadworks for the aforementioned tramways; the main road north through the city, Avenue Malausséna, had it’s middle closed off and dug up with the remaining bits on each side shared by traffic and pedestrians and lined with large concrete barriers. This may have been OK if the pedestrians hadn’t kept stopping for a leisurely chat and blocking the path, or the abundance of liberally scattered piles of dogshit which made it necessary to watch both where you put your feet and the path ahead at the same time. As we passed the Cave Venola wine shop on the corner of Rue Trachel, however, we suddenly ground to a halt ourselves – the place looked hellfire and there were rows and rows of bottles stretching back into the gloom inside. This we had to investigate!
We peered inside and saw that it was an old-fashioned shop with the proprietor sat behind a counter and the bottles arrayed on the shelves in a semblance of order. Inside, after exchanging Bonne Soirs with him, we looked around the rows and rows of bottles with amazement – this was a good wine shop; if it were at the end of our road it would keep us in high-quality wine for years! There was also a small beer section with some Northern French large bottles and, amazingly, a few 75cl bottles of Cantillon Fou’foune for the modest price of €7! Tempted though I was, our lack of a corkscrew and glasses to drink it from kept it sat on the shelf for another incredulous beer nut to find at a later date. We bought a bottle of Cruz Málaga (which was a winning wine region for us) and, after adding a bottle of Mont Blanc bottle conditioned blonde beer from a supermarket to our haul, pressed on in search of the hotel.
The hotel was only five minutes walk away down a quiet road. I say quiet – it was quiet in terms of traffic, but a massive flock of starlings were busy roosting in some trees nearby which created a cacophony of tweeting and shrieking louder than most vehicles could manage, although it must be said a lot easier on the ear. We checked in and, after choosing our room in the rafters with a great view over the roosting starlings and the abandoned Gare de Provence, we took a free bus down to the old town to see what was happening there; after all, if NATO were paying for the buses, then we reasoned we may as well take advantage of the situation – what else have they given us apart from computer game-like video footage of wars?
We quickly worked out that Nice is a wine and coffee city and quality beer doesn’t have that much influence on life. Admittedly, all cafes and bars had beer on draught, but it was mostly Heineken or similar crud. We chanced upon one bar, the Gioffredo “pub” on the corner of Rue Gioffredo and Rue Chauvain, which seemed to have a decent range of draught beers with a Belgian kriek (presumably Morte Subite) and a few other half decent things on tap and a cosy-looking interior with much dark wood and small areas. Add this to my only find from the Lonely Planet guide, the “Dutch” bar De Klomp on Rue Mascoinat right in the old town, and it’s a pretty poor performance all round on the beer front!
After laughing at the amusingly named Grand Hotel Aston (well, it’s funny if you know him!) and the implausibly named Rue Sulzer (which, true to it’s namesake, looked pretty crap), we decided to return to the hotel and try some of the Málaga. After a quick venture half-way down Rue Trachel looking for the Rubens brewpub drew a blank we were soon back in our room in the rafters listening to countless starlings squawking away merrily in the trees behind the hotel.
Too late.... it’s gone!
Friday 11th February 2005.
The next day, after we had done the touristy thing around Nice, I decided to have a quick walk around the area where we were staying as it looked the most promising for beer and, besides, I wanted to find the brewpub I’d seen quoted on the internet. I made a quick inspection of the old Gare de Provence which is in an advanced state of neglect – the railway have built a plastic new station a hundred metres west of the old one (quite a few years ago by the looks of things) and allowed the lovely old terminus to fall into disrepair. It’s now being made safe as a car park but, for the moment, the narrow gauge track is still visible and it exudes an atmosphere of sad dereliction waiting for the restoration and trains that will never come.
Behind the old station is a wine shop called Cave Champenoise (I think!) which had a good range of Southern French wines (Madiran, Cahors etc) and some of the rare local wine, Bellet, which we never tried but is apparently good – and over €20 a bottle! I walked up Blvd Joseph Garnier and found another wine shop, but this one was different. Imagine a microbrewery with 5-barrel tanks on a raised platform; half the shop contained huge tanks from which the owner dispensed wine into whatever containers the customers brought with them for a less than €1 per litre. I watched, amazed, for a while before continuing on my quest for beer.
On the corner of Blvd Joseph Garnier and Blvd Gambetta is a Marché Plus supermarket so, naturally, I looked inside for scoops. The beer range was quite dull although they did have some Alsace bottle-conditioned (or Sue Lie) beer in packs of three for €3 brewed by Brasserie Schutzenberger of Schiltigheim. I tentatively bought a pack and when it was tasted later that evening I was very impressed; a rich, soft, toffee-ish, malty flavour with grassy, slightly bitter and mown hay hop character before a warming alcoholic glow in the tasty, malty, slightly bitter finish – good stuff, although being over 6% did give it a good chance of being drinkable. The supermarket also sold a good range of Breton ciders in corked 75cl bottles for around €1.50 or so which, had I liked cider, would have been very tempting. The wine range was, as expected, huge and extremely cheap, a lot of it from co-ops of the regions and therefore good value, and the take-away couscous was good too. An all round thumbs-up then!
I strolled down Blvd Gambetta and turned left into Rue Trachel where, after less than a hundred metres, I found what I had been looking for – the brewpub Rubens. Unfortunately, it had an "a Vendre" sign pasted on the door and was closed at 20:00 on Friday night so it’s probably finished - shame, it looked like it may have been good; the “Biere de Nice” signs were still hanging outside but there was no sign of life within. Cursing my luck at being too late for these huge scoops, I headed back to the hotel via Rue Venier then Rue Clement Roassal where I passed bars selling various French beers on draught – Saint Omer, Fischer, Kanterbrau (of Alsace, owned by Kronenbourg) and Pelforth (owned by Heineken) all featured in various cafés. There is also a Paulaner (yes, the Munich one) bar on the junction of Rue Dijon and Rue Clement Roassal that always seemed to be open whatever the time was for beer and coffee, although I didn’t check which beers it actually sold.
The next day we travelled to Genoa via the “sea wall” rail line, which is basically a three-hour version of the Dawlish route in the UK. Genoa proved to be a fascinating city although the beer scene was, if anything, even worse than Nice with only one café selling non-national beer (Forst of Merano) seen on our travels. We consoled ourselves with an exploration of the old town and scooping in the funicular railways before making our way to the airport for the flight home. Genoa airport isn’t for those who don’t like flying, however, as it has water on three sides which gives a slightly surreal feeling as you thunder down the runway looking at yachts sailing by before taking off and, when looking out of the window, seeing just how narrow the runway actually is. Great fun. Who said all airports are the same, eh?
Overall, not two destinations for the beer scooper; Nice has one closed brewpub and Genoa none although there are quite a few microbreweries around the Liguria region. It’s possible to drink some decent (and cheap) beer or cider from supermarkets, but this area of Europe is allied to the grape not the grain so it seems churlish not to try some of the excellent Southern French regional wine appellations which are rarely seen in the UK – try Madiran, Cahors or Buzet for a taste of France with a twist which may make you look at vin Français in a new light.
Beer Bars and Shops in Nice.
Gioffredo Pub, Junction of Rue Gioffredo / Rue Chauvain, old town. This cosy-looking wood-panelled bar serves a fairly wide range of beers from Belgian and French brewers, although nothing to get too excited about – Morte Subite kriek and the like mainly.
De Klomp, Rue Mascoinat, old town. Dutch-style bar that has around 15 beers on draught, including some half-decent Belgian examples, and a fairly good bottle list too.
Cave Venola, Junction of Rue Trachel and Blvd Malausséna by Nice Ville station. Superb wine shop with loads of interesting bottles and a small beer section that included, amazingly, Cantillon Fou’foune! Well worth a look and the prices aren’t too steep either.
The little supermarket on Rue Reine Jeanne, just before Cave Venola, had bottle-conditioned beer from Mont Blanc brewery for sale at €1.50 a bottle.
Marché Plus supermarket, junction of Blvd Joseph Garnier and Blvd Gambetta. Good range of artisanal ciders plus packs of sur lie biere from Brasserie Schutzenberger of Alsace.
There are also various wine shops selling bulk wine from massive vats – one is on Rue Joseph Garnier and another near Rue Venier. No idea what it’s like, but it’s very cheap! Take your own container and see…
The closed brewpub was called Rubens and is about 50 metres from Blvd Gambetta on Rue Trachel (the far end from Cave Venola). It may be open, but I checked twice on a Friday night and it looked like it was shut permanently. The a vendre (for sale) sign stuck to the door backs this up, unfortunately. If anyone has info to the contrary, please let me know!
Getting to Nice and Genoa.
It’s quite easy to get to Nice Côte d’Azur airport (which is about 6km from the city) nowadays as easyJet fly from most of their UK bases, although there are plenty of regional airports around the Nice area which may give better deals than flying into Nice itself as there are good rail links throughout the region and beyond from Nice Ville station. With the opening of the new TGV line to the Mediterranean, you can now reach Nice from Paris in under 4 hours which isn’t too bad although it will probably be far more expensive than flying if a lot more scenic.
Nice Airport is one of the busiest in France although still small compared to the likes of Gatwick or Manchester. It has two terminals with domestic flights from T1 and all others from T2 with a free bus connecting the two every 10 minutes or so 24/7. For a good view of the airport, take the lift (€1 return, €0.70 single) from the end of the Promenade des Anglais up to the castle to see the wide sweep of the pebbly beach and airport on the peninsular in the distance.
Genoa Cristoforo Colombo airport is served by Ryanair from Stansted once a day and, presumably, by BA from somewhere as we saw one of their planes arrive whilst we were waiting for boarding. It is a small, quiet airport with nothing much going on although the single shop has a very good, if small, selection of Italian wines. One word of advice – once checked in and through the security gate (we had to remove our boots!) don’t go through the passport control into the EU departure area – it’s not very big and there’s nothing there. Instead, turn left at the shop and sit in the national departures area where there’s a small café and lots of space with a view of the runway and the sea beyond and you can wait there in relative comfort until the flight arrives before having to pass through passport control.
Travel around Nice and Genoa.
There are loads of buses available from Nice Côte d’Azur airport with several navette non-stop services running to Nice for around €3.50, although the cheapest option is the Sunbus route 23 from T1 stand 6 to the railway station costing €1.30. The bus service in Nice is quite comprehensive, with the gare routier (bus station) being situated on Avenue Felix Faure next to the old town. The first phase of the new tram system is due to be running by 2006 and should give a good ride when it’s completed, but at the moment the associated roadworks are causing utter chaos in the centre and in particular along Avenue Malausséna, the main shopping street running north to the railway station from the old town.
Speaking of trains, for a decent journey take any local service to Monaco (€3.20 single, every half an hour or so) to see just what an over-rated, claustrophobic and pretentious dump it is, then take the 10:21 express to Genoa - €15 single including reservation for 2½ hours of seawall running and countless tunnels.
Public transport in Genoa (Genova in Italian) is run by AMT who run a comprehensive network of buses, trolleybuses (route 30), funiculars, lifts (ascensors) and half a cog railway! (the other half has been out of use due to “technical problems” since 2003). A day ticket is available from the machines situated at lifts and funicular stations (as well as booths at major interchanges such as Stations Principe and Brignole), is called Biglietto Giornaliero Turistico, and costs €3. This ticket also gives validity on the local trains and the airport bus (route 100 Volabus, the funny looking blue ones) which runs from Brignole station every 20 minutes to Cristoforo Columbo airport which is only 5km away to the west and seemingly in the middle of the sea.