French Riviera like a rock star: Paul McGuinness on why he loves Nice

The French resort of Nice has long been a holiday hot-spot of choice for the rich and famous and, in the opinion of U2’s former manager Paul McGuinness, it boasts a set of charms like nowhere else.

U2 founder members Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jnr, Adam Clayton and their former side-kick McGuinness are all property owners in Nice and spend much of their spare time in the southern French enclave, with man often christened the fifth member of Ireland’s most successful band choosing the resort as the location to film his highly successful drama Riviera.

McGuinness took a break from his role as an executive produced of the Sky Atlantic production to sit down with Kevin Palmer and give his unique insight into why Nice has become his home away from home…

Paul McGuinness on Nice

The story of Nice provides a snapshot of tourism in Europe, with the history of our railways also having big roots in this wonderful location.

All the towns along the southern French coastline like Monaco and Nice were independent of each other until the 19th century and the introduction of the train. That transformed access to these wonderful places and tourism sprang from a transport link that opened this area up to a wide audience like never before. That boom in tourism was led by the Russians and the British. 

Queen Victoria was a renowned lover of Nice and a hell of shopper by all accounts. She and her entourage were always welcome in the Nice shops because they spent so much money.

They were getting away from the cold winters in England and a similar story was played out for the Russians, who came down on the train from St Petersburg. 

The big, lavish hotels that you see in Cannes and Nice were, at first, only open in the winter for the tourism rush and they closed in the summer, as it was too hot and people did not want to come down here.

Times were very different and having a suntan was not fashionable back then. The only people that had suntans were those who did manual labour in the fields and were from a lower social class, so those who had some wealth didn’t want that look and preferred to have a pale complexion. 

Summer tourism didn’t arrive until the early stages of the 20th Century, with the legendary writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and Coco Channel among those who were regular visitors.

This was also the time when the French started to flock to the south for holidays and they are also renewed for being eager to embrace their own tourist sites, like their museums and their great cultural institutions. The visitors to a French art gallery tend to be majority French, which would not be the case in London or New York. 

People often see the south of France as a playground for rich people, but it is also a location where most French people come for their holidays and as I have found trying to work down here, trying to get something done in August is almost impossible as everyone in the country appears to be on holiday. 

They simply don’t answer the phone in this part of the world in August, as that is a sacred month for holidays that cannot be tampered with.

The relaxed lifestyle is generally delightful and that is why the U2 family based ourselves down here when we were on tour.

One of the great attractions was that it was a 24-hour airport. Most cities won’t allow planes to fly over them at night, but that restriction is not in place here and it means it was a perfect hub for us all to settle in. 

The airport in Nice is built out over the sea and you could fly in and out at any time of the night and it was so convenient for us. 

Our tour plane used to fly back to Nice after gig and no-where in Europe is more than a couple of hours away. We could be off stage at 10.30 and at our homes by 1am, which was a very appealing reason to be based in Nice.

After a gig, everyone is alive and wired with excitement and getting on the plane after an event like that, we would have 30 people on the plane and there would be a wonderful atmosphere on there. 

All four of the band have houses within a few miles where I am based in Éze and we have always been very comfortable here. They spend a lot of time here and you always meet very interesting people if you attend a party or go to one of the wonderful restaurants in Nice.

The scenery everywhere you look is just magnificent. The coastline is a movie set waiting to be exploited and that is why I was so keen to make a movie or film a TV show down here when I decided to step down as U2’s manager in 2013.

Around every corner you see something spectacular. Wonderful beaches, beautiful rock formations, just incredible beauty.

The extra cast member in our show Riviera is Nice and one of the reasons why it has been such a huge success for Sky is we have a backdrop that is second to none anywhere in the world.

The second season of Riviera starts on Sky Atlantic in May 23.

What To Do in Nice

Nice old town

A trip down the narrow, historic streets of that have barely changed their appearance since the 1700s is a must for all visitors.

Promenade des Anglais

The iconic main street on the Nice seafront is a must stroll for all visitors, with some magnificent restaurants just a few yards away. Check out La Petite Maison for a culinary treat.

Colline du Château

For the best views over Nice’s red-tiled rooftops, climb the winding staircases up to this wooded outcrop on the eastern edge of the old town. 

Menton’s Place de la Conception

This pretty little square sits at the top of a set of wide set of stairs that zigzag up from the sea.

The Bay of Villefranche

Sitting between St Jean Cap Ferrat and Nice, the magnificent bay of Villefranche needs no introduction to ‘Riviera’ fans as it plays a regular part in the show.

This feature originally appeared in The Sunday World.

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