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'Driving into the Cote d'Azur blue'

The Independent

Imagine the bastard son of Apple and Reliant Robin. Nice-Cars are groovy blue three-wheelers clad in iMac plastic, each one with an iPad-style screen tacked to the dash. Using this simple tech, drivers can follow a pre-programmed GPS tour of the entire Cote d’Azur.

Granted, these open-top dodgems have the pulling power of a scooter (49cc to be exact, less than 20 times that of a Fiat 500). Yet they emit a magnetic appeal. Maybe it’s the shark teeth painted on the bumper. Maybe it’s the motorbike handlebars I’m gripping for dear life. But as I cruise past the Hotel Negresco on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, a bevy of ladies coo and cheer. Little matter that they’re in their 80s. I’m sexy. And I know it.

It may also help that Martin Ilias, the roguishly handsome founder of Nice-Car, is riding shotgun. His fleet of seven vehicles are currently on other self-guided GPS tours along the French Riviera from Cannes to the Italian border.


“When a driver returns from Monaco they say ‘man, I got more waves than a Ferrari’,” says Ilias. He’s not wrong. We pass a group of 60 joggers training for Nice’s Ironman event, all of whom wave and shout. Is that a record? I think it is.

We park up at Ilias’ showroom behind Le Meridien Hotel for the Nice-Car lowdown. Harnessing the soul of a scooter, each bubble car body boasts motorbike handlebars for steering. The right hand doubles at a throttle (there is no reverse gear). Plus one brake for the front two wheels; another for the rear wheel. Erm, that’s it. Both passengers also receive a pair of sexy blue shades that match the bodywork.

Drivers may select a pre-planned itinerary in one of four languages, with audio piped from the waterproof speakers set into the dashboard. There’s a €35 blast around Nice’s top sights from the Chateau hill down to the hip Port area. Plus a €70 three-hour trip to Monaco that takes in Casino Square and the Grand Prix route.


Do many guests discard the digital tourist itinerary and simply take their buggy for a spin? “Most do,” concedes Ilias. “They are just so much fun to drive.”

With a bespoke €90 half-day tour programmed into the screen I’m off. My requested itinerary takes in the dozen arty hotspots within a 30-minute drive from Nice. I pound along the Promenade underneath Henri Matisse’s old mansion, where a crocodile of schoolchildren smile at me in unison. Then around the Port corniche that Raoul Dufy painted, where a dozen tourists on Segways cheer me on. Before cruising into Jean Cocteau’s former hometown of Villefranche, where an entire wedding party does a communal wave.


I’ve turned more heads that Kim Kardashian in a Lamborghini. This rocks.

Still, I’m nervous about parking in Villefranche’s Parking Wilson (free for first 30 minutes). As the Nice-Car has no reverse gear, I’m required to physically push it when I back up. Eek.


However it’s early, and I manage to luck out with a drive-through space then trot two minutes along the seafront to the Chapel St-Pierre (€3). In the 1950s Cocteau redecorated this waterside church with mystical scenes from the life on St Peter. Local fishermen were used as models for his dreamscape (think muscle-bound, doe-eyed, half-naked pêcheurs flying through the ether). Many were less than pleased with the result. Prudes.


I power out of Villefranche towards Cap Ferrat. My sexy blue wheels receive waves from an Italian Vespa club and a professional dog walker (Chihuahua being the local breed of choice). This coastal road, which ribbons all the way to Italy, is the fastest part of my course. The seas of Villefranche shimmer from cobalt to topaz below, as Monaco glimmers on the horizon. My motor’s top speed is a heady 50km/h. But with wind in my hair and the scooter engine vibrating like a Spitfire, it feels like I’m doing 200.


Cocteau is synonymous with Cap Ferrat. In 1950 he was invited to the Villa Santo Sospir on the end of the peninsula… and ended up staying 11 years. With the help of pals like Pablo Picasso and Jean Marais, Cocteau frescoed the entire property with life-sized mythological visions. The villa’s current owner, Carole Weisweiller, graciously allows Cocteau fans to wander her seaside home (tours guided by her housekeeper Eric cost €12). It’s like being locked inside a private Cocteau gallery on Europe’s glitziest stretch of coast.

After a spin around Cap Ferrat’s seven public beaches (I have no time to stop and swim, tempting though it is), I race over Mont Boron to Nice’s haughty suburb of Cimiez. This plush quartier lords it over the seaside city below.


It’s the one place where my three-wheeler gets a few dismissive stares. The sentiment seems to be ‘Del Boy? Mais non!’ Matisse once lived in Cimiez’s Palais Regina, and his nearby Matisse Museum astounds. I’m more interested in the Marc Chagall Museum – designed by Chagall himself – where colourful oversized canvases adorn the bright, light-filled space.

Alas, my four hours are up. I bomb beachward to drop off the motor. Ilias tells me his dream is to see his open-top vehicles for rent in London. “But I do worry about the weather,” he muses.


And me? Trudging along the Promenade I feel emasculated. Minutes later my heart skips as another Nice-Car putters past. I wave wildly. But there’s no response. My magic’s broken. I may have zipped around the Riviera like Steve McQueen on a budget (spending just €20 per hour to be exact) – but my mojo’s gone.

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