Place Garibaldi, Nice

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MAMAC contemporary art curator Olivier Bergesi gives the lowdown on Nice’s newest piazza, which emerged from a grand renovation project in late 2011.


It’s strange that Nice’s chicest town square should honour an Italian, Giuseppe Garibaldi. In fact, the city didn’t join France until 1860, so Italianate touches from porticos to window shutters and a romantico spirit remain. Olivier describes it as “warm and peaceful at the same time.”

The MAMAC contemporary art museum, commanding the local skyline, is a 60-second stroll from Place Garibaldi. Opened in 1990, its modern structure is a bold juxtaposition with the historic streets of Nice. Two white marble quadrants sandwich a central glass atrium, which pours light onto the edgy exhibits within.

Olivier particularly enjoys the donation of kaleidoscopically magical sculptures and paintings from artist Niki de Saint Phalle. More playful pieces include the rejection letters sent to Andy Warhol by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. (They politely demand that the American pop artist pick up his wacky works at the earliest possible opportunity.) In 2008 the MAMAC opened its entire collection – which also includes creations from Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Indiana – to the public for free.

For the last 50 years, Place Garibaldi has been a noisy roundabout. But in October 2011 this stunning piazza – midway between Nice’s colourful Old Town and Port – was returned to its original car-free splendour. Rollerbladers mix with skateboarders, strollers with courting couples. All around the piazza perimeter, restaurants and cool cafés have set up shop, their tables and chairs strewn across the square.

Olivier pitstops on the way to work at Café de la Place, right on the square. He’s not the only one. Each morning Place Garibaldi is packed with locals breakfasting on brioche aux raisins or pain au chocolat, followed by a café noisette – the French version of an Italian macchiato. Local companies – which include mostly architects, lawyers, and galleries – hold their business meetings al fresco, spreading out their documents in the morning sun.

Cheap rental rates just north of Place Garibaldi have made it a haven for one-off stores too. “I love strolling through the shoe shop Concept,” says Olivier. This footwear store stocks hand-made Serafini Italian sneakers and hip Parisian brand Mellow Yellow. Perfect for Nice’s seafront promenade are K.Jacques Roman-style sandals from St. Tropez.

“Around the square there are many places that I enjoy,” says Olivier. Figaro by Rock is “a hairdresser and friend that I visit often.” This unisex salon also provides far-out hair extensions.

Local Niçoise cuisine – a fresh blend of southern French and Italian fare – is Place Garibaldi’s greatest allure. Century-old favourites such as oyster restaurant Café dé Turin sit next to more contemporary establishments, including rotisserie specialist G-Square, which opened in early 2011.

“One of my favourite restaurants in the square is Giuseppe e Pepino,” says Olivier. This new brasserie dishes up woks of vegetables and prawns, local tarts, gourmet salads, and ice creams, on the east side of Place Garibaldi.

“It’s also refreshing for the décor,” which is made by one of France’s coolest interior companies, Atelier Bittel.

Nice, France
Distance: 4,488 km
Flight Time: 8 hours, 55 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a week via Milan

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