weekend away - Nice
Written by Gillian Thornton
Tucked between Alpine peaks and the Mediterranean, Nice offers history and heritage, chic shops and quality restaurants, not to mention that all-important asset – location, location, location.
Mild winters and abundant cultural attractions make France’s fifth largest city an all-year-round tourist resort. The sparkling waters of the Bay of Angels are divided from the elegant fa?ades of the Promenade des Anglais by 7.5km (4.6 miles) of immaculate beaches, some public, others belonging to prestigious seafront hotels. But tear yourself away from that beguiling thoroughfare to explore the city’s rich history and heritage, both ancient and modern.
The ancient Greeks established a trading post called Nikaia on the strategic hill above the bay. Wind up through the gardens of the Colline du Ch?teau (Castle Hill) for panoramic views over the harbour in one direction, the promenade in the other, from the place where the city began.
Next came the Romans who settled on Cimiez hill, a short ride inland by chariot or 21st-century bus. Today, the remains of their city stand close to an Italianate villa housing the museum dedicated to the painter Henri Matisse, who lived in the city from 1917 until his death in 1954.
It’s easy to understand why Matisse was drawn?to the light and lifestyle as you wander the streets of the Old Town, a must-see for Nice-novices as well as a perennial draw for seasoned visitors. See its baroque churches, balconied buildings, and hidden courtyards, and browse the flower stalls of Cours Saleya – every day except Monday when antique sellers replace the florists.
The city became a tourist destination thanks to the British aristocracy of the 19th century; and where they led, other nationalities followed, establishing Nice as the place to see and be seen. The iconic Hotel Negresco – which recently underwent six months of refurbishment – is listed as a National Monument for its sumptuous rooms and priceless art collection, while Nice also boasts one of the most important clusters of antique shops in France.
Culture lovers can choose from 19 museums and galleries, the largest concentration in France after Paris. Admission to municipal museums is free, but some close on Mondays, others on Tuesdays. The town is easy to explore on foot but take a ride on the new tramway system, dotted at regular intervals with monumental sculptures which are illuminated at night. Or take a tour with a GPS and audio guide in an eco-friendly electric car (www.visitmycity.fr).
Get in the festive mood at the city’s atmospheric Christmas market between December 4 and January 2. In 2011,‘King of the Mediterranean’ is the theme for the annual Carnival which runs from February 18 to March 8 – an extravaganza of floral floats, carnival characters, and musical parades. For tourist information, contact the Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau – Tel: +33 (0)8 92 70 74 07.
The Nice Riviera Pass includes a Grand Tour by bus and free access to major attractions in Nice and along the Riviera, plus discounts at shops reflecting local culture and specialities. Available for one, two, or three days: €24, €36, and €54.