The Glamour of Nice and the French Riviera

There are more than a few reasons to visit the Côte d'Azur's cosmopolitan capital. For over two centuries, the elites of the world have come here for their vacations. Some say this city bathed by the calm waters of the Mediterranean Sea is actually the birthplace of beach tourism.

Modern tourism, glamourous history

The beaches are Nice’s most visible asset, but it also benefits from an historical legacy that grants it the mystique of an elite city.

It is surrounded by notable Riviera locations — Cannes, Saint Tropez and Monaco — and it has long been known for being a holiday hangout and leisure spot for the European elites and aristocracy. Despite some renovation an new construction, one can clearly get glimpses and views of the Côte d'Azur’s opulence and romanticism: an historic centre that has remained unaltered for nearly three centuries; luxurious Art Deco and Belle Époque buildings; and Baroque monuments such as those that we find at the Place Garibaldi or Place Massena squares.

This image of “holiday resort for the elite” is also confirmed in the city’s outskirts, where the coast is filled with private beaches and mansions inhabited by the rich and famous. But the backdrop for all this glamour is a troubled and complex history. The city was founded by the Ancient Greeks, taken by the Roman Empire, incorporated into the medieval Duchy of Savoy, taken by the French, retaken by the Italians, and finally returned to France in 1860. Nice’s identity blends traces from the Mediterranean’s many different cultures.

Currently, it is openly accessible to so-called mass tourism, but it has adapted and maintained its most striking features.


Relaxing and touring through the Blue Coast

The city benefits from climate that is protected by proximity to the Alps — smooth winds, high temperatures and a turquoise blue sea. The Promenade des Anglais, a long seaside walkway, invites people to spend pleasant afternoons and enjoy the moderate Mediterranean climate with its year-round sunshine. Note that Nice’s beaches are rocky, not sandy, which means you will need proper chairs. The water however, is always at the right temperature.

Most beaches are public, the most famous being the Plage Publique des Ponchettes near the historic centre. There are, however, many private beaches, some of which can be accessed by paying for entry (which may also give you the right to your own umbrella and one of Nice’s famous blue sunbeds). In most beaches, activities like beach volley, pedal boats rides, jet skiing and boat tours are available.

To escape from the throngs of tourists in the city centre, nothing like a scenic cruise along the famous Côte d'Azur. Several local tourism service providers offer boat tours that will take you on a trip along the coast, with spectacular views of Nice, nearby locations such as Villefranche sur Mer or Cannes, the less urban and more natural spots and sometimes you may get a chance to peek into the luxurious estates and mansions of the area’s famous residents.
Between the old and the new Nice

In Nice, and old town co-exists with new streets and constructions fit for today’s beach tourists.

Couples searching for romance, backpacking teenagers, families, all of them head straight for the Promenade des Anglais to watch the sunset and enjoy the sea breeze while laying on a blue sunbed. In this area you will find some of the finest hotels, the city’s main museum, the Palais Massena, and Nice’s Opera. 

Nearby Place Massena has been recently renovated and the area is informally known as “New Town”. From this square, you can walk down the streets of the city’s current main commercial area and find the best restaurants, shops and establishments. The MAMAC (Modern and Contemporary Art Museum) and other cultural landmarks can also be found here.

There are plenty of parks. The recently renovated Promenade du Paillon is home to an enormous botanical garden right at the heart of Nice. The park is equipped with entertainment and cultural facilities, children’s playing areas and a bandstand for open air concerts. For a more classical experience and a quiet picnic, head towards the Parc du Château: you can find it on a hill near the historic centre. It includes a centuries-old castle and a truly amazing view of the city.

Afterwards, you can head into the Old Town (Vieux Nice). Unlike the New Town’s spacious and modern boulevards, Nice’s historic centre features old and narrow streets  — but there are also lively squares and street markets, cafés and bars. This quarter has remained virtually unchanged since the 18th Century. You can start your tour at Place Rossetti, and move on to monuments such as the Catedral de Sainte-Réparate and the Chapelle de l'Annonciation (a Baroque church also known locally as the Chapel of Saint Rita). 

Somewhere within these narrow streets you will come across the Palais Lascaris, a 17th Century mansion filled with Flemish artworks, paintings and tapestries. You must also stop for a coffee at Cours Saleya — or a drink, depending on what time it is. After dinner, the streets of Old Nice fill up with youngsters looking for fun, and there are many local bars where you can quench your thirst all night long.

For a more modern or refined evening, alternatives include dinner or a drink in renovated port area’s restaurants and bars — or a visit to one of the local casinos.


Seaside culture

Since Nice is the fifth largest city in France, it is unsurprisingly a vibrant cultural hub. There is no shortage of monuments and museums, from the MAMAC and the Théâtre de la Photographie et de l'Image in New Town, to the aforementioned Palais Lascaris and Catedral de Sainte-Réparate in Vieux Nice. 

Performance arts have their place at the Opéra de Nice or venues like Théâtre Lino Ventura and Palais Nikaïa. The programming includes theatre, dance, classical music or large pop/rock shows. 

Venues such as Théâtre du Pois Chiche and Théâtre Francis Gag essentially cater to local bands and theatre companies. Often, you will catch a show performed in the region’s dialect, Niçois (which is related to Southern France’s Provençal dialect). Cultural activities are also stimulated by the proximity to Cannes, the European capital of film.
Finally, we must not forget that Nice was the final home of Matisse, one of the 20th Century’s most important painters and visual artists. He spent his twilight years in the Cimiez area, living in the Régina building — one of British Queen Victoria’s former holiday houses during the 19th Century. 2 km north of the city centre we find the Musée Matisse, with a fascinating collection that includes many of the artist’s paintings, sculptures and the famous paper cut-out works that marked the final years of his activity.

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