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Nice, France

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Did You Know … ?

  • Nice is the only French city to boast a vineyard with rights to a protected place name (AOC status).
  • Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification, was born in Nice (1807).
  • The American dancer, Isadora Duncan, accidentally strangled herself in front of the Hotel Negresco (1927).
  • One of every 100 visitors in Europe overnights in Nice.
  • In the 1890s, Queen Victoria made Cimiez’s Hotel Regina her winter residence.

Beaches and the city

There are many attractive spots on the French Riviera where a tourist may luxuriate in the weather, the scenery and the Mediterranean’s blue waters, plus enjoy access to inland perched villages and even ski slopes.

But Nice is the city (population: 350,000) on that sunny coastline, which offers in a single urban bundle the variety many tourists seek, meaning the museums, restaurants and bars, festivals, sports events, markets — and an international airport.

Frequent trains along the Riviera provide ready access to other beaches, fortuitous because there is one thing Nice does not have: sand. It has beaches, but covered with pebbles. (Private beaches provide carpeting for the walk to the water’s edge.)

The Nice tourist office says the best-known inland and coastal tourist sites are within 62 miles, making the city a base for visiting the area.

Wealthy 18th century British travelers were the first to make Nice and the Riviera a leisure destination. Then, in 1830, they funded a seaside esplanade, which explains the name, Promenade des Anglais. Soon the wealthy, the famous and the aristocratic flocked to the city from across the continent. This triggered construction of the upscale hotels and some of the other attractive architectural features that visitors see today.

In addition, a reborn historic city center, Vieux Nice (Old Nice), once a slum, lures visitors with shops, restaurants, a lively nightlife and the charm of its narrow streets.

Artists like Chagall, Matisse and Picasso were drawn to the area as well, which is one reason the city and suburbs are endowed with high-quality museums. Archaeology is a key museum feature, too, because of Nice’s history that includes and predates the Romans.

Nice hosts hundreds of cultural, festive and sporting events annually, with the Carnival and the Jazz Festival among the most prominent. Sports activities include a half and full marathon. Of interest to more visitors, the city counts nearly 80 miles of bicycle lanes.

Endless sunshine, the azure Mediterranean and a sizeable port support water-based sports in abundance, particularly boating in all its iterations, from kayaking to yachting. Other choices include diving, parasailing and snorkeling.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Use the velos bleus (blue bikes), an automated bicycle rental program accessible at 90 stations, as a way to get around town.
  • Hike in the Mercantour National Park north of Nice; look for chamois and wolves.
  • Revel with the locals during Carnival. Highlights are its parades, which vary from burlesque entertainment to a mobile flower show.
  • Compete in the springtime half marathon. Or, in the autumn, compete in the Alpes-Maritimes Marathon Nice/Cannes.
  • Indulge your favorite water sport — whether it be sailing or parasailing or diving. Or charter a yacht, with or without a skipper.
  • Check out a lively bar scene in Vieux Nice (Old Nice) and Cours Saleya. Many bars have a dance floor plus live music or a DJ.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Peer into Nice’s ancient history with a visit to Cimiez, a suburb founded by the Romans and site of a theater and baths.
  • Take advantage of the Cyclotour, a unique electric tricycle with driver that takes visitors around the city. Another option is the hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city and Cimiez.
  • Enjoy local cuisine, beginning with the dish named for the city, salade nicoise. Other options include pissaladiere, an onion tart; ratatouille; courgette (zucchini) flowers, and socca, a crepe made with chickpea flour, sprinkled with pepper and eaten while hot. This is a seaside city; order fish, too.
  • Time your visit to coincide with the July Jazz Festival. This event is paired with alternative festivals in the neighborhoods.
  • Take the train to Monaco for the day, or to one of the other French Riviera resort towns. Or, make that an excursion by car to a perched village, such as Eze or St.-Paul-de-Vence.
  • Join L’Arts dans la Ville, a nighttime guided tour to Nice’s outdoor artworks as they appear after dark. The tour is available Fridays in English and French.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit the Matisse Museum, both for a look at the building (a 17th century villa with a burnt-red trompe l’oeil facade and tall shuttered windows) and his works inside. Also, include the striking 19th century St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral on your itinerary.
  • Soak up the atmosphere with a stroll along Promenade des Anglais. Also, walk through the shaded streets of Old Nice. If you want a guide, join the English- or French-language guided tour that departs Saturday mornings from the Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau.
  • Stay at one of the hotels that so effectively recall the era when Nice was the resort for the privileged, the Grand, the Negresco or the Regina. And, roll the dice at the art deco Casino du Palais de la Mediterranee.
  • Visit the food and flower market, held daily except Mondays at Cours Saleya. And on Monday, shop at the antiques market that occupies the same space. And, if the season is right, shop at the Christmas market, too.
  • Sniff the goods at one or more of the famous perfumeries in the town of Grasse; buy perfume for yourself or significant other.
  • Avoid the hassles of a public beach by paying the fee for the privacy and comforts of one of the city’s several private beaches. Among those comforts: carpets leading to the water, helpful in a city noted for its pebbly beaches.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau at http://nicetourisme.com and click a flag to choose your language if necessary.