Nice: A Jewel on the French Riviera

By Shannon Berg.


Nice is the fifth largest city in France with a population of 345,892, and the largest city on the French Riviera.  It is the second most popular tourist destination in France, and for good reason.  It is located directly on the Mediterranean Sea on the Côte d’Azur, not far from then Italian border.  It has a treasure trove of museums, parks, and fabulous beaches.  Nice is easy to reach by plane with its international airport, or by train from throughout Europe, and even by car with the motor way leading right into the city.  In addition, the Port of Nice allows for private yachts, ferries from Corsica and numerous cruises ships.  Once in the city there are public buses and taxis, but the best way to explore the area is by foot.  This beautiful city has a wonderful historic district as well as many modern additions, including cinemas, discos and casinos.  Not only can visitors enjoy the sea and sun on the many beaches, but with over 19 museums and 32 historical monuments and the many concerts and traveling exhibits, there are endless thing to enjoy in Nice.  In addition, there are many parks and gardens open to the public which are filled with beautiful fountains and lakes.  Nice truly offers something for everyone.


Nice was inhabited as early as 350 BC by a Greek colony from Marsilia.  In fact it was named for the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, after a triumphant battle.  The port made the city important, and by the 7th century, the city had joined the Genoese League of Liguria to help protect itself from invaders and pirates.  By the Middle Ages, Nice allied itself with Pisa against nearby Genoa, the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor.  Despite this, it was able to maintain its municipal liberties and independence.  It was not until the 13th century that the Count of Provençe took control of Nice, and in 1388 the city fell under the control of the Counts of Savoy.  In the 16th century, Nice was ravaged by the wars between Charles V and Francis I, pirates, the plague, famine and pestilence.  Despite this, its navel strength grew.  In 1792 the city was captured and forced to join the French Republic, but in 1814 it was returned to the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Duke of Savoy.  In 1860 it once again became a part of France, and so it has remained.


Some Attractions


Promenade des Anglais

Walking along this beautiful promenade is the ideal way to start your visit in this exquisite city.  From here one can take in the beautiful beaches, the Mediterranean Sea, and the many palm trees that line this sea front boulevard.  This promenade is named for the Englishman, the Reverend Lewis Way, who personally funded its construction in 1820.


The Beaches

Visitors to Nice can enjoy the 15 private and public beaches that line the coast.  Public beaches are free and anyone can enjoy them.  Attending a private beach means a daily fee, but has the added convenience of lounge chairs, sun umbrellas, changing rooms and showers.  Whichever your preference, there are wonderful options in Nice.


Old Nice

The historic center of the city is filled with beautiful older building, some with the distinctive arches which date back to the Middle Ages, and are primarily over older shops.  You see these especially on the Rue du Pont Vieux and the Rue de la Préfecture.  On older private homes one will notice the stone lintels on the facades.    Of note is the Palais de la Préfecture, formerly known as the Royal Palace since it was the local home to the Dukes of Savoy. It dates back to the beginning of the 17th century and is now home to the General Council and Prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes.  One should also notice La Palais de Justice, the neo-classical law courts, and the Hôtel de Ville, which was built in 1730 and had acted as a seminary, hospital and barracks before becoming the city hall in 1860.  On Le Cours Saleya one finds an antiques market on Monday mornings and a fruits and vegetable market the other mornings.  Throughout the day the famous flower market is held there as well.  Nearby one finds some of Nice’s finest restaurants and boutiques.


Palais Lescaris

A visit to this Genoese styled villa built in 1648 by the Lascaris-Ventimiglia family gives you an insight into how the rich once lived in Nice.  The villa has a wonderful façade with numerous balconies, and inside one finds arched ceilings covered in frescoes.  The tour includes a pharmacy c. 1738 and the staterooms, filled with furniture and decorations from the 17th and 18th centuries.


Le Fort du Mont Alban

This fortress which protected Nice for generations dates back to the 16th century and sits 222 meters above the city on a hill.  The fortress is complete with bastions and a watchtower.  From here there is a spectacular view of the coast and the city below, and on a clear day they say one can see as far as Corsica.


Franciscan Museum, Church, and Monastery of Cimiez

This monastery is now a museum which looks at its own past as well as the life of Saint Francis of Assisi and the monks who followed him from the 13th -18th centuries, with a special look at his social and spiritual message.  The museum houses many paintings, sculptures, parchments, engravings and illustrated manuscripts.  There are monks’ cells, complete with prayers books written on parchment, a reconstructed chapel and many wonderful frescoes.


Fine Arts Museum

Located in a private home built in 1876, this museum houses a collection of art from the 17th -19th century.  There is a large collection of Italian paintings as well as French Romanticism, Realism, Orientalism, and Impressionism with works by artists such as Degas, Boudin, Chéret, and Van Dongen.  There are also noteworthy sculptures by Rodin and Carpeaux and various temporary exhibits on display.


Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

The building which houses this museum is as modern and distinct as the art within.  With four large grey towers and transparent walkways to link them, the building is hard to miss.  This museum’s collection traces the evolution of European and American art from 1960 to the present.


Matisse Museum

Housed in a 17th century villa surrounded by gardens and an olive grove, one finds this personal collection of the Fauvist painter.  Matisse lived in Nice from 1917 until his death here in 1954.  The collection includes works that span his life time, from his first paintings which he did in the 1890s, to his book illustrations, with 236 drawings and 218 engravings by the artist. Here one can see the artistic journey Matisse took and examine the evolution of his work.  The museum also has temporary exhibits on display.


Anatole Jakovsky International Museum of Modern Art

This unusual museum is housed in the former home of perfumer François Coty, and opened in 1982.  It includes more than 600 paintings, drawings, engravings and sculptures that look at the history of the Naïve Arts from the 18th century to the present with pieces of art collected from around the world, including Croatia and Brazil. 



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