Once the playground of the English aristocracy – Queen Victoria chief among them – Nice remains the undisputed crown jewel of the sun-dappled Côte d’Azur…
PROMENADE DES ANGLAIS
Curving 7km round the palm-fringed Bay of Angels, the Promenade des Anglais is France’s most iconic boardwalk. And, as the name suggests, les français owe it in large part to Britain. It all started in the 18th century when well-heeled English folk took to building winter pieds-à-terre in Nice, enticed by the balmy climate. At the time, the thoroughfare was barely wide enough for two horses to pass. That is, until 1820, when the ambitious Reverend Lewis Way, masterminded and funded its expansion into a more substantial seafront path; which became known locally as the Chemin des Anglais. Delighted with the Rev’s plans, the city decided to pitch in and create a full-blown promenade. Lined with swanky shops, shaded cafés and chic eateries, it is a favourite with locals and tourists alike and one cracking vantage point from which to drink in the sea views.
A tightly-packed warren of cobbled streets, the Old Town, known as the Vieux Nice, is the heart and (pastel-hued) soul of the city. Here, snug boutiques peddling anything from Provençal knick-knacks to olive oil and cosy bistros jostle for attention. Yes, it is crammed with tourist traps and you’ll have to elbow your way through its tapering lanes in the summer months, but there is a reason throngs of holidaymakers make a beeline for Nice’s historic hub: it is positively teeming with bucket-list attractions and unmissable sites. Chief among them, the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate and the Vieux Nice’s glorious centrepiece, the Place Masséna, a bustling Italian-style plaza festooned with red clay façades.
Most tourists hotfoot it to Nice in the summer months, but it’s in February during the world-famous (and, in fact, the world’s longest running) Carnaval that the southern nook comes into its own. The parade, with its zany papier-mâché floats, is the undisputed highlight. As is the Bataille de Fleurs, for those brave enough to join in. A boisterous affair, the Flower Battle sees denizens push and shove one another to lay their hands on one of the thousands of blooms thrown at the crowds from floats. Best observed from the sidelines!
Though born in northern France, Henri Matisse called the capital of the Côte d’Azur home from 1917 until his death in 1954. And Nice wasted no time in celebrating its adopted son with the creation of a mammoth museum. Housed in a lavish 17th-century Genoese villa, it is a veritable temple to the French master, charting his extensive career and offering an intimate glimpse into the man behind the (notoriously grumpy) genius.
A jaunt to Nice would not be complete without a look-in on the Belle Époque marvel that is the former Hôtel Regina. And, like the Promenade, it has quite the British connection. It was conceived and built for Queen Victoria – who hinted quite heavily she’d visit more often were a royalty-worthy residence to be erected in the city. True to her word, Victoria wintered there for six-week stretches between 1897 and 1899.
For more information, visit en.nicetourisme.com
From France Today magazine