One of the nicest places you could visit is the capital of the French Riviera, Nice. It lies on the pebbly shores of the Baie des Angles. Nice was founded by the Greeks and later on in the 19th century became a retreat for the elite of Europe. There is a lot of modern in the city but it still maintains its Old World charm. Visitors come for the beauty, the culture, the weather and the beaches.
Take a walk back into history and step into Vieux Nice the old town. It hasn’t changed very much since the 1700s. See the thriving and enjoyable Cue the cours Saleva, the market square. It is best known for its flower market and has a bustling fruit and vegetable market as well. On Mondays you can pick up a bargain or two at the flea market. As you walk along you’ll see food shops, delis, boutiques and bars filling the many small lanes. At place St. Francois is a fish market. Visitors are amazed to come upon the Baroque Palais Lacaris dating from the 17th century. Other architecural wonders are the Cathedrale Ste-Reparate, honoring the city’s patron saint and the Chapelle de la Misericorde.
The impressive Palais Lascaris is an aristocratic house built in the 17th century, belonging to the Lascaris-Ventimiglia family. It’s a Baroque building with a lovely facade with balconies on consoles and pilasters that are decorated with capitals and garlands of flowers. Inside this grand home is a monumental staircase that is enclosed by arcades and decorated with statues. On the first level you can see temporary art exhibitions. The upper level is known as the “noble floor” and has a wonderful original fresco. Today the palace is home to a museum of antique musical instruments.
People enjoy strolling along the palm-lined Promenade des Anglais created by Nice’s English colony in 1822. It is busy all day long but in the evenings people are especially delighted by the lovely sunset views. Of interest is the facade of the Hotel Negresco, built in 1912 and the art deco Palais de la Mediterranee. The promenade goes along the entire Baie de Anges and has a cycle and skating lane. If you like skates and scooters can be rented.
The Musee Matisse has a fascinating assortment of artworks by Matisse which document the artist’s stylistic evolution. Among the artworks are oil paintings, drawings, sculptures, tapestries and Matisse’s signature famous paper cut-outs. This permanent collection has found its home in a red-ochre 17th century Genoese villa that overlooks an olive-tree studded park. In the futuristic basement building are temporary exhibitions.
Matisse lived close-by in the monumental Regina building dating from the 1940s. This building was originally the winter palace of Queen Victoria and once converted Matisse had two apartments – one he used for living and one for a studio. The artist died here in 1954 and is buried at the Monastere de Cimiez cemetery, across the park from the museum.
The Marc Chagall Museum houses the largest permanent collection of artworks by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Chagall has a Biblical Message cycle that consists of 17 large paintings depicting scenes like The Creation, Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise, The Flood and Song of Songs. On display are also The Creation tapestry, an exterior mosaic and three large stained-glass windows.
Most impressive is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas. built by a Russian architect in 1912. It has six cupola with golden bulbs which look rather exotic against the Nice skyline and symbolize the importance of the Russian colony on the Cote d’Azur. Its interior is in the shape of a Greek cross and there are frescos, woodwork and icons to admire. Around the choir you’ll find sumptuous iconostas.
Visitors enjoy seeing the 130-year-old Nice Observatory which is a working astrophysics and astronomy lab. It was shown in the Woody Allen movie “Magic in the Moonlight”. The observatory was designed through the collaboration of Gustave Eiffel and Charles Garnier. It was Eiffel’s idea for the ingenious floating system which made the giant telescope mobile – a small man-made lake was dug out and then filled with water, the coupole was erected on a floating platform which then let the 92-ton dome be rotated easily in whatever viewing direction one wanted. Nowadays the telescope and dome are maneuvered by hydraulics.
The Villa Leopolda was named after Belgian King Leopold II. It counts as the largest and most expensive French villa in the world. This beautiful villa overlooks the Mediterranean. During WWI it was used as a military hospital and in 1955 it was used as a movie set for Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief”. An anonymous Russian oligarch purchased the villa in 2011.
The largest church in Nice is the Basilique Notre-Dame, modeled after a design by Louis Lenormand between 1864 and 1868. Its design was inspired by the Cathedrale Saint-Maurice d’Angers, in the city of Angers. The basilique was built in Gothic-style. Between its two main towers is a large rose window which features the Assumption of Mary.
The most important public square in Nice is Place Massena. This square is used for festivals, concerts, military process and other festivities. The square is not far from the Promenade des Anglais and the old town. It is bordered by red buildings of Italian architecture and lined with palm trees and stone pines. There are many restaurants, bars and cafes.
You can see wonderful modern art at the Musee d’Art Contemporain or MAMAC. This is a modern and contemporary art institution, featuring paintings, sculptures and conceptual installations, in a permanent exhibition that traces the history of the European and American avant-garde since the early sixties. The building which houses the artwork counts as one of Nice’s architectural treasures and was designed by Yves Bayard and Henri Vidal. For fantastic panoramic views of the city head on up to the open-air roof terrace atop of the museum.
Nice offers many lovely parks like Parc Phoenix. This is a beautiful botanical and zoological park. It is set around a central pond that is home to live pelicans, swans, geese, ducks and turtles. The park has twenty themed zones including a tropical green house, Mediterranean gardens and several spaces reserved for animals. Within the park are almost 2500 plant species. The zoological gardens aren’t very large. Some animals are in cages among them prairie dogs, otters, porcupines and birds like hawks, crowned cranes, rheas and parrots. The highlight of this park is the central green house which is one of the largest in Europe and has a large collection of orchids and bromeliads.
Another wonderful green space is Jardin Albert I. This is a municipal park named after Albert I, Prince of Belgium, Duke of Saxony, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.The major attraction in the park is Arc de Venet, a monumental contemporary sculpture. This park is among the oldest gardens in Nice and has a large lawn, fountains and palm trees.