Nice

Perhaps no river runs through it, but Nice is one of those rare European cities where you can swim in the sea. And it's always warm, bustling and rich.

The sailboats bobbing on the sea looked like so many tiny seagulls as our plane came in for a landing over the Bay of Angels' deep blue waters. Just below us, Nice, belle of the French Riviera (aka Cote d'Azure), was strutting her stuff. We land at an airport practically in the city center, about to begin our Nice adventure in just a few minutes. Like a hospitable host, this city nestled against the Alps opens it arms to the Mediterranean and to visitors arriving from that direction. The first thing a newly arrived visitor encounters is the Promenade des Anglais, a coastal strip several kilometers long. As you stroll along this opulent thoroughfare, you will be impressed by its dignified historic buildings on the one side, and the bikini-clad sunbathers and swimmers on the other. The beaches quickly let you know that you've arrived in a city of history, culture and holiday-making.

A TOP LEVEL RESORT
With its population of 900 thousand, Nice is France's fifth largest city. Its founders were  colonists who came here from Phocaea some 2600 years ago and also founded Marseilles.
The name derives from Nike, the Greek god of victory. A port city of close to 15 thousand in the Roman period, Nice experienced some dark days during the Middle Ages.

Becoming the capital of the Duchy of Savoy in the 14th century, Nice today has been virtually reborn in a development centered around the medieval citadel which stands atop a rocky promontory overlooking the city. With the passage of time, Nice's fate was, in a sense, determined by its 'air and water'. Thanks to its temperate climate which prevails even in winter, from the mid-18th century it began attracting Northern European and English aristocratic families, who preferred its warm sun and clean air, and the Mediterranean's clear blue to the dark skies and endless rain and cold of their own countries. Already 250 years ago Nice began to be transformed into a 'first-rate' holiday destination, and the city's fate and visage to change with the continuous addition of new palaces.

FAMOUS FOR ITS COAST
Nice underwent a new wave of development when it was annexed to France in 1860. One of the few cities in Europe that can boast no river running through it, Nice is one of those rare cities where you can swim in the sea. Thanks to this distinction, one of the most important parts of the city today is the several kilometer-long coastal strip. And the 'English Way' where strolling English nobles once tried to outdo each other in stylishness is known now as the Promenade des Anglais. It remains extremely attractive, even though a different atmosphere prevails here today. As the day advances, the Nicoises literally flock here. But the year's high point is the carnival that livens up the Promenade in February.

CITY OF PALACES
One out of the many palaces along this elegant coastal strip commands special attention: the Hotel Negresco. After working in Paris, Monaco and Nice, Henri Negresco, who was born in Bucharest in 1868, decided to build a large palace-hotel in order to host the many important people with whom he was acquainted. This magnificent building, designed by the famous architect Niermans during the Belle Epoch, opened in 1913 to great ceremony. But Negresco's dreams were dashed when world war broke out a year later. When his hotel was converted into a hospital, he lost everything he had and died soon after in penury. The Augier family who bought the building in 1957 restored the hotel to its international reputation, and the Negresco today is one of the icons of the French Riviera.

Another of the city's most bustling districts is the Cours Saleya, a broad courtyard where markets are set up at certain times of day. In the evening in particular, the many cafes and restaurants here attract a lively crowd. You can find a restaurant to fit every budget as you discover the local cuisine, mostly of the Alps and of Provence, rich in spices and aromatic herbs with everything from seafood dishes to Salad Nicoise. The port area immediately on the other side of the Citadel is another spot in Nice popular for its fashionable restaurants.

A brief stroll along the 'Avenue des Phoceens', which extends inland, will suffice to make you realize that Nice is not limited to its coastal strip. Rising to meet you here, Massena Square is the city's true center, and the Rue Jean Medecin, which ends here, its longest avenue. Besides the most exclusive stores, the cultural venues are also concentrated around this square. In the summer months especially, the natives leave the Promenade to the tourists and themselves take refuge here.

SUNNIEST CITY IN FRANCE
If you happen to come to Nice in winter, you'll notice immediately that the average age of the city's residents is rather high. As one of the sunniest cities in France year round, Nice has become a city of pensioners. Even the presence of a sizeable university doesn't suffice to give the city a youthful look.

As you stroll along the clean, well-maintained avenues you might be surprised to come upon an interesting church. With its colorful onion domes, this building, which brings Russia to the city center, testifies to the interest taken in Nice by the 19th century Russian nobility, who preferred its temperate climate to the harsh Russian winter. Saint Nicholas Church was built as their place of worship. Immediately next to this cathedral with its very beautiful icons is a small palace that was once a Russian residence. The building is used as a school today.
As long as we are here I might also add that the Ottomans also in its day was not indifferent to Nice either, and owned some palaces here. Turks continue to take an interest today, too, of course… 

A CULTURAL AND HOLIDAY PARADISE
Its name synonymous with holiday-making, Nice has naturally attracted artists as well. Its limpid air, which brings out the pure colors of nature, and its climate conducive to working al fresco in every season, has drawn a host of painters to the city. Their works grace the city's museums today. If you go up to Mt Cimiez on which the city rests its back, you can see not only the exclusive villas of the wealthy, but also the artists' museums. Some interesting works of Marc Chagall's, for example, are on display at a museum he designed himself during his lifetime. And many works of Matisse are exhibited in the Matisse Museum in a 17th century villa also on Mt Cimiez. Immediately next to the museum you can see the Roman ruins. Further on is the Hotel Regina Palace, which opened its doors in 1895. One of the most famous guests of this hotel, which entertained a number of prominent personages in its once 400 rooms, was Queen Victoria. Matisse also stayed in a room here. But the building is no longer used as a hotel.

With its promenades, its parks, its broad avenues reminiscent of museums, its places of entertainment and its 'casinos', Nice is a cultural and holiday paradise. And with nearby Monaco, Saint-Tropez, Cannes and the extraordinarily beautiful historic town of Saint-Paul de Vence, it is a city that offers many opportunities, the most attractive of which is that you can tour it in any season. For all this, Nice is truly the belle of the French Riviera.