Nice is the fifth largest city in France and the capital of the French Alpes Maritimes. With a population of over 400,000 and the second busiest airport in France, the city that was once dominated by tourism is now a fully functioning metropolis all year round and deserves its title of Queen of the Cote d’Azur.
In a stunning setting just twenty five miles from the Italian frontier, Nice has only been part of France since 1860 and still combines the best of both Italian and French influences. The English played a large role in the development of Nice as a holiday resort - the Promenade des Anglais was constructed by the English in 1822 and many of the hotels that line it still have names like the West End and the Westminster. The promenade is the natural place to begin a tour of Nice which, despite its size, is very much a city to be seen on foot. The beach runs the full length of the promenade, it is pebbly but exceptionally clean.
Nice is in many ways the envy of the rest of France. Public transport is exceptionally good as are the city’s universities and schools. The streets are cleaned so often that they have no chance to get dirty. Below the city, a huge network of cheap underground car parks means that Nice does not have the parking problems of other cities its size. The residents of Nice celebrate their love of the city with a Carnival in February that attracts huge numbers of visitors. Nice has a huge cultural programme all year round with concerts, exhibitions and plays most of which are free. There are several wonderful art museums and the shopping is excellent also with pedestrianised areas as well as traditional tree-lined avenues.
Old Nice is very much the heart of the city. Small, dark, narrow streets filled with tall houses separated by pretty colourful squares. The old town is currently being restored with amazing results - buildings and churches are being returned to their original vibrant colours and the streets are now full of small specialist shops selling antiques and local specialities. Between the old town and the sea, the Cours Saleya is the location of Nice’s main market. Every day except Monday, this narrow pedestrianised square is full of stalls selling food and flowers. On Mondays the olives and roses are replaced by antiques as dealers come from all around to sell anything from old phone cards to furniture. There is also a fish market six days a week in the Place St Francois.
The port of Nice is very much a working port, full of container ships as well as regular ferry services to Corsica.
The French Riviera coastline, 120 kms in length, passes through many beautiful towns and villages - Villefranche sur Mer, Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu sur Mer for example are within easy reach of Nice. All have splendid villas, old and new, and also apartments, and all done in the best of taste. Further east towards the Italian border is Monaco with its splendid beaches, world famous casino and marina.