This post was written in the summer of 2011. It has been updated.
Greetings from la Côte d’Azur [the French Riviera, to non French speakers] les amis!
I landed in Nice on Saturday around lunchtime after a long, but uneventful trip. My bags arrived on time too because I traveled with a carry-on. I was not going to give the airline a chance to lose my toothbrush, Nice guidebook, and favorite t-shirts!
I saw the French coastline from my window seat on the airplane and that’s when I realized for the first time where I was headed. From up there, I could see sailboats, blue sky, beaches, and red and orange rooftops. I was tired (this French Girl never, ever sleeps on an airplane, however hard she tries,) but I felt excited and could not wait for my adventure to start.
Nice airport is welcoming and easy to maneuver, a good sign. I found the bus I had to ride to my Old Town pied-à-terre in less than ten minutes. I looked through the window during the bus ride and tried to take everything in. As soon as we reached the famous Promenade des Anglais (once financed by Nice’s English colony in the 1820s,) the trip really started feeling like a vacation. Everywhere I looked, from the beautiful Mediterranean and the tall palm trees, to the tanned sun-worshippers on the beach and the sidewalk, the place screamed: “Bienvenue. Time to relax and have fun!”
La Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) from Castle Hill
Nice: The Old Town, from Castle Hill
I dragged my suitcase through the narrow streets of the Old Town, all the way to la rue de Jésus (Jesus street,) where my studio was waiting. I got a good workout carrying my bags all the way to the 5th floor (no elevator, folks!) The place is small, even smaller than my old studio in downtown Paris. The best part about it is that I can leave the windows open day and night. So far, local temperatures have been ideal: around 80-83F during the day, 70F at night. No humidity. No bugs. In short, I may very well have found my [European] paradise!
Welcome to my ‘hood: Rue de Jésus (Jesus street)
Not all streets in the Old Town are as narrow as rue de Jésus.
View from the studio window
The studio overlooks Nice’s first baroque church, 17th century St Jacques
The only drawback about the studio is that the WiFi connection I was promised does not seem to work very well. This will definitely slow down the blogging process. Since the connection only seems to work at night and after 10:00pm, I am afraid I might fall asleep on my keyboard. I promised to take you along, and I will, come what may.
So far, I have explored downtown Nice, mostly. What a great walking city this is! I do not feel guilty about enjoying my daily glass of rosé wine or some delicious hand-dipped gelato for dinner.
Now is the time to answer an important question:
I will tell you why.
Not quite Italian, not quite French, but decidedly Mediterranean, Nice is the Riviera’s undisputed Queen. This vibrant and cosmopolitan city (who once welcomed European and Russian royalty,) has it all: art, architecture, fine dining, sightseeing, pebbled-beaches (nobody seems to mind,) warm water and a mild Mediterranean climate. I would add to that list some of my personal favorites: some of the best people-watching I have enjoyed since Paris, walking and hiking opportunities galore, and one of the cheapest, most efficient public transportation systems in France.
Now you know why I chose Nice. You can’t go wrong here.
Since my blogging time is limited, let’s jump right in. Voilà a few shots of the city I will be calling home this week…
First, let’s go to La place Masséna (Massena square.) It was named after Jean-André Masséna, the French military leader, considered one of the greatest commanders in history for his role during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. La Place Masséna sits majestically at the heart of the city and is a major transportation hub (several bus lines and the new state-of-the art tramway have stations here,) so I know I will end up there often. With its brightly colored buildings, la Place Masséna feels very Italian. It is spectacular and at its most elegant at night.
La Place Masséna
From Masséna, one can follow la rue Jean Médecin, the main shopping street in Nice. The local branch of the Galeries Lafayette department store and a fancy mall are located there, as well as many other boutiques.
Rue Jean-Médecin: August crowds? What August crowds?
10am on a Sunday. They are all sleeping or headed for the beach!
Rue Jean-Jaurès in the 1830s (when Italian Nice became French Nice!)
Rue Jean-Jaurès today.
I also explored a neighborhood north of downtown Nice named Cimiez. It sits on a hill and I had to catch a bus to get there. There was enough to do on that hill to keep me busy for several hours…
The Chagall Museum was my first stop. I have always loved the colorful ceiling he painted inside the Paris Opéra House (Opéra Garnier.) I am also interested in anyone the Nazis called “degenerate,” as they did with Chagall in 1935. Chagall, like many other artists, lived in Southern France for many years and was inspired by the French Riviera and Provence.
Entrance of the Chagall Museum, Nice
Chagall’s stained glass work. Impressive!
Chagall was inspired by the Old Testament:
This is his version of Paradise (before Eve offers Adam the dang apple!)
When I left the museum, I walked uphill for about a mile to reach my next stop: a cluster of historical buildings, including a world-famous museum, le musée Matisse. On the way up – and les amis, let me tell you, it was hot this morning – I passed elegant buildings. I pictured the European royalty who favored Nice once and wondered if they had lived in some of them.
My favorite building was the former Regina hotel, masterpiece of the Belle-Epoque, where England’s Queen Victoria used to stay while visiting the French Riviera. The hotel was converted into private residences a long time ago. Who are these lucky bougres (people) I wonder?
Finally, I reached my destination: the 15th century church Notre Dame de l’Assomption (I did not visit it, as a wedding was taking place there,) next to the Franciscan monastery and museum. I enjoyed my walk in the monastery’s rose gardens. They offer amazing views of downtown Nice, and of the neighboring Matisse Museum and Roman archeological site.
The Monastery’s rose garden
The Church and Monastery from the gardens
One walks through an olive grove to get to the Matisse museum
The Matisse museum sits in a 17th century Mediterranean mansion
Loved the colorful walls, old shutters and trompe-l’oeil windows
After visiting the Matisse museum (Matisse lived in Nice for many years and is buried in the small cemetery next to the Franciscan monastery,) I took a quick stroll through the Archaelogical site of Cemenelum. Founded in the 1st century BC, the Roman city once competed with Nice. Very powerful, it became the capital of the province and, because of its strategic location, was the permanent home of several Roman cohorts. The ruins were excavated after 1954. All that remains today are the amphitheater and the extensive Roman bath complex.
The Matisse museum is in good company and sits next to the former Roman baths
Roman Baths (aka: Roman sports club and spa)
Voilà, you have it. Two very busy days, and it is only the beginning. I will be strolling around Nice and the Old Town some more tomorrow, then off on an out-of-town excursion on Tuesday. I will post some photos when I can and I hope this story keeps you entertained until I return. I am off to bed! From Nice, Côte d’Azur, over and out.
A bientôt, les amis.
Véronique of France with Véro
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