by Anna Maria D’Andrea
While millions are turned to the city of lights awaiting Sarkozy’s faith and possibly the demission of it’s Italian Model First Lady, Carla Bruni (in, of course, elegant French fashion), let’s turn our gaze to a city that has inspired the likes of Matisse and Picasso and that has haunted all that were fortunate enough to venture in it: Nice.
Nissa la bella, chanted lovingly by most Niçois, often evokes the image of a majestic turquoise sea, sensual French men and their accents (the main reason many of us watch foreign movies), and above all the sense that you just stepped into 1920s France, or Italy? This flavorful recent addition to France (1860) is a sublime mix of southern European culture embodying all that we have come to consider to be an elegantly slow paced life filled with the charming salty scent of the Mediterranean battling with aromatic patisseries and the beautiful chatter of les Niçois… Is it French, is it Italian? Does it really matter? In the end, this engaging little piece of Eden is only waiting for you to join.
What should you know on your first trip to the French Riviera? Well Nice is a city of many firsts. “La terra amata” (the loved land) is home to the first human settlement in Europe. This beauty also saw the beginning of la resistance during the Vichy regime in World War Two in France. These first famous heroes were actually senior high school students that believed in a cause and fought for their freedom.
Nikaia (Ancient Greek name for Nice meaning goddess of victory), should be among the first places you have your initial encounter with the Mediterranean Sea. You almost feel, as you lay on your beach bed, slowly dragging your eyes from left to right trying to absorb as much French and turquoise as you can that somewhere in a far distance you should or almost could hear Dalida’s “La Vie en Rose” cradling you. Cliché? Surely! A must? Absolutely.
However, tourists are sadly mistaken if they believe that all La Niçoise has to offer is but a breathtaking sea (which is most definitely enough to take the trip). Its various occupancies, from Greek to Savoyard and back to French, have turned this Côte d’Azur gem into a historic heaven. The St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, Hotel Negresco and l’Opéra de Nice are but to name a few! Worried you might miss them all? Nice is yet another great example of smaller European cities where much of your sight seeing can be done courtesy of your own two feet!
And should they fail you, as a result of uncomfortable footwear, the great transportation system is to the rescue! Whether it be the tram, the bus or the blue bicycles, it is very easy to get around for just one euro!
Another must on your list is to participate into one of Nice ‘strongest and rather noisy tradition: soccer. Now hold the eye rolling for some of you, whether you are a fan or not, or even if you are not sporty to begin with and prefer to shop, you really cannot miss this bit. You will be attending great European soccer at a very cheap price (tickets range from eight to thirty five euros). There is just something about a sea of nicois singing “La Bella Nissa” with all the fury, energy and just basic joy stemming from one very common sentiment: pride. They are proud these dear niçois, and rightfully so, they have been raised in yacht heaven, imprisoned by the Mediterranean, graced by history’s most fascinating figures and managed to not only keep it all but intertwine it so intricately together to deliver this unique wonder that is Nice.
Another first? End your loud, frantic but fun evening with a soothing stroll down “La promenades des Anglais”. This famous board walk was baptized by the British invading it shores in the late 18th century. Discovered by the English, this notable city of la Côte d’Azur gained a sizeable reputation as the “it” place to be during harsh European winters thanks to their lovely Anglophone cousins. Yet another first! Enjoy a fantastic gelato and let your body be cradled by the sound of the ever so present sea, the soft caressing breeze and linger leaving all worries behind…yet maybe another first!
Photo credits: Jousse Clement