France’s second most popular tourist destination after Paris,
Nice is renowned for its balmy climate and spectacular setting between the Mediterranean coast and the mountains to the north. Located just 30km away from the Italian border, the city has changed hands several times down the years and was last annexed by France in 1860, though it retains a strong Italian architectural legacy.
A destination of choice for foreign, and especially English, visitors since the late 18th century, Nice has also served as inspiration to many world-renowned painters, including Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, both of whom have museums dedicated to their work in the city. A commitment to the arts remains a priority, and Nice also boasts an opera house, a national theatre and a celebrated conservatory.
Nice was first settled by the Greeks in the fifth century BC. The village soon became a busy trading post and they called it Nikaïa (after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory). The Romans later constructed the city of Cemenelum (Cimiez) at the site which came under the administrative control of Rome in 211. As a result of its location close to the border with Italy, Nice changed hands on several occasions.
The city belonged successively to Provence, Savoy, Piedmont and finally France. The last change happened in 24 January 1859, when a secret treaty was agreed between the King of Sardinia and France which resulted in Nice being annexed to the French Empire. The Sardinian and French parliaments approved the treaty of annexation in June 1860 and Nice became the administrative centre of the new French department of Alpes Maritimes.
• Catherine Ségurane, folk heroine (1506 to end of 16th century): said to have played a vital role resisting French and Turkish invaders in the siege of 1543
• Giuseppe Garibaldi, general, politician and Italian patriot (1807–82): considered one of the fathers of the modern Italian state
• Henri Matisse, artist (1869–1954): French painter, designer and sculptor, a leading proponent of fauvism
• Max Gallo, novelist, historian and politician (1932–): expert on Napoleon and a member of the French Academy since 31 May 2007
• Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, writer (1940–): awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008, the first French success in 23 years
THINGS TO SEE
• Château de Nice: The most impressive vista of Nice is from the Château de Nice, the climb to which affords many beautiful views over the city. The ruined chateau stands in beautiful gardens, and the hill on which it is sited ranked second in a survey of the favourite parks of the French people, behind the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris but ahead of Lyon’s Parc de la Tête-d’or.
The old town of Nice offers a stunning display of local cuisine, including the traditional dishes of Pissaladière, Pan Bagna, Socca as well as other specialties. This lively area is busy day and night, with its narrow streets crowded with restaurants, bars and cafes.
• Promenade des Anglais: A stroll along the Promenade des Anglais is the ideal complement to a hearty meal in the old town. Perhaps the quickest way of crossing the city from east to west, from the port to the airport, is the dedicated cycle route, popular with both joggers and cyclists.
• Albert I garden: A green oasis in the centre of the city, which takes pride of place in the new ‘green corridor’ that dissects Nice.
• Museums: Nice is home to many museums and galleries. The Matisse Museum, housed in a 17th century Genoese villa; the Musée des Beaux-Arts; The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, located near Place Garibaldi. The Terra-Amata Museum of Archaeology has a fascinating collection of relics. A recent addition is the National Sport Museum that has opened as part of the facilities at the new Stade de Nice.
• Avenue Jean-Médecin: The city’s main shopping street, access to this north-south commercial thoroughfare is made easy by three tram stops at Gare Thiers, Jean-Médecin and Masséna.
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