Classy Nice: the legend lives
The European upper classes were the first to make the city their own. The international art scene followed them, and hot on their heels, the jet set. Nice still retains much of the decadent charm that once made it perhaps the world’s most coveted travel destination. And even if its hotels and restaurants are still not the cheapest around, a vacation in Provence’s famous city is at least now within the average wage earner’s reach.
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Strollers & aristocrats
Promenade des Anglais:
Nice, as author Alexandre Dumas wrote in 1851, is really an English city in which one may meet a Frenchman. How right he was! English aristocrats were indeed the first foreigners to appreciate Nice as a clement refuge from their inhospitable native climate. They loved to take the air on the beachside Promenade des Anglais, which was named for them (and built on their initiative). A six-lane highway now runs parallel to the once tranquil thoroughfare, rather spoiling the elegant atmosphere of yore. But when special events like Prom Party concerts are held, the road is closed and the strollers come into their own again.
It took some years for the Negresco - like many other luxury hotels on the Promenade des Anglais - to become a legend. Opened in 1912 by Henri Negresco, who had previously managed the city’s casino, the hotel immediately became the meeting place of choice for Europe’s noble and wealthy. A short while later, the hotel was forced to close when the building was requisitioned for use as a military hospital during World War 1. Even after the war was over, the affluent guests continued to stay away from the entire Côte d’Azur for a time. In 1957, the local Augier family bought the Negresco – and finally returned the hotel to its former splendor.
Hotel Negresco: 37, Promenade des Anglais, Tel.: +33-4 /93 16 64 00, www.hotel-negresco-nice.com
Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral:
The Russian Tsar’s family also began paying regular visits to Nice in the mid-19th century, accompanied by an entourage of other affluent, aristocratic families. As members of the nobility, they were accustomed to want for nothing, which meant that they urgently needed their own Russian Orthodox cathedral. Tsar Nicholas II personally provided the land and in 1912, construction of Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral was completed. The October Revolution put an end to Russian splendor in southern France, but for the many impoverished nobles who fled Russia for Nice in its wake, the magnificent house of God became the spiritual home of their exile community.
Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral: Avenue Nicolas II, Tel.: +33/(0)4 93 96 88 02. Opening times: May-Oct, daily 9am-12 noon and 2:30-18pm, Nov-15 Feb, daily 9:30am-12 noon and 2:30-5pm, 16 Feb-Apr 9:15am-12 noon and 2.30-5:30 pm.
Casinos, painting & music
Casino Palais de la Méditerranée:
Place your bets! The city’s two casinos hold the same fascination as ever for the super-rich and those who desperately want to join their ranks. Both at Le Ruhl and Palais de la Méditerranée, punters have the opportunity to stake or win a small fortune, among others in a game of poker, black jack or roulette.
Casino Palais de la Méditerranée: 15, Promenade des Anglais, +33-4/92 14 68 00. Opening times: Sun-Thu 10am-3am, Fri+Sat 10am-4am. http://www.casinomediterranee.com
Casino Le Ruhl: 1, Promenade des Anglais, +33-4/97 03 12 22. Opening times: Sun-Thu 9am-4am, Fri+Sat 9am-5am. http://www.lucienbarriere.com
It was not for the Côte d’Azur’s exceptional, much extolled quality of light that artist Henri Matisse removed to Nice, but in hopes of the mild Mediterranean climate easing his chronic bronchitis. After installing himself at the noble Hotel Beau Rivage, Matisse found himself confined to his apartment for several weeks by the rain, which poured incessantly over sea and city. He had already resolved to depart once more when he awoke next morning to brilliant sunshine - and thereafter remained for the rest of his life. Some of his most important works can be viewed at the Matisse Museum in the Cimiez suburb of Nice.
Matisse Museum: 164, Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, Tel. : +33-4/93 81 08 08. Opening times: daily except Tuesdays, 10am-6pm. Admission free, guided tours, €2.50-5. www.musee-matisse-nice.org
Nice Jazz Festival:
Although jazz was performed in the luxury hotels of sophisticated Nice back in the 1920s, the city did not host France’s first jazz festival until 1948 - and then naturally only invited the crème de la crème. Legends Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli all starred at the festival’s premiere, which was held at the opera house. The annual festival today takes place on open-air stages and is acclaimed by critics as perhaps the foremost jazz festival in Europe.
Pictures: Look-foto; Bildagentur Huber, getty images (2), mauritius images (3), E. Billhardt,
© Succession H. Matisse pour les œuvres/Ville de Nice/Musée Matisse/Nathalie Lavarenne