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NICE, FRANCE

Graced with an average of 2,640 hours of sunshine per year, Nice, France, proudly wears the colors of Chagall and Matisse: Its Mediterranean bay is azure blue, its tiled roofs are red, its houses ocher and yellow, and its gardens emerald green. All those colors also show up at the wonderful flower market on Cours Saleya and on the tiny bikini bottoms worn on the pebbly but oh-so-fashionable beaches.

Greeks and Romans, Savoyard kings and wealthy visitors have shaped the destiny of Nice, and still this is the only town on the Cote d'Azur that doesn't seem to depend on its 4 million tourists per year. The dynamic capital of the departement of Alpes-Maritimes may be the most-visited French city after Paris, but it is still a very local affair.

If you avoid the summer months in Nice, you can still enjoy the local cuisine to its fullest and soak up the Mediterranean light that Picasso so loved. And the stunning highlights of the French Riviera are just a few minutes' drive away.

Geography

Nice enjoys a privileged position between a gently curving bay of the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains of the Ligurian Alps, which shelter it from cold northern winds. Palms, eucalyptus and citrus trees give Nice a subtropical appearance. In the hinterland, the Arriere Pays, you'll find olive groves, pine woods, wild flowers and perched villages, which offer fabulous vistas along with cooling summer breezes.

The major areas of tourist interest are the Old Town (Vieux Nice), the New Town to the west with the Promenade des Anglais and the major boulevards, the leafy district of Cimiez with its first-class museums to the north, and the port to the east of the Old Town.

History

At the site known as Terra Amata at the foot of Mont Boron, remnants of a prehistoric human camp some 400,000 years old have been unearthed. Around 1000 BC, the Ligurians built their oppida at the mouth of the Paillon River and on the hill overlooking the valley.

With Louis XIV, the French made a comeback by blowing up the city's fortifications, but apart from a brief period of control by Revolutionary forces between 1792 and 1814, Nice belonged to Savoy until 1860, when the King of Sardinia ceded the city of Nice and Savoy to Napoleon III in the (secret) Treaty of Turin. The treaty was later ratified in a rigged plebiscite.

Famous writers, film stars, composers and painters such as Picasso and Matisse flocked to Nice, followed by an armada of tourists.

Sightseeing

By international standards, Nice is a rather small city, but it offers a surprisingly diverse number of attractions. Its museums are world-class affairs: You can admire Roman antiquities, masterpieces of Asian art, paintings by Matisse, Chagall and Picasso, and the best contemporary art on the Riviera.

The revamped Old Town with its old churches and houses of Genoese times reminds visitors of Nice's long Italian heritage. Countless charming bars and cafes invite flaneurs (strollers) through their doors.

Enjoy the stately belle epoque and art-deco mansions in the suburb of Cimiez, where queens and tsarinas once spent balmy winters; walk or skate the fabulous Promenade des Anglais; watch millionaires sailing their yachts in and out of Port Lympia; enjoy a lazy beach afternoon at classy Beau Rivage Plage; get pampered in one of the luxury spas; and enjoy a performance of Tosca in the beautiful Opera House before you dance the night away in one of the many bars.

And if money is burning a hole into your pocket, there are two casinos right on the sea promenade.

Dining Overview

Nice's cuisine still shows its Ligurian influences, with its love for seafood, olive oil and tiny black olives, chickpeas, fresh basil and pine nuts.

For starters, the Nicois eat pasta (for example, ravioli filled with seafood, artichoke hearts or walnut sauce), gnocchi or, in the winter, soupe au pistou. This hearty soup is made with courgettes (zucchini), tomatoes, beans, potatoes, onions and vermicelli, and served with pistou, a sauce based on basil, pine nuts and garlic. Another Nicois favorite is bourride, a fish soup served with aioli.

Rightfully popular is the salade nicoise, usually made with quartered tomatoes, capers, black olives, spring onions, anchovies or tuna, green beans, and with or without hard-boiled eggs and potatoes.

Nice has its very own local wine, the high-quality Bellet, from one of the smallest vineyards in France.

Dos & Don'ts

Do say bonjour (good morning) when meeting people, and bonsoir in the evening, typically after 3 pm. This courtesy extends to absolutely everyone, even if you are only buying a metro ticket or a morning paper. For a polite goodbye say merci, au revoir (thank you, goodbye) when leaving a store or other establishment.

Don't forget to address people by their full title when speaking to strangers: monsieur for men, madame for married women and mademoiselle for unmarried women. You will have to decide whether a woman is a mademoiselle or a madame.

Do say pardon if you bump into someone, even lightly, though they may say it to you first, even if it is your fault.

Don't be afraid to try new food on French menus—it's probably delicious. Try asking for the chef's special du jour.

Geostats

Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of the U.S. and Canada need only passports to visit Nice. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.

Population: 343,304.

Languages: French. You may also hear a local city dialect called Nissart. In addition, most tourism professionals know a good level of English.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic). There are also Protestant, Jewish and Muslim places of worship.

Time Zone: 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+1 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

Travel 42

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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon

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