Nice, a gourmet and historic capital of the Côte d’Azur

Nice, a gourmet and historic capital of the Côte d’Azur
Nice, a gourmet and historic capital of the Côte d’Azur

“Nissa la bella” is worth visiting, and not only during the upcoming major sporting events.

Published today at 9:04 p.m.

The arrival of the Tour de France will, this year, have the turquoise waters of the Bay of Angels and not the Arc de Triomphe in the background. Paris being devoted to the Olympic Games, the cyclists of the Grande Boucle will not finish their race on the Champs-Elysées but near Nice (from July 19 to 21). A sporting excitement which will continue with the Olympics; the capital of the Côte d’Azur also hosted six Olympic football matches (from July 24 to 31).

Even without these sporting events, it is worth discovering Nice, which has similarities with the Vaudois Riviera. In addition to a microclimate and a location between a body of water and mountains, the origin of the tourist development of these two regions is similar: if Lord Byron’s poem on Chillon attracted tourists from across the Channel to Montreux, the writings of the Scotsman Tobias Smollett introduced the British to Nice. The wide avenue which runs along the Mediterranean was named “promenade des Anglais” because they had given money in 1822 to build this artery, allowing strolls with therapeutic virtues thanks to the sea air.

French in 1860

This “Prom” – as the locals call it – takes on the appearance of the west coast of the United States when it is crisscrossed with cyclists or onlookers on rollerblades. In its last quarter, Old Nice proves to be unmissable. Before entering, the very central Place Masséna, whose arcades and facades of magnificent red ocher refer to the architecture of the Grande Botte. “But be careful, Nice has never been Italian!” warns Pénéloppe Guéroult, press relations manager for the Tourist Office. The City in fact belonged to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia until it became French in 1860.

Place Masséna acts as a link between the “Prom”, the old town, the shopping avenue Jean Médecin and the pedestrian zone where a string of restaurants follow one another. The specialties? Socca, among others (read box). Foodies should also not miss (Place Rossetti) the Fenocchio ice cream parlor and its 94 flavors or the Auer chocolate and confectionery factory, whose founder, in 1820, was a Swiss immigrant! His son popularized their candied fruits throughout the world in 1890. “He was the favorite supplier of Queen Victoria, who privatized part of the shop, which was then a tea room,” says Pénéloppe Guéroult. And in the film “Happy Easter”, Jean-Paul Belmondo emerges with an enormous chocolate hen from this Florentine-style interior.

Matisse, illustrious host

A stone’s throw from the Auer confectionery lies Cours Saleya and its famous flower market, a real explosion of colors. This alley is lined with single-storey houses next to each other facing the sea (the Ponchettes). Opera spectators paraded on their roofs during the Belle Époque during intermission. From his window, Matisse certainly observed them, he who had taken up residence at the end of Cours Saleya in the beautiful Palais Caïs de Pierlas. From 1917 to the end of his life in 1954, the painter lived in different places in the city. “When I understood that every morning I would see this light again, I could not believe my happiness. I decided not to leave Nice, and I stayed there practically all my life,” he declared. The museum dedicated to him is located next to the Cimiez arenas.

To return to Old Nice, these pedestrian streets revealing artisan shops and cafes are very well preserved. Overlooking it is the castle hill with its 19 hectare park (also accessible by elevator), which offers a magnificent panoramic view of the sea and the port. On this hill a cannon has been fired every day at noon since 1863, set up by the Scotsman Sir Thomas Coventry, so that his wife, often late, returns in time to make him something to eat…

“Foreign” architecture

The presence of foreigners has marked Nice especially in its architecture, with neighborhoods being shaped according to the nationalities of the winter residents. Thus, the facade of the prefectural house bears reminiscences of the colonnades of the White House. “American President Thomas Jefferson, staying here, would have sketched certain plans of the building with the architect,” says Pénéloppe Guéroult. The most striking example: the Orthodox Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the largest religious building of this type outside Russia. The most beautiful too? Your turn to judge.

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