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Nice – Welcome to the nice life
by Subhasish Chakraborty
The Côte d’Azur, popularly referred to as the French Riviera, is ideally located in the Mediterranean coastline of the south eastern part of France. It extends from Menton in the East to Cassis in the West.
Its largest city is Nice – a wonderful French Riviera city, one which is a very popular destination for honeymooners and sun-worshipers. It is a large city, no doubt and finding one’s way in the city can be intimidating to the first time visitor.
As a student of Alliance Francaise de Calcutta, I was provided with an opportunity to visit the French Riveria along with a few of my batch mates. We had all done reasonably well in our final semesters and this trip was to be a test of our language abilities. Nervous we were, but deep inside there was a belief that we were at par with the best in the trade.
From New Delhi we boarded the Air France flight to Paris and from Paris we hopped on to a connecting flight to the city of Nice. Instead of staying in a luxury hotel, we were offered with the option of staying on “Home Stay” mode with a host family. This was indeed a very good idea as we would have a first hand experience of staying with a French family and be exposed to their culture and lifestyle, apart from honing our language skills in this 15-day trip to France.
The rooms were quite spacious with all modern amenities. What really helped was the warm and friendly attitude of our gracious French host. The first few days were spent exploring the local neighborhood and testing our language skills. It took me two days to polish my skills and we would often sit hours together with the host family trying to fathom the beauty and diversity of the French Riveria
We became particularly very fond of the traditional French cuisine and would wait with bated breath for lunch or dinner when the lady of the house would usher us to their elegant dining room. The variety of French seafood recipes that would be cooked for us was something we would never forget. From easy wine braised fillet to bucolic Cajun fish fry…the gastronomic delights on offer made us feel every bit French.
From our frequent interactions with the host family, we were pretty familiar with the historical and geographical importance of Nice. According to Maria Bruni, our gracious host - “The French Riveria was one of the world’s first modern resort region and in the days of yore served as a winter resort, catering to the discerning needs of the upper class Britishers.” The introduction of railways in the 19th century forever changed the destiny of this region. It soon evolved as the playground of the aristocrats and the crème-de-la-crème of the society. From Queen Victoria to the Prince of Wales, the royal families simply loved the French Riviera.
In the first half of the Gradually the place began to evolve and by the 20th century it was a much preferred holiday destination of artists and scholars and some of the luminaries of that era like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edith Wharton and others of their ilk began frequenting this stunningly beautiful region. The ultra rich Americans were not to be left behind either.
The huge popularity of the French Riveria compelled the town and country planners to sit back and take notice. After the World War II, this part of France was gradually developed into a state-of-the-art convention centre. According to our gracious host Maria Bruni, many top ranking Hollywood superstars have their apartments here and there was a buzz doing the rounds that Elton John was in town. There is a certain throb here at Nice and the amazing part of this speck of paradise is that Nice alone has nationalities of 163 countries and it is a fact that non-French nationals outnumber the native people.
Nice’s fabulous Cote d’Azur Airport one of France’s busiest airports after Paris and there is another airport airport at the neighborhood of Mandelieu, which is now the nexclusive domain of private and business category flyers. Time permitting, a visit to surrounding places of the French Riveria includes a virtual galaxy of paradise like locales like Cannes, Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Ca-d’Ail, Frejus, Saint Raphel and Saint Tropez. There is also the principality of Monaco to contend with.
Given the fact that the French Riveria receives 300 days of sunshine per year and with a coastline that extends to all of 115 Kms. along with numerous ski resorts has meant that this area has evolved as a major yachting centre. Don’t be taken aback to see some of the world’s costliest and most luxurious yachts anchored along the area’s impeccably maintained marinas. From the Sultan of Brunei to Lakshmi Niwas Mittal (world’s richest Indian), they all come here to party. If statistical records are anything to go by, each year the French
Riviera hosts 50% of the world’s yacht fleet, which in itself is astonishing.
Like most visitors in Nice, we too embarked on a leisurely stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, which was conceived of almost 200 years back and shapes Nice’s Mediterranean coast at the marvellous Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels). This iconic boulevard is popularly referred to as the ‘Promenade’ and extends for 6 Kms. If you feel tired, there is no dearth of the quintessential Nice “Blue Chairs” where you can sit down and bask in the uninterrupted sea vistas.
Many of the city’s elegant monuments are historic and dates back to the 17th century. Of particular significance are the magnificent Palais Lascaris, the Cathedral de Sainte Réparate and the impressive Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez. However, we were more interested in the beach side activities and the legendary Nice coastline would be our hangout zone in the evenings. We preferred the city’s Neptune beach because of its idyllic location and the easy availability of sun loungers and throbbing beach life.
It was reassuring to know that the water is checked regularly and evaluated as “good” according to the exacting European standards.
There are countless “must visit” tourist attractions around Nice and a majority of them are landmarks in their own right. Mention may be made of the impregnable 16th century Fort du Mont Alban. This is one place that impressed me a lot. Given the fact that I have always been fond of colonial architecture, the Fort du Mont Alban is one of the best places to have a glimpse of the traditional French military architecture and one can be assured of breathtaking natural vistas.
The city is home to a number of high profile museums and art galleries. I have been to a few art galleries in my native Kolkata, but I must tell you the art scene in Nice is a completely different cup of tea. One has to be thoroughly oriented with the French way of life and a well-informed guide is a must. We were fortunate as our gracious host Maria could spare some time from her busy schedule to accompany us on our trips to some of the city’s principal cultural centers.
We went on a full day’s tour of the city’s cultural mosaic – the Musée de Palaeontologie Humaine Terra Amata (popularly referred to as the Museum of Human Palaeontology), the Musée d’Archéologie de Nice-Cimiez (the Archaeological Museum) and also the Musée Départemental des Arts Asiatiques (Regional Museum of Asian Arts). The methodical manner in which the art objects and artifacts are preserved, deserves kudos.
When it comes to Fine Arts, Nice is like a “Mecca” – the Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) which is ideally located on the upscale Avenue des Baumettes was particularly fascinating. So also the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain which is strategically located on the posh Avenue St. Jean Baptiste. They are virtually a storehouse of contemporary paintings.
When it comes to the question of culture, the city of Nice has its own individual character. The native people have always held onto their independence, their own language –“Nissart” and folk traditions.
As far as the traditional costumes are concerned, the most common is the “Bouquetiere” for girls, which is a red and white striped cotton skirt, blouse and black velvet waistcoat with apron and embroidered black satin shawl plus, of course, the famous capeline. For boys, the chosen outfit is the red and white striped corsaire trousers, a broad belt of red wool and a white cotton shirt with a big-buttoned collar.
In course of an animated conversation with a native Nice couple at the elegant Atmosphere restaurant located on Cours Saleya, we got to know that the “Nissart” language is part of the Occitan linguistic ensembele extending from Catalonia to the valleys of Piedmont and Le Limousin. Most of the vocabulary, we were told, comes from the Latin spoken by the Romans who came here to build the town of Cemenelum.
In order to stop the “Nissart” language going into oblivion, theatre productions are of great help. Time permitting, a visit to the Theatre Nicois de Francis Gag and the Lou Rodou Nissart can be a very rewarding experience.
Every now and then, we would take a break from our sightseeing activity and sit down and relax at some of Nice’s archetypal pavement eating joints. The recipes here explain the lovely looks of the girls of Nice. From local candid fruits to “Pissaladiere” (golden onions with a hint of anchovy) and Nice’s very own exclusive Mediterranean sandwich “Pan Bagnat” to the warm and crispy “Socca”…the French gastronomic delights had fully satiated our taste buds.
With such great variety, many restaurateurs have decided to pool their efforts to make this into a common asset. To promote the authentic cuisine of Nice, restaurant owners have made a solemn commitment by signing a Quality Charter – “Cuisine Nissarde, Le Respect De La Tradition”. Restaurant owners holding this collective label can be identified by this logo on their storefront. When you step into any restaurant with the “Cusine Nissarde” label, it is a guarantee of excellence and good value that cannot but appeal to you.
When it comes to wine, as a perfect complement to the cuisine of Nice, the AOC wines have earned an excellent reputation, in particular in almost all the popular restaurants of Nice. The fact that the vineyards too are located in the hills that are in close proximity to Nice has helped tremendously.
No visit to Nice is ever complete without a visit to some its impeccably landscaped gardens. My father being a Doctorate in Agriculture, he had asked me to collect some information about Nice’s famed gardens. There are at least ten gardens and Municipal Parks, but the ones that stand out are – Jardin Albert, Jardins Suspendus Du Paillon, L’Esplanade Du Paillon, Le Parc Du Chateau, Le Jardin Du Monastere De Cimiez, Le Jardin Des Arenes De Cimiez, and Parc Chambrun.
While Jardin Albert happens to be Nice’s oldest garden that stretches for almost 2 Kms. from the seafront to the hills, the Jardins Suspendus Du Paillon is ideally spread out between the Old Town and the city center. However, it was the Parc Chambrun, which impressed me the most by its quintessential French romantic architecture. Other gardens worth visiting are the Le Jardin Botanique, renowned for its classic collections of Mediterranean flowers and the Parc Floral Phoenix.
As the city’s old timers are apt to say – “Nice has changed more in fifty years than it did over the past two centuries: Its history advances, but its past remains. I have been fortunate to visit this incredible city of the French Riviera where the world’s greatest stars have ignited millions of flash bulbs from the paparazzi’s cameras and I am not going to forget in a hurry the city’s salubrious climate and beautiful sights.
From the cascade to castle, I have seen everything in Nice without being seen. This city of a thousand delights will inspire me forever.
Traveler’s Fact File:
It is certainly interesting to arrive in Nice by plane as one gets an immediate bird’s eye view of the city and the reasons for its very special character.
Nice’s Cote D’Azur Airport greets nearly 7.37 million passengers each year. With a global network of more than 60 connections, the Riviera International Airport is your privileged gateway to the city of Nice. There are more than 45 international airlines offering routine flights to more than 88 cities worldwide.
For instance, the popularity and the easy accessibility of Nice can be gauged from the fact that there are more than 300 flights a week to Paris. The route from Paris to Nice is the busiest in France.
Nice is a Mecca for shoppers. From small boutiques selling craftwork and traditional fabrics in the Old Town to the jewelry shops on the Avenue de Verdun, a bewildering variety of shopping outlets are available in the city of Nice. Typical souvenirs in Nice include – Wines, Olive Oil, Candid Fruit, Perfumes, fabrics, art and crafts.
Nice offers a wide range of accommodation options. Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau publishes a Nice Hotel guide, which is available at 17, Rue Paganini. Tel: 33(0) 4 93 88 39 42. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Furthermore, Day and night SIGNOTEL panels at Nice’s Cote D’Azur International Airport and at La Scoperta Services on the motorway provide tourist information on hotel availability and bookings can also be made.
Rentals and accommodation offered by private individuals can also be booked at –
Regional Tourist Committee,
55 Promenade des Anglais,
Tel: 33 (0) 4 92 15 21 30.
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