A magical place, home to aristocrats and artists, Nice, at the heart of the Riviera, bathed by the Mediterranean and sheltered by the Maritime Alps, is the fifth largest city in France. Come with us on the trail of the arts.
It is in September, at the very end of summer, when most of the tourists have gone home and the temperature is still very pleasant that the Côte D’Azur is at its most enticing. Having seen it in films, books and memorable paintings you feel an almost nostalgic affinity as you walk down the majestic Promenade des Anglais and pass the magnificent Hotel Negresco, built in 1912 and the last haunt of Isadora Duncan – it is worth peeking into the Royal Lounge to see its amazing Baccarat 16,000-piece crystal chandelier. You can lose yourself in the little back streets of the old quarter, or pass the Opera House, built in 1855, and end up at the Flower Market (Cours Saleya), a feast for the senses with dozens of brightly-coloured stalls selling the most beautiful flowers and delicious fruit and vegetables. But only from Tuesday to Sunday; on Mondays the place turns into an antiques market. In one corner of the square, look to the right with the sea behind you and you will see an unmarked brown building which was the first house Matisse lived in. Nearby is Castle Hill, which has no castle as it was destroyed in 1760 during the reign of Louis XIV. But there is a lovely fountain and a breathtaking panorama over the Bay of Angels.
It is no accident that Nice shows strong traces of Italian influence. The city was part of House of Savoy until 1860 and is only 20km from the border. The street signs in the Old City are still in two languages and there is heated argument as to whether the best ice cream is made by Finocchio or Arlecchino. The English (for whom the seven kilometre esplanade is named) and the Russians (the Orthodox Cathedral and the Marc Chagall Museum) have both left their mark. But it is art, which you find everywhere, that concerns us now.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MAMAC)
A curious building designed by Yves Bayard, with a magnificent view from the top, exhibits works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Christo and various artists of the famous Nice School. The big attraction, however, is the room dedicated to Yves Klein, with 20 of his unique blue works.
L’Art dans la Ville
This open-air museum, completed in 2007, has works by 13 international artists along an 8km tram route. The most impressive piece is at the city’s central Place de Massena. Conversation à Nice, by Spaniard Jaume Plensa, is a collection of seven human figures which represent the seven continents in flashing fluorescent colours, perched 10 metres from the ground. La Porte Fausse, further down on Boulevard Jean Jaurès, by Armenian-born French artist Sarkis, is a journey between the old and modern city, covered in Carrara marble and gold leaf, which is so discrete you hardly notice it. The trademark handwriting of Benjamin Vautier, the famous Ben, can be seen in phrases and aphorisms at every tram stop. A guided tour costs €8, plus €2 for the tram ticket.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Arriving in Nice in 1916, he lived at various addresses and fell in love with the city whose light he described as “clear, crystalline, sharp and limpid”. The museum that bears his name, at the foot of Cimiez cemetery, celebrates his life, work and influences. Entry is free.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Born in Belarus, this genial artist was living near St. Paul de Vence when, in 1966, he exhibited Biblical Message at the Louvre, a cycle of seventeen large religious pictures evoking Genesis, Exodus and the Song of Songs. André Malraux, his friend and French Minister of Culture, decided that a space was needed to preserve such an important work. The city of Nice offered some land at the top of Cimiez Hill, and so the museum came into being, inaugurated in 1973 and set in a stunning garden, which today houses other Chagall works including his circus pictures, self-portraits and landscapes.
by Paula Ribeiro
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