The area of today’s Nice is believed to be among the oldest human settlements in the world. One of the archaeological sites, Terra Amata, displays evidence of a very early usage of fire. Around 350 BC, Greeks of Marseille founded a permanent settlement here and called it Nikaia, after Nike, the goddess of victory.
Throughout the ages, the town changed hands multiple times, its maritime strength ever-increasing thanks to its strategic location. For a time, Cimiez Hill was the location of an independent Roman city whose thermal baths, roads, and areas can still be seen today. For years, it was an Italian dominion, then became part of France in 1860. Culturally and architecturally enriched over time, today it’s the second-most visited place in France, after Paris.
The spectacular natural beauty of the Nice area and its wonderfully mild Mediterranean climate came to the attention of the English upper classes in the second half of the 18th Century, when more and more aristocratic families took to spending their winter theres. The city’s main seaside promenade, the Promenade des Anglais (‘the Walkway of the English’) owes its name to the earliest visitors to the resort.
The climate and breathtaking landscape are still what attracts most visitors today. The architectural diversity of Nice’s Old Town is bound to delight both architecture buffs and those who don’t know much about the history of art. The unique Hotel Negresco, with its famous pink dome, was opened by Henri Negresco in 1913, and since then delights visitors with a Baccarat 16,309-crystal chandelier in the lobby.
A walk through the maze of Nice’s Medieval cobblestone streets is all it takes to reach two quite extreme examples of religious architecture. The elaborately-decorated Russian Orthodox Cathedral, erected in 1859, is the oldest construction of its kind in Western Europe. The Catholic Church of St. Joan of Arc is quite a different story. Designed by Jacques Droz in reinforced concrete, it was completed in the early 1930s. The material, innovative at the time, allowed for the construction of an astonishing shape in a style influenced by Art Nouveau trends. Four pillars carry three strongly-curved cupolas, thus creating a truly breathtaking interior volume. Adjacent to the church is a 65-metre bell tower. The unique style of the church remains controversial with the inhabitants of the city.
For decades now, the picturesque Nicean surroundings have attracted not only those in search of relaxation, but also those seeking inspiration. The clear air and soft light has been of particular appeal to some of Western culture’s most outstanding painters, such as Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Arman. Their work is commemorated in many of the city’s fascinating museums, including Musée Chagall, Musée Matisse, Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret, and the Museum of Modern Art.
While in Nice, fluent French might not be enough if you want to truly blend in with the locals. The inhabitants of the Nice region speak their own distinct language called Niçard (Nissart), an Occitan dialect spoken by a large part of the community. Fortunately, thanks to strong Italian and Corsican influences, it’s easily understandable to speakers of Italian and French.
Those in search of extraordinary culinary experiences are in for a treat. Restaurants around the city serve all the best that the Provencal cuisine has to offer in its freshest form. Delicious local dishes that you simply have to try include a pie topped with anchovy sauce and onions, bouillabaisse (a traditional stew of Mediterranean fish, tomatoes and Provencal herbs), ratatouille (a rich seasoned vegetable stew), soupe au pistou (bean soup seasoned with a kind of pesto sauce), and socca (chickpea flour pancake). Then there’s the internationally known salade niçoise (a salad of tomatoes, green peppers, tuna, olives and boiled eggs), and a multitude of other dishes, including fresh local seafood.
More contemporary takes on the culinary classics of the region display the visible influence of the large immigrant community. While in the past, newcomers arrived primarily from Italy, Spain and Portugal, the last decades have seen the arrival of people from the remotest corners of the world, especially from former African colonies and southeastern Asia. The newcomers have kept their traditions alive, not only through the cuisine, but also through contributing to the fantastic melting pot into which Nice is gradually evolving. All ethnicities participate in the traditional farandole, an open-chain community dance performed on special occasions.
The moment your eyes take in all of the delights that Nice has to offer its visitors, you’ll always long to return to this very unique place in the world, a sunny land of great fun, wonderful cuisine and languid relaxation.