Insight Guides: Côte d’Azur

Travel Books: France

The Cote d'Azur is celebrated for its seductive light and sophisticated lifestyle, as well as for its art, architecture and coastal scenery.


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The Cote d'Azur

In a curious way, Nice and the Cote d’Azur belong to us all. The British colony brought blue blood and green fingers, and landscaped much of the Riviera, as well as building the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. More romantically, French artists came to paint the soft light and landscape. The Belgians brought their princes to pose in the sun while the Russians indulged their passion for partying and gambling. The Italians, who ruled Nice for centuries, brought their baroque architecture and dolce vita lifestyle. Today, Nice retains its cosmopolitan glamour but is also a showcase for southern culture, technically French but temperamentally Italian.

Hillside Cimiez, the lovely residential area of Nice, was home to the English colony in winter and to French artists all year round. But long before that, Cimiez was the centre of Roman Nice and still has the amphitheatre to prove it. You can admire the ruins, picturesquely spread among olive groves, before strolling down to the Old Town. In its heart is Palais Lascaris, the city’s most impressive Italianate mansion. The baroque frescoes, vaulted staircase and stuccowork were inspired by Genoese palaces and created during Italian rule.

Just beyond is Cours Saleya, the bustling heart of Vieux Nice. As the main square in the Old Town, this is a fruit and flower market except on Monday, when Provencal bric a brac, antiques, jewellery, old lace and old prints hold sway. The rest of the time, Cours Saleya is a celebration of Moorish spices, Mediterranean herbs, tangy citrus fruits and cut flowers, best viewed from a café terrace. The flower market follows the seasons, with violets, tuber-roses and bougainvillea giving way to mimosa in winter, as well as lemon trees and potted palms. The fruit market stops at lunchtime, much like the locals themselves, who generally put pleasure before work. You won’t spot Elton John or other celebrity residents posing here, but you will meet the local stars, who are far more entertaining. Theresa is queen of Nice cuisine, or at least socca, that crisp, chick-pea, pizza-like base that the Nicois snack on at any time of day. Under the watery winter sunlight, the locals sit around trestle tables and chat over a glass of rosé and slice of socca. This is served from a sizzling pan by Theresa herself, a born show-woman, with a witty word for everyone.       

Extract from The Insight Guide to the Cote d'Azur by Lisa Gerard-Sharp (copyright © APA Publications (UK) Ltd)
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