Nice – French Riviera

Bonjour !

We have dedicated this month’s newsletter to a true southern city, rich in color, popular and aristocratic, capital of the “Cote d’Azur”: Nice, also known as “la Belle”. As many border cities, Nice was highly coveted and has had a particularly eventful history.

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Aerial view of Nice

Nice : Birthplace of Europe

The first European man emerged on the coast of the Southern Alps during the Stone Age. The temperate climate, richness of vegetation and game made it an ideal living area. Who would believe that today’s Nice and its surroundings were once a Paleolithic region! More than 380,000 years ago, the French Riviera was already inhabited! The Valley of Wonders, situated south east of the Mercantour Massif, attests to the early life in this region. A small scenic railway, baptized “Train of Wonders” offers its passengers an enjoyable ride into the heart of the countryside with its high mountains and panoramic views (more than 1000 meters in altitude) and to a prehistoric site where one can see almost 40,000 engravings of hunting scenes and human figures. A spectacle not to be missed!

The Bugadiera

In 1543, King Francois the First wished to seize Nice in order to outdo his long time rival the Emperor, Charles the Fifth. He therefore allied himself with Sultan Soliman the Magnificent. The Franco-Turk assaults were long and repeated, and all the men and women of Nice entrenched in their castle, defended their city with courage and valor. …..Legend has it that a washerwoman, Catherine Segurane, was the reason the troops of Barberousse, a fearsome pirate at the service of the Sultan, finally relinquished their attack. She would have raised her skirts in facing the enemy. Was it in shock at the spectacle or in fright of the courage and bravery of such an act that the enemy abandoned? No one can say for sure…..But the Bugadiera (washerwoman in the Nice dialect) became a heroine. Today, at the foot of the castle, in St-Augustine Place, a monument is dedicated to her, a statue of her with her battledore in hand…

Nice, the harbor

A Mirage of a Castle

In the middle of the 5th Century, the Phocaean, coming from Marseilles, naturally chose the high hill, a strategic position, to establish their trading post. They chased the local tribes out of this territory and in sign of victory named in “Nikaia”. The sole masters of the region for centuries, they began the construction of a giant citadel. Transformed through the centuries, this citadel evolved into a castle which was destroyed by the “Sun King”, Louis Fourteenth. Nice, which had been a formidable fortress on the Mediterranean, became an open and demilitarized city. Of all its vast riches of the past only a few remnants, a few mosaics and a few ruins remain…today the castle can only be imagined, but what remains is magical. An aromatic garden filled with scented plants and a charming waterfall embellishes the naturally beautiful site. A walking tour is organized every summer: La Castellada. Each evening, actors and musicians recreate the magic of the site and retrace the marking moments of Nice’s history.

A flower reseller in Nice

The Prettiest Market in France

In all the cities of Provence you will find neighborhoods full of life and activities. Nice is no exception to this rule. In the old quarter of the city, on the edge of the ocean, is a large esplanade offering a thousand sights and smells from the South of France: The Saleya Court. Every morning, each in turn, the flower market, fruit and vegetable market, or antique market is held; this magical place where musicians, sculptors and painters offer a wonderful open air show to the enchantment of the passersby. Every evening, illuminated by the lights of restaurants, pubs and bistros, it is the meeting point for young and old who begin their nights with stop at the terrace of a café. The world never seems to stop in one of the most beautiful and well-known pedestrian zones.

A bell tower in Nice

Noon on the Dot

Do not be alarmed if, at the end of the morning, while wandering the streets of the Old City, you hear a far away explosion. It is the canon of Sir Thomas Coventry. In 1860, this old colonel of the British army complained to his spouse, an absent-minded chatterbox that they were never able to sit down to dinner at the proper hour. The English gentlemen therefore asked the municipality to fire a cannonball everyday at noon, to remind her that lunch was to be served. He committed to supplying all the ammunition and the canon. It was therefore installed in the castle, at 92 meters in height, so that it could be heard by all the citizens of the city.

This custom survived and to this day one can hear the sound of the canon at twelve sharp indicating that it is time to sit and eat…

The Carnival

Land of history, land of escape, Nice is also known since the middle Ages as a land of feasts. It all began on a cursed Wednesday when the moon was closest to the earth. A crackpot was strolling through the village all night long, playing his rattle and claiming in his loud voice: “This day is Holy; the moon is your gateway to the ever-after!” The villagers activated their bellows full of flour to make him leave.

A legend was born, which became a popular tradition. From aristocrats, to local folk and even religious men, all would amuse themselves, hidden behind masks, mocking one and all, until “Mardi Gras”, day according to the Catholic tradition of Lent, when one would begin fasting for 40 days. The carnival we now enjoy today had its origin in February 1873, when king Carnival the First made a triumphant entrance into the city. Every year since, Nice moves to the rhythms of the drums and the cries of joy that spill forth as the parade of floats file past. Be it during the excitement of the flower fight, or the parade of large heads, the universe of the grotesque and absurd mix in with that of joy and happiness!

Trees and flowers in Nice

Miami of the Mediterranean

With a very mild and temperate climate, generous sunshine and large green spaces, Nice could easily be thought of as Miami. Every sight reminds you of American beaches; the palm trees, its glorious ocean-front; even the amateur rollerbladers could easily convince you that you have not left American soil.

However, at the end of the nineteenth century, the first tourists of what would rapidly be named the “Cote d’Azur” were British. Doctor J.B. Davis praised the areas therapeutic virtues based on the local climate and participated in the establishment of a small British colony. It is also another British, Reverend Lewis Way, to whom we owe the walkway, 8 kilometers in length and what would quickly become the “British Promenade” (“Promenade des Anglais”), which is still today highly appreciated by tourists and locals alike. The first part of the road that is locally called “the prom” was originally baptized “United States Wharf” in 1917 in tribute to President Thomas Woodrow Wilson, who had enlisted his country with the allies during the First World War.

As was said by the famous sculptor César: “Nice is like a woman city. We love her passionately, we may leave her, but we always remain faithful…” It is actually difficult once you have visited Nice to be satisfied and never return. This city makes a mark, leaving you with a thousand thoughts and emotions in the bottom of your heart. Its feet in the ocean and its head in the clouds, Nice and its region are in themselves a small country with Provencal traditions. Land of lights open between two palm trees to the brilliant sea, the one we call “little Florida” remains unique.