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Nice and the French Riviera Spotlight

This fabled Mediterranean coastline has long enticed sun worshippers

By Elissa Richard

June 18th, 2007

Situated on the southeastern coast of France, the fabled French Riviera has long enticed sun worshipers with its seaside charm, vibrant vegetation, beautiful people, and mild Mediterranean climate promising some 300 cloudless days a year. And while laid-back Nice, the region’s long-reigning queen and capital, has continued to evoke images of well-heeled vacationers lounging along the shore by day and hobnobbing at elegant eateries by night, this city by the sea is no longer an exclusive playground for the fabulously wealthy. In fact, Nice has developed into one of the French Riviera’s most affordable destinations, a lively commercial center that not only makes a fantastic base for exploring the region’s many wonders, but that reaches out to all holiday-seekers as an engrossing destination in its own right.

Nice is the fifth-largest city in France, yet it attracts more than ten times its population annually – some four million visitors who come not only to experience beaches bathed in unobstructed sunshine, but for the diverse concentration of museums, cultural attractions, and architectural delights. City quarters flaunt a mix of Roman ruins, Victorian villas, and belle époque edifices that stand in testimony to Nice’s storied past as a major Mediterranean crossroads – indeed, the city is just 20 miles from the Italian border, making a side trip to Italy within easy reach. Even the long-abiding affections of the international jet set cannot overshadow the quiet pockets of Provençal life that unfold here – the Niçois are known to savor life’s simple pleasures, maintaining a leisurely pace of life that allows for regular indulgence in the city’s ubiquitous café culture and enjoying late-afternoon aperitifs of pastis (a favorite anise-flavored liqueur) followed by unhurried strolls along the coastline.

If you find yourself with just three days in Nice, spend at least one of them sauntering along the coastal Promenade des Anglais, and, if the season’s right, enjoying the azure waters of the Baie des Anges from an upscale private beach. Don’t miss ambling through the ancient streets of Vieille Ville, Nice’s historic core, where shops, restaurants, bars, and a hodgepodge of architectural highlights compete for your attention – and be sure to enjoy an al fresco nightcap on the quarter’s animated Cours Saleya. Climb atop Le Château for some stellar views over the city and sea, and be sure to ogle the collections of at least one of Nice’s fantastic museums. Five days is considerably more ideal, allowing time to factor in some side trips to glamorous nearby resorts like Monte Carlo or Cannes. You could also spend some time exploring the lavish villas and ancient Roman ruins in Nice’s swanky Cimiez quarter, and indulging in quintessential Riviera opulence with dinner (or just a drink) at the renowned Hotel Negresco followed by a date with Lady Luck at the Le Ruhl Casino. One week will allow even more time to relax at the beaches, experience a more thorough sampling of Nice’s wealth of museums, cafés, and shops, or venture further along the Côte d’Azur to quaint cliff-top villages like those at Eze or St-Paul-de-Vence.

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