The 19th century, aristocrats from London to Moscow flocked to France's sunny Cote D'Azur or Blue Coast. Much loved for its blue seas and blue skies, this was the place for Northern European to socialize, gamble and escape their dreary weather.
Whether you're rich or not, Nice with its eternally entertaining seafront promenade and fine museums is the enjoyable big-city highlight of the Riviera. In its traffic-free old city, Italian and French flavors mix to create a spicy Mediterranean dressing.
Nice may be nice, but it's hot and jammed in July and August.
We're here in early June beating the serious heat and crowds. The broad Promenade des Anglais (literally The Walkway of the English), was paved in marble for blue-blooded 19th century English tourists, who wanted a safe place to stroll and admire the view without getting their shoes dirty or smelling that fishy gravel.
Today it's a fun people's scene with a bike and roller blade path that leads all the way to the airport.
The beach ,while pebbly, is popular.
Whether you are looking for an adrenalin rush or just working on your suntan, this beach has it all. Tan lines could be hard to find, as Europeans are relaxed about topless sun-bathing. While major stretches at the beach are public, much of it is private, where you pay to rent a spot, complete with mattress, lounge chair and umbrella.
Nice was born on its easy-to-fortify hill. From there, and inland from the beach, spreads its colorful old town.
The old town squares feel more Italian than French, because until 1860, Nice was ruled by an Italian king. Until the mid-1800s, the people here spoke an Italian dialect. Street signs are still in two languages, and pasta is still a favorite.
Nice's Italian rulers lived in this palace.
As the modern nation of Italy was being created, this region was given a choice: Join the chaotic new country of Italy, or join wealthy France, which was enjoying good times under the rule of Napoleon the third. The vast majority of the people voted to go French, and voila.
The old town offers a cultural scavenger hunt of opportunities, from its medieval market square with fresh seasonal produce, to a pasta shop, showing Nice's Italian roots, to the nearby Patisserie Auer: its belle epoque storefront brags that it's been run from father to son since 1820.
Queen Victoria satisfied her sweet tooth right here.
Socca, a thin chickpea crepe, seasoned with pepper and olive oil is a peasant staple, predating tourism. That's still dear to local hearts. At this busy stand, the Socca arrives by motor bike, hot out of the oven, and it's sold and gobbled up as quickly as they can slice it.
Flower seems to grow effortlessly and everywhere in this ideal climate. This has long been Riviera's biggest flower market. Fresh flowers are a fine value in this otherwise pricey city, and with such an abundance of flowers, it's no wonder perfume is a local industry.
The Molinard family has been making perfume from Cote d'Azur flowers for a century. Perfume is distilled like Cognac, and then aged like wine. It takes for more than four hundred pounds of lavender to produce just one quart of pure essence. For the French, finding just the right perfume is a personal quest.