A Recreational Tour of the Riviera
By Justin Postlethwaite, Editor
Part Two – Cultural Interlude
I rise early to clear skies and a self-imposed, packed cultural agenda. Many half-decent hotels are, like mine, within walking distance of the beach, so if the sun is out, it’s advisable to head for the sparkling ocean that gave the Côte d’Azur its name. The tourist office – ideal for picking up street maps and ideas – faces the sea, so where better to plan your exploration of the city than on the shingled shoreline?
I decide to blitz the city’s best museums in half a day. With the exception of the Musée Chagall (there’s always a contrary, or perhaps greedy, one), all became free to visit in July 2008, so there’s no excuse not to take in the MAMAC, (a magnificent contemporary art museum) and the delightful Museum of Naive Art. Getting to the MAMAC has a new visual twist. Crossing the Place Massena, a vast open space full of fountains and flanked by lovely arcaded Italianate buildings, I get my first glimpse of the city’s proudest new addition. Shimmering in the distance is the space-age tramway, approaching smoothly and silently save for an occasional warning bell. The tram takes in a couple of loops around the city, making it a brilliant resource not just for locals, but for those visitors keen to get around the main points of interest quickly and cheaply. It’s a fine example of a forward-thinking transport policy that complements the cityscape.
Keen to enjoy the sunshine, next I trek up to the Matisse museum, one of Nice’s crown jewels. Housed in a beautiful, ochre-coloured maison complete with trompe l’oeil window shutters, it’s set in an olive grove way up in the Cimiez suburbs, next to a monastery. The walk is not for the fainthearted on a hot day (I got the bus down afterwards), and the collection is wide-ranging, if not scintillating. The setting’s the thing, clearly. On a worthwhile detour back to town, I stop at the glorious, treasure-filled Russian Orthodox church. I’d never seen this ornate, multi-coloured behemoth – ordered by Nice regular Tsar Nicolas II in 1912 – and I can highly recommend a viewing, though beware the entry fee.
I finally find a salade Niçoise worthy of the name and price at La Claire Fontaine on pretty Place Rossetti, where lunch was accompanied by a glorious, raucous racket made by a marching band out entertaining kids. With my faith in its salad preparation capabilities restored, I tip my cap to Nice, city of culture and sunshine, and make for the hills.
See Part Three – Into the Country