Nice, France – More than Just a Beach

The French Riviera, also called the Côte d’Azur, or Azure Coast, extends from the Italian border to Saint-Tropez.  The beautiful coastline and blue water drew artists and writers to the area at the beginning of the 20th century.  After WWII, it became a popular tourist area and today is home to many celebrities.

The Beach at Nice, France, with The French Alps in the Distance
The Beach at Nice, France, with The French Alps in the Distance

Nice is the largest city in the Côte d’Azur.  The beach may be the main attraction, but there is much more to see in the area.

My daughter and I arrived in the late afternoon – or maybe it was early evening.  We were tired from the six-hour train ride from Cinque Terre in Italy. We checked into our small hotel, freshened up, and asked the manager for suggestions for dinner.  She directed us to a small place near the hotel where we were served a wonderful meal.

Illuminated Sculptures at Place Massena, Nice, France
Illuminated Sculptures at Place Massena, Nice, France

Feeling a bit rejuvenated after dinner, we walked out toward the beach.  There is a four mile paved pathway along the shore called the Promenade des Anglais.  We only spent a short time there, since by then it was dark.  We enjoyed illuminated sculptures and a fountain along the way.

We began the next morning by visiting some of Nice’s great art museums.  In 2014 all of the municipal museums were free, but as of January 2 of this year, there is a charge.  Some of the museums are grouped, with each group costing 10€.  The Matisse Museum charges 10€ on its own.  A seven-day pass to all the municipal museums is 20€.  The Chagall Museum is a private museum and at this writing, charges 8€ for admission.

The Matisse Museum is home to a large selection of works by Henri Matisse.  The artist worked with different media and the museum displays drawings, paintings, sculpture and collage.  My daughter and I loved the “Jazz” series and his famous “Paper Cut Outs.”

Marc Chagall, "La Paradis"
Marc Chagall,  La Paradis

Marc Chagall is one of my daughter’s favorite artists (I like him, too), so we were both looking forward to the Chagall Museum.  It did not disappoint.  Two of Chagall’s series of Biblical paintings, Genesis and Exodus, and Song of Songs, are displayed here along with over 400 other works.

As you walk into the first room of the museum, you see the twelve paintings in the first Biblical series.  The audio guide included with your admission, explains each of the works.  I found it invaluable as it explained details I might have otherwise missed.

The second room contains the Song of Songs series.  The lighting is the room emphasizes the deep pink color that emanates from the paintings.  The audio guide also explains this series and a number of selected works throughout the museum.

Marc Chagall Stained Glass Window
Marc Chagall Stained Glass Window

The last part we visited was the auditorium.  The room is used for screenings about Chagall’s works, but the main attraction there is the set of three stained glass windows along the left side.  Chagall has produced stained glass windows an other pieces for buildings all around the world.  The United Nations building has a large piece and the Art Institute in Chicago has a set of beautiful windows.

My daughter and I planned to go to the beach after we left the museum, but when we came out, it was raining.  We found a place to eat lunch while we discussed what to do.  We decided to immerse ourselves in art by visiting two more museums in the afternoon.

Alexander Calder Sculpture in front of The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nice, France
Alexander Calder Sculpture in front of The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nice, France

After lunch, we went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.  There was an Alexander Calder sculpture outside, so I was intrigued.  The museum was small but actually had a good representation of contemporary artists.  In addition to Calder there were works by Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg and a few hundred more.  Although there were many artists we did not recognize, the collection was well organized and well presented.

Finally, we visited the Museum of Fine Art.  We were a bit disappointed in this museum because it seemed they only had a small percentage of their holdings on display.  I hoped to see some Impressionist works – my favorites – but none were on display at the time.

Nice is more than a beach, but it’s also more than art museums.  The city also boasts three science museums and two history museums.  It has a large business center and a convention hall.

Historically, Nice has attracted artists, and visiting the city, you will understand the attraction.  The French Alps define the border between France and Italy all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.  The area has been the setting for several movies, both classical and contemporary.

Coq au Vin - Chicken in Wine Sauce
Coq au Vin – Chicken in Wine Sauce

The “Old Town” section of Nice is filled with boutique shops and restaurants.  It is fun to walk the narrow streets and peruse the merchandise.  After wandering the streets for over an hour, my daughter and I found a delightful bistro where we ate our favorite meal of the trip.  The meal included such classics as French onion soup and  coq au vin, followed by a dessert of poached pears with chocolate sauce.

In our short stay, we experienced only a few of the highlights of Nice.  We planned to leave first thing the next morning.  We rented a car for the day, but as we started to drive out of town, I insisted we stop.

Fishermen on the Beach
Fishermen on the Beach

The sun we had hoped for the day before was now shining brightly.  We had picked up some croissants for breakfast on the road.  I managed to find a place to park so we could eat our breakfast on the waterfront instead.  We were able to enjoy the beach once before we left.  Although we weren’t able to swim in the Mediterranean, we basked in the sun and salty air.

We had a short but memorable visit.  We will return to Nice someday.

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