Reasons to Love Nice

Reasons to Love Nice

It’s difficult not to fall into cliché when describing Nice. The sun shines in a seemingly endless azure sky. The pristine yachts line up on the sparkling sea. Nestled between the sea and mountains, Nice is one of those rare geographical treasures. A stunningly beautiful setting, it has been written about, filmed, photographed and painted so often that it seems at once both familiar and timeless.

However, for all the picture postcard clichés, I never feel blasé about this city or take it for granted. Whenever I return home to Nice from abroad, that first glimpse of the glittering Mediterranean as the plane swoops over the Baie des Anges never fails to make my heart race. It’s a love affair that never grows cold.

What makes this place especially appealing, I think, is that historically it is a tale of two cities – or rather, two countries. In 1860, Nice was handed back to France from Italy (Garibaldi was born in Nice). To this day, Nice feels neither wholly French nor Italian. It’s a wonderful Franco-Italian mélange, with each side bringing its own flavour and temperament to create a unique ‘la vie Niçoise’. Both the food and architecture reflects this. One might say you get a good coffee in France thanks to Nice.

A community of contrasts

I also love the contrasts – contradictions, even – of Nice. On one side there is an undisputable aura of glamour; of life being whiled away in cafés sipping rosé and eating moules marinières served in a large black ‘marmite’ (cast-iron cooking pot) on the Cours Saleya. Without a doubt, the showiness, designer sunglasses and promenading is a big part of the appeal of Nice and the Côte d’Azur. But this lotus-eater image belies a down-to earth town where ordinary people noisily go about their business on vespas (well, it is the south), shop at the abundant local markets and crowd the pebble beach on weekends.

There is also a sense of belonging to a patch-work community here where everyone can find their place. Centuries of visitors from abroad and within France (a fashion led by the Russian and British aristocracy, famous painters and writers of the early 20th century and American high society), makes for an embracing of ‘outsiders’ rarely seen in other parts of France. Most of us may come from elsewhere – my many French friends included – but we all ‘belong’ in and to Nice.

But perhaps nothing better sums up this city better for me than lunchtime. It’s a heady combination of all that is dear to the Niçoise: food, a sense of putting life first and a hint of anarchy. It drives many foreigners here crazy, but I’ve learnt to love it. ‘Food’ takes the form of everybody heading for lunch at a restaurant or café at around 12 o’clock. ‘Putting life first’ is shown by almost everything stopping for lunch, which means shops, banks, services all close until 2pm (ish). ‘Anarchy’ is that during the lunch hours, everyone double or triple parks. Nobody worries about the police or traffic wardens as they are having lunch and have double-parked too. If you need to get out, honk your horn and watch as everyone peers out of the restaurants to check that it’s not their car blocking. When they realise that it’s not, they happily go back to what the Niçoise do best – enjoying themselves.

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Originally from New Zealand, writer Rebecca lived in Hong Kong and London before moving to Nice with her family to work as a property finder.

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