Brief Escapes to Europe


Nice , queen and capital of the French Riviera, a place legendary for the frolicking and youthful indiscretions of the jet set ; number one destination for those in pursuit of sex sun. Beneath this enticing postcard is a city and region that deserves better than this clichéd image, often artificial and always diminishing.

The long and richly complex history of Nice has produced a special identity that is very different from the opulent image of a playground for carefree frolicking. The image of the Riviera as the habitué of the rich and famous belies the fact that there are many treasures to be discovered beyond this superficial postcard image.

Nice is not, in its origins, a rich region. It is a mountainous territory with an area of 3000 square kilometres rimmed by a narrow coast often featured in views of the city. This coastal rim stretches from Nice to Monaco and for most of its history was characterized by poverty in stark contrast to its current opulence.

For much of its history Nice's value was primarily its strategic position for transport and as a guardian of the southern Alpine passages. In 1860 the Comte de Nice became a part of the nation of France and struggled for years with the process of integration. In 140 years the population increased form 44,000 to 370,000. In the intervening years she experienced a burgeoning tourism, invented modern horticulture and saw the proliferation of the castles and villas of millionaires and aristocrats on its verdant hillsides and its meandering streets and boulevards. These opulent residences, as well as opera houses, casinos and luxury hotels , built by the skilled hands of thousands of Italian artisans and craftsmen display a rich and varied architectural legacy. Yet in the midst of this cosmopolitan whirlwind beats the heart of Nice, modest and simple, which is embodied in the Nice patois known as, "nissart". Many authors, such as Francis Gag (1900-1908) have preserved this idiom in a variety of literary works.

The birth around 1930 of mass tourism has contributed to the narrowing of the view of Nice to its sun-drenched pleasures. This has been to the detriment of its soul, at once Greek, Latin & Baroque; of the Mediterranean and mountains, of its people; poorer, rougher, more simple and loving than the popular image reveals.

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