So Nice: Exploring the Beauty of Nissa La Bella on Foot

June 11, 2024 Travel

There's a reason why Nice is nicknamed Nice la Belle (Nissa La Bella in Niçard), meaning ''Nice the Beautiful.'' This city is more than just a jump-off point for adventures around the French Riviera; it's a place where you can genuinely appreciate la joie de vivre (joy of life).

During my recent trip to France, I explored Nice after attending the Cannes Film Festival and before heading to Lourdes. With limited time, I opted for a walking tour rather than exploring on my own to make the most of my visit. I'm so glad I found Jenny on Viator; she made my experience in Nice genuinely unforgettable.

We embarked on Jenny's aptly named "Beautiful Evening Walking Tour of Nice." Initially, I was worried that none of my Viator bookings would work out since three of them were canceled. Fortunately, this one did.

Promenade des Anglais 

Our rendezvous was at the "Chaise Bleue" (Blue Chair) monument at the Promenade des Anglais. Jenny instructed me to look for a girl with an umbrella, and right on cue, she stood there punctually with her infectious smile and warm greeting. 

She informed me that the other bookings were canceled, but she chose to push through. That's how dedicated she is as a tourism ambassador for Nice. So, we proceeded, turning it into a private tour.

The Promenade des Anglais is a famous seafront stretch in Nice that extends seven kilometers along the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) and its pebble beaches. The promenade offers a perfect spot for a leisurely walk, exercise, or simply enjoying the sea view. Our meetup spot, La Chaise de SAB, is a giant iron sculpture paying homage to the city's iconic blue-and-white beach chairs.

Place Masséna 

We walked to Place Masséna, Nice's historic and main square, from Promenade des Anglais. This square connects Old Nice with the resort town on the right bank of the Paillon River. It's also the starting point of Rue Masséna, known as the pedestrian area, and the busy shopping street Avenue Jean Médecin. 

The square's centerpiece is the impressive Fontaine du Soleil (Sun Fountain), featuring a 7-meter-high statue of Apollo, the God of sun and light, from Greek mythology. The latest addition is seven statues of kneeling men on high poles representing the seven continents. At night, these statues light up in different colors.

Interestingly, Nice has only been part of France since 1860. Before that, it belonged to the principality of Savoy, then a territory of Italy. This explains the Italian-inspired arches, neoclassical buildings, and red ochre facades.

The Opera and Maison Auer 

Our journey from Place Masséna took us down Rue Saint François de Paule. A brief stop at the Church of St. Francis of Paule for gratitude was followed by a glimpse of the Opera House. This architectural gem underwent reconstruction after a fire, thanks to François Aune, a French architect and protégé of Gustave Eiffel, known for iconic creations like the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty (a gift from France to America). Jenny pointed out subtle nods to Eiffel's genius adorning the Opera House's décor.

In front of the Opera House is Patisserie Henri Auer, a haven for chocolate and candied fruit lovers since 1820. Stepping inside the oldest confectionery shop in Nice feels like a journey back in time. 

Jenny mentioned an interesting trivia: after watching the opera, Queen Victoria of England got her sweet fix from Maison Auer's delectable chocolates.

Cours Saleya 

Our next stop was the Cours Saleya flower market, a vibrant, fragrant spot as iconic as Nice's Pebble Beach. This bustling open-air market in the Old Town is more than a shopping destination; it's a cultural experience. 

Here, Jenny shared the three must-try delicacies when visiting the old town of Nice: the chickpea pancake called Socca, Pissaladière, a flatbread topped with onions, olives, and anchovies; and of course, the popular Salad Niçoise.

Place du Palais de Justice 

The Place du Palais de Justice, also known as Courthouse Square, boasts architectural marvels like the Palais de Justice (Law Courts of Nice), the Prefecture of Police of Paris, the Rusca Palace, and The Clock Tower. 

However, the story of Albert Spaggiari, shared by Jenny, truly intrigued me. In the shadow of the Palais de Justice, she narrated the captivating tale of a real-life thief who orchestrated a daring heist at the Société Générale bank in Nice in 1976. His story is so fascinating that it was adapted into a movie titled "The Easy Way."

Place Rossetti 

We then delved deeper into the old town of Nice, navigating its maze-like narrow cobbled streets bordered by buildings that seem to echo tales from centuries past. These streets are lined with tall tenement houses, their ground floors bustling with a vibrant mix of restaurants, shops, and local art galleries. 

During our exploration, Jenny pointed out an intriguing detail – false windows painted on some buildings, a historical relic from an old tax system based on the number of windows.

Our next destination was Place Rossetti, a charming square that quickly became my favorite spot in Nice. Nestled within this square is the exquisite Nice Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral of St. Reparata (Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate). 

Inside the cathedral, visitors can find a reliquary containing the remains of Saint Reparata, the beloved patron saint of Nice, showcased on the main altar.

Place Saint François 

Place Saint François is another cherished spot for the people of Nice. This historic square is known primarily for its fish market and the former town hall, Palais Communal de Nice.

Place Garibaldi 

Place Garibaldi, on the northern edge of Vieux-Nice, is the oldest and one of the most iconic squares in the city. Designed by architect Antoine Spinelli in 1773, it features a monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi at its center surrounded by a 17-meter basin. 

Giuseppe Garibaldi is a politician and soldier who opposed Nice becoming part of France. 

Matisse House 

At the far end of Cours Saleya stands a sizeable yellow building where the renowned artist Henri Matisse lived and worked from 1921 to 1938. This historic building, though not open to the public, holds great significance as the place where Matisse spent many years and created some of his most famous works.

Castle Hill 

We arrived at Castle Hill just before sunset. 

One of the highlights of Nice, Castle Hill, known as Colline du Château, rises 92 meters high and is famous for its ruins of defensive walls and an artificial waterfall. 

This elevated area offers panoramic views that are among the most photographed in Nice. From its summit, you can see the entire cityscape, the azure waters of the Mediterranean, and the picturesque coastline.

I Love Nice 

We concluded our tour at the Promenade des Anglais, right by the iconic I Love Nice sign. Exploring Nice on foot was a memorable experience, made even more special by Jenny's expertise and enthusiasm. Thank you to Jenny for being the best tour guide and helping me experience Nice la Belle in all its glory.

I enjoyed a Salad Niçoise and a glass of red wine at Place Rossetti to cap the day.  

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