929km (577 miles) S of Paris; 32km (20 miles) NE of Cannes
The largest city on this fabled stretch of coast, Nice is known as the “Queen of the Riviera.” It’s also one of the most ancient, founded by the Greeks, who called it Nike (Victory). By the 19th century, Russian aristocrats and the British upper class—led by Queen Victoria herself—were sojourning here. These days, however, Nice is not as chi-chi as Cannes or St-Tropez. In fact, of all the major French resorts, Nice is the most down-to-earth, with an emphasis on fine dining and high culture. Indeed, it has more museums than any other French city outside Paris. In late 2013 it inaugurated a new city center urban park, one of the largest public spaces in the South of France.
Nice is also the best place to base yourself on the Riviera, especially if you’re dependent on public transportation. You can go to San Remo, a glamorous town over the Italian border, for lunch and return to Nice by nightfall. From Nice airport, the second busiest in France, you can travel by train or bus along the entire coast to resorts such as Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, and Monaco. Indeed, visitors may step off a direct flight from either New York or Montreal, then hop on an airport shuttle bus and be relaxing in their hotel 30 minutes later.
Because of its brilliant sunshine and liberal attitude, Nice has long attracted artists and writers, among them Dumas, Nietzsche, Flaubert, Hugo, Sand, and Stendhal. Henri Matisse, who made his home in Nice, said, “Though the light is intense, it’s also soft and tender.” The city averages 300 sunny days a year.