Musée Masséna

20150910_17453665 Rue de France, 06000 Nice, France

Nothing reflects the nature and history of a city better than historical houses, private residences of its citizens. It is the personal that speaks to us – furnishing, decorations, art, architectural details. Walking through the strikingly beautiful Villa Massena, a private residence of André Masséna, prince of Essling, one gets a glimpse of the life of the Nice aristocracy of the Belle Époque.

The 19th century villa, surrounded by a beautiful garden, is open to the public from the Promenade des Anglais and rue de France. It is located next to yet another Nice landmark – Hotel Negresco. Today it is an art and history museum. The first two floors introduce the history of Nice from 1792 to 1939 with a particular focus on its artistic life and the Carnival. Exhibits include paintings, old photographs of Nice, Carnival posters, sculptures (among them one of Napoleon along with his death mask), private possessions of Nice’s distinguished residents, as well as furniture and decorations of the time. The third floor houses a library with thousands of documents related to the city’s history.

The Massena Museum belongs to the category which I call “easy”. You can spend there as little or as much time as you wish, and you will still leave with an appreciation of the city’s past which will give you a better appreciation of its present. The museum shop is a gem. Even though it is quite small, you can always find some artfully tasteful gifts to take home. And, of course, relaxing in the museum’s garden after the visit is a special treat. You can use the garden for free even if you are not visiting the museum, a special stipulation of the Massena estate when the villa became the property of the City of Nice at the beginning of the 20th century. A very thoughtful approach indeed.

 

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Rue Paradis: paradise indeed

20160122_121750Rue Paradis in Nice is a tiny version of Avenue Montagne in Paris. Strategically located in the main shopping area of the city, it neatly ties together other higher-end shopping streets – rue Alphonse Karr and rue Longchamp on one side and avenue de Verdun on the other. The street houses well-known French and international brands, such as Chanel, Max Mara, Sonia Rykiel and the Kooples. The brand Faconable, so quintessentially French, seems to scream “French Riviera”, with its abundance of striped boatneck t-shirts and sky-blue sweaters. The prices scream “French Riviera” too.

If you are on the market for some investment pieces, make sure you buy French. Otherwise, what’s the point? Check out Gerard Darel on avenue de Verdun, ba@sh on rue Longchamp, Sandro and Lacoste on rue Alphonse Karr. If you’re on a budget, a stroll in the area can offer useful suggestions of the trends whose cheaper versions you can buy in the neighbouring avenue Jean Medecin or rue Massena. After all, it’s all about having fun with clothing, something that the French are known for.

Ombrelles Bestagno: let it rain, let it rain, let it rain

20140904_16360917, rue de la Prefecture Nice, France 06300

It does not often rain in Nice, but, when it does, the rain is biblical. It seems like the sky opens, and there is no escape. You get soaked through within minutes. Needless to say, having no umbrella is not an option. If you are looking for an umbrella which says “quality”, “reliability”, “France”, “style” and “fun”, look no further than “Ombrelles Bestagno” in Old Nice. Founded in 1850, the shop sells umbrellas, parasols and walking sticks. All the items are made in France.

Having been a resident of The Netherlands for years, I take my umbrellas very seriously. When you need one almost every day, you don’t want it to fall apart with the first blow of the wind. And it should look good, of course. Maison Bestagno felt like I found myself in the umbrella paradise. The variety of umbrellas was overwhelming – from traditional black to all sorts of designs (well-known impressionist paintings, French prints, you name it), big and small, those that fold and could be deposited even in a small ladies’ purse and those with big handles to be paraded in public. The opportunities were endless. The biggest selling point, however, was the warantee which came with each umbrella. If something happened to it, you could get it fixed in the store. And guess what? After the fierce Dutch winds damaged our umbrella, we took it back to Nice on our next visit. Maison Bestagno got it fixed – no questions asked.

The Port of Nice

20160117_113456It is common knowledge that any port on the Cote d’Azur – from Nice to Monaco or from Antibes to Cannes – is breathtakingly beautiful, and the Port of Nice is no exception. If you are on the Promenade des Anglais, continue your stroll in the direction of Old Nice. The Port of Nice will emerge once you turn the corner near Le Chateau.  Luxurious yachts and simple fishing boats, cruise ships, restaurants and cafes, tourists and locals, people on bikes and rollerblades – this is a lovely walk in a lovely place.

The Port of Nice is a hub of the French Riviera, being the main Mediterranean harbor. During the season, one can catch a boat to Saint-Tropez or Cannes, a much better proposition than travelling by bus or by train. Here you can also get on a ferry to Corsica or Sardinia. Those with a car can take it on board instead of going through the hassle of renting it on-site. The port carries with it a sense of adventure, and what can be better when you are on vacation?

Galerie des Dominicains

20170125_0718529 Rue Saint-François de Paule, 06300 Nice, France

If you are wandering around Old Nice, don’t miss the Dominican Gallery, located next to the Dominican Church. Having the best address in town – in front of the Nice Opera – it is an art gallery run by Dominican monks.  This is a very cool concept which reflects the cultural values of the French society. The French – from monks to politicians to people on the street – support art. Run by Frere Didier, the gallery exhibits both local and international artists. Entry is free, and you might even be lucky to attend an opening and to chat with the exhibiting artist.

We discovered the gallery on the way home from a restaurant. It was close to midnight. Through the window, we could see an artist hanging his works before the opening. Half an hour later, we were sharing wine and discussing his work and its symbolism. The artist turned out be from Nice which made the discussion even more interesting. After all, it was an opportunity to meet a local.  The next day we attended the opening, and several weeks later we bought the artist’s work. Perhaps this is the best illustration of what the Dominican Gallery is all about. It gives you a chance to meet people, to discuss art and to make new friends. And, if you are lucky, to become an owner of that special painting, sculpture or photograph which spoke to your heart.

Cagnes-sur-Mer

20170215_090400Cagnes-sur-Mer is a suburb of Nice. It takes about half an hour by a city bus to get here. It is a small and pleasant coastal town with an attractive marina and a fairy-tale old town. Its main attractions are the Renoir Museum and Château Musée Grimaldi.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent the last twelve years of his life here. He died in 1919. Today his house is a museum. It is a lovely place to visit on a sunny afternoon when you can linger in the shade of the olive and citrus trees while admiring the views which inspired the great artist.  Château Musée Grimaldi is a 14th century castle, a former residence of Monaco’s royal family. Today it houses an art and ethnography museum whose small but exquisite art collection includes the works of Jean Cocteau and Kees van Dongen. Perched on a high hill, the castle is part of the town’s medieval centre and offers stunning views of the area.

All the sights are within walking distance. Start with the Grimaldi Museum, grab a cup of coffee or a snack in a little restaurant offering spectacular views next to the museum, descend through the magical old town to the Renoir Museum and finish the trip by strolling in the harbor. It will make for a very pleasant day indeed.

Le Centre Culturel de la Providence: the heart of the local community

Providence8 Rue Saint-Augustin, 06300 Nice, France

One often hears that it is hard to get to know the French. However, a trip to any country is always more memorable if you have a chance to communicate with locals. Talking to a restaurant owner or a sales clerk is fine, but you are stuck in a client-customer paradigm. Nothing compares with discussing art at a vernissage or architectural features of a church while attending a concert. A solution? Head for Le Centre Culturel de la Providence, a community and cultural centre, located in Old Nice.

The Centre, housed in a baroque church, built in 1664, offers a varied cultural program, which includes concerts, art exhibitions, lectures, conferences, theatre productions, you name it. Headed by Frederic Rey, an actor and a playwright, it caters to the cultural needs of the community. Events at La Providence are inexpensive and are often free. Frederic and his assistant Joceline speak excellent English and are very friendly. Some of my most memorable experiences are linked to La Providence where I met local actors, performers and artists, engaged in discussions and found new friends. And what can be more meaningful than that?

Hotel Negresco: a place to splurge

37 Promenade des Anglais, 06000 Nice, France

http://www.hotel-negresco-nice.com/

Just like The Ritz in Paris, Hotel Negresco is a legend in Nice. And legends don’t come cheap. However, if you feel like treating yourself, there is no better place. The Belle Epoque building with its signature pink roof and dome is hard to miss on the Promenade. The outside sculptures by the Nice artist Niki de Saint-Phalle and the uniformed doormen in their 18th century attire add to the ambiance.

Built in 1912, Negresco has always had a most impressive guest list – movie stars, politicians, artists, kings and queens, Middle Eastern sheiks. Its luxurious interior and well-appointed rooms, the two Michelin-star restaurant “Le Chantecler” and a remarkable art collection are a huge draw, not to mention the crystal chandelier in the Royal Lounge. The chandelier was commissioned by the last tsar, Nicholas II. However, it never reached Russia because of the revolution. The hotel’s current owner, Mme. Augier, is an avid art lover and collector which is reflected in her eclectic collection in the Royal Lounge.

The best way to explore Negresco is to have a fixed-priced dinner or lunch at “Le Chantecler.” The damage to your wallet will not be as bad as going “a la carte”.  The well-orchestrated meal with an excellently trained staff, catering to your every whim, will take at least a couple of hours and will be most memorable. Another option is to have a drink at the Negresco bar, when they have live music. A jazz evening is always a good option. Whatever you do, the hotel and its staff will make you feel special, and this is what luxury is all about.

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Monaco

Monaco for adults is like Disney Land for children. Its temptations seem to be impossible to resist – a royal family with a centuries-old curse, the legendary Monte Carlo Casino frequented by James Bond, the breathtakingly beautiful Hôtel de Paris with its Louis XV Michelin-star restaurant, the luxury Belle Epoque brasserie “Café de Paris”, multi-million dollar yachts in the port. And yet more sophisticated visitors to the principality will not be disappointed either, since Monaco offers not only frivolity and glamour, but also a vibrant and exciting cultural scene. Art exhibitions put up by the Grimaldi Forum are equal to none. The same goes for the Monte Carlo Ballet and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra which regularly perform there. Beautiful sculptures are skillfully incorporated into the fabric of the city, and the museums feature well-organized temporary and permanent exhibitions. Additional perk for travelers from Nice – a most magnificent bus ride in the world for only E1.50.

Grab a bus #100 in the port of Nice and enjoy incomparable coastal views for about 50 minutes, till you arrive in Monaco. For those travelling there for the first time, it is a good idea to get off in Monte Carlo (“Casino” stop) near the tourist office. Everybody there speaks excellent English and provides good advice on the principality. The centre has all sorts of free information– maps, magazines, brochures, etc. You never know what info-gems you can discover there, like, for example, a photo exhibition of Coco Chanel and her models, which was running in a private gallery close to the tourist centre. It turned out to be a highlight.

We all have personal favorites when we think about a place. My Monaco preferences include attending an art exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum (they usually mount one major art exhibition in the summer-early fall), visiting the Museum of Oceanography off season (you can actually enjoy their stunning fish collection in the aquarium without crowds breathing down your neck), playing roulette in the Monte Carlo Casino (it could be fun if you give yourself a small budget and never deviate from the original plan; I even managed to win some money for oysters and champagne on the only occasion of playing there), taking pictures of urban art and sculpture, and, of course, sitting down for a drink at the “Café de Paris” to take a break from the adventures of the day and to view the public. You will never be bored in Monaco. Guaranteed.20170307_073909

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice

20130915_12151533 Avenue des Baumettes, 06000 Nice, France

www.musee-beaux-arts-nice.org

The Nice Fine Arts Museum is located somewhat further away from the center. To get there, one either has to take a bus or to walk for 40-45 minutes from the central Place Massena. Hence time investment is necessary. However, if you are an art lover, you will be delighted to see it. Located in a lovely park and built in the style of Italian Renaissance, it displays works of the artists who lived and worked on the French Riviera, such as Jules Cheret, Gustave-Adolfe Mossa, Pablo Picasso, Raoul Dufy, Jean-Honore Fragonard, etc. It often hosts temporary exhibitions, featuring artists who created on the Cote d’Azur.

The beautiful mansion, housing the museum, was built in 1878 by the Ukrainian Princess Elisabeth Kotchubey. The Ukrainian connection continues with the displayed works of Marie Bashkirtseff, a Ukraine-born 19th century French artist and a well-known Nicoise. One can see her sculpture on the first floor of the museum. It was created by yet another well-known Nice resident with Ukrainian roots – sculptor Michel de Tarnowsky.