Air-conditioned apartments for holiday lets in the Palais Mediterrannee Residences, Nice, France.

History

The Côte d'Azur was "discovered" at the end of the 19th century as an illustrious, warm winter wonderland for the privileged classes of British, Swiss and Russian societies. Climatically favoured even in the winter, Nice was praised for its therapeutic benefits which drew foreigners searching for the dry, warm weather necessary to cure what was ailing them. Enchanted by this undiscovered paradise, the same families returned year after year until an affluent community of royalty, courtesans and artists flourished in the prosperous atmosphere of Belle Epoque Nice.

Today, Nice is a spectacular fusion of French and Italian culture, customs and cooking. Even the language, le Niçois or Nissart, spoken almost exclusively by the local population up until the beginning of the 20th century, is a hybrid of Italian - the official language of Nice from the 16th century until 1860, and French - the official language thereafter. This amalgam of cultures is also responsible for the wonderfully robust and flavourful Niçois cooking, based largely on olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, basil and other local produce.

Nice is now the largest resort on France’s Mediterranean coast, and was founded by the Greeks, then colonised by the Romans. It became a popular winter destination in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the temperate winter climate and subtropical vegetation attracted the aristocracy, including Queen Victoria and Czar Nicholas of Russia. Many wealthy people stayed for the whole winter season, to escape the cold damp northern European climate, and Nice at that time was quiet throughout the summer. Many Belle Epoque hotels and large villas were built then, giving rise to the stunning architecture for which the city is famous. The city was actually Italian until 1861, and the Italian influence can also be seen in many of the buildings and the local Nicoise cuisine.

The English colony was so large in the 1830s that they raised funds to build the Promenade des Anglais, now a 5 km walk along the Baie des Anges as far as the airport. This remains the place to stroll, rollerblade, or cycle, in front of Grand Hotels such as the Negresco and Palais de la Mediterranée, with the blue sea alongside.

The medieval rabbit warren of the Old Town, previously an area to be avoided, is now home to stylish galleries and a wealth of low priced restaurants and bars, interspersed with local food shops which have not changed in decades. The exuberant turn-of-the century residences that made Nice one of Europe’s most fashionable winter retreats have survived intact, despite German occupation in the second World war.

Nowadays, the city is very much an all-year-round destination, with budget airlines allowing northern Europeans and French alike to enjoy some winter sunshine, or to join the summer holidaymakers who flock to the beaches, and enjoy the atmospheric street life.