The Joy of Nice

27 | 04 | 2021
The Joy of Nice

Nice is the gateway from the Italian region of Liguria to the French region of Provence. The national border is, of course, 40 kilometres east of Nice, near Monaco. But it is at Nice that the geography opens up to Provence - the Maritime Alps give way to the distinctive landscape of magical Provence with its sunflower and lavender fields, and charming stone villages.
The historic centre of Nice, or Vieux Nice, is perfectly Ligurian in architecture and colour palette, as if a piece of Italy had somehow slipped out of ‘the boot’. Indeed, Nice has only been part of France for 160 years. For centuries, it was dominated by the maritime republic of Genoa.

Named for the god of victory – Nike – Nice started life as a Greek colony some 2,400 years ago. The Romans recognised the strategic importance of this spot along the route to Provence. Julius Caesar almost certainly passed through this town on his way to the Gallic wars.

The city was eventually inherited by the Savoy kings in the Western Alps, based in Piedmont. In the mid-19th Century, Italy was unified with the help of Nice’s most famous son, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Garibaldi remains a hero of the Italian reunification, and yet while Garibaldi unified the rest of the Italian-speaking world, his own home corner of it was excluded from the new Italian kingdom. Italian unification was aided by French military assistance and before he was crowned as the first King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy agreed to give Nice to France in 1860.

This coincided with a new phenomenon – the concept of winter seaside vacations. Few places in Europe have a better winter climate than the Riviera. As English, Russian and French visitors came for the sunshine and good food, Nice became the first “modern” holiday resort town. Its development was rapid in the late 19th Century and the areas surrounding the historic centre still retain the aesthetic of that age.

Where Nice’s identity shines brightest is undoubtedly its food. Socca, petits farcis and salade Niçoise are the pride of the city's cuisine. There is no shortage of restaurants and cafés offering what they claim is true and authentic Niçois fare, especially in the old city.

Authentic Niçoise food is easy to find: a pot of pissalat (anchovy and sardine paste) sold among the day’s catch in the Saint François fish market; a batch of fresh pan bagnat that has queues forming outside the neighbourhood’s boulangerie; portions of socca (chickpea pancake) that are being handed to customers straight out of the oven. For those who need a bit of signposting, there is an accreditation scheme (Cuisine Nissarde Label) for restaurants that stick faithfully to authentic Niçois recipes.

Nice is the perfect place to start your Provençal adventure. It is also the home of our favourite French fabric manufacturers!