As autumn inches toward winter, sweeping away the memory of warm, carefree holidays, there’s a place in Europe where summer lingers on all year round.
Lying between bright skies and turquoise sea waves, the city of Nice provides shelter to those fleeing winter blues and the oppression of less friendly climates.
This gem of the French Riviera has been cradling sun-seeking Europeans in its shores’ warm embrace for over two centuries; and while other destinations in southern France could claim to do that job perfectly well, Nice remains the unchallenged winter queen.
So much so that UNESCO recently made that title official: in July it crowned Nice “winter resort town of the Riviera” and added it to its World Heritage List for its “mild climate… seaside location at the foot of the Alps,” striking architecture and long-standing popularity among European holidaymakers.
A cause for celebration
“Nice is proof that tourism, at times rightfully lamented for its excesses, can also be conducive to the creation of original heritage,” said Christian Estrosi, Nice’s Mayor, welcoming the achievement.
Two months after joining UNESCO’s prestigious club, the 38th edition of European Heritage Days has offered Nice a way to celebrate by flaunting the landmarks that make it an international star and jet-setter favourite.
From tours of its famous seaside esplanade to visits of its historic buildings, Nice’s European Heritage Days programme showcased how international holidaymakers have influenced and shaped the city’s beauty over the centuries.
Walking with the English
French at its core, Nice is at the same time a product of its historic links with neighbouring Italy and other European influences.
“Nice’s history, rooted and open at the same time, Mediterranean and Alpine, European and cosmopolitan, was able to produce a unique landscape and architectural heritage, becoming a model for so many other international cities and finally recognized by UNESCO itself,” Estrosi said while opening up the city’s doors to European Heritage Days.
Iconic in this respect is the Promenade des Anglais – Promenade of the English – a seven kilometre-long, palm tree-lined boulevard running along Nice’s seashore.
From an unassuming two-meter-wide path, the walkaway was expanded into today’s majestic boulevard in 1832 when Nice – then part of the Kingdom of Savoy-Piedmont-Sardinia – underwent an urban makeover to make itself more attractive to foreign visitors’ eyes.
The boulevard takes its name after the city’s English residents who, starting from the mid-1700s, had already elected the city their official winter resort.
Parasols in hand, aristocrats and upper-class bourgeois from England would take long strolls here to lose themselves in the balmy sea breeze and shimmering blue waters.
In the 1800s, other international visitors – mainly from Russia – joined the British crowd, adding their names to Nice’s new winter residents just as the city returned to France in 1860.
Today, the Boulevard des Anglais is as central to life in Nice as it was in the previous centuries. Day and night, residents and tourists alike come here to walk, skate, run or just sit on the famous blue metal lounge chairs to watch the sea perform its daily show.
It was on one of those public outings on the Boulevard des Angles that on Bastille Day 14 July 2016 a truck drove through the crowd and mowed down passers-by. The ISIS-inspired terrorist attack killed 84 people and shook the city from its foundations.
Coming back in style
Five years from that violent episode and on the mend after the global coronavirus pandemic, Nice seized on European Heritage Days to seal its comeback.
“We can finally celebrate Nice’s heritage that is so dear to us,” said Estrosi in opening European Heritage Days in Nice. “We’ve missed this cultural event which was cancelled last year due to Covid-19…all together, we are back to celebrate the artworks, the architectural treasures, the unparalleled landscape, the know-how of our rich territory,” he added.
Such cultural wealth was all on show this year with an event-filled calendar packed with guided visits, exhibits, workshops, concerts and conferences.
Highlights included tours of the Hotel de Ville – the city’s 1730 town hall with its Neoclassical façade and Art Deco interiors – and of the Galeries Lafayette Nice Massena shopping centre, featuring a characteristic Turinese-style grand arcade.
And unmissable, of course: a bus tour along the Promenade des Anglais to discover Nice’s architectural jewels, from the 1913 luxury Hotel Negresco – a favourite of the jet setters with its Neoclassic and eclectic façade – and the 1929 Palais de la Méditerranée hotel, an Art Deco gem.
The place of pride in which Nice holds its cultural heritage is part of the reason that the city is involved in Eurocities’ culture forum, a platform for cities to share knowledge on cultural heritage management.
Art for unity
Whether in Nice or in one of the 50 countries in which they take place, European Heritage Days are a powerful tool to foster cohesion by highlighting Europe’s shared history via its cultural heritage sites.
“European Heritage Days are a wonderful opportunity for people to discover their local cultural heritage, from well known historic buildings to small heritage that nobody necessarily sees,” says Julie Hervé, Eurocities’ Senior Policy Advisor for Culture.
The annual event, in its 38th edition, was dedicated this year to diversity and social inclusivity.
“Cultural heritage constitutes an important asset for the economy, tourism, and competitiveness. It can shape identities, positively affect citizens’ wellbeing and quality of life, while contributing to social cohesion,” Hervé remarked.
The event not only invites visitors to explore cities’ well known and hidden cultural gems, but also raises awareness about the need to maintain and protect sites from threats such as environmental pollution, human impact or simple wear and tear.
The goal is to ensure that their beauty and exceptional features will be preserved for generations to come.