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Travel & Holidays in later life


It was the Greeks who first put Nice on the map, and in the running for tourism. The city was founded 350 BC as a depot by Greek traders, and they called it Nike, meaning Victory. 

Then came the Romans, who settled two miles inland on a hilltop site, today called Cimiez. They made it capital of the Maritime Alps province, and lived in luxury with swimming pools, central heating and a 4000-seat arena.

Later the port again became the focus of Nice, dominated by a fortress. Across the centuries, the city swung back and forth between Italian and French influence, but has been totally French since 1860, when Nizzia became Nice. But much earlier the wealthy English aristocracy had colonised Nice - mainly up in Cimiez - as a winter-warmth destination. 

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Access by train is now faster  - only 6 hours from Paris to Nice - since recent opening of another TGV high-speed link from Paris to Marseilles. It's only the final Riviera section which slows down, with several stops along the coast.

Nice offers huge choice of self-catering and hotel accommodation.  An official listing offers choice of 200 hotels of all grades and prices, from the ultra-luxury seafront Negresco to simple one-star properties.

The French Riviera Museum Pass gives unlimited entry to 65 museums and monuments throughout the region. Available  for three or seven days.

More information: French Government Tourist Office, Lincoln House, 300 High Holborn, London WC1V 7JH. Tel: 09068-244123 (60p a minute). 

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Lavish villas and great Victorian hotels were built, especially after the rail network reached Nice. Queen Victoria often stayed there, and is remembered with a statue. Her son, Prince Leopold, regrettably slipped and died on the marble floor of the Casino.

Around 1830, the British colony financed the building of the coastal promenade which is today's broad three-mile Promenade des Anglais, now lined with oleanders, palm-trees, hotels, restaurants and ultra-modern apartments. 

Another reminder of the English connection is the firing of a 12 o'clock midday gun. The idea stemmed from a grandee who was so upset by the irregularity of mealtimes that he presented the city with a cannon and paid for it to be fired every day. The gun was sited on Castle Hill, so that everyone knew 12 noon was time for lunch. 

But mealtimes in Nice today are much more flexible. WithinBeachside cafe earshot of the noon cannon are the narrow streets of Old Nice, with shuttered windows, and balconies festooned with laundry. 

This former Italian lowlife area is now very trendy, packed with restaurants, bars and nightspots where you can eat and drink round the clock, many with live music. Everywhere is the rich colour that has inspired 20th-century painters by the dozen. 

This being France, eating is certainly no problem. The local tourist office publishes a booklet listing about 250 restaurants with their basic details but no advertising.

Just wander through the open market of Cours Saleya - the broad focal-point of Old Nice. Luscious displays of fruit and veg will set your appetite working for all the eating-places clustered around, offering a happy mix of French and Italian cuisines.  

Nice is a highly favoured retirement haven for French pensioners, who rent or buy an apartment and parade along the promenade every day with their pet poodles.

Nice is a superb touring base to explore the 26 resorts dotted along the 70 miles of Riviera between La Napoule and Cannes to Menton on the Italian border. 

Even without a car, touring is easy with frequent bus and train services. It's worth making advance plans with a good guide-book, such as Michelin's "Green Guide", which is packed with ideas on where to explore.

In contrast to Victorian times, today's peak season is June till September, when every strip of sand is a topless beach, and the coastal road is one long sweltering traffic jam. Dodge the peak season - any time between September and May - and it's possible to recapture the idyllic atmosphere that first attracted the Victorians to the glorious Riviera coastline. 

Of course, there's a year-round programme of concerts, exhibitions and traditional festivities. The winter highlight is a three-week pre-Lent Carnival, with Alpine ski slopes within an hour or two's drive. 

The Roman arena and adjoining gardens in Cimiez are still in use for annual festivals. Right alongside is the Matisse Museum, displaying works that he left to the city when he died in 1954. For several postwar years he lived in the old hotel which Queen Victoria had favoured. Elsewhere in town are several other art museums, including one for Chagall. 

As a prosperous city of 400,000 blending commerce and industry (crystallized fruits, perfume and olive oil) with its world-famed reputation as a tourist centre and winter-warmth destination, Nice offers shopping in all price ranges. 

A popular excursion to Grasse - past olive groves and fields of jasmine and roses - includes a visit to a perfume factory, for buying at so-called factory prices.

Scenically, the great highlights are the three parallel Corniche roads leading to  Monte Carlo, 13 miles from Nice. The coastal road passes through Villefranche (with its magnificent natural harbour). The Middle Corniche is an awesome spectacular, built prewar specially for tourism. The cliffside views are unforgettable. 

The Upper Corniche road was built by Napoleon along the old Roman highway, the Via Julia Augusta. It's good training-ground for the Monte-Carlo Rally. Along the road is the reconstructed Trophy of the Alps at La Turbie, erected by the Romans to mark their victory over the local tribes. 

A Nice holiday gives you splendour and history everywhere you go, with the bonus of a friendly climate for the over-50s, relaxed atmosphere and good food.

Where else to go in France

ANNECY - French coach touring by TGV train

BRITTANY COAST - St Malo and the Emerald Coast

BURGUNDY - Go cruising by luxury barge

CHAMPAGNE TRAIL starting at Troyes

LOIRE VALLEY - The Garden of France

MENTON - where lemon trees bloom year-round

PARIS - Open season for loving

PARIS - See it dressed up for Christmas

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"French Riviera Insight Pocket Guide"  Excellent itineraries and cultural details of the coastline easily reached from Menton.

"French Riviera Insight Guide" - a more detailed heavyweight version of the pocket version listed above, in a new edition.

"AA Essential French Riviera" - by Teresa Fisher - Another handy pocket guidebook, with Top Ten site listings and star ratings of other attractions. 

"Artists and their Museums on the Riviera" - by Barbara F. Freed and Alan Halpern - An art-lover's guide to the 28 museum collections of works by the Riviera's famous 20th-century artists.

"Michelin Green Guide: French Riviera"  - Packed with essential guidebook information in the handy Michelin format. Good town maps, and background features.

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