Pink and Blue Summer in the South of France
WHAT TO SEE:
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art: Niki de Saint Phalle’s massive sculpture "The Loch Ness Monster" (1993) commands the esplanade of Nice’s contemporary art museum and prepares the viewer for the breadth of modernism within its tetrapod structure. Built in 1990 of Carrara marble, the museum’s facade is undergoing renovation, but the rooftop garden with its view over Nice is stunning.
Inside, the permanent collection includes galleries devoted to Saint Phalle and her sculptor husband Jean Tinguely, as well as contemporary artists such as Arman, Ben, and Sol Lewitt.
Anyone who cares about French art and fashion immediately recognizes Yves Klein blue and the museum’s galleries devoted to Klein’s works are a reminder why Klein remains one of France’s most provocative and brilliant modern artists - nearly fifty years after his premature death.
LINK: Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Matisse Museum: High on the Cimiez hill, amidst a grove of centuries-old olive trees once tended by the Franciscan monks at the nearby monastery, stands a renovated 17th-century Genoese villa, which serves as a beacon for those who love Henri Matisse. The surrounding park has, for years, been the site of the Nice Jazz Festival, so there’s already a veneration for the area (allées are named for Miles Davis and other illustrious musicians) but there’s a palpable reverence upon entering the Matisse Museum. With paintings and sculptures, drawings and watercolors, and personal objects, the museum affords an intimate perspective into the life of one of France’s most beloved artists.
LINK: Matisse Museum
Natural History Museum of Toulouse: Quite simply, this superlative, state-of-the-art museum is reason enough to book a trip to Toulouse - and if you are fortunate enough to have the museum director, Francis Duranthon, as your guide, then you’ll have a profoundly new respect and appreciation for the flora and fauna and history of the planet on which we live.
Duranthon, a star of French television and a world-renowned archeologist and paleontologist, is as enthusiastic as he is learned, and, therefore, the perfect leader for France’s second most popular museum (after the Louvre), which recently reopened after a decade-long, innovative renovation that fixes its vision on 21st-century technology and conservation.
Designed by Jean-Paul Viguier, the museum is an architectural wonder, successfully integrating the former convent building with a stunning curved glass facade flanking Maourine Park. Nestled against the glass edifice is the botanical garden - with a Michelin-starred restaurant on a wooden terrace. Think Giverny in Toulouse - and plan on spending the entire day. It’s worth every minute.
LINK: Natural History Museum of Toulouse
Les Abattoirs Modern Art Museum: Where once there was an abattoir, there is now a museum. Is there any better sign of a society’s progress? In this renovated 1831 slaughterhouse, more than 2,500 works chart the course of modern art since the second half of the twentieth century (one of history’s more gruesome) with one whole room given over to Picasso’s magnificent and majestic masterpiece, "La Dépouille du Minotaure en costume d’arlequin" (1936), which covers an entire museum wall. Located on the left bank of the Garonne, the museum is situated alongside the Raymond VI garden, which leads to the new bridge, the Passerelle Viguerie, thereby enabling a riverside promenade back into the city center.
LINK: Les Abattoirs Modern Art Museum
WHERE TO STAY:
Holiday Inn Nice: Let’s be clear: this isn’t the Holiday Inn in which you stayed with your parents on that trip to Disney World when you were fourteen. Instead, you might think about the fact that Holiday Inn is owned by InterContinental Hotels Group, which runs the very high-end InterContinental hotels. And while there is still the green and white signage on the front of the buildling, there’s very little else that might bring back that adolescent trip to Orlando. Instead, if there is a hotel reference point, this four-star property on the Boulevard Victor Hugo is more like a W Hotel, albeit one that isn’t trying so hard to be chic and is, instead, quite comfortable with its own classic lines and breezy Côte d’Azur style.
Recently renovated in a style that’s an amalgam of Restoration Hardware and Room and Board, the public spaces are crisp and clean, with dark wood floors, while the breakfast room is a throwback to Laura Ashley’s French country chic. Executive rooms are nicely proportioned with comfy beds - and a pillow menu offers you at least six kinds of softness on which to lay your head.
Best of all, the staff at this establishment is warm and welcoming and extremely professional. And the hotel’s central location (right next door to the five-star Boscolo Exedra) makes the Holiday Inn Nice a perfect base camp for partaking of the many sensory pleasures of Nice.
LINK: Holiday Inn Nice
Boscolo Plaza Hotel: First of all, this four-star property located alongside the Jardin Albert 1er, right across from Promenade des Anglais, on the Bay of Angels is currently going through a major (and much-needed) renovation. Built in 1850, in the Belle Époque style, this is a gorgeous wedding cake of a building on the avenue de Verdun, home to Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and the like. Nonetheless, you might want to check your expectations at the door: the elevators are in the process of a slow upgrade and the musty hallways evoke images of Miss Havisham.
On the upside, the capacious, high-ceiling rooms are furnished minimally with a mélange of Italian contemporary pieces (in white, of course) and those on the front of the building have Juliet balconies overlooking the park and the Mediterranean. In the bathroom, indulgent toiletries by Etro make it easier to overlook signs of wear. Upstairs, the rooftop restaurant, La Terrasse, provides stunning vistas of Nice at night.
With a superb location and splendid views, the 182-room Boscolo Plaza Hotel has the potential to be as exemplary a property as its five-star Nizza sister, the Boscolo Exedra, on Boulevard Victor Hugo.
LINK: Boscolo Plaza Hotel
Hotel La Pérouse: Situated at the base of Castle Hill in a splendidly secluded setting, this four-star boutique hotel epitomizes the understated luxury that one associates with the Côte d’Azur. With spectacular views over the Bay of Angels and the Promenade des Anglais, the sixty recently-renovated rooms and suites are a model of decorous restraint.
A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Hotel la Pérouse is an escape into a Riviera fantasy, where the appearance of Cary Grant or George Clooney would be entirely in keeping with the hotel’s savoir-faire and good taste. While it’s only a short walk to the flower market and the Saleya walkway, it’s also possible that you’ll be quite content gazing at the Mediterranean from your balcony or the rooftop terrace - for hours on end.
LINK: Hotel La Pérouse
Le Windsor: Built in 1895 by an architect who studied with Gustav Eiffel, the Hotel Windsor has been run by the same family since 1942. A zen-like atmosphere pervades the hotel’s public spaces and garden, as does a resolute appreciation for artists and their works. Since the Seventies, various rooms have been given over to artistic collaborations with various well-known artists - and the Windsor now holds 22 rooms that are site-specific artworks. The lounge/lobby is the site of revolving installations, while the garden is a sanctuary filled with birdsong. One of the more relaxing and serene locales in a bustling city, the Hotel Windsor is as revivifying as a month at an artists’ colony.
LINK: Le Windsor
(Feature story continues on next pages: Where to Stay, Where to Eat, Getting There...)