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For initial orientation, with brilliant sea and city views, fresh air and the scent of Mediterranean vegetation, the best place to make for is the Château park (daily: April, May & Sept 9am-7pm; June-Aug 9am-8pm; Oct-March 10am-5.30pm). It's where Nice began as the ancient Greek city of Nikea, hence the mosaics and stone vases in mock Grecian style. There's no château as such, but the real pleasure lies in looking down on the scrambled rooftops and gleaming mosaic tiles of Vieux Nice and along the sweep of the promenade des Anglais. To reach the park, you can either take the lift by the Tour Bellanda, at the eastern end of quai des États-Unis, or climb the steps from rue de la Providence or rue du Château in the old town.

Vieux Nice has been greatly gentrified over the last decade, but the expensive shops, smart restaurants and art galleries still coexist with little hardware stores selling brooms and bottled gas; tiny cafés are full of men in blue overalls; and washing is strung between the tenements. The streets are too narrow for buses and are best explored on foot.

The central square is place Rossetti , where the soft-coloured Baroque Cathédrale de St-Réparate (daily 8am-7pm) just manages to be visible in the concatenation of eight narrow streets. There are two cafés to relax in, with the choice of sun or shade, and a magical ice-cream parlour, Fenocchio , with an extraordinary choice of flavours. The real magnet of the old town, though, is cours Saleya and the adjacent place Pierre-Gautier and place Charles-Félix. These are wide-open, sunlit spaces alongside grandiloquent municipal buildings and Italianate chapels and the site of the city's main market . Every day except Monday from 6am to 1pm there are gorgeous displays of fruit, vegetables, cheeses and sausages, plus cut flowers and potted roses, mimosa and other scented plants displayed till 5.30pm; on Monday the stalls sell bric-a-brac and second-hand clothes. Café and restaurant tables fill the cours on summer nights, when literally thousands of people are enjoying the warmth and extraordinary animation.

To feast your eyes on Baroque splendour, pop into the chapels and churches of Vieux Nice: La Chapelle de la Miséricorde, on cours Saleya (open for Sunday Mass 10.30am or through the Palais Lascaris ; L'Église du Gesu, on rue Droite (9am-6pm); or L'Église St-Augustine, on place St-Augustine (open for Mass Sat 4pm & Sun 9am), which also contains a fine Pietà by Louis Bréa. For contemporary graphic and photographic art, some of the best art galleries in Vieux Nice include Galerie Espace Ste-Réparate, 4 rue Ste-Réparate; Galerie Municipale Renoir, 8 rue de la Loge; and Galerie du Château, 14 rue Droite.

Also on rue Droite is the Palais Lascaris (Tues-Sun 10am-noon & 2-6pm; free; closed mid-Nov to mid-Dec), a seventeenth-century palace built by the Duke of Savoy's Field-Marshal, Jean-Paul Lascaris, whose family arms, engraved on the ceiling of the entrance hall, bear the motto "Not even lightning strikes us". It's all very sumptuous, with frescoes, tapestries and chandeliers, along with a collection of porcelain vases from an eighteenth-century pharmacy.

The northern suburb of Cimiez has always been a posh place. Its principal streets, avenue des Arènes-de-Cimiez and boulevard Cimiez, rise between plush, high-walled villas to what was the social centre of the local elite some 1700 years ago, when the town was capital of the Roman province of Alpes-Maritimae. Part of a small amphitheatre still stands, and excavations of the Roman baths have revealed enough detail to distinguish the sumptuous and elaborate facilities for the top tax official and his cronies, the plainer public baths and a separate complex for women. All the finds, plus an illustration of the town's history up to the Middle Ages, are displayed in the impressive, modern Musée d'Archéologie , rue Monte-Croce (Tues-Sun: April-Sept 10am-noon & 2-6pm; rest of year 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; bus #15, #17, #20 or #22, stop "Arènes").

Cimiez

The seventeenth-century villa between the excavations and the arena is the Musée Matisse (Wed-Sun: March-Sept 10am-6pm; rest of year 10am-5pm). Matisse spent his winters in Nice from 1916 onwards, staying in hotels on the promenade - from where A Storm at Nice was painted - and then from 1921 to 1938 renting an apartment overlooking place Charles-Félix. It was here that he painted his most sensual, colour-flooded canvases of odalisques posed against exotic draperies. As well as the Mediterranean light, Matisse loved the cosmopolitan aspect of Nice, the rococo salons of the hotels and the presence of fellow artists Renoir, Bonnard and Picasso in neighbouring towns. He died in Cimiez in November 1954, aged 85. Almost all his last works in Nice were cut-out compositions, with an artistry of line showing how he could wield a pair of scissors with just as much strength and delicacy as a paintbrush.

The museum's collection, with work from every period, includes a great number of drawings and an almost complete set of his bronze sculptures. There are sketches for one of the Dance murals; models for the Vence chapel plus the priests' robes he designed; book illustrations; and excellent examples of his cut-out technique, of which the most delightful are The Bees and The Créole Dancer . Among the paintings are the 1905 portrait of Madame Matisse; the Storm at Nice (1919-20), which seems to get wetter and darker the further you step back from it; Odalisk ; the 1947 Still Life with Pomegranates ; and one of his two earliest attempts at oil painting, Still Life with Books , painted in 1890.

The Roman remains and the Musée Matisse back onto an old olive grove, one of the best open spaces in Nice and venue for the July jazz festival . At its eastern end are the sixteenth-century buildings and exquisite gardens of the Monastère Notre-Dame de Cimiez (Mon-Sat 10am-12.30pm & 3-7pm; free); the oratory has brilliant murals illustrating alchemy, while the church houses three masterpieces of medieval painting by Louis Bréa and Antoine Bréa.

At the foot of Cimiez hill, just off boulevard Cimiez on avenue du Docteur-Menard, Chagall's Biblical Message is housed in a museum built specially for the work and opened by the artist in 1972 (daily except Tues: July-Sept 10am-6pm; rest of year 10am-5pm; 30F/?4.58, or 38F/?5.80 for summer exhibitions; bus #15 stop "Musée Chagall"). The rooms are light, white and cool, with windows allowing you to see the greenery of the garden beyond the indescribable shades between pink and red of the Song of Songs canvases. The seventeen paintings are all based on the Old Testament and complemented with etchings and engravings. To the building itself, Chagall contributed a mosaic and stained-glass window.

Phoenix Parc Floral de Nice

Right out by the airport is a vast tourist attraction, the Phoenix Parc Floral de Nice , 405 promenade des Anglais (daily: mid-March to mid-Oct 9am-7pm; rest of year 9am-5pm; 40F/?6.10; exit St-Augustin from the motorway or bus #9, #10, or #23 from Nice). It's a cross between botanical gardens, a bird and insect zoo and a tacky theme park: automated dinosaurs and mock Mayan temples along with alpine streams, ginkgo trees, butterflies and cockatoos. The greenhouse full of butterflies fluttering around is wonderful, but the assumption that the world's fauna and flora is yours to admire may make you feel a bit uneasy.

The best reason to make the trip out to the park is Nice's newest museum, the Musée Départemental des Artes Asiatiques (daily except Tues: May-Sept 10am-6pm; rest of year 10am-5pm; 35F/?5.34), designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. It houses a collection of ethnographic artefacts, including silk goods and pottery, as well as traditional and contemporary art. The highlight is a pavilion designed to convey the peaceful philosophy of Zen.

Place Masséna

The stately place Masséna is the hub of the new town, built in 1835 across the path of the River Paillon, with good views north past fountains and palm trees to the mountains. A balustraded terrace and steps on the south of the square lead to Vieux Nice; the new town lies to the north. It's a pretty and spacious expanse, without being very significant - in fact the only things of interest here are the sundry ice-cream vendors who shelter their goods under the arcades during summer. A short walk to the west lie the Jardins Albert 1er , on the promenade des Anglais, where the Théâtre de Verdune occasionally hosts concerts.

The covered course of the Paillon to the north of place Masséna has provided the sites for the city's more recent municipal prestige projects. At their worst, up beyond traverse Barla, they take the form of giant packing crates for high-tech goods, in the multi-media, mega-buck conference centre grotesquely called the Acropolis . Though theoretically a public building, with exhibition space, a cinema and bowling alley (11am-2am), international business often limits casual entry. There are, however, various modern sculptures outside the building on which to vent your critical frustration.

Downstream from the Acropolis is the vast marble Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain , or MAMAC (Wed-Sun 10am-6pm), with rotating exhibitions of avant-garde French and American movements from the 1960s to the present. New Realism (smashing, burning, squashing, wrapping, etc, the detritus or mundane objects of everyday life) and Pop Art feature strongly with works by, among others, Warhol, Klein, Lichtenstein, César, Arman and Christo. It's good fun, and the huge, light galleries are a delight to walk around.

Running north from place Masséna, avenue Jean-Médecin is the city's main shopping street, with nothing much to distinguish it from any other big French city high street. You'll find all the mainstream clothes and household accessory chains, plus FNAC for books and records, at the Nice-Étoile shopping complex between rue Biscarra and boulevard Dubouchage. Couturier shops are to be found west of place Masséna on rue du Paradis and avenue de Suède. Both these streets lead to the pedestrianized rue Masséna and the end of rue de France - all hotels, bars, restaurants, ice-cream and fast-food outlets, with no regard for quality or style.

Skirting this, the chief interest in western Nice is in the older architecture: eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Italian Baroque and Neoclassical, florid Belle Époque and unclassifiable exotic aristo-fantasy. The trophy for the most gilded, exotic and elaborate edifice goes to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral , off boulevard Tsaréwitch at the end of avenue Nicolas-II (daily: April, May, Sept & Oct 9.15am-noon & 2-5.30pm; July & Aug 9am-noon & 2.30-6pm; Nov-March 9.30am-noon & 2.30-5pm; Sun afternoon only; 12F/?1.83; bus #14 or #17, stop "Tsaréwitch").

Promenade des Anglais

The point where the Paillon flows into the sea marks the beginning of the world-famous palm-fringed promenade des Anglais , created by nineteenth-century English residents for their afternoon's sea-breeze stroll along the Mediterranean sea coast. Today it's the city's unofficial high-speed racetrack, bordered by some of the most fanciful turn-of-the-twentieth-century architecture on the Côte d'Azur.

Most celebrated of all is the opulent Negresco Hotel at no. 37, built in 1906, and filling up the block between rues de Rivoli and Cronstadt. Though they will try to stop you if you are not deemed to be wearing tenue correcte (especially in the evenings), you can try wandering in to take a look at the Salon Louis XIV and the Salon Royale. The first, on the left of the foyer, has a seventeenth-century painted oak ceiling and mammoth fireplace, plus royal portraits, all from various French châteaux. The Salon Royale, in the centre of the hotel, is a vast domed oval room, decorated with 24-carat gold leaf and the biggest carpet ever to have come out of the Savonnerie workshops. The chandelier is one of a pair commissioned from Baccarat by Tsar Nicholas II - the other hangs in the Kremlin.

Just before the Negresco , with its entrance at 65 rue de France, stands the Musée Masséna , the city's art and history museum. Closed for major renovations until 2004, only its unexceptional, but shady gardens are open to the public (daily 9am-6pm).

A kilometre or so down the promenade and a couple of blocks inland at 33 av des Baumettes is the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Tues-Sun 10am-noon & 2-6pm; bus #38, stop "Chéret"). It has too many whimsical canvases by Jules Chéret, who died in Nice in 1932, a great many Belle Époque paintings to go with the building, a room dedicated to the Van Loos, plus modern works that come as unexpected delights: a Rodin bust of Victor Hugo and some very amusing Van Dongens, such as the Archangel's Tango . Monet, Sisley - one of his famous poplar alleys - and Degas also grace the walls. Continuing southwest along the promenade des Anglais towards the airport, you'll find the Musée International d'Art Naïf Anatole Jakovsky (daily except Tues 10am-noon & 2-6pm), home to a refreshingly different, and surprisingly good, collection of over six hundred pieces of amateur art from around the world.

The beach below the promenade des Anglais is all pebbles and mostly public, with showers provided. It's not particularly clean and you need to watch out for broken glass. There are, of course, the mattress, food and drinks concessionaries, but nothing like to the extent of Cannes. There's a small, more secluded beach on the west side of Le Château, below the sea wall of the port. But the best, and cleanest, place to swim, if you don't mind rocks, is the string of coves beyond the port that starts with the plage de la Reserve opposite parc Vigier (bus #32 or #3). From the water you can look up at the nineteenth-century fantasy palaces built onto the steep slopes of the Cap du Nice . Further up, past Coco Beach (bus #3 only, stop "Villa La Côte"), rather smelly steps lead down to a coastal path which continues around the headland. Towards dusk this becomes a gay pick-up place.

On the far side of the castle sits the old port , flanked by gorgeous red to ochre eighteenth-century buildings and headed by the Neoclassical Notre-Dame du Port; it's full of bulbous yachts but has little quayside life despite the restaurants along quai Lunel. On the hill to the east, prehistoric life in the region has been reconstructed on the site of an excavated fossil beach in the well-designed Musée de Terra Amata , 25 bd Carnot (Tues-Sun 9am-noon & 2-6pm).

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