the olive, poppy, thyme or cactus. Nice has more museums and galleries than almost anywhere else but Paris. A free lift shoots you up through a cliff (the Colline du Château – Hill of the Castle) to a verdant park with a fabulous multistorey waterfall that’s been cooling visitors with its mist since 1885. Taxes are spent lavishly on public art and entertainment; there seems to be free festivity of some kind (from string quartets to try-your-hand-at-medievalcombat) laid on every weekend. The highlight of the year – and perhaps the most memorable time to visit – is Carnaval, a fortnight in February when gigantic moving puppets of everyone from Zinedine Zidane to Princess Kate tour the streets. For the Bataille des Fleurs (Flower Battle), with acrobats on extraordinary floats tossing flowers at you, it’s worth shelling out for a seat in the stands, as it improves your chances of snatching a great armful of mimosa and orchids. I’ve been devouring Hilary
Spurling’s prize-winning biography of Matisse (who lived for decades in the yellow building at the east end of the Cours Saleya flower market, and is buried up the hill in Cimiez, where a lovely Musée Matisse now sits between a Roman arena and an olive grove). She remarks at one point that Nice has decoration rather than architecture. The average old building sports bold colours (yellow, pink, green, terracotta), crumbling Belle Époque plaster reliefs and trompe-l’oeil paintwork. (Our four-year-old has become expert at pointing at any suspiciously flatlooking representation of a window or a rosette and roaring “trompel’oeil, it’s trying to trick my eye!”) Even the most modern buildings have a playfully decorative quality to them; our favourite is a section of the public library in the form of a gigantic cube on a human neck. Between the modern art gallery and the national theatre sits a multicoloured Loch Ness Monster by Niki de Saint Phalle, one of the many artists (Dufy, Chagall, Bonnard,
Top, left, Promenade des Anglais at sundown when everyone comes out to play, and above, right, in the heat of the day. Top, right, heady stuff – one of Emma’s favourite modern buildings, the public library.
Monet, Rodin) in whose works the city is rich. Along the five kilometres of the Promenade des Anglais, walkers, cyclists, toddlers on scooters and skilful skateboarders and rollerbladers share the paths. The picturesque Vieille Ville (old town), with its skinny streets decorated with dangling washing, offers cheap pleasures (try the local favourite socca, a chickpea pancake) and free ones such as night-time music in little Place Rossetti (by the baroque Cathedral of Saint Réparate). Try the gorgeously gilt Opera House for last-minute tickets: we’ve seen operas by Wagner, Puccini and Verdi (with a real live horse). Of course any spot so popular as