The news from Nice is… it’s hot! The app on my phone says 28° Celsius (83° Fahrenheit), but I don’t believe it – it feels hotter. Ok, I can feel the vibes… I’m not getting any sympathy from those of you in places that are really hot. How about if I add that it’s humid and there is no air conditioning? Well, that’s a bit better…
So what can you do in Nice when it’s hot? Well, there are a few options, you can take a dip in the sea, go to Fenocchio’s for ice cream (yum), or you can go up to the castle. The Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau) is 93 meters (305 feet) high and the air up there is cooler than in the city below.
A few years ago, on our first visit to Nice, we took the little tourist train for a tour of the city. The sign said it would go through the Old Town and up to the castle. Since we quite like looking at old buildings, we were curious to see Nice’s castle.
Where’s the castle?… The train took us to the top of the hill and it was beautiful up there. We saw some gorgeous views, a waterfall, a lovely park… but where was the famous castle? We looked and looked, thinking that a castle should be easy to find, but it was nowhere to be seen. As it turns out there hasn’t been a castle there for more than 300 years. But the hill is still referred to as Castle Hill (la Colline du Chateau) and the hilltop, simply as “the Castle” (le Chateau).
A walk in the park… Even though there is no castle (just a few ruins remain) it is a lovely park with stunning views over Nice. You can take the stairs up – there are a couple hundred of them, but there are lots of places to stop, catch your breath and admire the view along the way. There is something beautiful at every turn. But if the stairs are too much for you, you can take the lift (elevator) or the little tourist train.
A bit of history… A castle did exist on this hill for about 700 years, starting in the 10th century. It was enlarged over time and became a walled city which then spilled down into the area that is today the Old Town of Nice. The whole area – the castle on the hill as well as the town below was surrounded by protective walls. At the end of the 17th century, Nice was one of the most fortified cities in Europe.
Invaded by the Sun King… This walled castle was considered impregnable until Louis the 14th came along in the early 1700s. His army bombarded the fortification with thousands of cannonballs and bombs before finally breaking through. To teach thea lesson, he had the entire castle razed to the ground. At the same time, the walls that surrounded what is now the Old Town were destroyed as well.
Invaded by the Victorians… Nice went from being one of the most closed and protected cities to one of the most welcoming tourist destinations. In the 1800s it was “discovered” by the affluent tourists (mainly British) looking for a moderate winter climate. This is the era when Queen Victoria was spending her winters in Nice.
A park to tempt the tourists… The former castle site was made into a botanical garden and park, fashioned in the romantic style that was popular among these Victorian visitors. The magnificent waterfall was installed, paths and walls were built or redone and the lovely mosaic decoration was added.
Remember the midday cannon?… It was also at this time that the tradition of firing the noontime cannon from one of the terraces of the “castle” began. It is amusing to me that the midday boom, that reminds the Niçois that it’s lunchtime, is still referred to as the “cannon of the castle”, when in fact, there is neither a cannon nor a castle. But I have to admit that the “cannon of the castle” is more romantic than the “firework of the hilltop”. Even without these two famous items, Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau) is a great place to go to for a picnic, enjoy the views, and get away from the heat down below.
Find Out More – You can read more about the history of Nice in my book, Curious Histories of Nice, France.
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