A Nice getaway

The tres gay town of Nice along the French Riviera is a chic playground

travel

The French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, ranks among Europe’s most enduring — and alluring — gay playgrounds. While this stretch of rugged Mediterranean coastline at the southeastern tip of France doesn’t generate quite as much buzz with LGBT travelers as Sitges, Ibiza or Mykonos, the sunny and sophisticated French Riviera is ideal for a romantic getaway, and the most gay-popular communities — we’re covering Nice this month, Cannes next — abound with beautiful beaches, chic shopping, exceptional art museums and atmospheric cafes and open-air markets.

The largest city in the region, with about 350,000 residents and an international airport with direct flights from North America, Nice supports an active gay organization, AGLAE, which sponsors Gay Pride each July and produces a gay guide that’s distributed free at many businesses. The city is also home to several fine museums, including the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Matisse Museum of Nice. This is also a fine town for shopping, with dozens of upscale boutiques set along Rue Pastorelli and Rue du Marechal Joffre, including the famous Galeries Lafayette department store.

For great views of the city and harbor, climb the stairs to Castle Hill and stroll among the botanical gardens and medieval ramparts, soaking up the views of the bustling port neighborhood — you can see for miles up and down the coast. At the base of the hill, bustling Old Town’s narrow streets, classic architecture, esteemed galleries and open-air flower and food markets contain a number of the city’s gay-frequented businesses.

Old Town fringes the city’s shoreline, where you can stroll along the broad, palm-shaded Promenade des Anglais, which lines the miles of pretty (but pebbly) beaches. A couple of the many beachside restaurants along here fly rainbow flags to welcome their sizable gay clienteles: the beach at Castel Club, which lies in the shadows of Castle Hill, and the beach club run by the trendy HI Hotel, a favorite see-and-sun spot of the Nice A-listers. The clothing-optional section of rocky shoreline right below Restaurant Coco Beach, a short walk beyond the Port of Nice, is another favorite gay hangout.

Continue east around Cap de Nice to reach the exclusive village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, immortalized in the Bond movie Never Say Never Again. It’s also home to St-Pierre Chapel, whose restored interior contains murals painted by famed gay novelist Jean Cocteau. Across the bay is one of the world’s wealthiest enclaves, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat — everybody from Tina Turner to Bill Gates have homes around here. Head farther toward the Italian border, and you’ll reach the ancient cliff-top village of Eze and beyond that the Principality of Monaco, with its exclusive casinos and ritzy shopping.

The French Riviera enjoys a fabled culinary reputation — you’ll find no shortage of superb restaurants in every town, plus markets and gourmet shops specializing in local olives, oils, cheeses, pastries and every other imaginable treat.

In Nice’s pedestrianized Cours Saleya district in Old Town, you’ll find dozens of sidewalk cafés, most of them specializing in local seafood and pizzas, among the flower and food markets. If you make it around the Cape to Villefrance, do not miss the wonderful seafood restaurant La Mère Germaine, which has tables right on the bay. If you’re seeking a lunch spot in Vallauris, try cozy, gay-owned Le Clos Cosette, which turns out traditional Provencal cuisine, or fashionable Cafe Marianne. The interior village of Saint-Paul de Vence is one of the country’s finest small towns for dining — it’s home to a handful of Michelin-star restaurants.

Gay nightlife in the region is relaxed and very friendly. In Nice, consider Bar Le Fard, a snug spot on Promenade des Anglais — it’s a good place to start the night. Other good bets include centrally located Le 6 Bar, which draws a stylish mix for cocktails, conversation and dancing; and Le Glam club, a small but lively spot for dancing to pop tunes. Fairly near the harbor is the Eagle, a typical leather-oriented and cruise bar, and the fetish/sex club called Le Block.

Nice also has a few very popular gay saunas, including the small but quite clean and attractive Les Bains Douches, and the large and always-crowded Sauna du Chateau.

Nice has the best variety of lodging options, which include reasonably priced gay B&Bs like Blue Angels and ThyJeff Guesthouse, both of which are close to the train station — the owners of the latter also run a cheerful gay café nearby, Le ThyJeff. Also consider the upscale four-room guest house, Mas des Oliviers, a gay-owned retreat set amid quiet gardens in the foothills above Nice — amenities include a pool, fitness room and two terraces with lovely views.

Among larger properties, the chic and artfully designed HI Hôtel — with its bold color schemes, rooftop pool and stellar sushi restaurant — is a favorite of trendy and discerning gay travelers. The hotel also operates the previously mentioned HI beach club and restaurant. Other Nice favorites include the opulent Hôtel Palais le la Méditerranée, a grand dame with a magnificent Art Deco facade overlooking the sea, and the elegant and smartly updated L’Hôtel Beau Rivage, an 1860s beauty overlooking Promenade des Anglais — it’s been a favorite accommodation of such arts and literary figures as Matisse and Chekhov.

— Andrew Collins

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Applause: Piece o’ work

The Perot Museum is the most promient new space on Dallas’ skyline, but older, offbeat museums resonate with historic import

 

Flagpole-View
The Perot Museum will be under construction for the rest of the year, but this rendering illustrates what the final facility will look like when landscaping is complete.

DAVID TAFFET  | Staff Writer

While the major art museums are part of the Arts District, Downtown Dallas is home to a number of smaller museums with a focus on history and science that are worth a visit. The new Perot Museum of Science & Nature will rival the art museums in size and scope.

The Perot Museum
After three smaller museums — Dallas Museum of Natural History, The Science Place and the Dallas Children’s Museum — merged in 2006, the new institution needed additional space to house the collections and a vision for more halls as well. The new home, rising along the north side of Woodall Rodgers Freeway a few blocks west of the Arts District, will become a city landmark.

Designed by Thom Mayne, the building will appear to be a large floating cube under a landscaped roof. Inside, 180,000 square feet will house 10 galleries on five floors. (Like the cornerstone buildings in the Arts District the museum is also designed by a Pritzker Prize-winning architect.)

Museum CEO Nicole Small describes the building as a “sustainable science lesson.” It will feature two 25,000-gallon underground cisterns that collect rainwater from the roof and the plaza for the non-potable needs of the project. The wavy roof’s rockscape and drought-resistant plantings will also help keep the building cool; solar energy will heat the water.

Small says the building will appear to float over the plaza, an outdoor space she sees as suitable for everything from cocktail parties to community festivals, from art to food.

The skin of the building is pre-cast, custom-molded concrete. But the most striking design element is a diagonal glass box — now just a steel frame — that will house an escalator.

“The view from the top will be stunning,” Small says.

Although principal construction is nearing completion, the opening of the facility is still 18 months away. Exhibits are being assembled off-site, but installation will take months to get ready for public viewing.

Small said the permanent exhibition will span dinosaurs to DNA. “We’ll have the largest dinosaur in Texas,” she says.

The museum will be able to take much of its vast collection of artifacts out of storage for the first time. But one of the most exciting things about having the new building is that Dallas won’t be missing all of the major traveling shows that can now be booked into the museum’s temporary exhibit space.

The West End
Sixth Floor Museum. Two floors of the old School Book Depository Building make up part of the city’s No. 1 tourist destination: The Kennedy assassination site. The notorious building, which now also houses Dallas County Commission offices, chronicle the presidency of John F. Kennedy and his death at Dealey Plaza in 1963. From the sixth floor window, visitors can stand in the sniper’s nest that Lee Harvey Oswald created on Dallas’ darkest day.

Dallas County acquired the building in 1977 and converted the first five floors to county offices. In 1989, the museum opened, a project headed by an openly gay man, Jeff West, who became the museum’s first director.

Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture. This iconic structure with the red stone façade was once the Dallas County Courthouse. Built in 1892 and restored more than 100 years later, the museum’s exhibits trace Dallas from prehistory through its early years as a trading center to its current status as a business center and the hub of the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. Across the street from the museum is a replica of Dallas founder John Neely Bryan’s log cabin.

Dallas Holocaust Museum. A block from the Sixth Floor Museum sits the one of the oldest Holocaust museums in the country, which moved Downtown in 2005. In its current temporary space, the museum tells the story of one day during the Holocaust. To bring the story home, survivors who later settled in Dallas donated many of the artifacts on display, including the front pages of the areas’ three local newspapers from that day.

The building that houses one of the original boxcars that transported victims eerily evokes the period as DART trains regularly rumble past. Temporary exhibit space was added to the museum late last year. The first traveling exhibit to open in the space is called “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945.”

Museum director Alice Murray says that attendance this summer soared over previous years so that other exhibits are planned including one on Jim Crow laws next year.

Plans call for building a new, larger museum on adjacent property that the museum owns.

Elsewhere Downtown
While the Dallas Public Library isn’t actually a museum, the central branch across from City Hall houses one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence — the only one in the western United States — in a temperature-controlled case on the seventh floor.

After the Continental Congress appointed a committee to declare independence, Thomas Jefferson drafted the text of the document. The copy is one of about 25 printed on July 4, 1776.

Just south of I-30 sits Dallas Heritage Village, better known as Old City Park. This museum is home to Texas’ largest collection of 19th century shops, pioneer and Victorian homes and even an old hotel that once stood in downtown Carrollton. Moved from throughout North Central Texas to the city’s first park, the 20-acre site recreates life in North Texas more than 100 years ago.

Among the interesting facts we learn is that when the hotel was full, guests would sometimes have to share a bed. Strangers sleeping together? Right here in Dallas, Texas? Why, we can’t even imagine what might have gone on.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas