The capital of the Riviera and fifth largest city in France, NICE scarcely deserves its glittering reputation. Living off inflated property values and fat business accounts, its ruling class has hardly evolved from the eighteenth-century Russian and English aristocrats who first built their mansions here; today it's the rentiers and retired people of various nationalities whose dividends and pensions give the city its startlingly high ratio of per capita income to economic activity.
Their votes ensured the monopoly of municipal power held for decades by the right-wing dynasty, whose corruption was finally exposed in 1990 when mayor Jacques Médecin fled to Uruguay. He was finally extradited and jailed. Despite the disappearance of 400 million francs of taxpayers' money, public opinion remained in his favour. From his Grenoble prison cell, Médecin, who had twinned Nice with Cape Town at the height of South Africa's apartheid regime, backed the former National Front member and close friend of Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jacques Peyrat, in the 1995 local elections. Peyrat won with ease, and, re-elected in 2001, he has lately made no secret of his desire to have the new public prosecutor, Eric de Montgolfier – who made his reputation fighting white-collar crime and political corruption – removed from his post, before his investigations into the Riviera underworld put yet another city magistrate into prison.
Politics apart, Nice has other reasons to qualify it as one of the more dubious destinations on the Riviera: it's a pickpocket's paradise; the traffic is a nightmare; miniature poodles appear to be mandatory; phones are always vandalized; and the beach isn't even sand. And yet Nice still manages to be delightful. The sun and the sea and the laid-back, affable Niçois cover a multitude of sins. The medieval rabbit warren of the old town, the Italianate facades of modern Nice and the rich, exuberant, fin-de-siècle residences that made the city one of Europe's most fashionable winter retreats have all survived intact. It has also retained mementos from its ancient past, when the Romans ruled the region from here, and earlier still, when the Greeks founded the city. In addition, its bus and train connections make Nice by far the best base for visiting the rest of the Riviera.