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On the Cote D'Azur ...French Riviera offers history, luxury, atmosphere Nice, a paradise for artists, is home to museums dedicated to Matisse and Chag

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In spite of the unrest in Eastern Europe, we are seeing a lot of travel to Western Europe this summer and beyond.

One great destination which can be done in one week is the French Riviera. I went in the fall, when the weather was cooler and rates were down over summer's high season.

Nice, France, is the capital of the French Riviera. It is an active, beautiful resort city in the center of the Cote D'Azur with about 400,000 residents.

We saw joggers and walkers rather than sunbathers. The usual practical dark colors and classic style you so often see on Europeans was not evident here, as we were surrounded by warm-ups, denims and bright colors.

Nice has the charm of many European communities, with balconied buildings overlooking tree-lined streets.

The Old Town section was especially appealing, with quaint shops and a marketplace complete with fresh produce and flower stalls. These were surrounded by outdoor caf?s and restaurants.

I felt like I was in a movie.

There are also beautiful designer shops, exquisite jewelry and leather stores, even cashmere Mickey Mouse sweaters in the area adjacent to Old Town.

The place to people-watch was the Negresco Hotel. It is a deluxe property, supposedly where the stars stay during the Cannes Film Festival. You had to look like you belonged before the doorman would let you in. I did my watching from the outside.

Someday, I'll perfect the look and see the lobby.

Nice has become a popular destination for conventions with the completion of the Acropolis. It is a wonderful facility designed for conventions, entertainment and the arts. The auditorium seats 2,500 and stages ballets, opera and concerts, etc., and the exhibition hall can accommodate 8,000 delegates.

Nice is also known as a paradise for artists. A Matisse museum is located there in a restored and expanded 17th century villa. Matisse's museum in Nice includes 32 of his major paintings. The Chagall Museum is also located in Nice.

Pablo Picasso lived in Antibes and Vallauris on the Riviera. Both villages have Picasso museums.

Cannes is an easy train ride from Nice, just a few miles southwest along the Mediterranean coast. Rather than continuing on to Cannes, I got off in Antibes with my traveling companions to check out a spa. From the train station, it was about a 15-minute cab ride into the hills.

The spa facilities were moderate, but the scenery was spectacular. The outdoor jacuzzi bath and swimming pools were on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. It was a very clean property and made you feel healthy just walking through it with the smell of eucalyptus oil in the air.

One evening was spent in Monaco. The drive getting there was absolutely beautiful. It is only 18 kilometers east of Nice along winding roads overlooking the Mediterranean harbor. We were told by our guide that the prince must be out of town, because his yacht (the largest one with a helicopter on top) was not in the harbor.

Once in Monte Carlo, of course we had to visit the casino and opera house. The original casino was built in 1863 and has been enlarged and embellished extensively.

It is an elegant establishment which makes you feel as if you've stepped back in time. There is a dress code and a charge to enter the gaming room area.

It was designed by Charles Garnier, who was also the architect for the Paris Opera House. It is a place of monumental candelabra, marble columns and mahogany paneling.

It was the first, and still the largest, casino in Europe.

Bordering the gaming rooms are restaurants. Two are the gourmet Les Prives, with views of the sea, and The Blue Train, opening to the Casino Square. It is decorated like the deluxe dining cars of the trains from a past era.

The Hotel de Paris, established in 1864, is a luxury hotel adjacent to the casino. It caters to royalty, leaders of nations and celebrated international guests. Russian grand dukes rented entire floors for months. It was host to Errol Flynn's wedding and Prince Ranier and Princess Grace's 20th wedding anniversary.

There are many more places of interest that we did not have time to sample on the trip: the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium in Monaco, palace tours, gardens, cathedrals, museums, sports activities of all types, medieval villages and hillside villages with hiking trails that reach heights of 10,000 feet.

(Linda Strait is president of House of Travel Inc., a full-service travel agency in Springfield.)

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