If you could use a break from town but can’t get away, take a two hour mini vacation at the Jardin Botanique de Nice.
Just minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city, in the gentle hills of Nice West, there is a hidden gem – so well hidden in fact that even most Niçois don’t know that it exists: Jardin Botanique de Nice, the City’s botanical garden. Compared to its better known peers in Èze and Monaco, it is small – only 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) – but it sure packs a bundle.
Opened to the public in 1991, the garden is laid out like a casual walk through the countryside that engages all your senses, and at the same time it is an open-air museum taking you on a playful, scientific, pedagogic, ecological, and cultural journey to discover the flora of five continents. More than 3,500 plant species, organized into areas representing zones of Mediterranean climate from around the world including South Africa, South Australia, Mexico, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, the Near East, the Canary Islands, Central Asia, China, and Japan, are on display here. A herbarium houses an additional 6,000 species.
This is very much a teaching garden but its information comes in unobtrusive form. Did you for instance know that leaving layers of drooping dead leaves on palm trees is not sloppy landscaping but vital to the tree as they provide the trunk protection from the heat and humidity? You learn this and much more as you meander along the paths through 40 different sections, each dedicated to its geographical zone but all together forming the cohesive image of a lusciously green wilderness. From time to time you will want to stop your walk though to smell the roses, or the hibiscus, or the fragrant herbs. Leafy pergolas invite you to pause and take in the sweeping panoramic views over the Baie des Anges, and a light refreshing breeze lets you forget the summer heat over the city at your feet. A waterfall plunges into a pond that houses mighty carps, playful koi, and cheerfully noisy frogs. Here, you are as far from the city as you can possibly be, and yet within its walls.
Its deliberately designed and only sparingly groomed natural appearance makes the Niçois botanical garden so much more interesting than its bigger peers with their tamed beauty. But here is one insider tip that a regular kindly shared with us: the best time to visit is in the late afternoon when the sun is low enough to play with light and shadow, offsetting the myriads of shades of green with the plants’ different textures and shapes, and bringing out the full glory of the natural landscaping. A tip that we gladly heeded, and found very much to be true.
The botanical garden is open daily from 9h to 19h in summer (17 h from November through March), can be reached by bus or an easy walk up the hill from Nice St. Augustin or Lanterne. Entry is free and please note that dogs are not allowed.
Jardin Botanique de Nice
78, Corniche Fleurie
Tel: + 33 4 92 29 41 80
All photos © Natja Igney