If God had been a watercolour artist, he would have created the world with his brush, and started with Nice.
Every colour you can think of exists here – from the palest of yellows (stone, bleached by the stare of the sun) to the most vivid greens, blues, reds. The green is not just the lush vegetation; the blue is not just the sea or the sky that kisses it; the reds are not just the flowers or the faces of the people melting in the heat. All those colours are also alive within the very walls of the city, and the city is a pulsing, breathing body. Confident, well fed, strong and vital.
It would be easy to believe that Nice is asleep, gasping on the south coast of France like a puppy with its tongue out, as a merciless sun casts its glare. It might seem superficial – it is, after all, encircled by the arm of a playboy’s paradise (St. Tropez, Cannes and Monaco are all close neighbours along the Cote D’Azur).
But there is raw beauty and honesty waiting to be discovered.
When you arrive at the airport, you find yourself in a seemingly ordinary modern place. Tiled floor, ranks of bucket seats, phone booths, ticket machines, all leading out to a concrete world ruled by taxis and buses – they are the only way out of here! This is your first glimpse of Nice, and it is invariably hot and humid as you trundle your suitcase to the bus stop.
Ten minutes on the bus and you are soon stepping back in time. In the early 1800s, the coast road at Nice was a deserted beach at one with nature and not much else. The first houses here were built way up on the hills away from the water. Later on, in the latter part of the 1800s, people from England began to spend time in Nice, vacationing. They fell in love with the panorama and the rugged beauty of the coast. Eventually, a road was built and this was named Camin deis Anglés, which meant The English Way in the native Niçoise dialect.
In 1860 this changed to La Promenade des Anglais, and this is the place you see today, with its amazing early 20th century architecture, including the fabulous Negresco, a luxury hotel which also in its day acted as a hospital. There are more modern buildings along here too, but what strikes you is the opulence and history (some of these buildings were constructed around the time the Titanic sunk) and the sheer beauty. I sometimes think of wedding cakes when I look at some of these buildings. Their walls look smooth and silky, with stucco work like fine icing.
Today the Prom is a seething place at the height of summer, with the beach front thronged with sun seekers, and the sea wall and road alongside it heavy with strollers, skaters, joggers – and just sitters who often stare out to sea (I’ve done it myself). A charming aspect of the Promenade is its famous chaises bleu, which you see everywhere – sometimes arranged a tad artily as in the picture here.
Another ten minutes or less and you are in the heart of the old town – or Vieille Ville – of Nice.
And that is where my travel story starts; in a tiny apartment on the fourth floor of a building so old that I could almost feel it wheezing around me, and sighing at night as it settled to sleep in the balmy Niçoise air. So old that no air conditioning unit had ever darkened its doors, nor any lift ever violated its floors.
In Part Two of my travelogue, I will tell you about what lay outside our little rooms, once we had dumped the cases and got our breath back from the 76 stair climb!