Friday evening in Nice on the Cote d’Azur and it’s still a balmy 25 deg C. The icy Mistral ripped through the region on Thursday, snatched away the heat haze and had everyone reaching for jackets and scarves. The wind that drove Vincent Van Gogh mad. But today it’s warm again and the sky a hard sapphire, with the alps behind the famous southern French city etched in detail. It might be two weeks into autumn but it has the orgasmic glow of an Indian Summer.
I’ve just returned from almost two weeks touring Provence with the British company Back-Roads Touring, and although it’s a breath of fresh air to be free of group commitments, I’m missing my fellow travellers already. We walked a lot of miles, shared a lot of wine and meals, dirty jokes on the mini-bus and collective, often-repeated WOWs at all that Provence has to offer.
I stroll the Promenade des Anglais (the Walkway of the English) where locals and holidaymakers are swimming in the azure Mediterranean, or sprawled in the sun on the beach, walking petite dogs, or jogging and cycling along the waterfront. Or just sitting and chilling. It’s so busy it seems most of the city’s 340,000 inhabitants are here.
On the elegant terraces of famous hotels, where ornate facades are little changed since the 1920s, women are dressed in crisp white linen, coiffed to within an inch of their lives and ordering drinks and aparitifs, watching shadows lengthen and the world go by across four lanes of roaring traffic. And inhaling sea air with a whiff of unleaded. At the nearby Hotel Negresco, legendary cocktails will soon be shaken and stirred. This is the stretch of road where dancer Isadora Duncan met her untimely end, on Sepetmber 14, 1927. After drinking at the Negresco she whizzed off in her car and her silk scarf became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle. It strangled her and broke her neck. Eighty five years ago today.
It’s also exactly 30 years since Princess Grace of Monaco was killed when the car she was in plunged off the top corniche between Monaco and Nice, on September 14, 1982. I travelled on the winding, dizzying middle corniche earlier this afternoon, and thought of her.
Now I’m at the Hotel Westminster, a block down, and my large second-floor suite overlooks the beach. Nice is often unkindly referred to as Vichy sur Mer, as the area is so right wing. As if visitors care. Nice’s attractions are the soft light, Mediterranean climate, resort facilities and a distinct old world grandeur that hasn’t faded over the decades. Time to shake out my crumpled white linen, slap on lippy and bling, look as though I own the place, and go find a place where sardines Nice style are served avec salade et vin blanc. Tomorrow morning I will be up at 5am to get my flight to somewhere else, and I don’t want to miss a moment of being here.