We’re back in much-loved Villefranche – a warm but overcast Villefranche. It’s supposed to be the tired tail-end of hurricane Florence – or was it Gordon? – or Horace?
Having recently (Sept 7) given a commenter an unflattering image of Nice, I have the urge to present it in a more favourable light. I love it. Why? Well, mainly the fact that it really is a French city – the only one on the Riviera. You’d have to go to Marseille to find the nearest.
Then there’s the fact that it’s a year-round city. The Riviera is the opposite of what Florida is to Canadians. Its winters are not really warm enough to be the place where people go to escape harsh northern winters: it’s more an assurance of sunshine in spring, summer and autumn. This means that some parts of the Riviera tend to close down for the winter - as American travel writer James Salter puts it, ‘ruined by its appeal’.
But not Nice. Nice, although French, is cosmopolitan. There are art museums and galleries, cinemas showing English language movies, theatres, libraries, night life, concerts, the winter Carnival and the Battle of the Flowers to see you through until spring. And, of course the Jazz Festival.
It has an amazing mix of architecture. Yes, it has a lot of Parisian fin de siècle – like the Hotel Negresco, where Hemingway and Fitzgerald cavorted, on the Promenade. But the port, and squares like the place Massena and place Garibaldi - where a young newly-appointed general called Bonaparte psyched up his raggle-taggle army before setting off to conquer almost the whole of Europe - are pure Italian. And, since much of the city's expansion happened in the twenties and thirties, it probably has more art deco buildings - the main showpiece of which is the Palais Mediterrranée, which used to be a Casino until it was bankrupted by a bunch of crooks in 1979, but has now been reconstructed as a hotel, casino and apartment complex - than anywhere else in France. (Cannes used to have a magnificent art nouveau casino on its promenade, but they bulldozed it and replaced it with a concrete bunker. Nice rebuilt theirs within its original art deco façade.)
And, finally – for now anyway – Nice has the Promenade des Anglais. (So named because when the citrus harvest failed because of frost in the winter of 1821/22, the newly-founded Anglican church put together enough money to keep the agrarian community busy building a ‘prom’ to remind its expatriate congregation of seaside resorts back home.) Its five miles long arc has no equal anywhere in the world.
(Is that better Ed?)
Funny thing we noticed at Nice airport: a few years ago, most French rental cars were registered in a safe, bucolic, northern Département (whose registration no. was 51), with few conurbations where the tax and insurance rates were low. This saved the rental companies a lot of money.
But the result was that cars registered in Département 51 were a magnet to petty thieves, because trusting tourists were more likely to leave stuff in their rental cars than leery locals.
So they passed a law that rental cars, in order not to be tourist icons, should be registered in the Département in which they are rented. This meant that all rental cars hired in Nice would henceforth be registered 06.
But French laws have ‘best before’ dates, and only need to be honoured for a reasonable period of time, then they’re forgotten - unless the local Gendarmerie want to pin something on you.
So NOW, all rental cars are registered with number 60 – which is another safe, bucolic, northern Département with few conurbations, whose tax and insurance rates are low. This has two advantages: one, it saves the rental companies heaps of money; and two, the tourists are more readily identifiable by the robbers, which takes the pressure off the locals.