It is impossible to escape the beach life in Nice, France. Try as hard as I might, there is no getting away from it. The city practically falls into the seductive expanse of unusual turquoise liquid called the Mediterranean Sea which then stretches into infinity. At all times, at all hours of the day, the siren call of the sea is ever present. When I get tangled up in the array of rabbit hole alleys and winding streets, there is only one compass that guides me back out of the maze: the relentless ebb and flow of the water which tells me I am close to the beaches of Nice. The beaches themselves are not idyllic, unpeopled expanses of paradise. They are filled with an ever increasing army of vacationers, whose personal space upon the sand grows smaller and smaller each year. Here, upon the pebbly border between city and nature, the sounds of humanity are deepened and echoed in the raucous shrieks of gulls. Yet, this is the spot I keep returning to every morning and every evening, as if it were a lighthouse beacon without whose light I could not experience Nice.
Artists over the years have been just as captivated by Nice’s beach as I am. Impressionists to poster illustrators have all attempted to capture the allure of the city’s shore. Some have depicted it faithfully, the sand blotted by the variegated shades of bathers and sun worshippers. Others have chosen to pretend that this portion of the Mediterranean still exists as wild and untamed Nature. As I gaze at these works in the various museums and sidewalks in the city, I realize they all struggle with capturing the true spirit of the landscape. There is something about the way the color of the Mediterranean mingles with the Cote d’Azur sun that makes it impossible to capture on any medium. It is as if the sea and the beach were conscious beings, never quite encapsulated in the momentary two-dimensional attempts. There is a verve to the sea here and the multitude of vacationers only seems to add to the sparkle at the beach.
It is possible for me to spend the entire day in Nice close to the beach. There are hotels overlooking the sea in which to stay, restaurants next to the beach in which to eat, and even the shopping is not too far away. Even the Cours Saleya, where all of Nice comes to sell its fruits and vegetables is only a short hike away from the Mediterranean. Whether I gaze down at the port from the ancient fort atop a hill or walk along the Promenade des Anglais, the pull of the bay here is unmistakable. And, it seems to me that the scenes I catch upon this bay are also as everlasting as the frothing surf.
Centuries after it has been captured on canvas and paperback, little about the city’s sea life seems changed.
The same sail boats seem to ply the waters off the horizon, the same vigorous children play in the surf, the same type of families walk sedately up and down the promenade. Nice’s beach remains both in flux and unchanging as it continues to be a haven for artists, Northerners, and sun seekers.
My stay in Nice has been enveloped throughout by the ever presence of its beach life and the Mediterranean Sea. I am reminded of a watercolor by Raoul Dufy called “Fenêtre à Nice” in which he depicts the landscape from within the confines of an open window. A few silhouettes can be seen, but what overwhelms the view is the blueness of the sea. It almost threatens to overtake the viewer as its vivid color seeps past the window sill. Splatters of blue on the wall take on a double meaning: it can’t be merely the pattern of wallpaper, but the Mediterranean itself seeking to enter and be a part of the room. Dufy’s painting has come true for me on my visit here.The Mediterranean and its winding strip of pebble, rock, and sand have taken over my consciousness of Nice. They are an integral part of the city and have become a part of me.
The Chateau on top of Castle Hill used to once be a lookout fortress built by the locals in the middle ages. Destroyed during the Spanish Succession of the early eighteenth century, only a massive round tower named Bellanda remains of the original fortifications.
Excited to discover more about Nice, France? Check in to our French Riviera: Artist’s Paradise to explore why the city turned the heads of Matisse, Monet, and Degas.