Nice – It has everything you’d expect from a Mediterranean resort city: azure waters, cyan skies, palm trees, bustling cafés, fine shops, sumptuous 18th- and 19th-century baroque Italian facades. Vibrant oranges, maroons, reds and yellows give the city its warm tones. Each lamp post is adorned with fragrant hanging flowers.
Imagine a place just like Yorkville.How apropos that my inexpensive youth hostel, Hotel Paradis, is sandwiched between a Louis Vuitton and an Emporio Armani. It’s not only steps from the beach, but from Rue Massena, Nice’s most popular and chic pedestrian shopping strip.
Sitting on the patio of Chez Maître Pierre, where you can get delicious baguette sandwiches for less than 5 euros, you can watch the nouveau riche dressed in haute couture weave in and out of boutiques and restaurants. Ravenous diners jam the patio of Pizza Cresci, where specially made pizzas cost about 15 euros, so arrive early to secure a spot.
Nice is famous for its beaches but doesn’t advertise the fact that these are lined not with sand but with stones and pebbles. No one seems to mind, however, and by noon they are lined with half-naked bronzed bodies.
Don’t let the stones bother you. The warm Nicean breezes offer relief from the city’s sweltering heat. The surf whistles and tumbles over itself in a calming whoosh. I dip into the water to cool off, and the strong current carries stones against my legs, leaving little bruises.
Don’t be suckered into paying 17 euros for admission to a private beach where you can’t bring in your own food or drinks. Arrive early at the free public beaches to get a head start on your tan in a primo spot.
In the velvet black of night, I can’t tell where the water ends and the sky begins. I feel haunted by all the ancient mariners who disappeared into those black waters.
Founded by the ancient Greeks as an economic and military outpost, Nice’s name stems from the Greek word for “victory.” Gallo-Roman ruins remain on Castle Hill, which has a spectacular view of the villas scattered over the rough hills. Ancient ports now hold lavish yachts.
When I arrive, I head for Castle Hill (La Colline du Chateau) to enjoy a panoramic view of the Mediterranean and the city. Just east of the Le Cours Saleya and Vieux Nice is a staircase you can climb for free, or you can use the lift for 0.55 euros.
I am quickly bored by the fortress ruins (which were destroyed by Louis XIV in 1706), the cookie-cutter gelato bars and crowded man-made waterfall that cascades dull dishwasher spray. I decide to wander around to the other side of the hill.
There I come upon two cemeteries. The first is the Jewish cemetery, with a small temple holding the ashes of victims of the Nazi death camps. Gravestones, tombs, monuments, statues and plots are jumbled together in the crowded space: women who died at 24, children who never reached double digits, entire families buried on top of one another. Some epitaphs date from over a century ago, their Hebrew engravings faded with rain and weather.
Next to it sits the Christian cemetery where Henri Matisse is buried. Some tombstones here bear intricate, rococo designs. I slowly wander through the maze, poking my head into the most ornate tombs and monuments, wishing some weren’t sealed and wondering about the lives these people lived, who they loved and how they died.
Cemeteries on hills are supposed to bring us closer to God, and these two are so breathtaking that they demand a moment’s stillness to take in all their beauty.