When I was a language student in the early Nineties, I lived in Nice for a year and worked as an ‘assistante’ in a secondary school. I drank a lot of café au lait and cheap rosé, learned how to eat better food and live well, and marvelled that I was living in a place that was almost permanently sunny.
I haven’t been back for many years, and I wondered how the place might have changed. The answer, to my surprise, was: not that much. It’s like the Nice I remember, but better. The population seems younger and more cosmopolitan (it was mostly old ladies in fur coats when I was there), and the dog of choice is no longer the poodle but the pug. The skateboards on the Promenade des Anglais have been replaced by Segways, restaurant menus are in Russian, and they’ve gone in for sushi and organic food in a big way. But the sea is still as blue and sparkling as ever, and the Old Town is still vibrant. The ubiquitous dog poo that blighted every street has long gone, the buses are fast, frequent and ridiculously cheap, and there’s a snazzy new tram system that’s still expanding.
There was one major addition, on the site of the old bus station and a multi-storey car park: La Promenade du Paillon. This new 1.2km ‘coulee verte’ (green corridor) opened in 2013. It was designed by the landscape architect Michel Pena, and cost 40 million euro. That’s a hell of a lot of money, but I’d say it was worth every euro.
The park stands on the course of the river Paillon, which still trickles beneath. Everything has a subtle watery theme, from the water jets to the giant wooden sea animal sculptures for children to play on. It is home to 1,600 trees, 6,000 shrubs and 50,000 plants.
The planting is planted in waves, in a contemporary prairie style, and themed by areas of the world. There is very little bedding – something that’s echoed in the rest of the town. The planting is much more sustainable these days, and no pesticides are used, either.
Interestingly, there is no cafe – a British park would definitely have one – but in a town that is brimming with them, I guess it doesn’t need it. We didn’t see a scrap of litter, and there are lots of park guardians, sadly lacking these days in Britain. Apparently it’s forbidden to sit on the grass (common in French parks) but we saw plenty of people doing it.
Nice doesn’t have much in the way of parks, despite having a very green feel – there is planting everywhere, and lots of trees. It’s something I didn’t notice that when I lived there – life is lived outside, on pavement cafes, and at the beach and promenade. But what is abundantly clear is that this park was needed. Locals and tourists sit on the many benches, watching the world go by, couples take an evening stroll, kids play in the play areas, and teenagers snog. If you wanted to create the perfect public space, it would be hard to do better than this.