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THE BRITISH UPPER CLASSES and Russian aristocracy, in search of sun, made the city of Nice, on France’s Mediterranean coast, their winter playground in the late 19th century. Most of the city’s pale or pastel-colored buildings date from that Belle Époque and from the Art Deco era, and there are few contemporary ones, giving its boulevards and squares a historic grandeur that distinguishes Nice from other beach resorts.
I came to Nice primarily to revisit a city I had fond memories of from thirty years ago. That’s proving a tough act to follow. Nice has 300 days a year of sunshine, so they say, but the past couple have not been among them. I arrived in a downpour late Sunday, by train from Arles, and checked into the two-star B&B-type lodging I’d booked months ago, based on rave reviews on Trip Advisor. Don’t believe them, and don’t go by the pictures, which make it look more charming than it is. The Nice Garden Hotel is dreary, depressing and threadbare. After an uncomfortable night, I spent Monday morning looking for an alternative.
That took me in and out of several faded grand dames, above, along the Promenade des Anglais, which had rooms available but which were either too expensive (Negresco, Westminster) or too embalmed-feeling (Le Royal, which was great from the outside, stuffy within), or both. I ended up at the New York Times-recommended four-star Villa Victoria, below, on Boulevard Victor Hugo, and made the switch.
Ensconced now in much greater luxury (still for a reasonable 90 euros — only 15 more per night than the other — including breakfast and every possibly amenity, even female-sized terry cloth slippers and a pencil with a red rhinestone on it), I took in my first Nice museum, the Villa Massena, below, an over-the-top gilded private palace built in 1898, which the city has recently restored.
The second floor galleries, with costumes and paintings of the city in its Belle Époque heyday (below, an amusement pier that extended into sea but no longer exists) interested me more than the sumptuous decor.
Monday is the antiques market in Nice’s Vieux Ville (Old City), below. It’s a serious market, akin to Paris’, but I’m so over all that. There isn’t a poster or a piece of costume jewelry or a Quimper plate that I could rouse myself to buy these days. But it was fun to look at objects, people and, of course, buildings.
Matisse lived in the yellow house, above.
For lunch, of all the many cafes lining both sides of Vieux Ville’s main drag, Cours Saleya, I chose Le Safari, below. It was bustling, warm (outdoor heaters), and smelled pleasantly of mussels and the other seafood for which Nice is known.
While my first salad Niçoise in Nice, above, was ‘meh’ (unripe tomatoes), the people at the next table more than made up for it. An amusing British couple who come to Nice often and know its environs intimately, from the best patisserie to which buses to take to get to which gardens, I thoroughly enjoyed my first extended conversation in days. It continued when they invited me for drinks at the apartment they’re renting in a classic Niçoise building not far from my hotel. Drinks turned into a dinner spread, below (smoked salmon, quail eggs, exquisite cheeses) and I now have personal travel consultants for the rest of my stay.
All of Nice’s twenty famous museums, including the Matisse and Chagall Museums in the Cimiez neighborhood, are closed on Tuesday, and the weather, though drier, is still gray. I’m heading to Ephrussi de Rothschild’s quirky garden in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a half-hour bus ride away.
EVERYONE SEEMS TO HAVE LOVED The Outsider last Sunday (41 comments!) It’s one a member of the Brownstoner community sent in — simple, family-friendly, and on a shoestring budget. To take a look at the befores and afters, go here.
THIS PRACTICALLY ZERO-BUDGET vegetable garden was created in a neglected Brooklyn lot this spring by resourceful architect Andrea Solk and friends.
Everything was salvaged and improvised; most veggies were started from seed.
Read all about it on Brownstoner today.
I WAS VERY CONTENT in my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre this past winter and felt I had made the right move in taking the Brooklyn apartment. But when I went out to Springs, which I did occasionally from November through March, though the house was cozy and the atmosphere relaxing, I wasn’t particularly inspired, and wondered why I had so badly wanted a country home. Now it’s spring, and I remember.
After six long months, I’m back at work in the garden. Things are popping up all over, and it’s like greeting old friends. Hakonechloa, right on schedule! Yay, brunnera, you made it through the winter! Irises, don’t you look nice! Good to see you…thing that begins with L!
I spent much of the past week adding compost to my beds (making two trips to the East Hampton dump to load up on free compost and mulch), holding my breath and cutting back things that ‘flower on new wood,’ like the books say (Rose of Sharon, now reduced to sticks, below), worrying over deer-devoured hollies that don’t seem to be regenerating, and attempting damage control by spraying, spraying, spraying Deer-Out in the absence, so far, of a fence.
Most of all, I’ve been appreciating the changes unfolding daily and just observing — the unfurling ferns, daffodils blooming even under the new deck, a hummingbird nest in a tree, below. I thought it was garbage, longtime NYC dweller that I am — forgive me, hummingbird — but a knowledgeable friend said it’s a hummingbird’s nest (and it may even be good luck).
I’m also taking in what’s happening locally: the creative window boxes at stores and restaurants in town, lawns filled with daffodils, the pink-purple plum trees flowering in my next-door neighbor’s backyard.
Below, the biggest, prettiest cherry tree on my road
Whitmore’s Nursery made good on its word and replaced an enormous round ilex crennata they planted for me in December ’09. It started to fail last year and by this spring was dead. Poof — it’s like getting a new car, same model as the one that was totaled.
New ilex, below
I thought my abelia ‘Little Richard’ was dead, too. In fact, I dug it up, put it in a bucket, and drove to Spielberg’s Nursery in Amagansett. I didn’t expect them to refund my money or replace it, just wanted to ask what they thought had gone wrong. The woman looked at me in horror. “It’s in your car? Let me have a look…” And don’t ya know, she said it wasn’t dead, just late to leaf out, and that I should hurry home and stick it back in the ground pronto with fertilizer and water. So I did; it was out of the ground less than an hour and I’ve coddled it since. But does this look right to you?
Somehow the question of how long I’m going to stay in this house, and consequently how much I should invest, has faded from consciousness. I’m here for as long as I’m here, and I’m gardening.