Portsmouth (UK). Nice (France). Poles apart. More accurately 804 miles apart. But worlds apart in terms of seafronts? Don’t get me wrong, I like both. My summer has been split between them and I have been struggling with the thought that I should somehow remark on the contrasts for a blog post.
Let’s take Portsmouth first: A thriving and busy city on the UK’s south coast. Miles of pebbly beach and a long promenade.
And Nice: A thriving and busy city on France’s south coast. Miles of pebbly beach and a long promenade.
Of course there is the obvious difference. Climate. This aside, I think they are similar in other respects. Both attract thousands of people on a sunny summer day. The beaches are full, skin is bared and sun cream applied. Food? Well Portsmouth has the usual array of British seaside fare; Nice has posh restaurants on the beach itself, which raises another difference. Tides. Today, in Portsmouth, the tide will rise by around 4m between low and high tides. Today, in Nice, the tide will rise by a meagre 25cm. This makes permanent beach structures possible. Portsmouth on the other hand…
But wait! See below; this is Nice – with the world famous (and prohibitively expensive) Hotel Negresco peeping out of the background. What happens to all those beach restaurants in a storm?
So which prom came first?
Before urbanization tourists visiting Nice in the 18th century did not come for the beach, but for the gentle winter weather; the coast line was a deserted stretch of beach covered with large pebbles, with houses located on higher ground, well away from the sea. In the second half of the 18th century, wealthy English people started spending the winter in Nice, enjoying the panoramic coastal views. Apparently, during a particularly harsh winter further north in France, there was an influx of beggars to Nice. Some of the rich Englishmen proposed a useful project for them: the construction of a walkway along the sea; the ‘Promenade des Anglais’.
The construction of Portsmouth’s ‘Clarence Esplanade’ began in 1848 with a public subscription and the Treasury donating £300; land was given by the War Department for free. Convict labour was used for the construction and the first section between the Kings Rooms and Southsea Castle opened that August. For the construction thousands of tons of mud and shingle were brought from the dockyard where the steam basin was also being built. The promenade was named after the father of the Governor of the Garrison, Lord Frederick Fitzclarence, after he remarked that “an admirable promenade could be made along Southsea beach.’
So there you have it. Portsmouth is older by a whisker, but both promenades were built with enforced labour. Portsmouth could even have inspired Nice…
I love Portsmouth; long walks in the winter along the prom wrapped up well and braced against the fresh sea air; marvellous sausage sandwiches in the Big Wheel Café at Clarence Pier; the surreal view from Southsea Common of enormous ferries seemingly trundling across the edge of the grass; the Kite Festival; the endless people-watching.
I love Nice; long summer evening walks along the prom wearing a summer dress and flip flops; baguettes with my great love goats cheese and fresh tomatoes stuffed inside; the never ending stream of aeroplanes landing at the airport; the evening summer festivities with live music; the endless people-watching.
So I declare it a draw and will continue to split my time between the two. Slightly unevenly, as I would struggle to commute to work from Nice, but roll on the next Grand Tour across Europe, destination South of France. 11 months and counting.
Worlds apart? Not so far really.