Notebook: Rich get stung on the Cote d'Azure

As the wealthy keep to private villas and headlands, their former playground declines, and Nice really does now look like Llandudno

IT IS A wet Thursday in Nice. On the Promenade des Anglais, everyone is carrying an umbrella. Rain in Nice in August? It is called the Promenade des Anglais, damn it, because we (or at least the Bertie Wooster set) invented Nice as a place to escape from the summer rain.

Take away the sunshine - as God briefly did last week - and it is difficult to see why anyone would come to the Cote d'Azure any more. It is expensive. It is crowded. It is polluted. (Cars in Nice after a shower look as if they have been in the Monte Carlo rally.) The older Cote towns, from St Tropez to Menton, have become interludes of car-choked grace in a 100- mile linear city of malls, apartment blocks and garish villas.

All that, and now jellyfish too. For most of the summer, the public beaches along the Cote have been flying orange flags, signifying "bathing dangerous but possible with care". The Cote d'Azure is going through what the authorities call, rather poetically, "une annee de meduses" (a year of the jellyfish).

In May and June, there were tens of thousands of them, mostly immature (ie, teenage jellyfish) of a sickly mauve colour and an aggressive disposition. The creatures are now much diminished along the beaches, but still lurk in huge numbers just off the coast.

The Nice hospitals say that emergency sting cases have been averaging three a day: rather more in June, when the jellyfish were at their peak. "It has been the worst year for stings that I can remember," said Dr Francois Bertrand, head of the Nice casualty service. "The authorities put out warnings at the start of the season but don't renew them for the new tourists, who arrive all the time."

It is one of those rare cases where it pays not to be too wealthy. There are still a few jellyfish attacks on the beaches but the more dangerous place to swim is off a private yacht or from a jetty on one of the headlands, fenced off as exclusive playgrounds for the rich.

Anne Toulemont, an expert on meduses at Monaco's Oceanographic Museum, says: "Off the beaches you can spot them and avoid them. But if you dive into deep water from a boat or jetty, they can rise up all around you before you know it. There's no escaping them then."

There has been talk on French television of a plague of jellyfish: an "invasion" on a scale previously unseen along this coast. There is also talk of a conspiracy by the local authorities to play down the menace, so as not to disturb the tourists.

This is mostly piffle, says Ms Toulemont, although she agrees that some Cote towns could do more to warn bathers. "There were actually far more jellyfish last year. The truth is that there have always been periodic eruptions of jellyfish along the Cote d'Azure. It is a question of wind and current, bringing them over from the African side.

"The present outbreak is a little bigger than we are used to, but not dramatically different. What is true is that there seem to be more jellyfish in the sea generally, because the pollution of the Mediterranean is retreating. And there are certainly more and more people in the sea to be stung."

I first came to Nice when I was 12, on a Belgian package tour. The year was 1962. The great days of the city had presumably already departed if Belgian package tours were turning up. To my English provincial eyes, however, it seemed a glittering city, by an implausibly blue sea; a city for very rich people, because my parents could not afford to buy more than one lemonade at a time.

My Mancunian father irritated my Belgian mother by insisting that Nice reminded him of Llandudno. The great sweeping capes to the south, he said, were no more impressive than the Great Orme. But we spent one evening gawping at the beautiful people entering and leaving the Negresco hotel, then still (or so we imagined) headquarters of the Smart Set.

The Negresco still belongs to an association called "The Great Hotels of the World" but it looks tawdry these days, like Nice itself, offering new clients the chance to pretend to be the clients it once had. The hotel's dome, which I remembered as being as white as the Taj Mahal's, is now lime-green and pink, like the kind of ice-cream you wish you hadn't ordered.

The price of a room - pounds 200 a night - still keeps out the riff-raff like me, but the Smart Set has long since gone elsewhere. The super-rich from the Gulf states have their own villas in Antibes or Menton. The clientele these days is the moderately rich from the Gulf and the dubiously rich from Russia.

On Monday night a Saudi Airlines wide-bodied McDonnell-Douglas MD11, searching for the airport, missed a block of flats by 30 feet and skimmed the rooftops of the city. The plane, built to carry 300, was reported by Nice-Matin to have been carrying a Saudi prince and 40 family and friends. To add insult to injury, the paper reported ruefully, none of the party entered the city that they had almost destroyed. They went to the 20 or so villas owned by the Saudi royal family in the Cannes-Antibes area.

In truth, Nice in 1999 has more to worry about than jellyfish, or rain. It has become much like other middle-market seaside resorts, with multilingual backpackers roller-skating down the Promenade des Anglais, bored-looking families in cycling shorts, jangling amusement arcades and tattoo parlours. Occasionally you come across an elegant old lady with a puzzled expression and a small dog, like someone who has strayed here from another decade.

Otherwise, apart from the topless bathers defying the receding plague of jellyfish in the implausibly blue sea, it could be Llandudno. My father would have been delighted. Vindicated at last.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk