Nice, France Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Nice, France

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Nice... sounds nice, doesn't it? Ah, but this pretty little port on the Baie des Anges in southern France has a seedy side that gives it quite a kick.

For a start the Mafia own Nice, as they do with most of the coast from Marseille to Nice1. Whether this is related to the large number of very flash, very rich, old, corrupt-looking men in and around Nice is a matter for debate, but you'll come across plenty of ostentatious, gold-necklace types hanging round the Port du Nice.

This has a strange effect: if you are young and female and walk along the Promenade des Anglais on the main seafront, men assume you are a prostitute, or are at least for sale. If you are not actually a prostitute they think they can buy you anyway - it will just cost them more. One Researcher was offered £1000 by someone who had a foot fetish and just wanted to lick her toes... she rather regrets turning him down now, but it was probably a wise move.

This isn't the only thing going on down at the port. Young people hang around the marinas trying to get crewing jobs on private cruise liners, but the one qualification that will guarantee you a position on board2 isn't the ability to tie a clove hitch or an encyclopaedic knowledge of nautical terms, it's being a pretty blonde Swede (of either sex). The cruisers are generally owned by old men who take pretty crew members off to Sardinia and back, before refreshing the 'crew' back at Nice and heading off for another trip.

Also, watch out for the beach in Nice - it's extremely uncomfortable and it consists mainly of rocks the size of your fist. You're much better off sunbathing further west, somewhere like San Raphael. If you're hard up and can't find anywhere to stay, don't try sleeping on the beach, even if you can handle the stones, as men with hoses come round at 6am every morning to wash it down, and they take great pleasure in soaking unwary Backpackers. And that's on top of the sandflies who will take great pleasure in eating you all through the night. On the other hand, in the daytime, the French ladies all go topless3 on their rented lounge chairs - even the ones you wish wouldn't - and tend to turn themselves towards the promenade rather than the sea, just to make sure you spot them. Which is very considerate...

Even if you decide to brave the beach, the sea is heavily polluted in the Côte D'Azur. There are hundreds of private yachts steaming up and down the coast that are supposed to dock to empty their sewage and bilge tanks, but they often can't be bothered and go for the cheaper and easier option of emptying them straight into the Mediterranean. Fungus thrives on this tasty organic mulch, and anyone foolhardy enough to swim in the sea risks catching a fungal skin condition known locally as champignons (literally 'mushrooms'). If you catch champignons your skin pigment is destroyed in large patches, a bit like the condition vitiligo (which Michael Jackson claims to have). It spreads across your skin until treated: the cure is to paint the afflicted area with a sulphur paste for about a month.

If you are still prepared to swim in the sea, regardless of the risk of champignons, don't let the water get into your mouth. If you do, you are almost certainly guaranteed to spend the next two days being sick. The best place to swim is at Cap D'Ail ('Headland of Garlic', curiously) which is just outside Monaco: take the Moyenne Corniche road from Nice and it's a 20 minute drive. In fact, the area around Nice is spectacular: you are a short hop from Cannes, Antibes, Monaco, the Italian Riviera and St Paul de Vence, which is one of those little villages crammed onto a small hilltop.

Despite the promenade and the beach, Nice is still a fascinating place, and the locals are generally friendlier than in some other areas of France. In Nice the French are more like the Italians: it must be the sun or something. It is, however, ridiculously expensive, and if you don't have tons of cash and habitually wear a gold belt and drag a poodle around on a lead, there are much cheaper places to eat and enjoy the beach on the outskirts of Cannes, where top quality moules et frites and a carafe of wine are to be had in La Bocca for about £5.

Mmmmm. Nice.

1 Only don't tell them we told you.2 We could be smutty here, but we're not going to. Oh no. This is a family show, folks...3 Which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your blood-alcohol level and your sex.

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