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HIGH SEASON by Robert Kanigel


How One French Riviera Town Has Seduced Travelers for Two Thousand Years

by Robert Kanigel

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2002
ISBN: 0-670-89988-7
Publisher: Viking

Kanigel (The One Best Way, 1997, etc.) knits together, from dozens of intriguing sources, an urbane history of Nice.

Nice has been around since the Greeks made camp there in the 6th century b.c., and it has felt the tread of Roman Legionnaires as well as Fodor-toting travelers. Queen Victoria liked it and so did Lenin; European Jews sought refuge there during WWII, and so did GIs once the conflict ended. But while Kanigel notes the extremes at play, he is more interested in the city’s transformation, particularly from exclusive to popular. So he tracks the perceptions of the city as seen by travelers and recorded in diaries, letters, postcards, and a host of other accounts, starting back in the 16th century, working up through the influence Smollett’s travels had on bringing Nice to the attention of his countrymen and especially the generation of English “hivernants,” who wintered in the city. Indeed, it is English travelers who make up the majority of Kanigel’s sources in the years before the railroad—an upper-crust bunch who enjoyed the simplicity of the town while it was still a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia—as opposed to the more international (and more lowly “tourist”) crowd that flocked to the port when the difficulty of getting there—once a question of “sheer precipices, the sea washing up on the rocks below, pirates and storms and moonlit mountain passes”—was overcome. Kanigel follows the rise of Nice during the Belle Époque, its sad slide during the 1930s, its attractiveness to the hoi polloi, and its associations with Bardot, Chaplin, and Picasso.

Like an enthralled biologist, the author observes the evolution of Nice as a social ecosystem. His portrait is as spellbinding as its subject. (Photographs)