The grandest building stock in Nice isn’t along the Promenade des Anglais. Nor does it reside in the venerable Musiciens quarter.
The most rococo, ostentatious and general over-the-top apartment blocks in the Cote d’Azur sit just north and south of Nice-Ville train station.
There’s a reason for that. Back in 1860 the former Italian city of Nice became part of France. To cement their new possession the French government built a railroad from Paris in 1864. Thus enabling them to import troops, trains and tax inspectors one way, and export citrus, wine and olive oil in the other.
Pomp and ceremony maintained France’s tenuous links with its new possession. Nice’s new train station, a Parisian vision in Louis XIII style, was inaugurated in 1867. Architect Louis-Jules Bouchot, the trusty hand behind the gares of Avignon, Marseille and Toulon, sketched hotel-style accoutrements. Glass canopies, central pavilions and a richly frescoed dome. The buildings in the surrounding streets are naturally grand.
Alas, 15 years ago the scene wasn’t so salubrious. Like Marseille’s Gare-Saint-Charles and London’s Kings Cross, it was downmarket. The first store you saw as you stepped off the Paris TGV was a sex shop.
That’s why over the last 15 years nowhere has seen property prices rise as fast as Nice’s train station area. It’s a story echoed in Marseille. And if you want to buy a three bedroom apartment in Kings Cross you’ll now need a million or two.
There’s still room for more growth. Over the last three years Nice-Ville has been renovated to a glorious degree. New escalators and elevators dot the freshly painted platforms. New high speed services now run to Moscow, Milan, Marseille and all points in between.
The sun-kissed esplanade is now an intermodal hub with Auto Bleue eco-cars, Vélo Bleu bike shares and all electric buses. Plus a new tourist office and branch of boulangerie Paul. By 2019 the quartier will feature a mammoth glass sculpture by world-famous architect Daniel Libeskind (the many behind the new World Trade Centre in New York). The 40m-high structure will contain a Hilton Hotel, cafés and co-working spaces.
Try walking the streets yourself. Scaffolds are everywhere along rue Paganini and avenue Durante. A block south, the far pricier Musiciens quarter starts proper.
But the largest and most eye-catching renovation project is just north of the train station opposite the Libération tram stop. Here the old Gare du Sud train terminal (a relic of a former mountain route to Nice) is currently being transformed into a nine-screen Pathé cinema multiplex, a glass-covered market place and two grand apartment blocks with roof terraces and wraparound balconies.
The development will be completed in 2018 but smart money will invest now.