Many great modernist painters – from Monet to Picasso – fell in love with the lights, the sights and the colours of southern France. And some of them stayed in Nice. But what about famous writers?
Which Famous Writers Stayed in Nice?
There were also many who came to the Riviera: Beckett spent one winter in Menton, R.L. Stevenson travelled and explored the area, Dickens came for a visit. Others, like Anthony Burgess, Graham Greene and Noel Coward, came here to retire. But note: None of these writers came to the Riviera to work, only to visit, to grow old, or (as W.B. Yeats) to die.
Perhaps it is true what Anton Chekhov once said: …
… Nice is a good place to read but a bad place to write.
For the purpose of this post, the selected writers, once in the French Riviera, must have done at least some writing here, and they must have done this writing in the city of Nice.
The Famous Writers in Nice
Find Rue Catherine Segurane and look for the house with number 38: this is where Friedrich Nietzsche lived for the winter of 1883/84, where he finished two books and started a third, Thus Spake Zarathustra. (“Like a plant, I grow in the sunshine”, he wrote.)
When you find yourself on Place Garibaldi, stay on the left hand side and turn left into Rue Neuve at the very end. Continue in a southerly direction to cross the Old Town. This is where Thomas Jefferson – who penned the Declaration of Independence here, which qualifies him here in this post) – stayed during his visit in 1787. Nobody knows where exactly he lodged. He did seem to have stayed in the Hotel de York, of which he writes in a letter home. But this no longer exists and it is not known where it once stood.)
On the southern side of the Old Town, between the Cours Saleya and the sea, you can find the picturesque Rue des Ponchettes, Villa Speranza to be exact, the house at no. 17 …
… where, again, Friedrich Nietzsche stayed to write in 1887/88. His lodgings were, although not luxurious, much bigger and nicer than his single room in Rue Segurane. The self-confessed “sun flower” was decidedly unlucky with the weather that year when it was frequently so cold that he would write home about his “blue-frozen fingers”. (At the same time, however, he bragged that he “did not turn the heater on once”. Well, …)
On the Quai des Etat-Unis (the beach promenade), in the distance on your left hand side, there is the Hotel Suisse where James Joyce stayed in 1922. But because of a worsening eye condition, he had to return to Paris after barely one month).
A few blocks from the Quai des Anglais, you get to the Promenade des Anglais where you will see perhaps the single most famous building on the French Riviera, the Hotel Negresco at no. 37.
Many famous writers stayed here (including Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and H.G.Wells who conducted a long affair here with a married woman), but as far as I know only the cartoonist and wit James Thurber did any “serious” writing at the Negresco.
Thurber worked for the Riviera in the society news supplement of the Chicago Tribune in the 1920s. He reminisced that the staff of that paper would congregate nightly at the bar of the Negresco to “improvise” the next day’s issue, making up a “gay and romantic cavalcade” (Thurber’s own words) simply on the basis of the names on the hotel’s guest list, along lines such as these (Thurber again): “Lieutenant General and Mrs. Pendleton Gray Winslow have arrived today, bringing with them their prize Burmese monkey, Thibault” …
Along the Promenade, find no. 57 where Vladimir Nabokov finished Pale Fire in the winter of 1960 …
… to no. 121 which was shared by three German-speaking writers – Joseph Roth (the author of Job), Heinrich Mann (on whose novel the Marlene-Dietrich breakthrough hit The Blue Angel was based) and Hermann Kesten – who were taking refuge here from the Nazis in the 1930s.
Take a peek into a street that runs parallel to the Promenade, called Rue de France: this is where the mother of the short story writer Guy de Maupassant had a villa in the late 19th century, which doesn’t exist anymore and it would be a safe bet that neither she nor her writer son would recognize the area were they to come back today.
Maupassant spent a lot of time here, not least because he was a passionate yachtsman. He also tried to kill himself on the Riviera, gruesomely slitting his own throat.
On the way back, look for no. 9 Rue de la Buffa where you will find a “Gothic-style” apartment building. This is where one of the true originals of the Jazz Age, Frank Harris, lived for many years.He wrote more than 30 books including his autobiography My Life and Loves, which was banned in more than 30 countries for its sexual explicitness), imposter and raconteur (“Frank only told the truth when his invention flagged”, Max Beerbohm said). Harris was also the man who put up Oscar Wilde after he was released from prison. It was his idea that Wilde would be better off across the Channel.
On no. 23 Rue Gounod, you will find the Hotel Oasis, a piece straight from the 19th century surrounded by modern buildings.
At the end of the 19th century, this hotel the Pension Russe, run by a Russian landlady and the Riviera’s refuge for all Russians who had money enough to travel but not enough to do so in style. Lenin stayed here, and so did a great many other expats, but the most famous writer in residence was Anton Chekhov who finished the second half of Three Sisters here in 1900/1901, famously while the actors back home in Moscow were already rehearsing the first two acts.
This was to be Chekhov’s last visit to the Riviera. He had been to Nice before, once celebrating Easter in the city’s Orthodox Church (the old one on Rue Longchamp) and setting some scenes of a novella there (An Anonymous Story).
He may have said that Nice is a “bad place to write”, but he has done a lot of work here, writing scenes, letters and short stories, always meticulously dressed, always by the open window no matter what the weather was like.
Near the Nice central station, there once stood an inn, the Hotel Terminus, where Oscar Wilde used to lodge, after being released from Reading Gaol. It no longer exists. Wilde arrived here in late 1897, while Chekhov spent the winter of 1897/1898 in the Pension Russe, a few hundred meters away.
Did those two ever meet – and, if yes, what would they have talked about? A tempting thought – something to ponder perhaps on your train journey home.
Find the detailed instructions on how to get to these places on foot here.