The Russian Cathedral in Nice
Ross Hunter, The English School of Science, Lefortovo, Moscow
If you go down to the beach at Nice, crossing the famous Promenade Des Anglais, you will hear nearly as many languages as there are pebbles. But Russian possibly the most. Nice is one of the favourite seaside resorts for Russians, and has been ever since 1864. As soon as the railway arrived, so could travellers from colder northern climes, both North Sea and Baltic. To emphasise this, the long defunct direct train from Moscow to Nice re-opened in opulent splendour last year. A wonderful journey to rival the Orient Express, although sadly priced to preclude all but neo-oligarchs. For most folks, the airport, which is handily placed exactly at the western end of the beach offers more practical access, and is well served from Russia.Back in Victorian times, the then Tsar and family put the seal on the deal when they visited, and declared it their favourite. In and around the famous Hotel Negresco, there is a profusion of Cyrillic on shop fronts, menus, real estate advertisements and all else. Nice has welcomed waves of Russians, in Tsarist times, white Russians fleeing the revolutionary turmoil, and again now that affluence and easier visas have opened up possibilities.
Tragically, the Tsarevich Nicolas died in Nice. But this led to the building of an Orthodox cathedral to sanctify the site. Straight up the gently slope from the centre of the beach, and set in green parkland, the cathedral was opened in 1913, arguably the absolute peak of power, prosperity and confidence for Tsarist Russian Britain and the Cote d’Azur too. It is the largest Russian Orthodox church in Europe, and follows the familiar style of the major edifices in Russia. It has only just reopened after a full and beautiful renovation, and is a pleasure to visit. The interior feels taller than it is wide, and gives a lofty and serene feel. The décor and fittings are in traditional style but unashamedly fresh and modern.
Down on the beach and the commercial streets behind, the Russian community and visitors are boisterous and voluble; in and around the cathedral, respect and tranquillity are the norm. If you are in the region, don’t miss it. Ten minutes’ walk from the main SNCF; twenty from the plage. An evocative oasis.