New Promenade Du Paillon in Nice France


Opened 26th October, 2013 after a massive 3-year project, the people of Nice and visitors will see the long-awaited opening of a brand-new 12-hectare urban park, 1.2 km long, in the heart of the city. With the demolition of the former bus station, the perspective has been cleared to provide a splendid view of the heights of Nice and the facades of the old town.

A pedestrian walkway will lead walkers alongside strips of lawn dotted with water mirrors and take them on a botanical journey, with the promise of trees in blossom in every season. And the children aren’t forgotten: there are swings, a variety of games and giant structures in the form of whales, dolphins, turtles, octopuses, etc… they’ll have a whole range of marine animals sculpted in wood to play with. Running between the Nice National Theatre and the sea, this vast green corridor of 1,000 trees, 61,730 shrubs and 55,364 hardy plants is intended as a place for recreation, well-being and tranquillity. The promenade is equipped with smart underground networks (fibre optics, Internet networks, electricity, etc.) and may therefore be used as a venue for future events.

The Promenade du Paillon was constructed over the river of the same name, buried since the nineteenth century to clean up the city. The garden has planted 40,000 m2 of space, including 17,000 grassed. This walk provides an opportunity to a botanical journey across continents, “with promises of flowering trees each season,” ensure its promoters.

One of the major attractions should be the mirror of water of 3.000 m2, based on the existing one in Bordeaux along the Garonne and with 128 water jets, says the mayor. Or “tray of mists”, an area of ??basalt and limestone 1,400 m2 equipped with hundreds of foggers.

The total cost of the project, funded by the city and the city of Nice Côte d’Azur (with participation of the Conseil Generale of the Alpes-Maritimes 3.5 million), amounted to 40 million euros.

Nice’s Coulée Verte – or, loosely translated, ‘Green Corridor’ – replaces two monumental, aspirational but irredeemably ugly brutalist structures; its central bus station (Gare Routiere) and a spectacularly hideous public car park. Both sported huge roof terraces complete with tennis and baseball courts, ornamental gardens, interesting stairwells etc., but all were neglected, abandoned, and the projects were ultimately unsuccessful. The Promenade du Paillon, reports Nice Matin, opens September 2013, replacing these sorry structures with a remise en beauté des 3 hectares de verdure, avec sous-sols intelligents (fibre optique, réseaux internet, électrique): a return to beauty comprising 3 hectares of greenery with (get this) subterranean connectivity.

This weekend I went to the opening of the lovely new ribbon of a park that flows through Nice, France. It is called the “Promenade du Paillon” in honour of the Paillon River which still flows beneath it.

We were treated to a “dancing waters” show with jets of water leaping into the air in time with the music. And then we walked on water. That’s right, all of us walked on water. The basin containing the “mirror of water” is only two cm (less than one inch) deep so when the jets are not in use you can walk right across – some even did this when the jets were on. It was a nice warm day, so no one minded getting wet, especially the children.

Everything in the park is designed to remind us of the river. The walkways are covered in aquatic coloured stone and there is a “plateau of mist” made by air pumps that blow tiny drops of water into the air. In the section for children, there are sea animals carved of wood for climbing, swinging, bouncing, etc. The whale, octopus, sting ray and turtle are all following the river toward the sea.


But what about the real river?

The park’s watery theme reminds us that the Paillon is still there, but if you are imagining a picturesque flowing river, think again. The Paillon is not that kind of waterway. Even though it has a very wide bed, most of the time there are only a few small streams of water running through it. The 19th century tourists weren’t very impressed by it. One of them called it an imaginary river. Another said, it was the driest part of Nice. The Paillon is probably best known for the paintings of laundresses washing their laundry in the little streams and then spreading it out to dry in the river bed. This led the amused tourists to say that the Paillon was only good for drying clothes.


Torrential River

However, if there was a lot of rain in the hills behind Nice, that “imaginary river” could, and did, turn violent very quickly because of its steep descent into the city. Even though these deluges were infrequent, the risk was so great that in the 1800s watchmen on horses were strategically placed to keep an eye on it. If there was danger they would gallop along the riverbanks crying “the Paillon is coming…the Paillon is coming”. Why? Because the nearly dry riverbed was often full of people and animals. Mostly it was full of Niçoise ladies doing their laundry.

But should we worry about those torrents which at times poured over the riverbanks? Well, there is a system of overflow tunnels underneath to take care of excess water and an electronic monitoring system which constantly assures that all is ok. So hopefully the deepest water we will see in the park is 2 cm and no more rescues will be necessary.

There is even a bulldozer which lives on the promenade and controls the outflow when necessary.

After two years of building works that included the demolition of an eyesore, Nice’s giant public gardens are set to open with much fanfare this weekend. Named after the river that once separated Vieux Nice from the main town, the Promenade du Paillon is bound to add value to properties in the area and rack up the city’s green credentials even higher.

See some more great pictures of the Grand Opening