Tout Beau le Negresco

By Margaret Kemp

Nice, France's fifth largest city, conjures up images of sunny days on pebbled beaches, pizzas, socca, olive oil, pan bagnats, ice cream and delicious local specialities. It's a melting-pot of nationalities, styles and gastronomy, a vibrant bustling town living to the tempo of its cosmopolitan population. Here's where “Belle Epoque” architecture happily blends with contemporary chic as Nice celebrates 150 years since it became part of France.

The Promenade des Anglais, Nice's palm-tree-lined boulevard, bordering the azur blue Mediterranean, stretches the length of the city, edged with luxury hotels, a casino, a museum and bistrot, bars and brasseries. “The Prom” was built by the English in the 19th century as a boardwalk for healthy strolls by the sea. Today it's evolved from its original role and is a space to power-walk, jog, bike, steal a French kiss, roller-blade or simply sit and watch the “Matisse” landscape come to life. The blue horizon is dotted with billowing sails, mega-yachts and water and wakeboard skiers.

The five-star Hotel Negresco is visible as you leave Nice airport (10 minutes from the city). Built by Henri Negrescu in 1912, its perky pink domes, legend has it, modelled on Mata Hari's breasts, are a city landmark. Over the years the hotel had its ups and downs and in 1957 was bought by the Augier family. Madame Jeanne Augier, at 86, still owns the hotel and recently supervised a 14 million euro transformation, closing the hotel for six months. All regardless of the fact that when she dies a foundation has been established that will see the Negresco and Madame Augier's remaining property portfolio bequeathed to the benefit of homeless and unwanted animals and people. Not only will it serve a greater good but the authenticity and soul of the hotel will remain intact and, most important for Madame Augier, French.

Is the woman barking mad? Will the newly decorated halls and suites echo with the noise of a thousand happy hounds just like the 2009 movie Hotel for Dogs?

Whatever, there's still time to NetJet to Nice and snag one of the 94 rooms and 31 suites in the steps of Elton John, Michael Jackson (Suite 120) King Abdallah and Queen Rania of Jordan, Clint Eastwood, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Sir Paul McCartney & Co. Book one of the 11 brand new super-indulgent Executive Suites located on the 5th floor, accessed by privte lift. Expect state of the art facilities, a VIP lounge and private dining area.

Still time to ignore the private lift and discover the five floors stuffed with precious works of art and outsize sculptures. To gaze up from the Salon Royal at the newly restored Gustave Eiffel glass dome and at the sparkling Baccarat chandelier, originally ordered by Czar Nicholas 11 for the Kremlin but, due to the revolution, still in France. The building works were supervised by Nice's “Iron Ladies”, Madame Augier, working in close collaboration with the architects of Bâtiments de France and Madame Nicole Spitz, Negresco's longtime Director General.

Still time to be saluted by liveried flunkies and reception staff outfitted by Pierre Cardin. And of course to taste the superb cuisine and wines at Le Chantecler Michelin-Star restaurant, or La Rotonde, with funky fun-fair decor, where young chef Jean-Denis Rieubland is inspired not only by August Escoffier but also by the incredible bounty of Provence.

If you're looking for ultra modern bling, the Negresco's probably not for you. There's no spa, but the concierge will arrange massage, hairdressing, personal trainers, even a tour of the hotel, in a flash. If you're looking to discover a fascinating part of French history and heritage, this palace is for you, because you're worth it.

Hotel Negresco

37 Promenade des Anglais, Nice

T: + 33 (0) 4 93 16 64 00

Rooms and suites from 290-590€

Breakast 30€

Restaurant Chantecler – Menus: 90/130€

A La Carte: 86/178€ + wine

Restaurant La Rotonde Menu 32€ + A La Carte

Valet Parking

Animals, dogs and cats 17€ per night

Private Beach

Tourist Office

 

Meanwhile in London, Buckingham Palace Café launched this week, but don't expect to be served on the best Spode china; they're doing classy cardboard blue plates and cups marked “Garden Café, Buckingham Palace”. The café, located on the West terrace, with views over 40 acres of royal gardens, is open to anyone paying the £17 Palace entrance fee. Expect traditional scones, jam, cream and Sandringham pressed apple juice, Greek salads, bagels and strawberry and cream cakes to go with your Buck House bevvy of choice.

If you're coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. To rent a car, Bonjour Paris recommends Auto Europe.With their exclusive selection of handmade French chocolates, zChocolat will redefine what you consider to be chocolate.

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