The mythical hotel in Nice, France has reigned over the Bay of Angels through two world wars, was once used as a hospital, and has witnessed 16 French presidents ushered into office. Hundreds of famous faces, fads and fashions have whisked though the doors and have just as quickly faded from the front pages and catwalks. But Le Negresco and its stalwart commitment to France and luxury service has persevered through it all. Now a historic monument, Le Negresco remains today as elegant and current as ever, and celebrates 100 years on the French Riviera.
Since its official opening in January 1913 by a Romanian innkeeper’s son, Henri Negrescu, the palatial Le Negresco Hotel, with its wedding cake façade and pink dome, has been an ornate beacon on the French Riviera, luring in an international who’s who of guests for the last 10 decades. Among them: Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Grace of Monaco, Nicolas Sarkozy, Sir Winston Churchill, Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Louis Armstrong, The Beatles, Elton John, Edith Piaf, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, Charlie Chaplin, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, Elisabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Walt Disney, Luciano Pavarotti—-the list goes on.
Le Negresco is considered one of France’s most legendary palaces and is the last remaining privately-owned luxury palace hotel in France, purchased by the Augier family in 1957, and still owned and run today by Madame Jeanne Augier, an omnipresent 89-year old force who lives on the top floor of the hotel, and who has spent her life committed to preserving and enhancing the hotel’s heritage.
The hotel underwent an extensive renovation in 2010, and each of the 96 rooms, 21 suites, and meeting rooms is individually styled and decorated, furnished with antique and inspired by various periods of French art and architecture. But what’s outside the rooms is worth a gander. I spent hours wandering the halls and common rooms, mouth agape, at the vast private collection of art spanning 500 years and revealing the varied phases of the owners’ life. I can think of no other hotel in France, or anywhere really, that injects guests with such a cultural charge as they head toward the elevator each day. The wealth of authentic antique furnishings, sculptures, tapestries, paintings, sketches, and photos, is mind-blowing. Even if you are not into “that artsy stuff,” it would be impossible not to be somewhat moved standing beneath a 1701 portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, the only two other copies of which hang in the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. And how can 16,000 galaxy-bright Baccarat crystals dangling from a chandelier in the Royal Salon not impress you? Commissioned by Tsar Nicolas II, the grand light was never collected due to a certain revolution. The chandelier’s twin is found in the Kremlin.
Though the hotel and its art are historic, rest assured the amenities and services found throughout Le Negresco are 21st century. Flat screen TVs, minibars, and free wifi are found in every room, and the young, multi-lingual staff assure guests feel connected and welcomed. And even the doormen, dressed in their 18th century garb topped with plumed hats, feel, somehow, au courant at Le Negresco. Gourmets will be pleased with the young and inventive kitchen team, lead by Jean-Denis Rieubland, at the hotel’s famed Le Chantecler restaurant, which recently earned a second Michelin star. For a pre-dinner drink or nightcap, the comfy Negresco Bar is the spot to be, and celebrity sightings are de rigueur. I too spotted a celebrity—Carmen, Madame Augier’s beloved orange tabby cat, who’s often found posing for photos, while lazing on a chair.
My room was a generously-sized superior room overlooking the Bay of Angels. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the bathrooms though. Don’t get me wrong, I love old creaky doors, petite wooden desks, and canopy beds that make me feel like French royalty, but the sparkly orange tub and matching scallop-shell sink, toilet, and bidet took me by surprise. All I could think of was roller-skating and a former boyfriend’s similarly hued 1978 Pontiac Trans Am. All seemed out of place in the elegant hotel.
Then I heard a rumor that it was Madame Augier herself picked out the tubs (my room wasn’t the only one decked out with a disco bath). In fact, Madame Augier has a say in just about every aspect of the hotel. Supposedly the reasoning went something like—- women like to take baths, and these tubs will make women feel special and sparkly. I didn’t get to speak to “Madame” (as she is called around the hotel) to ask her if this story is true, but I like to think it is. It somehow fits the eclectic soul of Le Negresco and its matriarch. And truth be told, I did feel special as I soaked my tired feet in my Trans Am tub.
Questions and rumors have swirled over the past decade about Madame’s plans for the hotel’s future. She answered in 2009 when she bequeathed future ownership and profits of the hotel to a foundation created to fight for the rights of animals and the poor. Madame Augier told The Independent in a July 2009 interview,
“It (Le Negresco) is my house and the staff are my children. I have received dozens of offers from international hotel groups. Some of them were very attractive indeed. But I was not tempted and…nobody is going to change my mind. I want this hotel to keep its soul and remain French-owned. Everything here is authentic. Nothing is fake.”
Just like her hotel, Madame also knows a thing or two about being an original.
Cheers to this living legend and to another 100 inspired years!
Visit the hotel’s website
Rack Rates: From €180 per room per night for a superior room to €2700 per room per night for the royal suite. Packages are available online.
Good To Know: There is no pool at the hotel. Beach access is across the street at The Neptune Beach Club. The beach is pebbly. Parking is available at the hotel for €28 per night. The airport is only five kilometers away, so a taxi is easy and inexpensive.
Kimberley Lovatois a freelance writer and perpetual student of all things French. All photos are hers unless otherwise noted.