Look, I know there are fancier hotels in the South of France. More expensive hotels. Over the top hotels where the rich and famous stay. Extravagant, opulent, lavish hotels that cater to your every whim and fancy. But for me there’s only ever been one “Five Star” hotel that I’ve wanted to stay in: Le Negresco. I think it goes back to my first trip to Nice in 1973 when I had just turned 18. I was traveling around France with a Eurail pass and no money. I mean no money. I played guitar and sang in subways and on street corners to survive. How that worked I don’t know because I was pretty bad. I stayed in youth hostels where the cost was often around one dollar a night. The Negresco fascinated me with its pink dome, its Royal Lounge, its spectacular chandelier and its prime location on the Promenade des Anglais. “Someday,” I told myself, “I am going to stay here.” And I would dream of what I imagined the sumptuous rooms of The Negresco must be like as I slept on a bunk bed in a dorm room with dozens of other young travelers.
[more info after the photo gallery]
Beginning in the winter of 2014 I began spending my Christmas vacations in France. Working mainly as a professor at Watkins College of Art I usually had at least four weeks off during December. Before that I had mostly come over to France for four to six weeks every summer or fall. When my friends Elliott and Françoise offered to let me house sit their apartment in Paris for a few weeks while they went to New York for Christmas I just couldn’t pass that up. Every year after that I spent my Decembers in Vence. Carole couldn’t come every December due to her job and visits with her Mom. But she did come for about two weeks in 2016 and we were both scheduled to fly home on January 5th, the day after her birthday. I got the bright idea to find someplace fancy for us to stay in Nice on her birthday. It would be a great way to celebrate and it would also make it easier to get to the airport the next morning.
I thought to myself, “Hell, let’s see what it would cost to stay at the Negresco.” Now, I’d checked the room prices there many times when I was passing through Nice but the cheapest rooms were always in the $300 to $400 per night range, a bit out of my league. When I checked this time, lo and behold, I found a room for $160! Still a bit of a splurge for one night, but it was, afterall, her birthday. I think the low price was due to the time of year. The week after New Years is traditionally said to be a “dead week” and I’m told you can often find cheap hotel rooms during this particular week. So we booked it!
The Hotel Negresco was built in 1912 by Henri Negresco, an immigrant from Romania. He was working as the director of the Municipal Casino in Nice and wanted to build a truly sumptuous hotel that would attract the rich and the famous from all over the world. The early 1900s were a boom time for Nice and the French Riveria, a period known as the Belle Époque, and the hotel was a great success. It was designed by the famous French architect Édouard-Jean Niermans and featured a Baccarat 16,309-crystal chandelier that was originally commissioned by Czar Nicholas II of Russia. The large window of the Royal Lounge is today listed as an Historical Monument in France. Things went bad however when World War I broke out only two years after the hotel opened. The Negresco was converted into a hospital for the duration of the war and when the war ended visitors were scarce along the French Riveria. The hotel was seized by creditors and sold to a Belgian company.
During the next several decades the hotel had many ups and downs. In 1957 it was purchased by the Augier family and Madame Jeanne Augier began reinvigorating the hotel with luxurious decorations, lavish furnishings and a world class art collection. It made a remarkable comeback and in the next decade became, once again, one of the most celebrated hotels on the Côte d’Azur. Salvador Dali, Princess Grace of Monaco, the Beatles, Louis Armstrong and many, many others were welcomed personally to the hotel by Madame Augier. Elton John featured the hotel in the video for his hit song “I’m Still Standing.” For many years you could walk around inside the hotel and view the Royal Lounge and the art collection. After the 2016 July terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais the hotel’s main hall was used to triage wounded civilians. After that visitors were not allowed inside the hotel, only guests.
For our stay we were able to arrange an early check-in over the web and arrived in Nice around noon. We were not disappointed. From the moment we checked in we knew we were staying at one of the grand hotels in France. An employee escorted us to our room and showed us around the hotel. We had a “garden view” room, meaning that it did not look directly out over the sea, but as you can see from the photos we still had a fantastic view, which actually did include the sea. Our room was not huge by American standards, but it was much bigger than other hotels we have stayed at in France. The bathroom was luxurious, the furniture was magnificent and the bed was over the top. We spent several hours just wandering around the hotel looking at the art collection. Every floor is full of all different kinds of art from all different periods. Paintings, etchings, drawings, statues, vases, etc. It’s one of the most impressive collections you will see outside of a museum.
We had a lovely night at the Negresco and would highly recommend it if you are staying in Nice. To me it will always be the symbol of luxury and opulence on the Côte d’Azur, even if there are fancier hotels around now. There’s a world famous restaurant, Le Chantecler, attached to the hotel but we didn’t dine there. Hanging on our bathroom door were two plush, branded white robes and two pairs of slippers. The robes cost money, so those remained in the room after we left, but the slippers were free and I still have them to this day (though I never really wear them). We’d love to go back and spend more time at the Negresco, but that will have to wait until we can afford this kind of luxury again.