Well my goodness gracious me, it was only yesterday that the gal was being introduced to Croatian-born sculptor Mateo Mornar, or at least to his work. And now here he is, displayed in another luxury hotel, Fairmont Monte-Carlo, the highly-successful hotel that seems to think it is a cruise ship (but more of that anon). There are least two Mateo Mornar works, one his take on the Crucifixion, by the sixth floor door that leads to a walkway to Monte-Carlo’s magnificent Casino. The other, anonymous, is here in the lobby of the 616-room hotel. Yes, it operates big, does this place.
For instance… since my last visit Nobu has actually opened, and it is brilliant. A mammoth space that seats around 240 in different areas, it is designed by Martin Hulbert and managed by a charismatic Italian, Luca Fametti (well, aren’t they all charismatic, even up to the current Prime Minister?). He, Luca Fametti, looked after me while I waited for my friends, who were having difficulty getting their six month old to bed, a youngster who turned out to have four legs and a mind of its own, particularly having just arrived by train from Paris. While waiting, I was brought a salmon wrap that was so delicious it was a great foretaste of what was to come.
And the meal continued, deliciously. We had salmon, Nobu style, which went very well with Pinot Noirs, first with Champy Beaune 2011 and then Bellvale Gippsland 2008. We talked about how during Formula One (Monaco Grand Prix) this place is so packed they do well over 500 diners, including 32 at one table – next Grand Prix is May 21-24, 2015, so make your reservation now. Year round, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, there are live DJs here, turning tables 7pm through 11.30 pm. For the next two days, after my visit, the International Olympic Committee, including the UK’s Princess Anne, the former King of the Hellenes and, for some reason, FIFA’s Sepp Blatter, are meeting here at Fairmont Monte-Carlo. I hope they, too, have a chance of dining Nobu-style.
Nobu’s black miso cod is a signature of all the restaurants he and his team operate, including in such other luxury hotels as the Metropolitan in London, Corvinus Kempinski in Budapest and InterContinental Hong Kong – his former winter-only Nobu at Badrutt’s Palace, St Moritz, has just switched to calling itself Matsuhisa. And then there are his restaurants at Nobu Hotels, say in Las Vegas. Tonight, here at Fairmont Monte-Carlo, we include a soft-shelled crab in our order, and I think back to Galapagos, and seeing empty shells after crabs have slithered out of them, as out of a wet-suit, temporarily to become soft-shelled crab…
But, as the gal has already said, Nice’s premier luxury hotel, the Negresco, is not only ancient but MODERN. Bathrooms are being re-done throughout the entire 120-room hotel. The gold-look bathtubs and basins are going the way of the fake-fur coverlets and plastic-look chandeliers that anyone who visited 20 years ago will remember. Travel tip, 2015 is the time for all those past visitors to return, to see what GM Pierre Bord and his team are doing to upgrade the hotel. Yes, expect Michelin food, but now also an outdoor terrace, ideal for promenade-watching summer-long, and there is the fun of the bar and, now, a dedicated gym with good equipment.
But you still have the hundreds of art works to admire. This is one of the wall adornments on the way to the all-day Rotonde restaurant, where fortunately servers no longer wear mythical circus outfits and, although there are still lifesize circus horses they no longer rise and fall above the cornflakes. Yes, you still sit in buttercup-edged rose-pink velvet booths but apparently they are on the way out. Yes, says Pierre Bord, Negresco is definitely looking ahead, while retaining its unique heritage, and locals are using the hotel more and more (much to my amazement a local financial group hosted a breakfast meeting during my stay and it started at seven, at SEVEN, in France!).
I see so many old friends every time I Negresco – this place deserves its own verb. I have to go and see the rotating yellow sculpture, La Nana Jaune, 1995, by Niki de Saint-Phalle, the wife of Switzerland’s singularly-recognisable sculptor Jean Tinguely: they combined to design and produce one of the extraordinary sculptures in the gardens just outside the entry to the beautiful spa at Zurich’s Dolder Grand. La Nana Jaune twirls slowly, and she has pride of place at the rear of the Negresco’s heritage oval lobby, attributed to Charles Garnier, he of Paris’ Opera House and Monte-Carlo’s casino. Near to La Nana Jaune is a wall fresco with some naked nymphs lolling around. Negresco’s is an eclectic art collection.
For the first time, I see that perhaps La Nana Jaune has a possible rival in this luxury hotel’s collection, this figure by Mateo Mornar, the Croatian-born sculptor who has a school here in Nice. Commendably, a percentage of all income from his works goes to the Prince Albert II de Monaco Foundation – HSH Prince Albert is a good friend and Mateo Mornar did a small sculpture of the bride and groom to decorate the wedding cake of HSH and Charlene Wittstock. That was three years ago and perhaps Mateo Mornar is now hard at work doing two baby sculptures, one of the son and heir of the Grimaldi dynasty, Jacques, and the other of his twin, Gabrielle.
Luxury hotels that are unique can make a statement – immediately. Take the Negresco, in Nice. Where else, asks the gal, are you greeted by doormen and bellmen dressed in elaborate historical dress? There are, of course, other one-off fashion statements on arrival (think of the Downton Abbey-type plus-fours and tweeds at Rosewood London and the glorious moustachioed turban wearers at many of Taj’s top-tier palaces in India). But here in Nice to be greeted by such an imposing figure – sorry, make that plural as the GM, Pierre Bord, is invariably around too – is really special.
Ah, the Negresco, named for Romanian Henri Negresco, 1868-1920, who asked architect Edouard Niermans to build him a little something in pride of place on Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais. In World War I it was a hospital. In 1957 it was purchased by the Mesnages family, whose daughter, Mme Jeanne Augier, still lives in the top, sixth, floor – the building is actually owned by Fondation Jeanne Augier. The 120-room hotel is renowned for its Michelin-starred Chantecler cuisine, thanks to chef Jean-Denis Rieubland MOF, who uses masses of fresh produce from his father’s farm.
A minimum crew of 165, added to in summer’s high season, look after this living museum of a hotel. The team includes designers and handymen par excellence. On my visit last week I saw them actually making the elaborate fabric-covered testers and half-testers for signature beds – they include fibre optic reading lights, and now, by the way, WiFi seems to be faultless throughout. This is a hotel that somehow manages to combine ancient and modern. Sit in the glorious two-floor-high bar on a Thursday night where a live DJ plays vinyls (bring yours along) and you can try Jean-Denis Rieubland’s bar snacks, which include incredible caviar-filled mini-macaroons.
But use the main staircase of this luxury hotel and you are in history, straightaway. You pass a wall plaque to Mme Augier’s late husband, Paul Augier, 1912-1995, and labelled portraits of kings and important figures of past days. There is a real, once used, copper hip bath, now filled with flowers, and a wooden rocking cradle. A bust of some African potentate’s other, and possibly better, half watches proceedings.