The rain in Spain may stay mainly on the plain, Professor Higgins, but here in Nice the gal feels it is turning Promenade des Anglais into a shallow paddling pool. There is no way anyone would climb Tour Bellanda in this weather. It is better to stay put, here at Negresco, and revel in what is local. A good way to start is with a salade Niçoise, in a deconstructed format. Big slices of tuna come with the required tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, and anchovies, with the vinaigrette. According to something called Culinary Travel Guide, it was Escoffier, no less, who first put all these ingredients together. It has now become universal and it is good to know that this luxury hotel surpasses expectations.
As always I headed for the main oval room at the rear of the lobby, a giant salon attributed to none other than Gustav Eiffel. My favourite rotating yellow woman, La Nana Jaune, 1995, by Niki de Saint-Phalle, is on loan to an exhibition in Lille: today, in her place is a banner saying ‘gone on vacation‘. Other art pieces seem to be more polished and better lit than before, and a copper hip bath half way up the main staircase now has perfect white orchids growing out of it. Every time I see this place I am more than ever convinced that this is one of the most eclectic collections of art and artefacts in any hotel, anywhere. There are portraits, including of the owner, Mme Augier, who lives upstairs, and, newly installed, a plate that says that on October 19th, 2015, the hotel was awarded France’s coveted Prix Villégiature for best world-wide communications (Hôtel le Bristol, Paris, was deemed best hotel in the world).
Since it is still raining and we have decided to go out to eat, Pierre Bord is in suitable gear. His orange and black trainers match an orange tweed jacket that he has somehow inherited from the Commune at the Great Wall, Beijing. We got two big umbrellas from the concierge and off we set, to paddle our way along the Promenade des Anglais to rue St François-de-Paule in the old town. He had decided on Le Comptoir Nicole, a sibling to La Petite Maison opposite, and to La Petite Maisons in Cannes, at Majestic Barrière, and in Paris, at Fouquet’s Barrière. I am glad we went to this one, it was delightfully unpretentious, the Casablanca beauty who served us, and half a room that was completely full by ten o’clock, was the size-zero that would have made her an asset on a Dior catwalk. As I ate my memorable steak tartare, another local specialty, I looked around at other diners but Nicolas Sarkozy, who apparently comes here whenever he is in the area, was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Mrs S, Carla Bruni, who appears in Bulgari ads that are getting not only bigger and bigger but more and more frequent.
We drank Dme Fiumicoli 2014, from Corsica, and we talked about the growth of Nordic business into the Nice area. They fly in for the sun, and being so socially responsible they approve of features like soap and other toiletries in wall-set squeeze bottles. But locals are using Negresco more and more: the bar is a popular regular for local businesswomen, especially lawyers, as a stop-off for a glass of chilled rosé on their way home from a day of bargaining and litigation. It had stopped raining. We walked, umbrellas furled, back along to the luxury hotel that was my temporary home, and I climbed 141 stairs, up past so many antiques to lovely room 526, facing out over the Mediterranean. In the morning I was chatting to a bellman: tomorrow is my 30th anniversary at the hotel, he said. I said goodbye to the South of France, for now.