Life as seen through hotels is one long performance. The stage is set, and the play is ready to go. Clowns can cheer it up at any time – it is the very reason for their existence. Circuses would not be circuses without clowns. Luxury hotels need clowns (OK, some have them, unintentionally, sometimes guests and sometimes even those who work in hotels and just sometimes, dare I say, in the form of owners, who do absolutely ridiculous things to what should be lovely hotels). No, in this instance the gal suggests having more clowns in the form of art and sculpture – see this painting, one of hundreds at Hotel Negresco, Nice. Please let us know if you can think of other clown art pieces around the lovely world of memorable hotels.
As soon as I arrived in Nice I went for a long run along the Promenade des Anglais – they sure promenaded a long way, those Anglais, undoubtedly at a Brisk British Pace. The Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, is a former professional cyclist and he has put in cycle paths the entire length of the Promenade, west to east, which must be five miles at least. People whiz by you, keen cyclists in lycra and a few commuters and Japanese tourists on the city’s Velo Bleu rent-a-bikes. By the time I get back to the Negresco, it is dark, and the classic 1912 building is marvellously illuminated, with a hint of blue, not from bikes but from a police car rushing somewhere. Or other.
I have written before about the Negresco’s magnificent Chantecler restaurant, which has two Michelin stars, and lovely natural produce from the nearby farm run by the father of chef Jean-Denis Rieubland.
This time I was also amazed by the hotel’s two-floor bar, with a mezzanine gallery. A live DJ is playing, and masses of local commuters have stopped off, perhaps parking their Velos Bleus, for a little something, perhaps one of the Armagnacs on display.
Sometimes they have speed-dating evenings here, introducing the highly-successful lawyers and bankers to suitable partners. Dress up to date, here, this is A-List.
For those who do not want, say, Jean-Denis Rieubland’s sea scallops followed by roast sea bass with Oscietre, head to the Negresco’s other place, La Rotonde. Oh boy is this fun. As with the bar, it is two floors, with an upper gallery, obviously a penchant of architect Edouard Niermans, contracted by a Romanian, Henri Negresco, to build a hotel here. When it opened in 1912, La Rotonde was based on a fairground hurdy-gurdy, and it still is. Life-size fairground horses rise and fall, and a lifesize model of a long-haired girl turns an accordion, producing real music. How this must have delighted Mme Jeanne Augier, who inherited the hotel from her parents, M and Mme Mesnages, who had bought it in 1957.
There are portraits, some of them allegorical, of Mme Augier variously around public places, and there is a mausoleum-size stone tablet and bust of her late husband, Paul Augier, who died in 1995, at the bottom of the main stairs. Some of the art is temporarily hidden by Christmas decorations. Usually when you look back from the main front lobby you see through into the glass winter garden, an oval dome designed by Gustave Eiffel.
It is generally dominated by a sculpture of a bulbous woman, bright yellow, turning incessantly, and yes, like the couple-tower at Dolder Grand, it is by Niki de Saint-Phalle, one time wife of crazy Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely. Right now, yellow bulb has been temporarily removed to give way to a real-water waterfall Christmas tree.
There is a lot that is unique, let us say out of the norm, here, but under GM Pierre Bord the idiosyncrasies become positive. It is charming to be greeted by doorman Jerôme in tall hat, caped coat and breeches. It is lovely to know that this luxury hotel has become a popular Australian wedding venue following a highly-publicized engagement at a table for two in the winter garden. And it is lovely to know that, once Christmas is over, that yellow lady, La Nana Jaune, will once again be twirling, 24/7.