Monday, March 26, 2012

The Negresco, Nice: The Museum-Hotel (French icons series)






Bonjour les amis!

Do I have a good story for you today! We are off to la glorieuse Côte d'Azur, the French Riviera, as Americans call it. I am so happy to return to a favorite city of mine - and you know how much I love my cities! 


When I was younger, I dreamed for years of running a famous hotel. The funny thing is that my family did not stay in hotels very often. Like many French people, we traveled around France and enjoyed the hospitality of relatives and friends. The hotels my father picked, usually in Spain in the summer, were simple, two-star affairs at best. Years later, business travel enabled me to stay in larger and fancier hotels. Even then, the company's travel department would often go for chain-owned (read "anonymous") properties, over boutique or historical hotels. Dommage...


I never attended the prestigious French hotel and tourism management school I had my eyes on for a while. Life happened, and I followed a different path. But I did not forget. I still find famous hotels and palaces fascinating, and while I can't always afford to spend a night there, revisiting the legends, the dreams, the scandals, I make sure I stop by for an hour or two, for une coupe (de Champagne, bien sûr,) a cappuccino, or a leisurely lunch. Once there, I remember the stories I've heard; the books I've read; the movies I've seen - and I savor it all...


Hemingway Bar,  the Ritz Paris (December 2010)


How I love my cities, and the palaces they shelter. The Waldorf Astoria, New York. The Ritz Paris. The Danieli, Venice. Given a choice, I would pick a weekend at one of these prestigious addresses, over a whole week in many of the secluded and luxurious "spa" hotels in California or Arizona. Call me bizarre. C'est moi, la bizarre French Girl!


Few hotels in France and in Europe can rival the 5-star Negresco hotel in Nice. It opened on January 8, 1913. Its sparkling white façade and pink dome have been watching over la Baie des Anges (the Bay of Angels) since. 




(courtesy of the Negresco website)


What a story this is. Wild dreams. Drama. Two world wars. A charismatic and legendary owner. Dogs. Prestigious guests. The Negresco has it all. It is my pleasure to bring you along for a visit today. 


It all started when a young immigrant named Henri Negrescou (1868-1920,) the son of a Romanian innkeeper, arrived in France where he promptly built a career in the hospitality industry, in Paris, Monaco, and Nice; managing prestigious restaurants, while building relationships with powerful American and European businessmen. The Romanian entrepreneur - renamed Negresco along the way - decided to build a palace for his favorite clients who acted as investors. He purchased a piece of land on Nice's waterfront and hired well known architect, Edouard Niermans. Nothing was too grand for the future Negresco hotel: Gustave Eiffel, the renowned French engineer, built an impressive glass and steel dome inside the hotel's Salon Royal.


Le Salon Royal, Negresco hotel
(courtesy of the Negresco website)
Eiffel's dome and the Baccarat chandelier, Salon Royal
(courtesy of the Negresco website)


The Negresco opened in January 1913 to widespread international acclaim. The Who's Who of the Old and the New world, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbildts, kings and queens, politicians, rushed to the Negresco to enjoy the finest modern amenities and the happy go lucky days of the Edwardian Era .


(Courtesy of the Negresco website)


Henri Negresco had achieved his most ambitious dream and had become a wealthy man. But within a year, World War I had started. He offered his hotel as a temporary military hospital, investing a large part of his fortune to provide extra beds for soldiers. By the end of the war, he was ruined and died of cancer in 1920, at the age of 52.


While the Negresco remained open over the next thirty years, eventually owned by a Belgian company, it lost most of its past luster. It survived a second World War, but it did not reclaim its status as "the most sumptuous of all palaces" until the 1960s. 


In 1957, a local businessman, Monsieur Mesnage, purchased the run-down property and entrusted it to his only child, his daughter Jeanne, who had recently married a local lawyer and politician, Paul Augier. The legend says the Negresco was the only building in Nice whose spacious elevators could accommodate Monsieur Mesnage's crippled wife (the victim of an unsuccessful back surgery, she could not leave her bed.) 


Jean-Baptiste Menage, who rescued the Negresco
(Courtesy of the Negresco website)


That year, the Negresco became a privately-owned hotel. Under Jeanne Augier's dedicated and firm leadership, it has remained so for the last 55 years (a rarity, in today's competitive luxury hotel business.) 


A dedicated owner: Jeanne Augier
(photo: Nice Matin)


What Jeanne and Paul Augier achieved over the next thirty years is nothing short of extraordinary. They could have been happy with their prestigious guest list, the envy of many other properties along the French Riviera. From the 1960s on, the Negresco became the proverbial place "to see and to be seen." The Augier couple were ambitious: They decided early on that the Negresco has to be more than a palace and turned the hotel into a showcase of French art and French culture. The Augiers hunted down and purchased an invaluable art collection; paintings, antique furniture, objets d'art, all displayed prominently inside the hotel. Today, rare portraits of French kings rub shoulders with an opulent chandelier (with glass work by Baccarat,) one of two commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II (the other one is inside the Kremlin.) Works by contemporary artists (Moretti, Dali, Niki de Saint-Phalle) delight visitors and art lovers.


Jeanne Augier and Salvador Dali in the 1960s
(photographer unknown)
(Courtesy of the Negresco hotel)
The Negresco - Lobby
(Courtesy of the Negresco website) 
Miles Davis statue by Niki de St. Phalle
(photographer unknown)


The Augiers' efforts were rewarded in 2003, when the Negresco became a National Historic Monument of France.  


Paul Augier passed away in 1995. The formidable Jeanne Augier did not slow down and acted as owner and chairman, supervising the daily life of the hotel, often interacting with guests and her 260 employees. 


Today, the Negresco is home to the Michelin Guide award-winning restaurant, the Chantecler. Less formal, the bistro La Rotonde is outfitted in Pompadour Carrousel decor. I was fortunate to spend some time there last summer. A friendly waiter spoke very respectfully of the Negresco's owner, and offered to take me on a tour of the main floor before I left. I could feel the pride in his voice as he pointed at paintings and objets d'art around the Salon Royal. 


(Courtesy of the Negresco website)
La Rotonde bistro
(Courtesy of the Negresco website)


To prepare for the hotel's 100th anniversary in 2012, Jeanne Augier oversaw a costly 18-month renovation in 2009-2010. The façade, the lobby, Eiffel's glass dome, the Salon Royal and the Rotonde bistro were all updated and lovingly restored by skilled French craftsmen. Suites and rooms on the 5th floor, renamed "Executive floor," were entirely remodeled, all beautifully appointed and reflecting different artistic movements in French history. The Executive floor also got its own private access and exclusive concierge services. 


Life is good on the Negresco's Executive floor!
(Courtesy of the Negresco website)


Jeanne Augier's expertise and dedication are renowned the world over. Acting as a consultant, she once helped build palace hotels in Russia and Iran (at Nikita Khrouchtchev and the Shah of Iran's pressing requests,) in Africa, Canada and the United States. 

But these days, 89-year old Jeanne Augier has other things on her mind. The widow and her husband never had any children. Her children, she claims, are her employees and her pets. Madame Augier, you see, has always been an animal lover, and the Negresco is a pet-friendly hotel.


Carmen, the Negresco's in-house cat
(Huffingtonpost.fr)

Even if dogs are not really allowed on the Negresco's furniture,
what a great shot!

(courtesy of the Negresco website)
Jeanne Augier and one of her "children"
(Nice Matin)
Eccentric Jeanne Augier surprised everyone in 2009 when she announced the creation of a foundation supporting animal rights and homeless people. After her death, the hotel ownership, profits, and all of her estate will go directly to the foundation. 

Eccentric? Clever and determined is more like it. By bequeathing her fortune and assets to the new foundation, Jeanne Augier ensured that while helping people and animals in need, she would also keep together her staff ("her children,") and prevent her beloved Negresco from falling into the hands of international hotel chains. A privately-owned hotel the Negresco has been for 55 years, and a privately-owned hotel it will remain. Madame Augier, the "Iron Lady," has made sure of that. 

She still lives in a private apartment on the top floor of the hotel and enjoys chatting with her staff and guests. She has lunch every day at the Chantecler restaurant. Running the Negresco has been a labor of love and a tour de force, but I bet she does not regret a minute of it. About her hotel, she proudly declared, "Everything is authentic. Nothing is fake. I want this hotel to keep its soul and remain French-owned."

Steeped in French history and heritage, the Negresco offers, if nothing else, good, old-fashioned charm and elegance, and to people like me, good, old-fashioned fun. 



(Courtesy of the Negresco website)
(unknown photographer)

A bientôt.


If you speak French, meet Jeanne Augier, the Negresco's "Iron Lady," in this short segment. The outspoken Mrs Augier answers her critics after she founded the Negresco's Foundation in 2009. 


Afterword: 


Read French Girl in Seattle's August 2011 Nice travelogue here.
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55 comments:

  1. Un autre article fabuleux. Il est très intéressant.

    Bisous, Leeann

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    1. Merci Leeann. Say "bonjour" to the Dordogne region for me!

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  2. Thank you for this post. I live in Nice now, and obviosly I see Negresco everyday, but I didn't know about its beatiful history!

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    1. You live in Nice now? Well--- This definitely qualifies you as a very, very fortunate person in my book!

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    2. I've moved to France from Italy last July, exactly in Nice. I feel very lucky, indeed, not only because I live in a very beautiful part of France (and as I understand, highly coveted ;-)), but mostly because I have the opportunity to discover this beautiful country that often I find in your posts . =)

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    3. Well, I still think you are lucky, and I am glad you enjoy my stories. I have just started 'following' your blog too but need to figure out how to use the translator so I can read what you write ;-)

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    4. Thanks for the follow! ;-)

      I don't know if my bad English can help (I hope so), but every post on my blog has also an English version (simply scroll down). I think it's easier for you than learn Italian! ;-D

      However, if you prefer, some friends commenting in French and also I equally answer in French, but I'm still not so good as to write my post in French! I do a lot of mistakes! =P

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  3. Merci pour la dédicace (et le lien)! D'accord, on "echange" une visite au Negresco contre une virée aux Hauts de Cagnes.:o)
    En fait , je suis entrée une fois au Negresco, avec une amie allemande. Elle disait que tous les touristes allaient y faire un tour,pour eux c'etait normal. Nous , à Nice, on est peut-être trop respectueux, je ne sais pas , mais peu de Niçois y vont. Pour en revenir à Mme Augier, oui, une sacrée personnalité! elle a fait aussi scandale il y a qq années par qu'elle militait activement contre la corrida, et avait accroché un panneau geant sur les façades de l'hotel!
    Encore un tres joli post, et je suis contente que tu montres à tes lecteurs autre chose que Paris de la France.
    Bonne semaine!

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    1. J'essaierai de ne pas trop t'embarrasser quand nous nous verrons a Nice, Malyss. Je peux etre une vraie touriste ;-) Si Madame Augier milite contre la corrida, je la soutiens!

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  4. Love that picture of the Ritz Paris! We have a trip planned for Paris in June and I am beyond excited as it will be my first trip. These are wonderful photographs filled with all kinds of great information - and a fun story.

    Happy Birthday to YOU!! Thank you for stopping by today and leaving the personal comment. I'm am following you and look forward to your next post :)

    xx
    leslie

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    1. Bonjour Leslie. Thank you for your message. I understand why you are excited about your upcoming trip. I will be going to Paris in June as well. This won't be my first time, but I am excited all the same ;-)

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  5. A wonderful post - I adore finding out the history of places I travel to!

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    1. Merci beaucoup. I am the same way. Knowing the history of the places we visit makes them all the more special. I am glad you enjoyed your visit "au Negresco."

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  6. This is such a wonderful post. It was, in fact, quite délicieux. I felt as if I were sitting down to a wonderful meal with old friends whom I have yet to meet.

    My parents married in Toulon and honeymooned in Nice, although not in such a magnificent palace as the Negresco.

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    1. Bonjour M-T -- Welcome back! A honeymoon in Nice sounds pretty good to me, with or without a room at the Negresco! Have you visited Nice before?

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    2. I have not made a visit to Nice, although my husband (a devout francophile and "almost" francophone) would love to spend some time in the côte d'azur, particulalry Monaco. He did business with Princess Grace's brother, Jack, in Philadelphia and was very fond of him -- what a lovely man he was. I have always felt a special bond with Grace because I grew up in Philadelphia, which is Kelly territory.

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    3. Ah Monaco. I did write a review of the place last August. I would not let your husband read it before he arrives, though ;-) Grace Kelly is a favorite on this blog where she makes frequent appearances. Don't forget to stop by chez French Girl in May. You should be happy ;-)

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    4. Ouf! I checked out your August piece and am so glad I did...clearly not what I had dreamed of for so long...a bit of a "douche froide" so to speak. Still, the pictures were wonderful, "comme d'habitude," particularly those of the tourists ("quelle horreur!!"). Thought you might enjoy my brush with fame à la Grace Kelly in a previous post: http://thefrenchtouch-m-t.blogspot.com/2011/10/my-life-in-hats_31.html

      I will stop by in May, if not not frequently before.

      A bientôt, M-T

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    5. Merci M.T. Sorry about Monaco... As I said, do not show this to your husband! I will reply directly on the post you mentioned. Going there right now...

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  7. Oh, how I would love to visit such a place! Thanks for taking us there...

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  8. What a great tour... This year I promise myself a visit... Here is hoping, xv.

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    1. Merci Vicki. Don't forget to reserve the Executive Floor when you go... or you can do what I did, and order a Café Liégeois at la Rotonde Brasserie inside the hotel ;-)

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  9. Gosh, watching the video I hope I look half as good as Jeanne Augier at 89 yrs. What an amazing Lady and what an incredible life she has led! I enjoyed this post so very much, I do think that the after the war years seemed to be very elegant, I guess everyone was so tired of the drudgery of war, that they wanted to celebrate in every way. Well Veronique, I know where I'm headed the minute I win that elusive lotto, I'll let Malyss and yourself know as soon as that happens oui!

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    1. Absolutely Grace. Just let me know and I will meet you there as soon as I have booked my flight from Seattle... It will be a lot easier for Malyss, of course. ;-)

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  10. I will keep dreaming my dreams. Wow all so beautiful.

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    1. Nothing wrong with dreaming, Riet, nothing wrong... ;-)

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  11. I always love to see what you are sharing. I learn so much here. Thank you! ~ Sarah

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  12. I have been to Nice multiple times and have seen the hotel but knew nothing about the wonderful history. Thanks for sharing the story and pictures.

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    1. You're welcome, and thank you for leaving a comment!

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  13. This is so wonderful. I love this hotel although I never ventured to the executive floor, lol! The history is fascinating and the photos gorgeous. My last siting of the Negresco was of it decorated at Christmas in 2008 along with the whole main drag. Breathtaking. Oh, you're making me homesick.

    Denise

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    1. I know I am homesick too, and I am not even from Nice ;-) Thank you for stopping by and leaving a message...

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  14. Thank you for whisking me away to some fabulous place (yet again!). Gorgeous photos!

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    1. You're welcome. We all need some luxury, blue skies and palm trees around, these days...

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  15. The luxury and beauty of this hotel astounds me. It's absolutely breathtaking. I think it would be magical to spend a night in such glamour. Sigh.

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    1. One day, Jenny, one day... Keep your eye on the ball (as I do! ;-)

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  16. Ah Véronique quel post super! I really enjoyed learning about the famous Négresco hotel. I have walked by it several time and taken its outside picture but never been inside – it must be a feast to the eye. I am also pleased that France is strong in historic preservation and made it a Historic Monument of France.

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    1. Bonsoir Vagabonde. It's amazing the number of people who have told me they have walked past the building without peeking inside! Truth be told, I noticed the hotel staff "screens" people at the door, especially people who are not dressed properly. The last thing they want is to have a bunch of flip-flop clad tourists shooting away at the Eiffel ceiling in the middle of the "Salon Royal." I get that. ;-)

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  17. The hotel cat is something else.
    I am going through a phase of watching Babylon Hotel. I'm learning many interesting things about hotels. You have added many interesting details to my collection of hotel knowledge.

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    1. Bonjour Olga. I am happy to see I am not the only one who is fascinated with hotels! -- and I am not surprised you liked the cat picture either ;-)

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  18. You have taken me to two places calling my name: Nice (to have a visit with Malyss) and the Hemingway Bar. You, Malyss, and I can enjoy a nice déjeuner at Negresco. Let's invite Grace, and perhaps Madame Augier could stop by our table... le sigh

    Bises,
    Genie

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    1. All excellent suggestions, Genie. Let's do it! ;-)

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  19. Hello Veronica

    I love this post. We had our honeymoon in Nice - 31 years ago. We stayed at the Hyatt and visited the Negresco for lunch and drinks. ( Also the Ritz Carlton in Cannes). I loved this hotel so very much and how marvelous that it shall continue due to Madame Augier's careful and strategic planning.

    Thanks for this journey

    Helen xx

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    1. Bonjour Helen. Thank you for stopping by. I see you are one of the happy fews who actually went inside the Negresco and enjoyed some of its amenities. I am due for lunch next time I go there (I might even book it inside le Chantecler...) One day, maybe, a room on the Executive Floor ;-) - A bientot!

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  20. Another delightful tale that only you can weave. What a fabulous place as is most everything there. I wonder if our Jilly has had any meetings with Madame as she is an avid animal rights supporter and takes in rescue pups as well.
    V

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    1. Merci Madame V. I am certain Jilly knows Madame Augier. The two of them should meet if they have not already. They would get along famously!

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  21. What a story Veronique! I was around last August but haven't even dare to enter.
    It's surely a crown jewel of Cote d'Azur, recognasied as a National treasure at last.
    Authenticity is as rear as a pure diamond.
    Thank you.
    Natalie

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  22. Bonjour Veronique! I just found your blog through Becoming Madame... I am also a French teacher writing in English so i am looking forward to following your adventures!

    Also, I found great inspiration on your teaching website as I am in the process of quitting my job to become an independent teacher. Thanks!

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  23. A great post and piece of history. Jeanne Augier is a woman of integrity and great drive - a dynamic combination.
    Bisous

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  24. How I have always longed to go to the French Riviera! I'm sure I'll never be able to stay in this hotel (sigh) but these are such luxurious pictures, I guess they'll have to do!

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  25. Oh my gosh! I want to go there! And you are right when you say 2 days at such a place is much more magnificent a vacation than a week at a spa. No question about that. What a gorgeous, marvelous place with so much charm and authenticity! The art! The history! The beauty! I have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for Madame Augier though i don't know her. What a wonderful thing she has created with her Foundation. Her critics can bite it. (pardon the expression!) :) And the dome! The chandelier! Sigh. Maybe someday i can meet Carmen the kitty. And the idea that this luxury place is pet friendly makes me love it all the way around. What a place. I could go on all night, so i best stop now. Thank you for such a great post. I truly savored it. Mary

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  27. Great post. The Negresco is one of the grand dames of Nice. How nice to be able to peek inside. As much as we love food, we had planned to eat at the Chantecler when we were in Nice, but were intimidated by the menu posted outside. Now I'm sorry we didn't venture in. Loved the story of Jeanne Augier too.

    Merci beaucoup,
    Sam

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  28. I could get lost in this hotel and that would be GREAT with me! OMG How gorgeous! What a treat it must be to say here even if for one day! Love it !!

    Rosemary

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Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle