A gentle breeze wafting through French balconies overlooking the Promenade des Anglais…an aquamarine sea lapping the shore of a glimmering stone beach…a canopied 4-poster bed flanked by 17th century sconces and paisley linen walls…a bottle of champagne shared with someone you love. Life doesn't get much better than that! For me, that paradisiacal life was at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France, the legendary palace hotel that has been my French Riviera home-away-from-home for the past 3 decades.
This wedding cake-like confection iced in pink and green, has been keeping a silent vigil over the Promenade des Anglais for nearly a century. Its magical name evokes a certain joie de vivre and the carefree days of the Belle Epoque. The elegant opulence of the Belle Epoque era is best exemplified in the Salon Royal with its immense glass dome made in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.
Suspended from the dome of the Salon Royal is a Baccarat chandelier with 16,309 crystals. Weighing one ton, the chandelier is half of a pair commissioned by the Czar of Russia at the end of the 19th century. In direct juxtaposition to the chandelier is "The Nana Jaune", an obese, liberated, exuberant, brightly colored, revolving sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle.
SALON ROYAL IN NEGRESCO HOTEL
The hotel, with its Empire-cloaked doormen and floor landings decorated in various styles (from early Louis XV to late Louis Armstrong), has two restaurants as fantastic and as varied as the hotel itself.
The moderately priced La Rotonde, affectionately dubbed "The Disney World of the Hotel Negresco", entertains diners with an automated organ grinder pumping out tunes. Carrousel horses bob up and down, as you relax and sip a Royal Negresco…a romantic blend of Champagne, kirsch and raspberry syrup.
The hotel's fine dining Restaurant Chantecler is elegantly decorated with Regency-style, 18th century, oak wood panels and a king's ransom in art. The atmosphere is fit for royalty and so is the food. The Menu Chantecler is a 6-course taste treat guaranteed to please the most discriminating palate.
Dominating the Bay of Angels with its famous dome, the Hotel Negresco was purchased in 1957 by Madame Jeanne Augier and her late husband Paul. More than five decades later, Madame Augier still supervises every facet of the world-renowned hotel that was classified as a National Historic Monument by the French Government in 1974.
The Negresco is the crowning jewel of the Promenade des Anglais, the Nicoise version of a bustling boardwalk. Bright blue chairs invite strollers to rest their weary feet and enjoy the passing parade of joggers, skaters, bikers, and the cutest little dogs you've ever seen. The chairs on the Promenade are free, but the seaside restaurants and chaise lounges that dot the beach are pricey.
PROMENADE DES ANGLAIS OVERLOOKING THE MEDITERRANEAN
In France, only Paris has more museums and galleries than Nice. Three not-to-be-missed museums are the Chagall, the Matisse, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
The Musee National-Message Biblique Marc Chagall (1973), was one of only two French museums ever dedicated to a living artist. A sober structure, in a park-like setting surrounded by live oak, cypress, and olive trees, the museum houses a collection of some 500-plus works of Chagall inspired by the Bible. Donated to France by the artist, the collection includes a number of large paintings, sculptures, stained glass mosaics, and wall tapestries.
Born in Russia in 1889, Chagall lived most of his life in France where he claimed to "be born a second time". Yet, in spite of his French surroundings, the work of this forerunner of surrealism was always stamped with his Russian-Jewish roots. His subject matter, drawn from serious Jewish life and folklore, was rendered with fairytale innocence.
The Matisse Museum is situated on the hill of Cimiez, not far from the Gallo-Roman ruins and the Hotel Regina where the artist lived. Since the 5th of January 1963 the Museum has been welcoming visitors to its collection of works left by the artist (and his heirs) to the city of Nice where he lived from 1918 until 1954.
Even if you don't like contemporary art, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain) is worth a visit for the architecture alone. From its arched terraces, you can get a panoramic view of the city.
Stroll through Nice's famous Flower Market (Cours Saleya) in Old Nice (Vieux Nice). It is packed with a plethora of flowers, produce, restaurants, hip bars, and shops, where you can buy Provencal goods. It operates six days a week. On Mondays, it becomes a flea/antiques market.
The Rue de France Pedestrian Zone, or "zone pietonne," is another lively spot for shopping, dining, or just plain people watching. Sit at a café, grab a slice of pizza and watch the world go by.
PEOPLE-WATCHING AT LE CARROUSEL ALONG QUAI DES ETAS UNIS
NICE (pronounced niece) is nice. Not only is Nice nice, it is incredible! This haven, that temporarily removes one from reality, is the reigning queen of the French Riviera (also known as the Cote d' Azur). If a portrait were to be painted of this queen of resorts, it would have to include sea, sun, art, architecture, history, culture, shopping, and some of the finest food in the world.
Nice is Joie de vivre personified on the French Riviera!
JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 40 national Travel Writer Awards and a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, OH.