Negresco Hotel is a world famous palatial hotel located on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. It is one of the most beautiful and recognisable landmarks on the French Riviera. Built during the Belle Epoque era, it showcases artwork, furniture and architectural features from 400 years of French history.
The original owner, Henri Negresco, worked his way around France successfully building up other people’s establishments into thriving businesses and earned his “maître d’hôtel” reputation. His love for Nice started while he was managing a Municipal Casino restaurant in Nice. He very quickly turned the restaurant into a popular place for the local and foreign elite to frequent when visiting the Côte d’Azur. Soon thereafter he decided to investigate his dream of owning a Palatial Hotel in the area and due to his reputation it didn’t take him long to attract and bring together a winning team. He chose Dutch architect Edouard Niermans (designer of the the Moulin Rouge, Theatre Marigny and Folies Bergere) and financier Pierre Alexandre Darracq.
Negresco, Niermans and Darracq originally planned to renovate a building on Avenue Felix Faure, but then found out about the site on the Promenade des Anglais. They knew it was the right site, bought the plot in 1911 and began renovating right away. Various challenges along the way, including lengthy waits for building permits and legal battles, caused delays. So instead of opening in 1912 they were only able to officially open in 1913. (We say officially because a wealthy American client, Mr Guerney, was so insistent on staying in the hotel that they prepared one suite for him and his family to spend Christmas in 1912 in the Hotel, so these guests were actually the first to ever stay there).
The third, fourth and fifth floors of the hotel opened on the 4th January 1913 and the rest of the premises was opened on the 8th January 1913. The opening event was the biggest and most elite celebration of the year in Nice. French and foreign royalty, wealthy businessmen & celebrities attended the opening. Negresco made its mark on everyone and they were in awe of the decor, furnishings and sheer luxury. The modern touches were especially impressive with every room having private telephones, air conditioning, heating, electrical switches (having buttons which turned your lights on and off was a new concept worldwide). The hotel was so successful that it recovered the costs and started making a profit within the first 4 months.
The hotel sadly had less than 2 years of glory. In September 1914 the nation’s World War I needs forced the hotel to be used as a hospital to house wounded French soldiers. Negresco and his daughter both joined the war effort by paying for additional medical resources and helping within the hospital itself.
In September 1915 the hotel was given back to Negresco in a state of disarray. The building had been stripped of all its beauty, had sustained extensive damage and needed to be renovated again. He put everything he had back into the restorations and opened once more in 1916. However, the war had affected everyone worldwide and most were not able to afford the pre-war luxuries and the Hotel failed to make a profit. By the time the war finally ended in November 1918 Negresco knew he had to sell the business in order to pay off his debts and in 1920 he sold it to Gerard Marquet, from the Belgian Marquet Group. Henry Negresco left for Paris in 1920 and died 2 years later at the age of 54, penniless and heartbroken.
The Marquet Group struggled to keep the Hotel going, due to the Wars and people’s lack of disposable income. So Negresco was again put up for sale.
Jeanne Augier, daughter of real estate broker Jean-Baptiste Mesnage, bought Negresco in 1957 and is still the current owner. She spent 8 years restoring the building to its full glory, by which time people were starting to visit the Cote D’Azur again. More and more of the rich and famous returned to stay in the hotel including Princess Grace of Monaco, Queen Elizabeth II, the Shah of Iran, Richard Burton and swarms of other elite, royals, actors and actresses.
Jeanne Augier did more than merely restore the hotel to its former glory, she embraced centuries of French culture and brought them to life in the architecture, decor, furnishings and artworks. She ignored all the drab hotel rules when renovating and decided to opt for bright colours, art in abundance, period furniture and complimentary finishings. She also drew inspiration from regular visits and input from artists such as Chagall, Dali, Cocteau and Picasso. Although when asked about Chagall, Mme Augier said, “He was a good friend, however I didn’t understand his art – he made donkeys fly.”
France honoured Jeanne Augier in 1974 and proclaimed Hotel Negresco a National Historic Monument, firmly cementing it in French history.
Jeanne Auger’s recent comments about the hotel were, “I want to be sure, when I go, that my 260 colleagues are not sacrificed on the altar of profit,” she said. “It is my house and the staff are my children. I have received dozens of offers from international hotel groups. Some of them were very attractive indeed. But I was not tempted and, at 86, nobody is going to change my mind. I want this hotel to keep its soul and remain French-owned. Everything here is authentic. Nothing is fake.” Article in the Independent Newspaper in 22 July 2009, by John Lichfield
Today, Negresco stands strong and proud having earned its place in history and established a firm foothold for the future. Even another World War couldn’t shake the foundations now!
Some Interesting Anecdotes
- Due to the owner’s love for animals you are able to bring your dogs to stay with you. However, you do need to ask first and there is a fee.
- The Royal Lounge has a Baccarat 16,309-Crystal Chandelier which was commissioned by Czar Nicholas II
- The hotel boasts a collection of over 6,000 pieces of art
- James Brown spent an evening chasing his wife round the hotel in a fit of jealousy
- Romy Schneider and Alain Delon indulged in their scandalous affair there
- The hotel has a private beach, which is located across the street from the facility
- The staff wears costumes based upon 18th century dress codes
- Richard Burton once left a jewellery case in the bar which had a diamond necklace meant for Elizabeth Taylor