Jul 17 2016
Have you got the SAIP app on your phone? Whether you already live in France, are planning a trip here or currently on your way, stay safe and download now the free SAIP app (système d’alerte et d’information des populations) to IOS or Android phone. I have uploaded it to my phone and it’s really simple to do.
Launched in June by the French authorities, the app alerts users of any potential exceptional events (nuclear, hazardous materials, and hydraulic structure failure alerts, etc.) or terror attacks that may occur and adds to the existing system for alerting and informing populations (sirens, pre-formatted radio messages, etc.) within a specified geographical zone, providing that your geolocation settings are activated and that the application is active.
The app is in both French and English, depending on your preference and available for both Android and iOS. You can set up to 8 geographical zones (postcodes, cities) and receive notifications if an event occurs in one of these locations and allows you to relay current alerts on social networks via your personal accounts.
Advice and instructions is provided for the alert that may be shown. In the event of a terrorist bombing or shooting, the smartphone screen turns crimson and displays the word “ALERT”, a brief description of what is happening and advice on how to react.
Importantly it emits no sound or vibration so that if you are hiding near possible attackers you will not be put in danger by your phone’s pre-set notification settings. All you will need to do is click on an information button to find out if a police operation is under way and what to do.
The French government hopes is that the app will help facilitate the spread of reliable information on social media during an attack, while lightening the burden on France’s emergency telephone lines.
Advice already on the app includes general tips on what to do in other emergencies, such as a nuclear alert, including “take cover in a closed building”, “do not pick up your children from school” and “do not overcrowd telephone networks”.
The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said after the November 2015 attacks in Paris that he wanted to improve information to the public at a time of crisis.
Jul 16 2016
I stared at the brittle, almost leafless plant. What is it? I asked the flower shop owner, perplexed at what this forlorn thing could be. It’s a lemon tree he answered. I looked again at the brown stick-like thing with its six drooping leaves. A lemon tree? Really? I moved my hand over and around it touching one of its leaves as I did so. I felt a hint of life and a little surge of energy. Take me with you, please, please. I’m dying here. Don’t leave me.
My journey to and from France always came with an overnight stay at Buchères, a small town in the Aude department, at the Campanile hotel located on Avenue Des Martyres. It’s a good half way point, the food is great, the rooms clean and they accept dogs. And I never travel without Muffin.
This time I was heading back to the Riviera in the Range Rover and the car was already filled to the gills – partly because of my Strelitzia – but other plants and personal belongings too. Rather than leaving at the crack of dawn (which is what I normally did), that morning I decided to leave a little later and explore Buchères a bit more. Which is how Muffin and I came across the Buchères flower shop and more importantly, found it open…
Stick plant sat in his old pot looking sicker by the minute and wondering if he’d done enough to endear himself to me. Finding space in the car is going to be difficult and you don’t need yet another plant, said the sensible voice in my head. But it’s dying, said my other voice, the one that’s a soft-touch. Muffin looked up at me and wagged his tail. Stick-like thing held his breath and probably would have wagged his tail too if he had one.
How much is it? I asked. Thirty euros, the man replied, but I’ll give it to you for ten.
And so stick plant came back with us stuffed behind the front seat. Eight hours later we were home and I popped him outside on the patio, gave him a big drink of water and then properly introduced his English travelling companion (the Strelitzia). The next day Muffin and I set off to our local garden centre to buy a bag of citrus soil and a bigger pot for stick plant – but would it be too late?
Four months after his rescue he has surpassed even what I thought was possible and just shows you what a bit of love and care can do for a plant. You’d even be forgiven in thinking he’s a Figus benjamina as he sports a full head of thick, dark green glossy new leaves but just ask him to show you his thorns and you’ll be quickly put straight: this guy is a bona fide Lemon Tree.
I must admit he looks particularly well which is probably a combination of his new soil, massive amounts of warm sunshine, getting watered nearly every day and sitting in a pebble tray surrounded by endless moisture. It will be interesting to see when he starts to flower and of course produce some lemons for me.
Like me (when I first came to live here) you’re probably thinking that of course he’d do well – it’s the French Riviera for heaven’s sake. And, also like me, you’re probably thinking that Citrus nobilis would grow anywhere and everywhere around the Mediterranean but in truth this is not the case. Lemon trees hate frost: with a vengeance. And believe it or not we get frost here so only those areas with a particular sheltered micro-climate will suit them: places like Menton for example.
A Bit of History
The introduction of the lemon tree to Europe is said to be due to the Arabians, yet at what precise period is somewhat uncertain. The geographer, cartographer and Egyptologist Al-Idrisi (100-1165), who resided at the court of Roger II, king of Sicily, in the middle of the 12th century, mentions the lemon (limouna) as a very sour fruit of the size of an apple.
Oct 08 2015
After work was carried out in 2013 to widen the pavement along Quai des Etats-Unis, a small-scale bronze replica of Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty “enlightening the world” was inaugurated on the 1st February 2014 by Christian Estrosi, Deputy-Mayor of Nice and President of the Metropole Côte d’Azur.
To date it is the smallest of Bartholdi‘s posthumous statues as it measures only 1m35 and weighs 80 kg. It has been given extra height with a 2m high base. This replica, signed by Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), was bought in 2011 by the municipality of Nice for €110,630.
Situated on the Quai des Etats-Unis you will find it positioned between the beach-fronted Hotel Mercure and The Opera (keep the Port of Nice in your back and head towards the very tall bronze/rusty-looking metal sculpture known as Neuf Lignes Obliques). For some unknown reason, I envisaged Nice’s Statue of Liberty ‘closer to home’ and at the top end of Quai des Etats-Unis, by the pillars leading into Cours Saleya where the stone lintel spanning the archway is engraved with a dedication to President Wilson and the American people.
If you didn’t know this already, Quai des Etats-Unis was originally called Quai du Midi, taken from the old Niçois name “Riba dòu miejour” (rive du Midi – South bank) and which formed part of the Nouveau Terrace which was built on the rubble of the city’s ramparts. In honour of the United States and President Wilson’s decision to enter World War I alongside the Allies, on May 1, 1917, the City Council renamed it and it has remained Quai des Etats-Unis ever since.
Oct 05 2015
It is not often that I write bad news about the French Riviera. Especially not about thunderstorms. In fact, I don’t think I ever have even though I’ve experienced several ‘corkers’ at my dad used to call them.
One in 2010 sticks in my mind as I was driving along the A8 and had just passed Aix-en-Provence. The skies darkened and one almighty storm erupted. Rain became a deluge and the road and sky merged to become one grey mass. Thankfully I was in my Range Rover and, accompanied by my stalwart driving companion, a friend who has been through a number of adventures with me, we sallied on, both frightened but neither daring to show it to the other. Within half an hour the storm has moved on, turned and travelled away from the Riviera – the sun was shining by the time we arrived in Chateauneuf-de-Grasse.
But this Saturday, 4th October 2015, I experienced a storm that will enter the annuals of Riviera storms. 17 people died and 4 are still missing and this death toll may well rise. Rather than moving on, as I think everyone expected, this thunderstorm remained, looping round and round – with lightning bouncing off thunderclouds – for hours. It was a spectacular show – but a murderous one this time.
Cannes was one of the worst affected areas with the train station flooded and a torrent of water sweeping through the centre of the town. Cannes mayor David Lisnard said: “Some cars were carried off into the sea. We have rescued a lot of people, and we must now be vigilant against looting.”
The city of Nice is estimated to have received 10% of its average yearly rainfall in two days alone. Some Palais Nikaia concert goers attending a show by French 72 year old rock veteran Johnny Hallyday had to sleep there overnight after becoming stranded.
The river Brague burst its banks, sending water coursing into nearby towns and cities.
Valluris was also hard hit with roads closed and walls collapsing under the sheer weight of the water.
French President Francois Hollande announced a state of “natural disaster” in the affected region and visited the retirement home in the town of Biot where three elderly people died after their care home flooded. He urged residents in the region to remain cautious, saying: “It’s not over.”
Eric Ciotti, president of the Alpes-Maritimes department, tweeted: “We have lived through an apocalyptic situation that we have never experience before.”
The A8 motorway was closed, trains halted and hundreds of tourists sought shelter at Nice airport overnight. About 10,000 homes were still without power on Sunday evening, mainly in Cannes.
Three people died inside their cars after flash floods rose inside a mini-tunnel between Vallauris and Golfe-Juan. The bodies of 5 people were found in underground car parks in Mandelieu while the body of a woman was discovered near a car park in Cannes.
Eric Ciotti, president of the Alpes-Maritimes department, tweeted: “We have lived through an apocalyptic situation that we have never experienced before.”
Unbelievably I remained safe but I know many others who suffered flood damage. And my heart goes out to the families who have lost a loved one.
The French Riviera is an incredible region with a beauty that still takes my breath away. But we should be aware of the unexpected dangers Gaia can throw at us – even in paradise.
Photos courtesy of Nice-Matin.
Oct 02 2015
There is no denying – you simply cannot miss noticing the Fontaine du Soleil on Place Masséna in Nice – especially now that a statue of Apollo stands tall and proud in the middle of it.
I remember this fountain ‘sans’ Apollo – when last visiting Nice in 2010 – and thought how beautiful and impressive it was. So I was keen to see how the addition of Apollo added to the ensemble. As it turned out, after a bit of research I discovered that this fountain also comes with a wonderful story.
As you see it today, the fountain is made up of 5 bronze sculptures that depict Earth, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus with, in its centre, a 7 meters (23 foot) tall marble statue of Apollo weighing 7 tons.
The story goes that the French sculptor, Alfred Auguste Janniot (he sculpted the beautiful Monument aux Morts located at Rauba Capeu), began work on a group of bronze statues between 1934 and 1937 (following plans drawn up by the architect Roger Séassal) but had not made a start on Apollo when the Second World War broke out. To safeguard his work the bronze statues were buried in a garden to keep them from being destroyed. Once the war was over they were dug up and Janniot completed the statue of Apollo. The unveiling, which took place on the 12th August 1956, caused a commotion.
While many onlookers stared in shock and disappointment at Apollo’s tiny crown (representing his chariot and four horses) it would be Apollo’s manhood (considered far too prominent) that unsettled the local Nicois. To quell the people’s growing displeasure at such an abomination, Janniot was called back ‘to make adjustments’ and, armed with hammer and chisel, chipped Apollo’s offending manhood into a more acceptable size.
But by the 1970s, fed up by the constant fuss and remarks (in particular by the Catholic women’s ‘League of Feminine Virtue’) the municipality had both the fountain and its naked sculptures dismantled and taken away. Apollo was relegated to stand at the entrance of Charles-Ehrmann football stadium while the bronze statues were placed at one of Nice’s water purification plants.
Then everything was forgotten about.
That is until 2007 when a reporter researching about water treatment accidentally came across the bronze statues and made mention of them in his article. This in turn brought both the fountain and bronze sculptures back into the public eye again and caused them to be reinstalled on Place Masséna that same year: all except Apollo that is.
However with works on the installation of tramways and renovations to Place Masséna finally completed in 2011, a number of sculptures were added to Place Masséna. Seven resin statues (representing the seven continents) created by Jaume Plensa, a Spanish artist specialised in monumental art and one marble statue: Apollo.
In front of an enormous crowd and amidst an incredible light and sound extravaganza, on the eve of the first day of summer on Monday 20th June 2011 at 21h00, the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, unveiled the reinstated statue of Apollo.
And he has remained every since.
Sep 27 2015
Valbonne’s market, along with that of Antibes, Nice and Cannes, is, I think, one of the best on the French Riviera and perhaps the most difficult to photograph.
Shards of astonishing bright sunlight cut through the shadows thrown by 16th century arches, awnings and tall village houses. The cobbled streets are narrow giving little room to manoeuvre or step back: it’s a challenge to say the least.
Held every Friday morning, the market starts in the heart of the village, Place des Arcades, and extends outwards and through the adjoining streets. While it may seem a jumble of stalls extending every which way, the municipal police are on hand to make sure no-one over steps their allotted space – and that the ends and beginning of streets are in plain view at all times.
Like most markets, it is noisy, busy and colourful and I was eager to return and photograph it – plus feast my eyes on a wonderful medley of stalls. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I do feel somewhat self-conscious when I’m out and about taking photos: my Nikon D800 is big and noticeable. I’m always in two minds whether or not I should introduce myself and hand-over my business card. But then again, most of the time I forget to bring them. So it’s a smile, a bit of chit-chat (thankfully I speak French) and then a wave and a nod by way of thank you.
You will find a longer article about Valbonne here but suffice to say that, if you haven’t yet discovered this charming village – then you have missed something very special.
Valbonne’s Market Day
Every Friday 08h00 through to 13h00
Jul 16 2015
Continuing with the animal theme to raise awareness, yet again, for Leslie Frasier of the Chats du Mercantour…….
Leslie has fought tirelessly for her feline friends for some ten years now.
Having recently moved out to a lovely grange outside of Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée, which Leslie and her partner are lovingly restoring, there has been the opportunity for Leslie to take on and home, not just chats, but chevaux….. http://www.leschatsdumercantour.com/fr/les-equides-amis-de-nos-chats
The first arrivals were three gorgeous donkeys belonging to Lydie, a great supporter of Leslie, (Zazou the crazy cat loves to sit on their backs!), then in came rescue horses (& mule) – Osane, Obélisk, Margot, and more recently, Elliot.
Leslie and Lydie do have grass mowers on tap, but also need to encourage kind people to sponsor the equines. Their upkeep is rather more scarey than for a cat – imagine even just the annual hay bill!
This is a great opportunity for people to pay – even a tiny amount per month – to support their chosen adoptee. There are plenty of animal lovers out there without the land, time, experience or funding, for whom this gesture goes part way at least, to having involvement with a deserving animal and friend. All contributions are tax deductible too!
Sponsors can be sure of updates on the welfare of their charge and are welcome to visit, and lend a hand at Leslie’s place – willing hands always appreciated – even if you have the time but no spare cash.
This time of year is desperately busy – with a huge huge amount of cute kittens looking for homes, as well of course as older cats which are much more difficult to place.
Ensure pet care is part of your holiday “to do” list
Furthermore, and a sad indictment of the attitude of some pet owners today, it is the time of year when pets are turfed out on the street to fend for themselves as their owners head off on holiday. Many owners, off to tan themselves – without a care it seems – not bothering to find a neighbour, a house sitter, a cattery/kennel facility – or even worse leaving their dog tied to a motorway bridge with a bowl of water. The ultimate disposability??
Please be aware and assist if you can – tens of thousands of animals will suffer this plight in the next few weeks – and all manner of authorities will have to pick up the pieces and appeal to already heaving refuges.
06 18 94 35 76
32 rue Droite
06660 St Etienne de Tinée
Jun 12 2015
In rural France, the presence of stray cats napping in the sun is an integral part of the image of village life – as evocative as a battered 2CV, a game of boules, and an apéro at a local bar.
The reality can be much harsher – if a cat has nine lives, it also has the scary ability to reproduce at an alarming rate – and a burgeoning feline population becomes a plague. Catching some of the cats to be put to sleep is not a practical solution, as their remaining brethren will continue to multiply apace.
The Alpes-Maritimes (06) is fortunate enough to have a saviour in Leslie Frasier, who has lived in France for many years, and advocates the capture and sterilisation of strays – these lucky animals may then be placed in kind homes, or released back into their territory, where they keep an effective guard against fertile incomers. Even older or antisocial cats, have their paradise, in two granges near Saint Etienne de Tinée, where they can live independently – but still be fed and keep warm and dry.
Leslie’s Association (www.leschatsdumercantour.com) has treated over 2000 cats since its creation back in 2006. Leslie’s work takes her all over the Alpes-Maritimes to deal with all sorts of cases – from nuisance village strays, to pets having lost their owners, and hardship cases. The task is enormous, and mightily expensive – to capture/sterilise/microchip/treat just one cat can cost up to €150 – yes just one!
After a recent visit to Leslie, I can assure you that her phone NEVER stops – kind-hearted, immensely patient, and with a veterinary background. She is the local animal expert and not just for cats………. her own beautiful home is surrounded by fields…. housing – donkeys , a mule and a pony.
Leslie works tirelessly – and holds down a job! – supported by a band of volunteers who fund raise, serve as temporary Familles d’Accueil, and offer their time. There is some support from local communities but certainly not enough.
With time and/or money to spare, animal lovers can easily lend a hand – with admin, event manning, sponsoring an animal (donations are tax deductible!) if you don’t have the possibility of owning one yourself, offering a temporary foster home, passing on your unwanted towels……..
Have a look at the website and be inspired…. even a small gesture makes a big difference.
Consider too, having your own animals spayed, and, if looking to adopt a cat – don’t spend hundreds on a spoilt pedigree – take in a kitten, or an older cat that really needs a home and keep it for life!
A fellow animal lover – Tania Burrows is also active in the Alpes-Maritimes – rescuing and homing dogs and cats.
May 14 2015
100 years on, this emblematic hotel still stands proud on the seafront in Nice, and remains beloved by local and visitors alike.
If you have ever driven down or walked up the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, you will most probably have stopped for a minute or two in front of the mythic Negresco Hotel to stare up at its pink domed roof (allegedly inspired by the décolletage of the architect’s mistress), or to marvel at the doormen who are always dressed impeccably in frock-coats, knee-breeches and top hats, whatever the weather outside. The Negresco Hotel is famous the world over. It has featured on countless postcards and guidebook covers, is one of the most photographed buildings in the world and over the past 100 years, its pink and white façade has become an emblem of Nice and the French Riviera.
The Negresco’s history is long and star-studded, countless celebrities, heads of state and politicians have passed through its doors and the visitors’ book is a veritable “who’s who” of the great and the good of the 20th Century. It is also currently the only palace hotel to belong to a private owner in France and has been so for the last 56 years. Since it opened, the Negresco has played host to both the world’s most glamorous movie stars and to wounded French soldiers during the First World War, it has been the setting for both extravagant celebrations and illicit affairs, and its 6 floors are crammed full of antiques, art, and period furniture dating back from Louis XIII’s reign, right up to the 21st Century. 2012 and 2013 mark the 100 year centenary celebrations of the Negresco, a centenary which has been spread over two years as the hotel first opened in 1912, closed for a brief hiatus and then reopened and was inaugurated on the 8th January 1913 by its founder and namesake Henry Negresco.
Since the hotel first opened its doors to the public one hundred years ago, it has only known 3 owners: Henry Negresco, Gérard Marquet of the Marquet Group, and Jeanne Augier, whose father Jean-Baptiste Mesnage bought the hotel and then gave it to his daughter and her husband to manage.
Henry Negresco, the first owner and founder of the hotel was described by those who knew him as “an elegant man with a good head for business”. Negresco arrived on the Côte d’Azur in 1893 from Bucharest, Romania. The son of an inn-keeper and himself a gifted Tzigane violinist, he set off for Europe from Bucharest at the age of 15 and toured the major European capitals, playing his violin and learning the hotel trade. He worked his way up from kitchen hand to waiter, then head waiter to eventually become maître d’hôtel in the Helder Restaurant, Monte-Carlo in 1893. His natural gift for managing luxury establishments and his flair for languages (he spoke 6 languages fluently) meant that he was soon promoted to hotel manager and then left Monte Carlo to manage hotels in England, Belgium, Austria and Germany before returning to the Côte d’Azur to open his own establishment on the Promenade des Anglais.
Already owner of the restaurant at the Casino d’Enghien in Enghein-les-Bains where he spent most of his summers, Henry Negresco decided to use his experience of the luxury hotel trade and of working for fabulously wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Singers to build his own palace hotel. In 1904 during the renovations of the Casino d’Enghien restaurant, Negresco had met Edouard Niermans, a celebrated Dutch architect who had moved to France years before and who had already gained a certain notoriety in Paris, designing amongst other buildings the Moulin Rouge, the Théâtre Marigny and the Folies Bergère. Negresco had spoken to Niermans about his desire to open his own palace hotel in Nice, a project which interested Niermans and in 1909 Niermans and his family moved to Nice from Paris to start a new architectural agency on the Riviera. In the same year Negresco, whilst in Enghein-les-Bains for the summer, met Pierre Alexandre Darracq, an automobile manufacturer and cofounder of the “Darracq-Talbot” company, and persuaded him to come on-board as the chief financer of his luxury hotel project. With the backing of Darracq and with Niermans to design the building, Negresco’s plan to build his own hotel in Nice could finally begin.
After initially planning to renovate an older hotel on the Avenue Félix Faure, Negresco and Niermans then heard of a plot of land for sale on the Promenade des Anglais. The land belonged to a religious sect and was very close to the Villa de Masséna owned by the Prince de Rivoli, André d’Essling. After much negotiation, Darracq succeeded in buying the 6,482 m² plot in 1911 and Niermans immediately started drawing up plans for the new hotel. Negresco and Niermans then left Nice to tour Paris, London, Berlin, and Brussels, studying the grand hotels in each of these cities and making notes of the latest developments in luxury hotellerie. Darracq, the project’s financial backer, insisted that the new hotel contained at least 400 bedrooms to make it financially cost-effective, and Negresco himself coming from a hotel background was interested in the world hidden away behind the scenes – his plans included a full floor of kitchens, breakfast kitchens, dessert kitchens, a dishwashing room, a laboratory for the wine sommelier, a bread room, a warming room, garages, a doctor’s office, and a dining room for servants travelling with their employers.
On the 6 June 1911, Pierre Alexandre Darracq filed a building permit with the city of Nice and work began on the new hotel. The initial opening of the hotel was to be held on the 1st November 1912, but the building work and several ensuing legal battles took much longer than expected, and the opening had to be pushed back until 1913. However a rich American client, one Mr. Guerney, insisted on spending Christmas 1912 at the hotel, so a suite was prepared for him in the middle of the building site and the Negresco’s first ever guest stayed in the hotel in December 1912. After the work was completed, the Negresco then opened its doors on the 4th January 1913 with the third, fourth and fifth floors remaining shut until the inauguration on the 8th January 1913.
The inauguration was the event of the year in Nice, and amongst the crowds who came to marvel at the new hotel were seven European sovereigns and countless members of the aristocracy. The Negresco was an instant hit and the guests were amazed by their luxurious surroundings with private telephones in every room, electric light that could be turned on and off at the touch of a button, mink bedspreads on every bed, and a revolutionary heating and air conditioning system which also cleaned the air in the hotel by means of a steam turbine. The Negresco was a huge success, and by the 31st May 1913 the takings had already exceeded a million francs with a clear profit of 200,000 francs for Negresco and Darracq.
For two years the Negresco enjoyed huge popularity and became the place to stay for wealthy families visiting the Côte d’Azur, Negresco and Darracq recouped their investment and Niermans was feted for his “Ritz-style” hotel design. Then in 1914, the First World War intervened and the hotel was requisitioned by the French government along with the Hotel Ruhl, the Hotel de l’Impérial and Winter Palace, and was transformed into an auxiliary wartime hospital. The Negresco was renamed ‘Temporary Hospital N° 15’ and the first wave of injured soldiers arrived at the hotel in September 1914. Because of the sheer number of injured men, not only were the hotel bedrooms requisitioned but beds were set up in the corridors, hallways and dining rooms to accommodate the wounded. Negresco himself was pressed into service as hospital bursar and paid for an additional 100 beds for injured soldiers out of his own pocket, while his daughter also joined the war effort as the hospital librarian.
Temporary Hospital N° 15 was eventually relinquished back to Negresco in September 1915 but the 12 months in which it had been occupied by the military had wreaked havoc on the luxurious surroundings and the entire hotel had to be renovated before it could open its doors once again for the season. The golden age of luxury hotels was over on the Côte d’Azur, the aristocratic and wealthy families who had once wintered at the Negresco could no longer afford to do so, and Henry Negresco was ruined. The hotel remained open for the 1916-1917 season, but the tourists didn’t return to the Riviera as the hospitality industry had hoped, so the Negresco failed to make a profit. When the Armistice came in 1918, Henry Negresco made the difficult decision to sell his hotel to try and pay off his ever increasing debts and in 1920, Gérard Marquet, head of the Belgian Marquet group bought the Negresco from him.
Henry Negresco left the Riviera in 1920 and returned to Paris where he died two years later in 1922 at the age of 54, bankrupt and far from the hotel he loved.
From 1920 to 1957, the Hotel Negresco remained open under the ownership of the Marquet group. After 1945 and following the end of the Second World War, visitors started to return to the French Riviera, but instead of the aristocratic families and wealthy tycoons of the prewar years, during this period the Negresco’s clientele primarily consisted of short-stay tourists and businessman passing through Nice, and gradually the hotel started to decline.
In 1957 the Negresco was struggling to keep its doors open and the Marquet group decided to put it up for sale to try and recoup some of their losses. Shortly afterwards, Jeanne Augier, the daughter of a Breton butcher turned real estate developer Jean-Baptiste Mesnage, heard about the sale. Jeanne and her parents had moved to Nice from Brittany following her marriage to Niçois politician and businessman, Paul Augier, and after her father suffered a financial setback, 34 year old Jeanne took over the family business and started looking for property to invest in.
The faded Negresco building was just a few metres further down the Promenade des Anglais from the apartment where the Mesnage family were living at the time, and the hotel primarily interested Jeanne because it was the only building in Nice with a full sized lift. Jeanne’s mother had recently become paralyzed following a botched operation and the Negresco lift was wide enough to allow her mother to be taken outside while lying in her bed.
Jean-Baptiste Mesnage purchased the hotel in 1957, and for the next 8 years Jeanne, her husband and her father worked tirelessly to restore the Negresco to its former glory, whilst building a family apartment on the 6th floor of the hotel. Jeanne Augier was determined to create a home away from home for her guests, and she and her husband visited auction houses and galleries all over France purchasing over 3,000 works of art and antiques with which to furnish the Negresco.
The couple restored the glass dome in the Salon Royal which was reputedly designed by Gustave Eiffel and created 2 restaurants on the ground floor- Le Chantecler and La Rotonde, which was designed around an 18th century carousel complete with wooden horses. As the Negresco flourished once again, Jeanne Augier increased the number of employees from 76 to 260, and, from the 1960s onwards, the rich and famous began to flock to the Riviera once more to stay at the Negresco.
Guests of renown over the years have included Royalty- Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, King Ibn Saoud and the Shah of Iran all stayed at the Negresco as did film stars such as Ava Gardner, Catherine Deneuve, James Dean, Marlene Dietrich, Jean Marais, Grace Kelly, and Gina Lollobrigida.
Legendary stories about the Negresco in the 1960s and 1970s include Richard Burton once leaving a jewelry case with a diamond necklace he had purchased for Elisabeth Taylor in the hotel bar, James Brown spending a night chasing his wife up and down the hotel corridors in a wild fit of jealousy, and the Red Army Choir holding a private concert in the hotel bar in honour of Jeanne’s husband Paul Augier.
Once the Negresco’s reputation started to grow again and Jeanne Augier’s love of art became widespread, artists and sculptors from all over the world came to the hotel to meet her and to enjoy her “museum-hotel”. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau and Marc Chagall became regular visitors to the hotel and some like Chagall became friends with Jeanne and would dine with her in the Chantecler restaurant on the ground floor.
During this period, Jeanne Augier became so well known in the world of luxury hotel design that 2 guests of the Negresco asked her to advise them with their own projects. The first guest was the Shah of Iran who invited Jeanne to design and furnish the hotel Shah Abbas in Ispahan in 1965, and the second was the Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev who invited her to sit on the Soviet tourist board Intourist, for two years as an advisor to the Russian tourism trade. To thank her for her work on the Shah Abbas hotel, the Shah of Iran gave her a platinum watch which she still wears to this day.
Now only 10 years younger than her beloved hotel, Jeanne Augier still lives in the family apartment on the 6th floor of the Negresco today with her two dogs Lili and Lilou, and photos of her with well- known figures such as Louis Armstrong, Clint Eastwood, Yves Montand and many others are displayed around the hotel bar. Le Chantecler restaurant now boasts 2 Michelin-stars, and the Negresco is still famous as one of the most luxurious and well-known hotels in the world whilst remaining faithful to Jeanne’s original plan to provide a home from home for her guests by surrounding them with art and beauty.
The Negresco was classified as a National Historic Monument in 1974 and as a National Historic Building in 2003 by the French Government. Following a €12 million renovation in 2010 to repaint the façade and to update and enlarge some of the suites, the Negresco is instantly recognizable on the Promenade des Anglais today and its pink dome and green turrets have been fully restored to the glory of the golden age of the Riviera.
Since the death of her husband Paul Augier in 1995, Mme Augier has received several offers for her hotel, including allegedly an offer from Microsoft founder Bill Gates. (Negresco legend has it that Jeanne refused Gates’ offer by telling him that he simply wasn’t rich enough to buy her hotel). She has however turned down all of the bidders, stating that she wishes the Negresco to retain its French spirit and to remain the last independent luxury hotel on the Côte d’Azur.
To ensure that the Negresco remains untouched and her staff will still be employed once she dies, Jeanne created the ‘Mesnage Foundation’ in 2009. The foundation is an endowment fund which will inherit her wealth upon her death, including a villa in Saint-Vallier, near Grasse, and two George V apartments in Paris. Part of her inheritance will go to the development of the Negresco, and the rest will be shared amongst 3 charities close to Jeanne’s heart: animal rights, disability awareness and contributing to the “influence of French art”.
Since she had an operation on her knee a few years ago, Mme. Augier has been confined to a wheelchair and has to use the same lift to go up and down the 6 floors of the hotel as her mother did over 50 years ago, but she can still be found in the hotel bar and restaurant most days, sometimes with Lili and Lilou tucked beside her in her wheelchair, and she continues to reign over the hotel she rescued and renovated in 1957.
With her team she has organized 12 months of celebrations to mark the centenary of the Negresco, a centenary which began last year with a gala evening held at the hotel on the 5th July 2012 and which will culminate in June 2013 with a series of “Talent Days” to celebrate the different ‘behind the scenes’ trades which have helped to make the Negresco so successful over the years, including wine sommeliers, musicians, and artists.
If Jeanne Augier has her way, long after she is gone her world-renowned collection of art and antiques will still be on display in the hotel for its future guests and the Negresco which she has now called home for over 50 years will remain Nice’s most glamorous and well-known hotel for the next hundred years to come.
All other images courtesy and © Mike Colquhoun
Note from the editor: This article was first published in Riviera Buzz in January 2013. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Riviera Buzz and in particular to Iarla Byrne in granting me permission to reprint this excellent article written by Vicki Riley.
May 04 2015
The debate about wolves continues apace in the Alpes-Maritimes.
For sure, there is the interesting Alpha Wolf Park in Le Boréon where in the past few weeks three strapping young wolf males have been introduced to the Park and their female “belles”. A great day out for families in lovely countryside – it has to be said!
While this is good news, the downside of the presence of our wild brethren is raising fur. Local rural commerce is being directly threatened by the presence of our lupine friends.
Very unusually — and especially given the mild winter we have had — there have been four wolf attacks recently. These have been up and down the Vésubie valley from Venanson to Pelasque – and have concluded with a hunter shooting a wolf on the Col de Turini recently. Their audacity has even seen an attack just 50m from the house of writer, Spacebetween’s, local mayor in Roquebillière.
The extremists are calling for wolf cubs to be hunted down to their lairs and be done away with – this is unlikely to be the case of course but it does raise the human versus animal space question – even here in the pretty well populated area of the Vésubie – which is pretty rustic still.
It might be easier to do the cute thing and just live with the memory of wild animals and glove puppets……..but no. An outcome which attracts tourists to the Mercantour is essential.
Come to the Alpes-Maritimes – an astonishing department in France which houses the French Riviera and the Mercantour National Park, as well as being fringed by Provence to the west, Liguria to the east and the Ecrons and Savoie to the north.