• Chiara Orlandi

The Fascinating story of the Hotel Negresco of Nice

Updated: Apr 10, 2018

For over a century the striking Hotel Negresco has been the favorite holiday destination for celebrities, royalty, millionaires, and politicians.

This magnificent belle-époque building, instantly recognizable by its pink domed roof, stands proudly on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The hotel celebrated its centennial in 2012.

Five centuries of French history are visible in its fine suites, where portraits of Kings and Queens rub shoulders with more contemporary works by Sosno, Dali, Gruau, Moretti and Nike de Saint Phalle.

Pictures: Hotel Negresco Website

Comparable to an art museum, the Negresco boasts, among other rarities, an impressive stained glass dome designed by Gustave Eiffel himself, a double Michelin-starred restaurant and a gorgeous chandelier commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II.

From Dalì to Grace Kelly, from the Beatles to Liz Taylor, the list of internationally known stars that have graced the Negresco is impressive.

Pictures: Hotel Negresco Website

But what makes this iconic building even more special is the fascinating story that lies behind it—a story of ambition, tragedies, wars, charismatic owners, high-status guests and…pets.

It all started with the Bucharest-born Henri Negrescou. This industrious man had built himself a brilliant career within the hospitality industry and managed several luxury establishments in Paris, Montecarlo, and Nice. As director of the Municipal Casino in Nice, he envisioned a fabulous palace to attract the wealthiest of clients. All the great and good flocked into the French Riviera, to enjoy the modern amenities of the luxury hotel.

The scene changed dramatically during World War I, when the hotel was temporarily converted into a hospital. Negrescou, in his generosity, even offered to pay for the upkeep of one hundred hospital beds. By the end of the war, the passage of wealthy clients had dropped off and he was a ruined man. He died a few years later in Paris.

The Hotel was then sold to a Belgian company, but it was not until 1957 that it would regain its former glory, when Monsieur Jean-Baptiste Mesnage, a Breton butcher turned real estate developer, took over. Mesnage’s wife had recently become paralyzed following an operation gone-wrong and the Negresco appeared to be the only building in Nice equipped with a full sized lift that would allow the woman to go out in her wheelchair.

While taking care of his wife, Monsieur Mesnage spent the next 8 years renovating the hotel together with his daughter Jeanne and her husband Paul Augier.

The current and sole proprietor, since the death of her husband in 1995, is the charismatic Mme. Jeanne Augier. Mme. Augier: animal activist (the Negresco is a pet-friendly hotel) and art collector has taken the hotel to new heights. She still lives in a private apartment on the top floor of the hotel with her two dogs and continues enriching the hotel with the incredible art collection that she has procured over the years.

She can often be seen having lunch at the Chantelier restaurant and she still enjoys chatting with her clients and employees.

A widow with no children, Mme Augier has always wished for his beloved Negresco to keep its original soul and remain an independent French-owned hotel. For this reason, she has turned down several purchase attempts, including one from Bill Gates to whom she allegedly replied, “He wasn’t rich enough to buy it”.

Jeanne Augier with her dogs. Source: Paris Match

To ensure the Negresco’s independence, the determined Mme Augier has recently created a foundation that supports humanitarian causes, animal charities, and French art, which will inherit, after her death, the ownership of the hotel and all of her estate.

It seems that all her wishes will come true. Not only will the Negresco remain independent, but it will also support what she cares about most -- the less fortunate, animals, and the arts.

Few hotels have seen what the Negresco has seen during this incredible century of history. And now more than ever, thanks to this clever and determined woman, its original soul remains intact.

Whether you can afford to spend a night in the deluxe suite or you can just treat yourself with a drink at Le bar Relais, you will be sure to be part of an extraordinary place that is steeped in history.

Tags: Nice, French Riviera, Negresco, Promenade des Anglais, Jeanne Augier