A warm breeze of cool blows chintz away.
A persistent criticism of Côte-d’Azur hotels is that they are too “chintzy” – full of chandeliers, fussy furnishings and stuffy gilt excess in the hope that Louis XVI might yet book in. And, certainly, there remain establishments where the old king would feel at home (had he not been headless for 200 years). Some people still expect a certain sumptuousness.
Increasingly, though, contemporary zest has swept away ancien régime froth in favour of the spacious, the clean-limbed and the simple. La Malmaison is satisfactory evidence that this 21st-century cool has finally filtered through to mid-market spots.
Sauntering up the steps from one of central Nice’s more prestigious central streets, you may feel that you are a pretty ‘now’ sort of person. And even if, like me, you are more ‘back then’ than ‘now’, you will not be intimidated. Cool comes wrapped up in admirable courtesy and concern from both the front desk staff, and manager Karim Nasri. (Passing through the breakfast room, Mr Nasri gets terribly concerned that someone is letting his or her toast burn in the toaster.)
Then again, if you’re used to design hotels, you’ll find little madly startling here. The Malmaison's is, by now, conventional design hip. I count that a plus. I don’t go to hotels to be madly startled.
What you will find is an entrance lobby and sun-lit lounge in tones of mustard, grey and cream. Armchairs are leather-like and low. Single-stemmed flowers stand in long glass vases, as in design magazines. And, on the wall, there’s a rather fine modern diptych which evidently means something but looks attractive all the same.
On another wall, BBC World plays soundlessly on a large flat-screen TV. La Malmaison is by no means the only contemporary hotel to consider John Simpson a vital element of interior décor.
Upstairs, the 46 rooms are the real clinchers. They combine clarity, softness and a fine mix of colours – blacks, browns, creams and surprising blues for the doors – and so should appeal to both sexes. There are splashes of fashionable magenta, too. Privilege rooms on the fourth floor have more space, plus balconies looking across to the Palais Meyerbeer, one of Nice’s very fanciest old buildings.
All offer free WiFi, free bottled water, spotless bathrooms and, if you ask nicely, a plateau d’accueil. That literally means a ‘welcome tray’. It’s how the French refer to tea and coffee-making material.
The sea is 400 yards away, the old town 15 minutes on foot. There are abundant restaurants much closer, including a Sicilian specialist right next door. I really don’t see how you could be unhappy here. It’s a good value little design hotel (I’d say ‘boutique’, if I knew what that meant) with warmth where, quite often, there is smugness in these places. And standards are zealously overseen. Mr Nasri is a bio-chemist by training and as sharp as a scientist on detail.