Demolishing reputations: palace hotel emerges from chequered past to charmed present.
The Palais has emerged from scandal and the brink of demolition to become one of the swishest, best-provisioned and most spacious of Nice’s luxury hotels. Walk into the vast marble, glass and polished-wood lobby and you’ll feel you’re joining the Côte-d’Azur elite. The views over the Med are the ones I expect to see when I’m ushered through the Pearly Gates.
This seemed an unlikely outcome back in the late 70s, when a battle between associates for control of the premises (then a casino) led to one disappearing, presumed murdered, and another in gaol for 20 years.
Demolition threatened, but the soaring, nine-storey white façade – all neo-classical columns and art deco effusiveness – was too grandiose to be knocked down. So they kept it and, this century, new investors re-built the hotel behind. In the Negresco’s absence (closed for renovation until July 2010), the Palais's magnificent frontage now dominates the Promenade des Anglais. It is an undoubted HQ of la belle vie.
On the top six floors, rooms are big and contemporary, softened with blues and ochres. Some of the pricier ones have decent balconies. (Though they could do with a couple more chairs, for any guests you might invite to your room. Dragging a bedroom armchair out onto the balcony almost ruptured me.) Otherwise, furniture and comfort are absolutely all you’d expect in a modern five-star.
But the knock-out punch comes in the public areas. The third-floor pool starts off inside, in a be-columned space like a Roman bath-house, and continues outside to a huge terrace also equipped with tables, loungers and waiter service. Bag a table up the steps by the edge of the terrace and you have an aristocrat's eye view of the prom and briny beyond. You could spend all day there. Meanwhile, Le Padouk restaurant – red tones within, terrace without – is picking up a fine reputation, as is the colonial-India style bar.
And, on the ground floor, there's still a casino, announced with blue walls and gold-topped palm trees. It's quite independent of the hotel, but jolly handy if you feel you still have money to lose.