A Nice landmark is saved and a palatial hotel constructed


As a frequent visitor to Nice, France, throughout my adult life, I used to collect anecdotes from locals about an elegant but empty art deco building that held pride of place on the Promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Disco killed it, I was told, referring to the property's history as a Jazz Age casino that had devolved into a has-been over the decades, finally shutting down in the 1970s.

I had heard that the elderly woman who had owned the building left it to her cats in her will. I also had heard that the building was haunted.

But I detected no ghosts at the reborn French Riviera property, now a 188-room hotel, Le Palais de la Mediterranee, operated by the Concorde Group of France.

The arrival of Concorde was a fairy-tale ending for the beautiful building, which, after sitting empty for a quarter of a century, had seemed destined for the wrecking ball.

The $160 million reconstruction effort was carried out with an eye to maintaining as much of the exterior's original architectural details as possible. Inside, the designers had free reign.

The overall look in the interior is modern and spare. Guest rooms share a uniform decor but are arranged, by floor, into different color-coded themes, such as plum and orange.

Seventy-eight of the hotel's rooms and 12 of its suites offer sea views, and most have balconies overlooking the beach and the boardwalk.

My digs turned out to be an enormous corner suite with a full-size living room and balcony. Other features were a flat-screen TV, king-size bed, separate dressing room and three bathrooms.

The premier suite at Le Palais de la Mediterranee, known as Under the Softest Heaven or simply No. 927, boasts 1,292 square feet of interior floor space, a 538-square-foot terrace, a bedroom with king-size bed, a large living room and views of the city and the Bay of Angels.

Decor in the suite lives up to luxury expectations, with imposing artwork in the living room, two plasma TVs and every form of high-tech gear imaginable. All guest rooms at Le Palais de la Mediterranee are air conditioned and equipped with a sofa, desk and wireless Internet access.

Guests enjoy access to a small but well-equipped Turkish bath and sauna as well as a heated, mosaic-lined indoor swimming pool. The highlight of the hotel for me was the crescent-shaped, outdoor pool overlooking the sea. It is surrounded by a terrace where guests can enjoy bistro cuisine at the Pingala Bar, sip a cocktail or simply lounge.

For a more formal dining experience, the on-site Le Padouk restaurant is the recipient of two "toques," equivalent to stars, from French restaurant guide Gault Millau. Under the direction of chef Bruno Sohn, Le Padouk serves Mediterranean cuisine and has an impressive wine list.

While the beach setting of Le Palais de la Mediterranee is suited for leisure guests, the hotel has gone all out to attract business travelers. There are seven meetings rooms that collectively can accommodate up to 1,500 people. The facilities are all wired with the latest technology.

The hotel hasn't forgotten its history: The Palais is home to a casino that sports a very different look -- think Venice carnival meets ancient Egypt -- and a less restrained atmosphere than the hotel.

It was here that Josephine Baker, Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier rubbed shoulders in the 1920s. Today's guests can enjoy a little of that pixie dust ambience while they play everything from roulette to stud poker.

There are two restaurants at the casino, the Brasserie La Fregate and the Restaurant des Jeux Traditionnels, the latter serving until the wee hours of the night.

Cruise passengers sailing from Nice can enjoy the hotel's glamor with a pre- or post-cruise package that includes breakfast, early arrival and late check-out.

The package, priced from $300 to $1,550 per night for seven nights, includes welcome amenities and a drink at the Pingala Bar. Day rooms also are available for $175. Airport transfer is about $66.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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