The South of France Has a New Luxury Hotel — With Panoramic Views of the Mediterranean Sea and Southern Alps
The new Anantara hotel sets Nice, France, up as a major luxury player in France's Côte d'Azur.
There’s no better place to appreciate Nice, France’s idyllic location between the sea and the mountains than from where I’m standing on the sixth-floor rooftop terrace of the new Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel. From the 360-degree vantage point, I can see the Southern Alps in the distance, down through the hillside neighborhoods of the north, over the terracotta rooftops of Old Nice (Vieux Nice, en Français) and across the still Mediterranean Sea toward Nice Côte d’Azur Airport and beyond.
My line of vision aligns perfectly with the runway jutting out into the water, and I watch an airplane coming into land. And then another. As France’s second busiest airport, after Paris’s two combined, there’s always plenty of traffic. In 2021, more than 6.5 million passengers passed through.
Yet while Nice may be the touchdown point for most arrivals to the Côte d’Azur, luxury travelers treated Nice as little more than a stopover destination. Apart from the colorful Le Negresco hotel, there’s a surprisingly small luxury hotel footprint in Nice, nudging travelers instead toward the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel, or Monaco’s collection of glamorous Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer resorts, and Cannes’ legendary beachfront strip.
But this sophisticated opening, which also happens to be Anantara’s first foray into France, is all set to change that. After a four-year renovation of a majestic and imposing 492-feet-long Belle Epoque building, separated from the waterfront by the Jardins Albert 1er gardens, the launch heralds the arrival of a global name in luxury hospitality in the city.
Traveling with my two young daughters from our home in nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer, I was excited to be one of the earliest guests in January 2023. As we peeked in cupboards and opened draws in our third-floor junior garden and sea view suite, the smell I could pick out the most was newness.
The hotel officially opened in mid-December 2022, although it’s been a soft launch of the 151 rooms. The same can’t be said of Seen by Olivier, the top-floor bar and restaurant by Portuguese chef Olivier da Costa, which has seen a brisk trade from locals who, like me, have been curious to experience the latest chapter in this storied address for themselves.
Dating back to 1848, in its first life as the Hotel de France, this was the spot to see and be seen for the wealthy Europeans who visited when winter was the high season — a period of history that has recently seen the city awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. The address has always been a hotel, most recently as part of the Italian Boscolo Group portfolio.
Camilla Coburn Davis, Anantara Europe’s cluster director of public relations, tells me over lunch that buildings with a rich history are one way the Bangkok-headquartered brand has been able to anchor itself in Europe. This is evident in the neoclassical splendor of the Anantara Palazzo Naiadi Rome Hotel or the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel, with its ground-floor New York Café that has long been a hub of the city’s art and literature scene.
But whether at one of its overwater resorts in the Maldives or a city address in Europe, guests can still expect an experience that connects them to the destination. I’m immediately struck by the touches that are not only representative of Nice, but move beyond its well-worn clichés, like the delicate mignardise presented on a miniature version of the Ferris wheel that I can see through our window and the plush toy eagles — the emblem of the city — left on the pillow for my daughters to cuddle.
Our corner suite has four Juliette balconies and views through the palm trees of the public gardens across the road. On the other side, the sunlit frontages of Vieux Nice mirror the rich yellow of the hotel’s façade. The room feels elegant yet understated and a palette of soft neutral colors is complemented by design details such as the textured Thai silk bedheads. Reflective surfaces from mirrors to glass cupboard doors ensure the space is flooded with the region’s famous light. Outside in the wide corridors, the geometric carpets were inspired by the immense stained glass windows in the Musée National Marc Chagall on the city’s Cimiez hill.
As I enjoy a massage, the girls join coaches Dylan and Paul for a Niçois Olympiad. Just over an hour later, while I sip on a green Anantara Garden juice (a reinvigorating mix of celery, bay leaves, and a herb-based syrup) after finishing the spa’s signature revitalizing magnesium treatment, they bounce excitedly back in. They are still chatting animatedly about the obstacle course and other completed challenges when we arrive at Seen for cocktail (or, in their case, mocktail) hour.
The signature cocktail selection proposes a voyage across Anantara’s global locations, but I can’t go past the “socca sour”: bourbon infused with aquafaba (chickpea water) and a smoky paprika syrup. It’s the first time I’ve seen socca, Nice’s classic street food dish, as inspiration on a drinks menu.
The inventive twists on the city’s traditional dishes continue in the restaurant where les petits farcis Niçois, stuffed miniature peppers and eggplants, are served on roasted bone marrow and bite-sized cubes of panisse, or fried chickpea fritters, are presented with a delicate dollop of exquisite flavors such as black garlic and lemon from neighboring Menton. We mix and match with a platter of fresh sushi and zingy ceviche tacos and wash it down with the house white wine: a blend of local grape rolle (vermentino) and chardonnay, made especially for the Anantara Plaza by Château de Crémat, one of the nine vineyards that comprise Nice’s little known Bellet wine appellation.
Executive chef Denis Gamard hails from Nîmes near Montpellier and has become a keen student of Niçois flavors and ingredients since moving to Nice. As we visit the fragrant Cours Saleya produce markets with him the following morning, he stops to greet and introduce us to his favorite purveyors: Chez Theresa for fresh-from-the-oven socca and Zielinska bakery for bread made from forgotten local flours. Back in the hotel kitchen, he leads the girls through an interactive cooking class: They knead dough for pissaladière, a type of onion pizza; plate up a bright salade Niçoise; and scoop a mix of Swiss chard and pastry cream into tartlet shells for tourte aux blettes. Before they know it, they’ve cooked their own three-course lunch.
Gamard’s market tour and cooking class is set to become one of Anantara’s Nice Signature experiences, along with a vineyard tour of Château de Crémat and a city walking tour and drawing class led by a local artist. High tea in Les Colonnades lobby Champagne-and-caviar bar will be launched during the annual Nice Carnival celebrations in February. By the time summer arrives, guests will be able to cross the road for sun loungers or journey to the chic La Reserve de la Mala in Cap d’Ail to enjoy the hotel’s private beach club offering.
It’s an exciting time for France’s fifth-largest city, as Nice bids for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2028: car lanes are being dug up to be replaced by leafy bike paths; dated buildings are being torn down to extend the Coulée Verte, or the “green lung” that runs through the city; its Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, or MAMAC, is undergoing a much-needed facelift. And now, there’s a stunning new hotel beckoning luxury travelers to base themselves here.
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