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Five legendary hotels on the Côte d’Azur with a new look

From Cannes to Nice, the luxury hotels of France’s Côte d’Azur are emerging from careful makeovers with a fresh look that hasn’t chipped away any of their legendary history.

It was a sporting clash billed as the ‘Match of the Century’. French tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen up against her American rival, Helen Wills. The match, held almost a century ago in 1926 at the prestigious Carlton Hotel in Cannes, was the first official clay court match to ever take place. Lenglen eventually emerged victorious, 6–3, 8–6.

The Carlton isn’t the only grand hotel of France’s fabled Côte d’Azur dripping with such ‘did you know?’ tidbits of history. The likes of Catherine Deneuve and Winston Churchill made Le Negresco a home away from home when they were in Nice, while Tender is the Night emerged from F Scott Fitzgerald’s scribblings during his time at the Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins.

In the past few years, many of these fabled five-star properties have undergone a renaissance, as millions are injected into these classic addresses to bring them in line with the needs of today’s luxury travelers. As the allure of the French Riviera shows no signs of fading, these famous names are ready to write the next chapters in their storied history.

Carlton Cannes

Exterior of Carlton Cannes on the Côte d’Azur

Since it first opened across from the beach in 1913, ‘La Grande Dame’, as the Carlton Cannes, a Regent Hotel, is known, has long been the place to see and be seen in Cannes, especially come May when the Cannes Film Festival rolls out the red carpet for a galaxy of global stars.

Last year, the Carlton reopened its doors after a mammoth, two-year closure that saw a total renovation of the rooms and its beloved beach club across the road. Two huge wings have been added either side of the heritage-listed facade. With them, an array of branded residences, as well as a sumptuous split-level penthouse spanning more than 1,000 square meters, complete with a vast private rooftop terrace area sheltered from outside view.

The revamp also included tearing up a parking lot to create a leafy Mediterranean garden that provides a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of Cannes, a design that has managed to also incorporate the creation of the largest infinity pool on La Croisette.

And, in a nod to its part in tennis history, terracotta-colored design features are scattered throughout the property, from the grouting in the bathrooms to the veritable clay encased in glass on the reception desk.

Hôtel Martinez, Cannes

Balcony view from the Hôtel Martinez on the Côte d’Azur

Not to be outdone, the Croisette’s other leading lady, Hôtel Martinez, has also undergone a total floor-to-ceiling refresh as it approaches the centenary of its opening in 1929. As part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt, a suite of enhancements have been revealed over the past two years, including 2,800 square metres of newly planted gardens, split into tropical and provençal floral themes. Called L’Oasis du Martinez, this tranquil, guest-only area also incorporates an all-new wellness space complete with a fitness center, swimming pool and the Carita spa.

However, it’s a person, not a new amenity, that has created the biggest buzz around the Martinez, with none other than French ‘it’ chef, Jean Imbert (who rose to fame as the successor of Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée in Paris) named as the hotel’s culinary lead, bringing his take on Côte d’Azur classics like Salade Niçoise and Tarte Tropezienne to the new lobby bar and restaurant, Le Sud, as well as the renovated beach club, La Plage du Martinez. A third, La Palme d’Or, is set to reopen in spring 2024. For Imbert, who describes gastronomy and cinema as two passions that have driven him since childhood, it is the perfect pairing.

Hôtel Belles Rives, Juan-les-Pins

View of the bay from Hôtel Belles Rives on the Côte d’Azur

At the edge of Cap d’Antibes, the Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins is another Côte d’Azur institution. To step inside is to feel like you’ve been transported back to the roaring 20s, when Jazz Age American novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, as well as artists like Pablo Picasso, regularly flocked to this ultra-exclusive peninsular.

Before the buttercream four-story building became a hotel, it was known as the Villa Saint-Louis, and it was here, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, that F Scott Fitzgerald found inspiration to finish The Great Gatsby and start Tender is the Night.

Owned by the same family for nearly 100 years (who now own the similarly glamorous Hotel Juana across the road), the intimate property of just 43 rooms oozes art deco charm, from the intricate tilework in the lobby through to the furniture and decorative flourishes.

Careful restoration work undertaken by the owners has protected this rich sense of history; under the fourth-generation stewardship of Antoine Estène-Chauvin, the hotel’s legendary Piano Bar Fitzgerald recently underwent a significant revamp while maintaining original features such as the leather bar and chandeliers. On the drinks menu, a selection of signature cocktails named after Gatsby, Fitzgerald and Zelda (Fitzgerald’s wife) pay homage to the era. It’s the perfect spot for a sunset aperitif before dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred La Passagère restaurant.

Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel

Double room with view of the Côte d’Azur

Fed up with playing third fiddle to Monaco and Cannes when it comes to its luxury hotel footprint, Nice is finally starting to step out of its neighbors’ shadow. Last January’s opening of the Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel marked the first of a trio of exciting new five-star openings in the city, with Hôtel du Couvent and Maison Albar Le Victoria also creating ripples of excitement (both are set to open before summer 2024).

Set just back from the famous Promenade des Anglais in Nice’s prestigious Carré d’Or neighborhood, the property is also the first foray into France for the Thai-based Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas. As with its recent openings in Budapest, Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Amsterdam, the brand has chosen a building with a huge slice of history as it pushes further into Europe: dating from the mid 19th century when it first opened as the Hôtel de France, this Belle Epoque landmark harks back to a time when wealthy Brits, Russians and Northern Europeans flocked to the Côte d’Azur in search of winter sun.

Today, the property tempts guests year round with SEEN by Olivier, its rooftop fine dining venue where Executive Chef Denis Gamard puts a modern twist on classic niçoise dishes such as panisse (chickpea fritters) and les petits farcis niçois (stuffed vegetables), a menu of curated experiences including wine tasting in Nice’s Bellet vineyards, and sunny, stylish rooms that mix and match Antantara’s Asian heritage with local touches.

Le Negresco, Nice

Iconic exterior of Le Negresco with sunbeds in foreground

There’s no greater Nice icon than Le Negresco, with its candy-pink domes reminiscent of a towering wedding cake and prime waterfront location, Promenade des Anglais. Dating from 1913, the five-star address has long been the hotel of choice for politicians, celebrities and royalty when in town — as well as a darling of French cinema, with over 36 films shot on-site.

Today, Le Negresco continues to stand out in a sea of branded luxury hotels as one of the rare, French and privately owned five-star hotels in the country. Each room is designed to an individual theme drawn from different periods of French art. In many ways, the property doubles as an art gallery with over 6,000 pieces of artwork adorning its walls.

No square metre is the same, and the sense of whimsy and fun extends to the carousel-themed styling of restaurant La Rotonde which, along with the hotel’s Michelin-starred Le Chantecler, is headed up by executive chef Virginie Basselot. She is only the second woman to hold the revered title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a competition held every four years.

The stylish Le Negresco Beach Club made its debut in 2022 and this year bring another new addition to the offering, N Le Spa. The hotel’s all-new spa has been carefully dug out of the foundations, all while keeping to the eclectic theme, with over three floors of treatment rooms adorned with bright art. There’s even space for an indoor pool.

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