Monday, March 24, 2014

Excelsior Régina Palace Nice-Cimiez

One cannot speak of the district of Cimiez in Nice and not mention the anchor of the area, the historic Excelsior Régina Palace.

Practically across the street from the Musee Matisse, construction of this majestic former luxury palace hotel started in 1895.  Designed by architect Sebastien Marcel Donohoe, it took only 18 months to complete and for the time it was considered to be state of the art having electric lighting by incandescent lamps, plumbing and central heating and yet staying true in keeping with the romantic Belle Époque design style.

In fact I would say this is one of the most impressive examples of grand Belle Époque design that can still be seen around the French Riviera today, and that also includes the tone of the lavish garden across the street which was built using the excavation of the grounds for the hotel.

The story that is told today states because the Cimiez location is on top of a hill overlooking the city of Nice, at the time only the rich aristocracy and elite established estates here as it wasn’t easily accessible on a regular day-to-day basis unlike now.

Also, Queen Victoria had just started visiting the French Riviera bringing with her a large entourage and influential interest to the region.  It is said that the Excelsior Régina Palace was built with the Queen’s particular needs in mind since she had already previously stayed in Menton, Cannes, Grasse and Nice.


Sure enough, after the completion of the hotel Queen Victoria did arrive with her 100 plus entourage taking over the entire west wing of the hotel for her summer holidays where she enjoyed her freedom using the extensive private park hotel garden and where she was even known to take out a donkey she had purchased from a local and go for buggy rides by herself around the area.

Later over the years, during the First World War the hotel was requisitioned by the military authority and turned the prestigious property into a military hospital.

In 1920 a property company bought the building and turned it into Hotel Regina, but only nine years later with the 1929 stock market crash and general long term economic depression the hotel went bankrupt and sold at auction, furnishings and all.

In 1937 a new real estate firm bought the building and transformed the four hundred rooms into ninety-eight condo units which still exist in various shapes and sizes to this day.  One of the first tenants from 1938 to 1943 was the painter Henri Matisse who lived in a large apartment/workshop.

Although entry is restricted to the individual property owners today, if you look online at real estate listings for the building you can usually get a good idea of how individual each of the condo properties appear to be, if you are lucky enough perhaps you know someone to get inside the building.

If you are a movie buff and have a keen eye you will notice portions of the Regina Palace have been used as location shoots for the movies: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Good Thief, mainly of the latter.

To this day the former Excelsior Régina Palace is exquisitely maintained.  It would be an obvious privilege to live in such a characteristic building with a long history with panoramic views of the surrounding city of Nice all the way out to the sea

Making your way and viewing the intricate details of the Regina Palace is a must on your tour of Nice-Cimiez.