Secret Hotels of the French Riviera
Where life is both sweet and salty, thanks to the Mediterranean breezes.
On the bright blue Bay of Garavan, about a 10-minute walk from the center of town, this bit of affordable chic is just across the street from the beach--and less than a mile from the Italian border. (You can jog there on your morning run.) The entire 44-room hotel underwent a two-year renovation, completed in 2004. Colors are light; rooms are airy; and there are soft, square armchairs in the lounge, which is right next to a small pool. It's worth spending extra for a room facing the sea--you'll be rewarded with a great view and a wooden balcony with a table and chairs. A road lines the entire seafront of Menton, but once the double-paned windows are closed, the whoosh of traffic is gone. Breakfast is served on the downstairs patio, under the banana trees. For the true Riviera experience, rent a lounge chair and umbrella ($18 per day) on the private beach and have a waiter from the beach restaurant bring you a drink. The hotel even has its own ice cream parlor next to the beach. 29 Porte de France, 011-33/4-93-35-89-50, napoleon-menton.com, doubles $131-$155.
Les Deux Freres
Go up--past the crowds, past the noise--to the tiny cliff-top village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Stop to gasp at the panorama from the tiny town square, and notice the lovely dining terrace to your right. It's attached to the restaurant of the intimate Les Deux Freres, in a 19th-century stone building that was once a school. A mahogany bar fills the lobby; a narrow staircase leads up to the 10 small, pretty rooms. Each has a name indicating its theme: Provencal, African, Marine, and so on. Views range from lovely to stupendous; depending on your room's orientation, you might look out on the town square, the rugged hills, or--if you get the full frontal--the cliffs, the sea, and, in the distance, Monaco. 1 place des Deux Freres, 011-33/4-93-28-99-00, lesdeuxfreres.com, doubles $120-$132, closed late November to early December.
Owned by the art-loving Redolfi family, the Windsor fits somewhere between classic accommodations and an artist's loft. A massive Chinese Imperial bed frame decorates the lobby, while the elevator has a NASA-themed photo collage and a liftoff soundtrack. Twenty-four of the 57 rooms have been designed by artists: One is adorned with colorful writing, and guests are invited to record their dreams in a book; another is a bare room papered in gold leaf, with a glowing white double bed. There are other artists' rooms that are less demanding conceptually, the primary element being tropical murals. Two huge wooden Buddhas keep an eye on the fitness area on the top floor, where you can have a massage or a sauna for an extra fee. A lush garden surrounds a plunge pool. 11 rue Dalpozzo, 011-33/4-93-88-59-35, hotelwindsornice.com, doubles $132-$187.
Villa La Tour
Decent hotels are virtually nonexistent in the center of Old Nice, so the reopening of this one in late 2003 was a welcome event. It's in an 18th-century convent, and the new owner, from the legendary Hotel Negresco, brought with her more than a whiff of style: The 16 rooms got complete makeovers, with designer fabrics on the walls and chic lamps and lighting fixtures. The overall effect is cozy and contemporary, if a bit cramped. (For more space, opt for the "superieure" rooms, though they cost more.) Hairdryers and data ports are standard, but there's no elevator, and the hallways are very narrow. Most rooms have views of the old town, and a few have small balconies that look down on the labyrinth of streets; if your room doesn't, you can always go up to the roof garden. The flower market is a short walk away. En route, you'll pass a plethora of shops, bars, and restaurants. 4 rue de la Tour, 011-33/4-93-80-08-15, villa-la-tour.com, doubles $63-$94.
Auberge des Seigneurs
A former tavern and postal relay, the hotel has six large, high-ceilinged rooms for rent; they retain a feel of Ye Olde Days without being kitsch. The ancient walls are painted white, setting off the bold curtains and dark wood furniture. Oriental rugs are scattered over the tomettes, the octagonal terra-cotta tiles that cover the floors of old buildings all over Provence. There are flowers and fruit in every room, but no Internet connection, no TV, and no A/C (the thick walls make it unnecessary). Downstairs, copper bed warmers hang over a wood-manteled fireplace. Through a side door is the restaurant, in front is a flower-bedecked square, and just behind, out the back entrance, is the old city of Vence. Place du Frene, 011-33/4-93-58-04-24, doubles $83-$101, closed November--February.