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Nice, France Today

YOUNG NICE

Young Nice is more purely fun-loving than Grand Nice. Certainly it's more dangerous. The only time I was attacked by hotel furniture was in Nice, at the Hi. My attacker was a table supported by the chairs pulled up to it. The chairs could be moved out to sit on, but only so far, lest the table collapse. Sadly, there was no user's manual in my room explaining this.

Do you smell Philippe Starck somewhere in this story?If so, you are warm. The Hi was designed by Matali Crasset, one of his protégées. Situated in a posh residential neighborhood just back from the water, the Hi is exactly like a Starck hotel, only more so. It is yet more toylike, has more gadgets, and its underlying philosophy is deeper. The Hi, Crasset has said, is "a place for liv-ing an experience." At $240, the cost of a double, the experience does not include porters, someone to show you to your room, or bathroom Kleenex. It does include plastic cups.

One thing I will give Crasset is her design for the Happy Bar, which was cleverly inspired by the ribbed interior of a ship hull—very tonic, very graphic. And I have to admit that I seemed to be the only one at the hotel who was not loving it. On the rooftop water bed everyone raved about the fact that Crasset had dared to place the bathtubs in the middle of the rooms. Clearly there's something wrong with me.

Steps from the daily Cours Saleya market, noted architect-designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte's remake of the Hôtel Beau Rivage is more in the Christian Liaigre mode, meaning little color and lots of abrupt angles and dark-chocolate wood. I was happier here, even though the look is a bit tough and cookie-cutter, and nearly all traces of the place Matisse knew have been brutally erased. Not that history is on the minds of the Beau Rivage's new constituency. For buff couples in Pucci crushers trailed by kids in real, not counterfeit, Burberry T-shirts, the hotel's most compelling feature is its beach club—the only one in town with an erotic whiff of St.-Tropez.

The trope at the Windsor is guest rooms conceived by artists. Except for Glen Baxter, who did a charming drawing of a cute explorer on a wall in room No. 23, I'd never heard of any of them. Often the artists' ideas are crudely executed, and sometimes they're just plain scary—no way could I spend the night with stuffed animals locked in a glass-fronted closet. Still, the Windsor has a pretty pool and walled garden, it's a five-minute walk to the beach, and the price is right. And you can always book one of the "traditional" rooms, where only a provincial decorator has intervened, if you're creeped out by imprisoned Babars.

The difference between shopping in Grand Nice and Young Nice is the difference between good and great. Grégoire Gardette will consider anything for his boutique, Voyage Intérieur, as long as it's from the Mediterranean. Bath linens from Damascus, beeswax church candles from Cyprus, and ceramics from Vallauris, down the coast, make the cut. Zita Vito is a rambling, wonderfully mysterious housewares, garden, and accessories bazaar in a covered passage between two tall buildings. Massive hammered-copper platters and clanking tribal jewelry are just the thing for sophisticated bohos who live in the West but pine for the East. The Astier de Villatte family launched one of the best (and most abused) tabletop trends of the last century: pottery that looks old, with clay peeking through the glazes, but is in fact new. Members of the clan fell out, and one of them, Jean-Baptiste, is prohibited from using the Astier de Villatte name, though he is still making elegant swan-handled tureens and amusing pitchers with protruding breasts. Galeri Démesure sells his Collection Regards alongside zinc obelisks and fantastical bee-light chandeliers with snowy branches that look like a forest after a blizzard.

There's not a Young Nice shopkeeper who hasn't been influenced by Jacqueline Morabito, the visionary decorator-designer with a namesake gallery and embroidery atelier in nearby La Colle sur Loup. Morabito made her name selling an idea of rusticity—poetic, theatrical, and somehow sincere despite its essential fauxness—to the bourgeoisie. She is also known for her devotion to white: where others see a noncolor, she sees a rainbow. Her store is filled with her signature chunky furniture, plus ceramic-pearl necklaces and wax candlesticks (for actually holding candles, not for burning). Next door, Morabito's Petite Épicerie stocks vintage tea towels, excellent olive oil, and a range of terrifyingly precise baskets. I still wonder about the consequences of using the potato basket for eggs.

Some of Young Nice's chefs are go-ing to have to try harder if they are to keep up with the merchants. From its hilltop perch outside the city, Jean-Marc Delacourt's Parcours Live Restaurant has heart-catching views of the littoral; rigidly modern furnishings; and a short selection of technically impressive if austere dishes (roasted pollack with a pellicle of chorizo). But while the idea of running a direct video feed from the kitchen to plasma screens in the dining room isn't a bad one, the images have all the charm of bank surveillance footage. Jouni, named for its 34-year-old Finnish chef, is where high rollers from La Réserve, the famously oh-la-la hotel in neighboring Beaulieu, go to shift down and eat great fish in a nostalgic bistro setting.

But the motor driving Young Nice isn't a restaurant, or a shop, or a hotel. It's a spa, Hip, which bills itself as the first holistic spa in France. I spent two hours with co-owner Annick Savin so that she could explain the concept behind Hip, but making sense of her words was like trying to capture a butterfly with a screwdriver. To me, it was just spa-talk hocus-pocus. But it doesn't matter. Hip is the most provocative-looking spa I've seen in years, with egg-shaped treatment beds upholstered in wet-look vinyl, and haircutting stations built around sculpted-cement boulders. With the Hi just a p away from Hip, confusion was inevitable. Savin worries that people calling the hotel when they want the spa may be costing her business.

"It's intolerable," she told me. "Hi cannot continue to profit from our success. It must change its name. Or else. We have Hip Feet and Hip Bleu and Le Buste Hip and Multi Hip and Hip Custom Deluxe. Hi is not Hip."

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