Whoever said 'it's not the destination but the journey that counts' never checked in to the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, says Rosie Paterson.
Every so often you come into conversation with people who like to witter on about how they’re ‘not hotel people’. According to these people, all hotels are too big, too formal, too staid and too impersonal.
These people haven’t been to Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, which has been presiding over the French Riviera for more than 150 years.
The 1870 Belle Époque gem has all the markings of a typical grande-dame hotel: There’s the guest list that reads like a who’s who of western tastemakers (the Kennedy clan; F. Scott Fitzgerald; John and Yoko; Karl Lagerfeld), the marble lobby and classic decor in the 40 rooms, 68 suites and three villas. The butterflies-in-your-tummy feeling that, as you walk in those luminaries’ footsteps, that you’re an important footnote in history.
You smooth down your skirt, stand a little taller, walk a little slower.
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Its walls fizz with je ne sais quoi.
And oh if those old walls could talk: Pablo Picasso, Johnny Depp and Celine Dion have all graced the bedrooms (although not all at once); Monica Bellucci was — it’s rumoured — allowed to spend the night in one of the beach cabañas (the same cabañas that Marc Chagall once sat and sketched in); F. Scott Fitzgerald immortalised the building as Hôtel des Etrangers, in Tender Is the Night.
Put simply, this Oetker hotel is the stuff of legend.
Despite all the grandeur though, Hotel du Cap has always danced to its own tune, accepting only cash payments up until 2006, resisting installing TVs until 2012 and banishing well-heeled guests for being rude to staff.
And it’s not afraid to be fun.
At Giovanni’s—the easy-going Italian pizzeria sequestered in among the maritime pine trees — twinkly eyed staff cajole you into having ‘just one more Spritz’. The aperitivo swirled into each glass comes from Nonino, an Italian distillery that has been run by the women of one family for four generations.
The main building — a pearly-white, symmetrical and shuttered pantheon of taste — is the only bit tall enough to pierce through the pine canopy that stretches over 22 acres of land. This parkland is an adult’s playground.
There are clay tennis courts, an ice-cream bar and saltwater swimming pool blasted out of basalt rock in the heady days before the First World War (and photographed by legendary photographer Slim Aarons in 1976 (above)). A trapeze frame hovers over the Mediterranean, but reader, be warned. In hindsight, it should only be broached by the leanest of limbs.
The rose garden was laid out by Lady Onslow, whose politician husband helped revive the hotel’s fortunes, lying in tatters in the wake of the Long Depression. Exactly 33 years later, another Brit sought sanctuary among the neatly laid-out blooms. The Duke of Windsor. (above), busy licking his wounds — or raising a glass — post-abdication.
And 33 is the number of those aforementioned, roughly hewn cabanas, installed in the 1930s, that perch precariously on the hotel’s own stretch of rocky coastline. Competition to nab one is fierce (available for private hire from €570 per day, about £496) despite how simple they are, but then according to head of communications Valerie Muller: ‘Luxury nowadays is more about emotions and experiences.’
The cabana’s team of dedicated staff proclaim number 512 the best — ‘it’s the most private and has its own shower’ — but I’d like to make a case for number 501 from where, in between morsels of a club sandwich, you can steal a glimpse of swimmers in their salad days approaching that treacherous trapeze.
There’s sometimes a sense of satisfaction in heading home from a holiday, but at Hotel du Cap, I felt as if I was already there.
While you’re there
• General manager Philippe Perd is partial to a competitive round of pétanque in the hotel gardens — he ‘always wins’, however, so start practising now
• The old town of Antibes and the Picasso Museum — built upon the foundations of the ancient Greek town of Antipolis — are both worth exploring
• Ask for a room in the Eden-Roc Pavilion — they all enjoy uninterrupted views of the Riviera and sunset
• Go for a jaunt along the Riviera in the hotel’s bespoke Aquariva Super