“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, halfway between Marseille and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured hotel. Deferential palms cool its flushed façade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach. Lately it has become a summer resort of notable and fashionable people”. Francis Scott Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night, 1934)
In a time period where many American travelers yearn for their summer retreat to Europe, we are keeping the dream alive with a dive into history on some of the region’s most storied properties. Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is one such place, an iconic destination that’s provided visitors with legendary hospitality for 150-years. Its story dates back to 1862 with Hyppolite de Villemessant, French journalist and founder of Le Figaro, who wanted to create a peaceful oasis where artists and writers could relax and ease the pressure brought on by the constant demands of their creativity. His idea was to create a coastal safe haven for these intellectuals to enjoy for as long as they wished with the creation of the Villa Soleil. After years of additional nearby land acquisition, ownership changes, and expansion of the hotel, the magnificent Napoleon III style building known as the Grand Hotel du Cap was born. Its official inauguration was held in February 1870; but, that’s just the beginning.
By 1900, the Grand Hotel du Cap began attracting upscale guests. Eventually, the massive main corridor of the Grand Hôtel –an annex used as a teahouse – was built. The teahouse of the Grand Hotel du Cap and was frequented by monarchs, maharajas, businessmen, and artists living in Cap d’Antibes. Yet, at the time, the French Riviera was considered by high society as a substandard, unsuitable location in the summer; so for years, the Grand Hotel du Cap remained a winter destination. When the hotel was requisitioned by the French Red Cross as a hospital for those wounded in the war and André Sella began observing nurses from the Red Cross enjoying the beautiful weather with a refreshing swim, Sella decided to build a seawater pool for his guests to help boost the summer season. It was then that the summer holiday on the French Riviera was pioneered.
In 1922, American tourists began flocking to the French Riviera. This marked the beginning of the Americans on the Riviera. This crowd shared incredible moments together; they dressed up, entertained and celebrated, Gerald and Sara with elegance, Picasso with humor. Writers and artists including the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway enjoyed long stays at the hotel. F. Scott Fitzgerald would immortalize these moments with the “Hôtel des étrangers” in Tender is the Night. Marc Chagall sketched drawings in one of the cabanas on the shoreline.
In 1936, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were such loyal guests that André Sella would welcome them personally at the Antibes station whenever they visited. In the period following the Duke’s abdication in order to marry the future Duchess of Windsor, the pair would often enjoy long stays at the Grand Hôtel du Cap, away from prying eyes.
But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing through the property’s 150 years of history. In 1944, the U.S. Navy bombarded the Eden-Roc pavilion, launching three strikes that would partly damage Eden-Roc. Their mission was to reach the Germans positioned at La Garoupe harbor. Their aim was to destroy the cannons pointing towards them, unaware of the fact that they were made entirely of wood. The Americans then rebuilt everything at their own expense. During World War II, the Grand Hotel du Cap was requisitioned as a military hospital. Shortly after the Axis forces surrendered, General Eisenhower made a special visit to show his recognition and appreciation to the region. Allied troops stayed on the premises for three years, and would restore the hotel to its former glory before their departure. During this era, Pablo Picasso and his wife, Olga, second ballerina in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, were frequent visitors to the Grand Hôtel du Cap. It was then that the painter “returned to a more realistic style that revived in him a certain decorative flair and a taste for colour schemes and elegant depictions.” A great admirer of President Lincoln, Picasso, curious about the American spirit, appreciated the company of Gerald Murphy. Also, the sweet nature of Sara Murphy did not go unnoticed by the painter. He was amused by how, when at the beach, she draped her pearls over her back because, she explained, “they needed sunning.”
There was a pivotal moment for the hotel back in 1964 as Rudolf-August and Maja Oetker sailed along the Mediterranean, passing a beautiful mansion in Cap d’Antibes (this being, of course, the Grand Hotel du Cap). It was love at first sight. Five years later, Mr. von Boch, owner of the company Villeroy & Boch and avid guest of the hotel, advised his friend, Rudolf-August Oetker, that the establishment was for sale and talked him into purchasing the exceptional hotel. André Sella wanted to sell the property to someone who shared the same culture and who would carry on the family tradition and preserve the spirit of the hotel. Upon returning from a trip to Argentina in 1969, Maja and Rudolf-August Oetker met with André Sella. Instantly, a relationship of trust, respect and appreciation blossomed between the two men, who shared a common philosophy and shared values. That same year, Mr. Rudolf-August Oetker would take possession of the precious gem. This change in ownership thus marked the dawn of a new era for the Grand Hotel du Cap as part of what is today known as the highly respected Oetker Collection.
It would take several years to complete the necessary restorations to render the space compatible with modern expectations of comfort. Rudolf-August Oetker hired Hamburg architect Professor Pinnau, to complete the works. “He had a gift of creating perfect proportions and of incorporating the existing style.” The teahouse, now dubbed “La Rotonde”, was restored, while the restaurant, then set up under a tent, was transformed into the majestic dining hall for the Eden-Roc restaurant. From 1970 to 1990, Pierre-Marie Rudelle, famous trompe-l’oeil artist, decorated various spaces at the Eden-Roc pavilion to render the space even more stunning. To this day, his work provides a glimpse into his unique take on the world. In 1987, the Grand Hotel du Cap officially became the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.
In the winter of 2006, Philippe Perd, at the time General Manager at Chateau Saint- Martin & Spa, launched major renovations to modernize the establishment as part of an ambitious project to update the premises over the course of several years. Over the years, Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc has acquired legendary status as an outstanding venue for celebration. In fact, it is the location of one of the year’s most anticipated and extravagant events, hosted by Vanity Fair as part of the Cannes Film Festival. This exquisite evening attracts up to 400 stars, celebrities, and VIP guests.
Every year, a new area of the property is being renovated to the delight of its guests and to maintain its elegance and beauty over time. On this note, Managing Director, Philippe Perd, states, “The reputation of this legendary establishment was formed thanks to the competence and know-how of these unparalleled hoteliers whom I like to call, the artisans of paradise. I would like to thank them all for their dedication, commitment, and the passion they bring to the job. They set the bar for excellence in service with renowned international talent. Together, we will write a new chapter in the history of Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. I am grateful to our guests who, through their loyalty and devotion, helped to gradually build the reputation of this palace. As Villemessant once said, ‘I think they felt and continue to feel at home.’”
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