Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat: Paradise Found

The Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat features 73 guestrooms and suites along with a private villa. With its pool, gym, spa, tennis courts, gourmet and casual dining, guests don’t want for anything.
Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat
Paradise Found
by Delia von Neuschatz

Nestled among the emerald pines that border the sapphire sea of the Côte D’Azur, the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat is one of the French Riviera’s most glittering jewels. Built in 1908, this grande dame of the Belle Époque shows that loveliness, age and relevance go hand in hand for it continues to reap awards and accolades, including a coveted “Palace” i.e. six-star designation.

Kings, queens, movie stars, business moguls, artists, writers and a quite a few mere mortals too – the cognoscenti anyway - return year after year seduced by the sheer beauty of the place, the quiet discretion and unsurpassed location. Bold-faced names who want to see and be seen often tread a well-worn path to the Grand Hotel’s competitor in Cap D’Antibes, the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, only to retreat afterwards to the Grand Hotel for complete relaxation and total indulgence. Famous guests include Elizabeth Taylor, David Niven, Aristotle Onassis, Roger Moore, Eva Longoria, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey and Angelina Jolie.
Endless Mediterranean views from the hotel’s grounds.
Cap Ferrat, a wooded peninsula located between Nice and Monaco, is the apex of the French Riviera’s “Golden Triangle” comprising nearby elegant Beaulieu-sur-Mer and the picturesque harbor port of Villefranche. The scenic villages of Èze and Saint-Paul-de-Vence are only a short drive away. As such, things to see and do abound in the region, but quite possibly, the best pastime in this earthly paradise is doing nothing save for soaking up the sun, sea and splendor.
A view of a nearby lighthouse from the hotel’s gardens. “Ferrat” comes from the word “feral” denoting the area’s wild beauty which has remained largely unspoiled, unlike some other parts of the Riviera such as St. Tropez.
The tops of a sea of Aleppo pines.
Boasting a beautiful Gustave Eiffel-designed rotunda with magnificent Mediterranean views, the Grand Hotel underwent a $103 million renovation in 2009. Nothing was left untouched, not even the lush Provençal gardens. Renowned interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon (who is now updating the Ritz in Paris) helmed the refit of the lobby, guestrooms and restaurants as well as that of La Residence, a new Frank Lloyd Wright-style wing housing suites with private infinity pools and a spa. Since then, industry awards have come tumbling in including “Best Palace in the World ” “Best Spa in Europe,” and “Meilleur Ouvrier de France,” the highest honor in France for chefs and other artisans, for Luc Debove, the Head Pastry Chef at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Cap.
The hotel’s rotunda looks out over a carpet of Aleppo pines onto the gardens and the sea beyond.
The hotel’s soaring lobby features a crystal table by Lalique.
A superior double room.
Even the bathrooms have million-dollar views.
The modern La Residence annex.
Popular with families, the spacious suites in La Residence …
… come with their own infinity pools.
Helmed by Executive Chef Didier Aniès, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Cap, creates a new menu daily “selon le marché” using locally-sourced ingredients.
The wine cellar boasts Chateau Lafite Rothschild crus going back to 1799 (above) and a complete collection of chateau D’Yquem dating back to 1854.
The Bar with its green Murano glass chandeliers.
After a workout en plein air
… one can retreat to a covered chaise for a refreshing libation and a massage.
A bird’s eye view of the hotel, the grounds and the pool.
Chief among the hotel’s attractions are its 17 acres of park-like gardens planted with over 400 species of Mediterranean flora. A walk or simply a rest amidst the thousands of flowers and tropical vegetation, surrounded by the song of cicadas is balm for the soul. So is a dip in the hotel’s Olympic-sized heated saltwater pool, followed by a leisurely lunch at the casual Club Dauphin.
The poolside Club Dauphin.
The 33-meter swimming pool, originally built in 1939, is reached by private funicular.
A cypress-lined path leads to the funicular.
The glass funicular was originally installed in 1927 and rebuilt 40 years later.
The pool is where you are most likely to find local legend Pierre Gruneberg, the hotel’s swim instructor for the last 64 years – yes, 64 years. “I saw the place and fell in love with it,” he says of his first encounter with the Grand Hotel. That was back in 1950. Every summer since then, he has imparted his original breathing techniques to countless pupils including Ralph Lauren, Paul McCartney, Robin Williams, Liza Minelli, Aristotle Onassis, David Niven, Shirley Bassey, Ronald Reagan, Eli Wiesel, George Bush Sr., Andrew Lloyd Webber, Domenico Dolce, Bono and Tina Turner.
Pierre Gruneberg, the hotel’s longtime and legendary “Maitre-Nageur” in his trademark conical straw hat. Pierre credits his longevity to exercise, moderation in diet and fulfilling relationships. He swims a mile in the Mediterranean every day, rain or shine, and is married to Doreen Chanter, a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed accomplished English singer 20 years his junior.
Pierre Gruneberg in 1950, shortly after his arrival at the Grand Hotel.
On dry land, Pierre has hobnobbed with the likes of Picasso, Somerset Maugham and Jean Cocteau among others, collecting autographs and drawings in his Livre D’Or or Golden Book since the 1950s. At the age of 83, Pierre shows no signs of slowing down and has no plans to retire any time soon. Come winter, he can be found on the slopes of Courchevel, teaching the world to ski.

Pierre’s Livre D’Or with drawings by Picasso and Jean Cocteau among the many autographs he’s compiled over the years. His collection of names continues to grow.
Originally a fashionable wintertime resort before it was inaugurated as a chic summertime destination by glamorous Jazz-Age American expats, Sarah and Gerald Murphy, the inspirations behind F. Scott Fitzgeralds’ Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender is the Night, the Riviera provided refuge from the cold for scores of European and Russian aristocrats.

King Leopold II of Belgium was especially enamored of the region, and Cap Ferrat in particular, buying up the western side of peninsula. With virtually unlimited funds at his disposal, courtesy of his notoriously brutal exploitation of the Belgian Congo, the king set about building sumptuous villas for himself and his mistresses, connecting them with secret underground tunnels in the process. Making sure that his spiritual bases were covered, the monarch also built one for his father-confessor - the Villa Mauresque. Subsequently owned by Somerset Maugham, the Villa Mauresque (Moorish Villa) became an obligatory stop for the literary set and Riviera society for decades.

Visitors to Maugham’s home of nearly 40 years included Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Aga Khan, T. S. Eliot, H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Ian Fleming, Noël Coward and Virginia Woolf.
King Leopold II of Belgium and Caroline Lacroix, the most notorious of King Leopold’s mistresses. She was a 16 year-old Parisian prostitute when she met the 65-year old king in 1899. Bearing him two sons, she stayed with him until his death in 1909. In turn, he lavished upon her large sums of money, gifts, a noble title and estates including Villa Radiana in Cap Ferrat.
Purchased by American socialite Lynn Wyatt after Maugham’s death in the 1960s, the Villa Mauresque is now reportedly owned by a Ukrainian business tycoon. Some of his famous neighbors on Cap Ferrat include musical theater impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, owner of the Villa Maryland, an 18-bedroom Belle Époque manse.
Somerset Maugham and his Villa Mauresque.
While most people can only catch tantalizing glimpses of these spreads through electrified fences and densely-packed cypress trees, there are several storied estates which are open to the public. Visits to the sumptuous Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens, the elegant Grecian Villa Kérylos and the living work of art that is the Villa Santo Sospir are a must.
The rose-colored Villa Ephrussi de Rotshchild, set on what had once been an arid rock crossed by mule track, was commissioned at the turn of the 20th century by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild (1864 – 1934), a member of the Rothschild banking family. It occupies a promontory on Cap Ferrat overlooking the Bay of Villefranche and the Bay of Beaulieu. The Baroness filled the mansion with antique furniture, old master paintings, rare porcelain and objets d’art, surrounding it with nine separate gardens which altogether have been classified by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Remarkable Gardens of France.
The distinctive Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu-sur-Mer was built by a French archaeologist and his wife, a member of the Ephrussi banking family in the early 1900s. Laid out around an open peristyle courtyard, it was designed to recreate the atmosphere of a luxurious ancient Greek villa – one with all the latest conveniences of the early 20th century including hot and cold running water and underfloor heating.
Located a short distance from the Grand Hotel is the Villa Santo Sospir. It belongs to the Weisweiller family who were patrons of the writer/artist/film director Jean Cocteau. A guest of the Parisian socialite, Francine Weisweiller (1916 – 2003), Cocteau received permission from his host to paint the living room and went on to cover virtually every wall of the house with his frescoes.
The Grand Hotel has its own villa too, although this one is available to paying guests only. Built in the 1940s, the four-bedroom spread boasts its own heated swimming pool among other amenities like two staff rooms and a gym.
The Grand Hotel’s General Manager, 42-year-old Marc Leveau. This former member of the Belgian National Rugby team has been at the Grand Hotel for the last four years, seeing it through its extensive renovation. Ultimately, it is the hotel’s privacy and serenity to which he credits its loyal following.
The Head Concierge, Christiane Grün, is a 25-year veteran of the Grand Hotel. She has the distinction of being one of only two women who are chief concierges at palace hotels in France.
Cap Ferrat as seen from the terrace of the hotel and restaurant La Chèvre D’Or. Perched high above the sea in the medieval village of Èze, it is a memorable spot for lunch. The Grand Hotel is located at the tip of the peninsula.
The loveliest spectacle on Cap Ferrat, however, is the light-filled natural scenery. “This is a place,” wrote Henri Matisse, “where light plays the first part. Color comes afterwards.” And the luminous beauty of the presque isle can be experienced free of charge by walking. Three marked trails of varying difficulty provide scenic vistas year-round. Afterwards, perhaps there’s no better hard-earned reward for these seaside ambles than a refreshing cocktail underneath the Aleppo pines of the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat. Paradise found indeed.
The umbrella-covered terrace …
And the vistas before it ...