Eden… with mischief on the menu: The Riviera’s most louche haunt celebrates its 150th birthday 

The Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is where Elizabeth Taylor first fooled around with Richard Burton, Kate Moss got into trouble for wearing too little and Marlene Dietrich had an affair with Joe Kennedy — and might even have wanted one with his son Jack, too.

It has always prided itself on its sense of decorum, but you can’t always be assured of that when you’re the world’s favourite destination of the super-famous and mega-rich.

Perched on a rocky promontory outside Antibes and halfway between St Tropez and Monaco on the French Riviera, the hotel has for generations been a revered getaway for the kings and queens of literature, art, music and film.

F. Scott Fitzgerald used it as the model for his fictitious Hotel des Etrangers in his novel Tender Is The Night, describing it as a ‘large, proud, rose-coloured hotel’ that has ‘become a summer resort of notable, fashionable people’ — and he wasn’t exaggerating.

Painters loved the light that gave everything a pearly sheen. Marc Chagall painted outside during the day and moved to the dining room — where Picasso re-designed the menu — to sketch other diners.

Guests at the swimming pool at the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc, Antibes, France in August 1976

Kendall Jenner at the amfAR Cannes Gala 2019 at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on May 23, 2019

Kendall Jenner at the amfAR Cannes Gala 2019 at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on May 23, 2019

Faye Dunaway caused a greater stir in the same dining room when she once pulled out a pair of scales so she could weigh the steamed fish and salad she had ordered.

However, it’s as a place to party — particularly thanks to its proximity to the Cannes Film Festival — that has provided the Hotel du Cap with its enduring fame.

To mark its 150th anniversary, a glossy new coffee-table book, Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc: A Timeless Legend On The French Riviera by Alexandra Campbell, has been produced that celebrates the hotel’s glittering history. Some of that history, however, is barely fit to print and predictably hasn’t made its way into its shiny pages.

Originally built in 1869 by Hippolyte de Villemessant, founder of Le Figaro newspaper, as a sanctuary for writers seeking inspiration, the Napoleon III chateau was turned later into a hotel.

Its 22 acres of landscaped grounds, dotted with pine and palm trees, on the southern tip of Cap d’Antibes include clay tennis courts, a salt water pool blasted out of basalt rock next to the sea and cabanas along the cliffs.

The hotel was put on the map in the 1920s when the Anglo-American invasion of the Riviera started in earnest.

A rich but bohemian American couple, Gerald and Sara Murphy (the inspiration for the characters Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender Is The Night) were introduced to the hotel by composer Cole Porter and rented it for an entire summer, inviting artistic types to join them.

Their guests included Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Picasso, Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Rudolph Valentino and Igor Stravinsky.

Ernest Hemingway in a top hat on the hotel diving platform with the writer Anita Loos sitting nearby on the rocks in 1924

Ernest Hemingway in a top hat on the hotel diving platform with the writer Anita Loos sitting nearby on the rocks in 1924

Picasso sketched naked women on hotel stationery based on the beauties he’d seen sunbathing.

All-night parties on the beach were the norm even then and passions were kindled in the sun.

Zelda Fitzgerald loved to dive off the rocks into the sea at night wearing only a slip, insisting her terrified husband come with her.

Hemingway arrived at the hotel with one woman, his wife Hadley, and left with another, Hadley’s friend, Pauline Pfeiffer, who he would later marry.

Thirsty Americans — particularly Hemingway — were delighted to come because they could drink in peace at a time when Prohibition was in full swing back home.

W. Somerset Maugham — another regular guest — described the French Riviera as a ‘sunny place for shady people’ but the Hotel du Cap only seemed to dazzle with the star power it attracted.

Even David Lloyd George — who liked to go for a morning stroll through the grounds — was among regular visitors before World War II, when the hotel’s most celebrated guests were probably Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The hotel’s owner would always personally greet the couple off the train.

Pablo Picasso (pictured drawing in the hotel guest book in 1955) sketched naked women on hotel stationery based on the beauties he’d seen sunbathing

Pablo Picasso (pictured drawing in the hotel guest book in 1955) sketched naked women on hotel stationery based on the beauties he’d seen sunbathing

After the war, in which the Nazis buried landmines around the hotel grounds, the Cannes Film Festival started in 1946 and opened the floodgates to Hollywood.

Guests included Kirk and Michael Douglas, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, David Niven, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Clint Eastwood, Rock Hudson, Grace Kelly . . . the list goes on. Kirk Douglas loved to show off his water skiing skills past the hotel while Gary Cooper and Picasso set up a shooting gallery.

Clad only in his trunks, 20th Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck would conduct all his business by the pool during Cannes.

Orson Welles is said to have arrived uninvited, after taking a taxi from Italy, tried to sleep in the lobby, then woke up Zanuck and told him: ‘Unless you help, I’m dead. I need $75,000 to finish Othello.’ The cash for the 1951 film was brought from Paris in a mail sack.

Later, as the hotel’s showbusiness quotient soared higher in the 1980s and 1990s, repeat visitors would include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Madonna, happy to stump up $12,000 a night for the villas in the hotel’s grounds that were once block booked by Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin.

The (supposedly) rarefied clientele, the discretion of its staff and the general exclusivity of the place lent itself to romantic assignations for those who preferred to avoid the public gaze.

In 1938, Joseph Kennedy, family patriarch and then U.S. ambassador to Britain, and the film star Marlene Dietrich conducted an affair under their families’ noses. In fact, the actress, then 37, may have had designs on other members of the Kennedy clan, too.

As the two secret lovers slipped quietly between each other’s cabanas, the two families became friends. Future U.S. president John F. Kennedy — Joe’s son — who was 21, recalled dancing with Dietrich one evening to Begin The Beguine and she ‘was holding me so tight and then she slipped her hand down my trousers’.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Hotel du Cap Eden Roc in 1970

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Hotel du Cap Eden Roc in 1970

JFK later speculated his father might have put the vivacious Marlene — who wore high heels even on the hotel beach — up to it. (Half of Hollywood would gossip around the hotel pool that summer — including Tyrone Power, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft, Norma Shearer and Merle Oberon.)

Ten years later it was the turn of another Hollywood goddess, Rita Hayworth, to start an unlikely affair at the hotel. She first met Prince Aly Khan (father of the Aga Khan) at Eden Roc, the hotel’s seaside pavilion. The maitre d’ spotted she was alone, looking bored (after reportedly standing up the Shah of Iran for lunch) and asked if the prince could join her — a fateful decision given they later married.

Elizabeth Taylor came to the hotel on honeymoon with hotelier Conrad Hilton and later started her affair with Richard Burton there, preceded by a small lorry loaded with her luggage.

The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson also honeymooned there after fleeing Britain following his abdication. World leaders including Sir Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, the Bushes and the Clintons all stayed there.

Another regular was the emperor of Ethiopia who visited the pool every morning with an aide whose only job was to remove his trousers before he got into the water. In 1977, Marie Helvin was photographed topless in the same pool.

Some Hotel du Cap stories may be mythical, such as the one about the wife of billionaire financier Saul Steinberg loving the hotel so much she asked him to buy it. He did so and they flew out, only for their chauffeur to take them to the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat which Steinberg had mistakenly bought.

American actor Kirk Douglas (right) prepares to go waterskiing at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes on the French Riviera in August 1969

American actor Kirk Douglas (right) prepares to go waterskiing at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes on the French Riviera in August 1969

Why do celebrities love the place? The rooms are nothing to write home about and there are pricier and more luxurious hotels elsewhere. One reason, say regulars, is that nothing ever changes there. As Johnny Depp put it: ‘Time travel doesn’t get any better.’

The management says some things actually do change but they are careful to hide it. When a garden was moved 30 ft, every rock was numbered on a scale diagram and put back in the same place. The hotel is so set in its ways it only started accepting credit cards in 2005. TVs were banned for decades.

Another reason for its popularity is the staff — 500 for 118 rooms, some of who have been there for decades — who aren’t fawning as they are in Hollywood but are attentive and ‘telepathic’ in anticipating their needs.

It’s not just telepathy, as they keep a list of each regular guest’s likes, dislikes and habits: for example, Nicole Kidman uses the pseudonym ‘Mlle. Blossom’, Tom Cruise has a green bean salad with a glass of sheep’s milk, while Kevin Costner likes charolais beef burgers and emmental cheese.

Most of their preferences are basic. ‘When on vacation, the rich like to pay maharajah prices to live like boy scouts,’ said a former general manager, explaining the hotel’s secret to success.

Sometimes guests can tax them, however — Madonna once requested yellow roses, red fruit and black coffee for breakfast, and Sharon Stone on one occasion ordered a harpist dressed in traditional Irish costume and a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne. Madonna, the only guest known to get up before dawn (for a run along the coastal path with bodyguards), had gym equipment installed in her room before she arrived.

Jean-Claude Irondelle, the general manager for 50 years, was infamous for making no exceptions for the hotel’s sense of decorum. Kate Moss didn’t enjoy being reprimanded for wearing a bikini in the hallways in 1998 as she reportedly trashed her room afterwards.

Hollywood producer Brett Ratner was another guest left unimpressed by what he perceived to be the snootiness of the French.

In 2004 he penned a piece for film industry tome Variety headlined ‘Why I Hate the Hotel du Crap’ and, reeking of entitlement, wrote of how he spent days trying to get a better room for himself and then girlfriend, tennis champion Serena Williams, after they were put in the annex, an overflow building away from the main hotel.

He was given a lifetime ban but, after a change of management, was allowed back.

Mr Irondelle ran the hotel with what regular guest Charles Finch (son of late actor Peter) described as an ‘iron fist’, screaming at children if they misbehaved, throwing people out for not being properly dressed and telling superstars where they could sit.

‘He was a classic Frenchman. Everyone was terrified of him,’ said Mr Finch. He recalled how the British documentary maker Nick Broomfield was once staying in his suite and hung his bathing trunks on the balcony.

‘Irondelle found him in the bar, marched him back to the suite by the scruff of the neck and made him take the clothes down,’ he recalled.

Other critics sniff that Mr Irondelle would go to Hollywood during the hotel’s off-season and be treated like a king by those ‘hoping to stay on his good side so they could get a decent cabana next year’. As Brett Ratner would attest, what mattered to status-anxious guests was location, location, location.

Mr Irondelle left the hotel in 2005 amid accusations by its German owners, the Oetker family, that he had embezzled $1 million, which he denied. There’s also been the occasional robbery and burglary there.

These haven’t been the only occasions on which the hotel has made headlines for the wrong reasons. For years, Harvey Weinstein would base himself at the hotel during the Cannes Film Festival and is accused of abusing at least three women there.

Former New Zealand model Zoe Brock says he lured her to his room in 1997, stripped naked and asked her to give him a massage whereupon she locked herself in the bathroom.

Actress Asia Argento said Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in the hotel in the same year. Model Samantha Panagrosso alleged the predator joined her in the Hotel du Cap’s pool during the 2003 film festival and groped her under the water.

One thing that is always evolving at the Hotel du Cap is the clientele. Four years ago, the biggest excitement there was when reality TV star and model Kendall Jenner — half-sister of Kim Kardashian — swung from the trapeze that hangs over the sea from the rocks, thrilling millions of her social media followers.

The late film producer Robert Evans used to go there annually with his wife, the actress Ali MacGraw, in the years when David Niven, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton also went, describing it as ‘impossibly glamorous’.

However, the last time he went, he said he checked out early. ‘Now it’s been taken over by a bunch of salesmen,’ he told the Hollywood Reporter in 2014. ‘It’s all about money… it was too good to last.’

He may have a point. The sort of guests who make headlines now include ex-footballer Frank Lampard, Victoria’s Secret model Shanina Shaik and, of course, blingy Kendall Jenner.

Big money is big money, of course, but they’re not exactly the stuff of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button