History of the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc
In the opening lines of his fourth and final novel, Tender is the night, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes a “grand and proud pink hotel” nestled on the French Riviera between Marseille and the Italian border and about eight kilometers from Cannes: beach. Lately it has become a seaside resort of notable and fashionable people … ”
What Fitzgerald called the Hôtel des Étrangers de Gausse was of course inspired by the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, a sparkling hideaway for the one percent since 1870. For 150 years, the property served as a sunny home for the titans. literature (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stefan Zweig, Noël Coward), cinema (Marlene Dietrich, Alain Delon, Elizabeth Taylor, who brought all her husbands there, and every Hollywood star in town for Cannes), ‘art (Chagall, Picasso, Matisse), music (John and Yoko, Jane and Serge, Ella Fitzgerald), politics (Churchill, De Gaulle, the Kennedys) and high society (Russian aristocrats, the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson).
But despite its esteemed reputation for hosting stratospheric acclaimed guests (and ordering equally stratospheric room rates during peak season), the hotel has managed to retain a refreshing and informal feel, says historian Alexandra Campbell, author of the new coffee table book. Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: A timeless legend on the Côte d’Azur. “When I was approached for this project, I first thought, ‘Am I really that interested in all these glamorous people? “I didn’t want it to be just a reflection of the bling,” she said. “Boy, I was in rehab.”
What Campbell found in his research was a hotel with a deeply fascinating history that has survived not only two world wars and two pandemics (Covid-19 included), but also the globalization of the hospitality industry that has made so many old ladies impersonal, uninteresting and contrived. Throughout its century-and-a-half existence, the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc has had an uncanny knack for consistency, in large part because it was in the hands of only two families, first the Sella of Italy, and, since 1969, the Oetkers of Germany, whose collection of properties includes Le Bristol in Paris and Jumby Bay Island in Antigua. “The fact that he’s not on a chain means you’ve had people who really love him, take care of him, feed him, like parents,” she says.
And they presided over a revolving door of celebrities who searched the Hotel du Cap for sun, play, love, rest or all of the above. “At the end of the day, these are normal human beings who just want a little bit of release from the worries and worries of the world,” says Campbell. “Like everyone who goes on vacation, it’s like that. A break.”
That’s not to say that every guest was necessarily well behaved. Below is a brief history of the legendary hotel, which reopens for the 2021 season on June 4 (just in time for the planned reopening of EU borders to Americans).
The Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc was first called Villa Soleil and designed as an artists’ retreat.
In 1865, Jean Hippolyte Auguste Delaunay de Villemessant, owner of France Le Figaro newspaper, had an idea: to build a retreat for anxious and exhausted artists and writers on the French Riviera, where they could recharge their batteries surrounded by sea and mountains for as long as they wanted, and for very little money (costs would be subsidized by hotel owners). He aptly named it Villa Soleil.
Unfortunately, the landowners of Cap d’Antibes, led by Alexey Plestcheef, a former captain of the Russian Imperial Guard, had other ideas. Plestcheef, whose late brother-in-law Count Pavel Fersen built the famous Grande Allée which now extends from the steps of the Hôtel du Cap to the Mediterranean, acquired dozens of hectares and decided instead to build a luxury palace – artists would still be welcome, but the 1% would be welcome too. During construction, the name of Villa Soleil was changed to Grand Hôtel du Cap, which officially opened in 1870.
The glory of the hotel was short-lived. The Franco-Prussian War broke out that summer and was followed by the Long Depression, which lasted for two decades. The Grand Hôtel du Cap remained abandoned for 17 years until the Italian hotelier Antoine Sella discovered the gem in 1887 and brought it back to life. In 1903 he modernized the facilities with the help of the British politician Lord Onslow. When Antoine died in 1931, his son André took over the property and the hotel remained in the Sella family until the Oetkers bought it in 1969 (it was renamed Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in 1987 ).
“It’s a truly international company,” says Campbell. “It was imagined by a Frenchman, opened by Russians, managed and then owned by Italians, financed by a Briton. the Germans bought it in the 1960s. It’s a place for the whole world. “
The French Riviera was originally a winter playground.
Thank the Americans for making the Côte d’Azur a true summer destination. Prior to the 1920s, the area was bustling from September to April, then closed in between. The fashionable ensemble considered it too hot in July and August, opting instead for cooler places facing the Atlantic such as Deauville on the Normandy coast or Biarritz. Then in the early 1920s, Gerald and Sara Murphy, wealthy American expatriates who later inspired the characters of Nicole and Dick Diver in Tender is the night, were invited by their friend Cole Porter to spend the season on the Riviera. “There was no going back to vacation in Normandy after that,” said Campbell.
In 1923, the couple rented the Hotel du Cap for the summer, became the center of a star-studded social circle that included Porter, the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Jean Cocteau and Picasso, and forever baptized the Riviera as a summer haven. . Eventually, they bought a house in Cap d’Antibes and named it Villa America.
The Murphys have also been credited with introducing the spirit of informality that exists at the Hotel du Cap to this day. “They came with their jazz, their music, their fun, their party people and they had a picnic on the beach,” says Campbell. Plus, they made sunbathing a popular pastime, a foreign concept before they arrived.
Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor were frequent guests in the 1930s.
From their court, while still King of the United Kingdom, the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson were regulars at the Hotel du Cap. They were always personally greeted at the station by the owner André Sella. When the couple were able to get married the summer after Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936, they wanted to do so on the Riviera but the idea was rejected by King George VI, who deemed the destination unworthy of a member of the House of Windsor.
The Hotel du Cap was the scene of various love stories, in particular between a movie star and a Kennedy.
No, not Marilyn and Jack. During the two seasons (among several) that she spent at the Hotel du Cap at the end of the 1930s, Marlene Dietrich accumulated quite a few love stories. In the summer of 1938, the German-American Hollywood icon arrived at the hotel with her husband, their daughter Maria, her husband’s mistress, and her own lover, the novelist Erich Maria Note. Dietrich then met Joe Kennedy, who was on vacation from his ambassadorial post to England with his wife Rose and their nine children (second brother Jack was 21 at the time). He has become a frequent visitor to the actress’ beach hut.
The following summer, Dietrich’s entourage and the Kennedy family’s holidays on the French Riviera overlapped again. The couple resumed their affair, until Dietrich had a new lover, a wife this time also named Joe.
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