This week, a picturesque fragment of the Côte D’Azur will go from being merely glamorous – home to monied residents and chic holiday-makers in breezy dresses and K.Jacques flats – to the centre of the celebrity universe, as the 75th edition of Cannes Film Festival gets underway. Over the coming days, well-heeled Frenchwomen popping by the Prada boutique could find themselves sharing the Boulevard de la Croisette with festival regulars like Robert De Niro, Spike Lee, or Penélope Cruz.
When the A-list descends on the beach town for the festival, much of the inevitable fraternizing takes place on the superyachts that glide into Port de Cannes each May – though restaurants like the Michelin-starred La Palme d’Or (named for the most prestigious prize at Cannes), and flashy rooftop spot Bâoli play host to the likes of Jay-Z and Leonardo DiCaprio. But when it comes to a place for a star to lay their head after a day of red carpets and an evening spent yacht-hopping, there has only ever been one choice: Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.
Originally built as a private mansion, and following a brief stint as a writers’ retreat, what is now the grand dame of the Riviera hotel scene opened to patrons in 1870. In the more than 150 years since, it has been immortalized by F Scott Fitzgerald in Tender is the Night (it inspired his Hôtel des Étrangers, that “summer resort of notable and fashionable people”); served as a home away from home for the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson in the ’30s; and everyone from Jackie Kennedy to Kate Moss has availed of the century-old saltwater infinity pool – perhaps the most instantly recognizable patch of water on the planet.
Five-star properties now line the French Riviera, but none have acquired the mythic status that surrounds the Hotel du-Cap, which proudly retains retro touches, like the holiday scene painted on the wall of the Eden-Roc restaurant in the ’70s, and the 33 charmingly rustic private cabanas that have dotted a rocky outcrop overlooking the Med since the 1930s (when they played host to a young JFK on Kennedy family holidays). It’s just these sorts of familiar pleasures that keep generations of the same families coming back to Hotel Du-Cap summer after summer, ready to linger once more over salad Niçoise on Eden-Roc Grill’s gleaming white terrace, before – perhaps emboldened by a chilled rosé – leaping from the vintage diving board into the sea.
But at Hotel Du-Cap, respect for the old does not preclude the new. Particularly not this year, as it unveils an entirely new offering: the totally private Villa Sainte-Anne, which sits opposite the main hotel’s gates and benefits from some magical grounds of its own. Back in 2007, the cast of Ocean’s Thirteen was spied playing croquet on the lawn at Hotel Du-Cap during Cannes, but should there be another sequel in the franchise, one could easily imagine Pitt, Clooney and co hosting an after-party in the villa’s manicured, multi-layered gardens, which boast their own pretty swimming pool and sweeping views over Juan-les-Pins bay.
Inside the villa, the vibe is modern and colorful (a contrast with the more classic hotel interiors, such as in the prized Eden-Roc Suite, with its 200 square meter ocean-view terrace worthy of a Palme D’or winner), with five unique, characterful bedrooms, a fully stocked kitchen, and a gym, spa and sauna. Saint-Anne – which joins the hotel’s existing Villas Eleana and Les Cèdres – can accommodate groups of up to 12 guests and is fully staffed, meaning the same Hotel Du-Cap service (suitcases unpacked as if by magic, breakfast laid on the Agnes Sandahl-designed table in the garden), just with an added layer of privacy.
And all the while, the “catwalk” that is La Grande Allée – the 179 meter boulevard that sweeps from the hotel down to the sea – is just a sun-drenched stroll away. These days, no self-respecting hotelier would open a five-star property without incorporating some deliberately social media-friendly backdrops. But the best thing about Hotel Du-Cap’s (many) Instagram-perfect photo opportunities is that they were there long before the platform was a twinkle in a tech bro’s eye. Expect to see the hotel’s wedding cake facade popping up on your feed in the days to come: not only does it remain a magnet for movie stars staying in France for the festival, it is also the setting for the annual amfAR Gala, the hottest invite at Cannes (past guests include Beyoncé, Kendall Jenner and Sharon Stone), which returns this year with Robert de Niro as guest of honor.
A more rural, though no less refined experience awaits just an hour’s drive away at Château Saint-Martin & Spa, also part of the Oetker family of luxury hotels. A bucolic haven surrounded by the lush green hills of Vence, it’s the perfect spot for a starlet to recuperate in after a whirlwind of parties and premieres. The treatments – some of which take inspiration from the property’s fragrant rose garden – use La Prairie products, and are best followed by a stroll through the peaceful grounds, taking in the monumental sculptures by Manolo Valdés that have been positioned to spectacular effect against the rolling hillsides. (Valdés’s work is also on display at Hotel du-Cap, which also takes its art seriously – only fitting for a place that welcomed Picasso and Chagall in the past.)
Also high on the agenda for visiting celebrities with arty inclinations, a trip to St-Paul-de-Vence: a sleepy, impossibly pretty village soundtracked by the gentle thwack of pétanque boules on the Place De Gaulle. Among the famous names to have enjoyed a game: the dashing French crooner Yves Montand, who held his wedding in St-Paul-de-Vence’s legendary family-run auberge La Colombe d’Or, where everyone from Sophia Loren to Alain Delon and Romy Schneider has lingered over the bouquet de crevettes and soufflé flambé, and an Alexander Calder mobile overlooks the pool.
If you should be lucky enough to find yourself on the French Riviera this summer, and are keen to surround yourself with similarly “notable and fashionable people”, you know just where to start looking.
Originally published in Vogue.co.uk