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 “proud and pink grand hotel” nestled on the French Riviera between Marseille and the Italian border and about eight kilometers from Cannes: “Deferent palm trees refresh its red facade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach. Lately it has become a notable and fashionable seaside resort … ”

Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: a timeless legend on the Côte d’Azur (English language)

What Fitzgerald called the Hôtel des Étrangers de Gausse was of course inspired by the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, a sparkling refuge for the 1% since 1870. For 150 years, the property has served as a sunny home for the titans of literature (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stefan Zweig, Noël Coward), cinema (Marlene Dietrich, Alain Delon, Elizabeth Taylor , who brought all her husbands there, and all the Hollywood stars 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 famous stratospheric guests (and ordering equally stratospheric room rates in high season), the hotel has managed to retain a refreshing air of informality, 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 interested in all these glamorous people?’ I didn’t want it to be just a reflection of the bling, ”she says. “Boy was I for rehab.”

swimming pool eden roc
Jet set columnist Slim Aarons photographed sun worshipers by the pool at the Cape Town hotel in the summer of 1976.

Slim aaronsGetty Images

What Campbell discovered 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 which has made it impersonal so many former great ladies, uninteresting and contrived. Throughout its century-and-a-half existence, the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc has had a strange talent for coherence, largely because it had only been in the hands of two families, d first the Sellas 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 it’s not on a chain means you’ve had people who really love it, take care of it, feed it – like parents,” she says.

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Marlène Dietrich at the Hôtel du Cap in 1933.

© HDCER Archives of the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: A timeless legend on the Côte d’Azur, Flammarion, 2021

And they presided over a revolving door of celebrities who sought sun, play, love, rest or all of the above at the Hotel du Cap. “At the end of the day, they’re normal human beings who just want a little release from the worries and worries of the world,” says Campbell. “Like everyone who goes on vacation, this is what it is. A break.”

That’s not to say that every guest was necessarily well behaved. Below is a brief history of the legendary hotel, which will reopen for the 2021 season on June 4 (just in time for the EU’s planned reopening of borders to Americans).

The Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc was first called Villa Soleil and designed as an artists’ retreat.

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The emblematic Grande Allée of the Hôtel du Cap.

Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc / Oetker Collection

In 1865, Jean Hippolyte Auguste Delaunay de Villemessant, owner of France Le Figaro newspaper, had an idea: to build a retreat for the anxious and exhausted artists and writers of 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, 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 Hotel du Cap to the Mediterranean, acquired dozens of hectares and decided instead to build a luxury palace. be welcome, just like the 1 percent. During construction, the name of Villa Soleil was changed to the 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 as owner 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. Then the Americans came to breathe new life into it after WWI and helped it get back on its feet after WWII. the Germans bought it in the 60s. It is a place for the whole world. “

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Hotelier André Sella, photographed by Slim Aarons in 1969.

Slim aaronsGetty Images

The French Riviera was originally a winter playground.

Thank you to the Americans for making the Côte d’Azur a real 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 then 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 Côte d’Azur. “There was no going back to vacation in Normandy after that,” says Campbell.

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A brochure from 1935.

© HDCER Archives of the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: A timeless legend on the Côte d’Azur, Flammarion, 2021

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 are also credited with bringing the informal spirit 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.

Since their courtship – when he was still King of the United Kingdom – the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson were regulars at the Cape Town hotel. 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 opposed by King George VI, who believed the destination was was not worthy of a member of the House of Windsor.

King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson greeted at Antibes station by André Sella, owner of the Hôtel du Cap, 1936.

© HDCER Archives of the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: A timeless legend on the Côte d’Azur, Flammarion, 2021

The Hotel du Cap was the scene of various loves, in particular between a movie star and a Kennedy.

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The entire Kennedy clan – Joe, Rose and their nine children (JFK is on the far left) – left the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in 1939.

© Foundation of the John F. Kennedy Library of the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: A timeless legend on the Côte d’Azur, Flammarion, 2021

No, not Marilyn and Jack. During two seasons (among many others) that she spent at the Hôtel du Cap at the end of the 1930s, Marlène Dietrich accumulated a good number of romantic relationships. 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 ran into Joe Kennedy, who had been there 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 vacation on the French Riviera overlap once again. The couple resumed their affair, until Dietrich took on a new lover – a woman this time, also called Joe.

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Guillermo Russell

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