Elizabeth Taylor’s luggage arrived there by truck; Mel Gibson showed up with 300 friends; Sharon Stone ordered a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne – and a harpist. Somehow, the stars who stayed at the legendary Riviera hotel also found time to sign its Golden Book.
*Parts of this post are directly quoted from an article by Peter Hughes of telegraph.co.uk. Read the whole of his article here
“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured hotel. Deferential palms cool its flushed facade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach. Lately it has become a summer resort of notable and fashionable people.”
So begins Tender is the Night, the novel that defined the South of France in the age when it shimmied out of Edwardian languor and into 20th-century excess. In F Scott Fitzgerald’s book, the Riviera filled the foreground and the hotel, which he called Gausse’s, was its quintessence. The model for Gausse’s was the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc at Antibes.
Every spring the stars arrive in their constellations for the Cannes Film Festival. The Hôtel du Cap is close enough to nip across to the Croisette by speedboat, far enough away for film folk to laze in their own oh-so-special firmament. It’s where Elizabeth Taylor’s luggage arrived by truck considerably in advance of Elizabeth Taylor, and where Tom Cruise is preceded by his instructions for making salad, a melange involving green beans, artichoke, tomatoes and leaves of arugula and spinach – accompanied with a glass of sheep’s milk.
It’s where Lars von Trier turned up in a camper van and Bill Cosby stood to attention in a small launch, sailor’s cap and T-shirt, and took the salute of passing yachts. Every day, Eddie Murphy ate a turkey burger here, John Travolta ordered vegetable quiches – one at 8am, another at 2am – and Kevin Costner’s cheeseburgers combined Charolais beef with Emmenthal cheese. It was a previous general manager who summed up the secret of the hotel as its simplicity. “When on vacation, the rich like to pay maharajah prices to live like boy scouts,” he explained.
The house rules are made of exceptions: Monica Belluci was allowed to spend a night in one of the beach cabanas; Mel Gibson booked a table for 30 and turned up with a party of 300. To adapt an exchange in Tender is the Night, “Do they like it here – this place?” Came the response: “They have to like it. They invented it.”
In his book on the hotel, journalist François Simon tells how Sharon Stone, “in a moment of inspiration”, first requested a harpist dressed in an Irish costume, then a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne. “Or maybe it was the other way round.” Simon was the Riviera correspondent for Le Figaro, which is appropriate because it was the newspaper’s founder who in 1870 opened the first hotel on the site, in the handsome Napoleon III building.
Collected in what the hotel calls its Golden Book are contributions from a list of straight A’s. Clint Eastwood rubs signatures with Sharon Stone; Jennifer Lopez with Colin Firth. Turn the page on Ralph Fiennes and there is Mick Jagger. The “book” is a collection of sheets of fine vellum that will eventually be preserved between covers. So Dustin Hoffman and Jim Belushi will one day be bound with Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush; Mel Gibson will share a stiff jacket with Celine Dion, Bruce Willis with Audrey Tautou, Andy Garcia with Grace Jones. Gordon Gekko, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes have signed as their alter egos of Michael Douglas, Pierce Brosnan and Robert Downey Junior.
The Hotel du Cap is part of the Oetker Collection, a group of nine of the most exclusive hotels in the world, which includes Le Bristol in Paris and The Lanesborough in London. The fabulously wealthy Oetker family is a great story on its own. Their real business, the one that made them rich, was actually baking powder and frozen foods. There are few people in Germany who have not had a Dr Oetker’s frozen pizza at least once in their lifetime! Foods are now just one of the companies in this family-run conglomerate founded in 1891 with an annual turnover of 11-billion Euros. The hotels were a side-story. Legend has it that Rudolf August Oetker and his wife Maja von Malaisé first spotted the mansion that is the Hotel du Cap while sailing on the Côte d’Azur in 1964; Rudolf returned to Germany and advised his “people” to let him know if ever that property was for sale, as he would buy it whatever the price. Five years later, in 1969, it was – and he did – and so began the Oetker Collection.