Tucked away in lush scenery between Nice and Monte Carlo, the understated luxury and privacy of Cap Estel almost contradicts its exciting past. Originally built in 1900 by a notorious Irish novelist, it was converted into a hotel in the 1950s – quickly becoming a favourite haunt for famous faces like The Beatles, Greta Garbo and Sir Laurence Olivier.
We arrive late at night. It’s pitch black as we drive along the quiet tree-lined road, with creaking gravel and the chi-chi-chi of a thousand crickets filling the warm evening air. As we pass through the magical entrance gates and slowly descend through the hillside gardens, we sense that we’ve arrived at a very special place. After lingering for a minute or two, in awe of our newfound milieu, we are accompanied to our room in the main mansion, the only surviving original building. Recently renovated, it retains its old charm and forms a careful blend of flatscreen TVs and wireless internet, grand pianos, marble floors and doric style columns.
The next morning we awake early to light rain drops falling against our windows. Looking out over the terrace, the light grey sky mixes perfectly with the white-washed atmosphere of our new home. We walk through the cool and spacious lounge onto the open terrace, overlooking the front lawns and pool area – all surrounded by 5 acres of majestic old trees and featuring marvelous panoramic views.
After enjoying a simple yet delicious breakfast, we walk through the gardens, talking about the history of this magical place, and the people that have lived through it. From Greek shipowner families to occupying German armies, and from Georges Pompidou to Robert De Niro – this place has hosted its fair share of fascinating inhabitants. As the rain intensifies, we move to the indoor bar, continuing our conversation over a game of chess and some excellent cocktails.
With only 28 rooms, a maximum of sixty guests can be accommodated at the Cap Estel. For our late spring stay we feel almost alone – like this is our own private mansion – a sentiment expertly crafted by the hotel and its staff. Both living spaces and shared areas artfully protect the privacy of its guests in a constantly muffled atmosphere. The service is attentive yet as discrete as the hotel itself – always favouring privacy and attention to detail over unnecessary luxury and fluff. This place is meant to feel like home – and boy, do I wish I lived here!
It’s dinner time, and the Michelin starred restaurant offers refined Mediterranean cuisine in a relaxed and picturesque setting, featuring local flavours and seasonal specialities. Freshly picked asparagus, fresh fish and local tomatoes produces the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful surroundings. The wine cellar and sommelier are equally amazing – even managing to find us a special bottle of Bandol wine that I had not seen for many years.
As we pack up our things the morning after, we reflect over our dreamlike stay. We decide to return sooner rather than later – hoping for sunshine and a chance to enjoy both the outdoor infinity pool and the private beach.