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150 Years: The Iconic Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc

On its 150th anniversary, there can be few hotels which share as rich and vibrant a history, as the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. 

Hotel du Cap in 1915

“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, halfway between Marseille and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured hotel. Deferential palms cool its flushed façade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach. Lately it has become a summer resort of notable and fashionable people”, wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in his epic final novel, Tender is the Night (1934).

While by the 1930s the Hotel du Cap was the place to see and be seen by the world's glitterati, its story begins long before that. 

In 1862 French journalist and owner of Le Figaro newspaper, Hippolyte de Villemessant, wanted to create a peaceful idyll on the French Riviera for artists and writers to relax and recharge their creative energy. So he started to build Villa Soleil, although lacked the financial means to complete the project.

A few years later Alexis de Pletscheyeff, former captain of the Russian imperial army, funded the magnificent Napoleon III style building known as the Grand Hotel du Cap, which was completed in 1870.

In 1887, a young hotelier from Piémont, Antoine Sella, fell in love with the hotel, purchased it and renovated it, re-opening in January 1889. It was not long before the Grand Hotel du Cap began attracting the well-heeled and discerning. Sella wanted to make the place even more luxurious and persuaded Lord Onslow, a member of British high society and hotel guest, to provide funding for the renovation.

Residents of Cannes and Nice often visited Villa Nelly Roc gardens to take horse-drawn carriage rides. This inspired Sella to build an annex teahouse on the shores of the Mediterranean, which was later called the Eden-Roc Pavilion.

Eden-Roc Pavilion and saltwater pool

For years, the Grand Hotel du Cap remained a winter destination. But during the First World War, Sella observed nurses from the Red Cross enjoying a refreshing swim in its shores, as the hotel had been requisitioned by the French Red Cross as a hospital for those wounded in the war. After the war, Sella decided to build a seawater pool for his guests to boost the summer season, thus pioneering the summer holiday on the French Riviera.

During the 1920's the Grand Hotel du Cap began to attract the biggest creative names from around the globe, like George Bernard Shaw, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and was the great French author Anatole France, who has a monument in the hotel’s garden. It stands in the spot where he used to write, “What will be, is what was”.

Wealthy American socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy began to spend their summers there, which marked the beginning of the Americans journeying to the Riviera. Sara Murphy famously sunbathed with her pearls draped on her back, because "they need some sunning." Joining the Murphys as guests were the count and countess of Beaumont, and soon began a vibrant social scene. 

During the thirties the teahouse was transformed into a buzzing restaurant and a yacht club was added. Notable writers and artists regulars included F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso (who famously drew the menu). Suzanne Georgette Charpentier (Annabella), one of France’s most famous actresses of the time, was a stalwart fan with her husband-actor Tyrone Power. 

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were such loyal guests that Sella would welcome them personally at the Antibes station whenever they visited. In the period following the Duke’s abdication in order to marry the future Duchess of Windsor, the pair would enjoy long stays at the Grand Hôtel du Cap, away from prying eyes. 

The Grand Hotel-du-Cap

During the Second World War the US Navy bombarded the Eden-Roc pavilion and damaging it, after mistakenly thinking the decorative wooden cannons were aimed at them. The Americans then rebuilt everything at their own expense.The Grand Hotel du Cap was requisitioned as a military hospital during the war and allied troops stayed on the premises for three years. After the war was over General Eisenhower made a special visit to show his recognition and appreciation. 

In 1964 another era began. Rudolf-August and Maja Oetker were sailing along the Mediterranean when they passed the beautiful hotel, and fell in love. They arranged to buy the hotel from Sella, who felt a kinship with the couple, and sold it in 1969. 

It would take several years to complete the necessary restorations to render the space compatible with modern expectations of luxury. Rudolf-August Oetker hired Hamburg architect Professor Pinnau, to complete it. The teahouse, now called La Rotonde, was restored, while the restaurant was transformed into the majestic dining hall for the Eden-Roc restaurant.

From 1970 to 1990, Pierre-Marie Rudelle, famous trompe-l'œil artist, decorated various spaces at the Eden-Roc pavilion to render the space even more stunning. In 1987, the Grand Hotel du Cap was renamed the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, and in 2005, Philippe Perd, who was at the time, General Manager at the Château Saint-Martin & Spa in the peaks of Vence, was appointed by Oetker Collection as Managing Director of the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. He remains Managing Director today and has overseen various renovations over the years. 

Over the years, Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc has acquired legendary status as an outstanding venue for celebration, for instance in 2009 hosting the world-renowned AIDS fundraiser, the AmfAR gala. 

Perd commented: “The reputation of this legendary establishment was formed thanks to the competence and know-how of these unparalleled hoteliers whom I like to call, the artisans of paradise. I am grateful to our guests who, through their loyalty and devotion, helped to gradually build the reputation of this palace. As Villemessant once said: 'I think they...feel at home'."