Must-stay grand hotels on the Mediterranean coastline

For many decades, the famous grand hotels of the Côte d'Azur have played host to billionaires, royalty, and Hollywood’s elite. We delve into the history behind three of the most famous destinations…

The Carlton, Cannes

It’s difficult to think of a more glamorous and tradition-steeped destination than the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. Since it opened in 1911, countless stars and starlets have populated the rooms of the Croisette’s most eminent grand hotel – especially during the Cannes Film Festival. Sir Alfred Hitchcock filmed ‘To Catch a Thief’ there with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – and while the latter was staying there during the 1955 Festival, she met her husband-to-be, Prince Rainer III of Monaco. However, the 343-room hotel has also had some not-so-welcome visitors in its time: jewel thieves have performed raids on several occasions, most recently in 2013, when an estimated $136 million-worth of gems were taken. Ouch.

When the hotel was opened in the early 20th Century, the lead architect let slip that the domes on the seaward towers of the hotel were inspired by the cleavage of Caroline ‘La Belle’ Otero, the French Riviera’s most famous courtesan at the time. She was also the namesake of the seventh-floor dining room.

Hôtel de Paris, Monaco

Opened in 1863, the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco became famous not only for its close proximity to the Casino, but also for its stunning view from the Garnier Suite, which overlooks Casino Square – and also provides the best view from which to watch the Monaco Grand Prix. Every year, its champagne-toting guests casually observe F1 cars navigating the iconic ‘Grand Hotel Hairpin’ on their way down to Portier. But that’s not to say hoteliers miss out on glamour during the other 51 weeks of the year. Princess Grace of Monaco held legendary parties; Errol Flynn’s wedding celebrations included a 77lb cake reported to cost 50,000 francs – and Sir Winston Churchill spent all winter in a six-room suite, which he shared with his Parrot Charlie.

The Hôtel de Paris is currently being renovated, with a large number of its old furnishings being sold off by Artcurial earlier this year. In the auction catalogue was a wonderful anecdote from Sir Roger Moore: the morning after one of many late nights spent at the hotel bar, he was enjoying breakfast with Frank and Barbara Sinatra. The resident pianist began playing ‘Strangers in the Night’; Sinatra’s light-hearted response was: “I don’t sing your songs, please don’t sing mine.”

Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes

Completed in 1863, the property at Cap d'Antibes is still known by many as ‘Villa Soleil’. Jean Hippolyte Auguste Delaunay de Villemessant, the founder of the French newspaper ‘Le Figaro’, planned the manor as a private residence and retreat for writers, funded with the help of Russian aristocrats. Success was only short-lived, but in 1970 it was converted into a hotel. The Hotel du Cap became a meeting place of high society: well-known guests included Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Marlene Dietrich and Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald – the hotel is immortalised in his novel ‘Tender is the Night’. In particular, the salt-water pool on the seafront became very famous; 21-year-old John F. Kennedy swam in it during his summer vacation, while Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton preferred to spend the majority of their honeymoon locked in their room. In 2006, it was re-named the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc where, incidentally, no credit cards were accepted – you had to transfer the accommodation costs in advance.

Photos: Getty / Rex