France has built many exquisite ‘Palace hotels’ over the past hundred years, but this article concerns the grande dame of them all; occupying the entire tip of the St-Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula, the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat (henceforth GHCF) was amongst the first of its kind, and is *the* destination to experience French health and vitality along this gleaming stretch of the coast. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, it stands peerless as an enduring icon of quiet French sophistication, unchanged by the passage of time and yet overflowing with contemporary relevance; the very expression of both heritage and modernity. Inside its pristine white walls can be found the standards by which world-class hospitality should be measured, with the Four Seasons group who now operate this treasure having sympathetically continued its traditions with their unique brand of attention to detail. GHCF is also the most glamorous, most beautiful, and most immersive venue for a wellness escape on this rarefied stretch of the Côte D’Azur – and I don’t bestow that title lightly, as they’re up against competition that’s been bringing their A-game to the Riviera for decades. I’ve visited here for the past 5 years, and never do I leave this sanctuary feeling anything less than supremely recharged, emotionally contented and totally compelled to return. I booked in this year with the express intention of unveiling the wellbeing treasures of this timeless institution on FitnessOnToast.com. Click MORE to discover them all…
As ever, I’ll attempt a piece-by-piece commentary on the experience as I encountered it, starting from the outside in!
The main mansion house itself is a work of masonry genius, sprinkled with Gustav Eiffel’s magic touch. Straddling the land with muscular and symmetrical poise, with wings extended as if to reach out and embrace the ocean that stands before it, the silhouette is a robust and confidence-inspiring structure.
But the immaculate exterior hides a calm, elegant and effortlessly sophisticated interior, with ornate cornicing complemented by modern allusions. The finish is characteristically perfect, with every meticulous detail unconsciously inspiring comfort and a pervasive sense of ease. The ‘Rotunda’ which I picture immediately below has a particularly special serenity to it, a type difficult to convey in words, and which barely translates via images. There is a gentle breeze carrying tranquility through its light and airy volumes, with a delicious 180-degree aspect over neatly trimmed pine-tops, proudly surveying the ocean horizon. It is a fabulous place for a reflective coffee, and is sure to spur some philosophical line of mindful thought!
We are of course, each entitled to our own quirky opinions, but I take comfort from the well-known Cap-Ferrat hotel guests, who’ve included Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Aristotle Onassis and Elizabeth Taylor. Also, the Swimming Club’s legendary instructor, Pierre Gruneberg, has given lessons to Picasso, as well as the children of Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and Ralph Lauren. The heritage of popular culture is rich here, and I understand why.
On this fertile land, I’ve come to expect the freshest flavors of the Cote d’Azur – French and Mediterranean influenced cuisine, served in some breathtaking settings – by one of the world’s most beautiful swimming pools, under the canopy of the Aleppo Pine trees or Provençal cuisine at it’s finest and finally, or at the gastronomic restaurant La Cap (1* Michelin) which displays one of my favourite murals of an enchanting seascape.
Breakfast is a gentle treat under the aromatic canopy of the pines, with a sensation that you’re waking up with nature. This is always a big deal for me; it’s the kickoff for the hours to come, so it simply needs to be good. The choice on offer here is so strong, and the execution so good, that I have come to utterly relish my breakfasts on their terraces. The following pictures should allow you to feast your eyes on plenty of deliciousness…
THE CLUB DAUPHIN
This is the name of the dedicated swimming pool area, located closer to the water, and accessible either via a stunning ramble through Jean Mus’ gardens, or via their air-conditioned funicular cable car if you prefer! Eating down here is such a treat – you get to look out over what’s regularly hailed as the most beautiful pool in the world and certainly the Cote d’Azur. Watching the two blues blend together is possibly my favorite pastime whilst enjoying fresh fish! Club Dauphin’s infinity pool was built in 1939, and is today filled with seawater and heated to a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) so that it’s always perfect to dispatch a few lengths and cool off.
RESTAURANT LE CAP
The hotel’s one Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant is well celebrated on this coastline. You get the choice between indoor/outdoor seating (both are wonderful in my opinion) and are presented with a superb selection of French Mediterranean cuisine, enhanced by a vast wine collection if that’s your thing, with some serious cellar porn featuring over 600 varieties.
This feels somewhat of a casual and chic interlude, bridging your journey from the hotel proper to the Club Dauphin down by the waterside. From breakfast through dinner, it’s an elegant setting which delivers flavourful and fresh Provençal fare – one of my preferred styles of cuisine for its light and natural characteristics. The terrace is shaded by a canopy of 100-year-old Aleppo pine trees, and in the distance, vague ocean sounds are like an audible painting.
The 7 hectares of sweeping Mediterranean landscape are designed by world-renowned gardener Jean Mus. Here you’ll find a tranquil refuge for rare trees, exotic plants, and Provençal flora, manicured grass and wildflower fields. To go for a power walk or run here is exhilarating for all the senses. To reach the pool one can walk or take the sleekly designed, glass funicular down the hillside to the pool and Club Dauphin.
GHCF has perhaps the ultimate outdoor gym – open-walled, shaded, Technogym-equipped, and blessed with views of the gardens overlooking the sea – if that doesn’t motivate you I’m not sure what will! The indoor pool features a counter-current system which is ideal for swimming laps with gentle and functional resistance. There are countless classes to join including yoga, one on one personal training; Or, my favorite, take a run along the Chemin de La Carriere route which hugs the coastline. There are also two clay tennis courts on the property, which feels like a bit of treat too!
This is the ultimate chic French multi-award winning spa, where so many details make me smile. Of particular note are the heavenly toiletries, all Hermes ‘Jardin Sur Le Nil’. There’s a vast array of treatments including signature facial and body treatments – but what’s unique is the beautifully manicured Spa Garden with its sea-view and sun terraces; indoor is beautiful but this stretch of riviera is differentiated by its stunning natural beauty – outdoors is absolutely my preference!
After a workout, there’s the hydrotherapy pool to help relax your muscles, plus the tepidarium with scented-salt foot-wells. There are also separate men’s and women’s private steam rooms and saunas and a sensorial shower, a whirlpool bath and an ice fountain. Amenities include a tea bar serving herbal teas and fresh juices, with some light natural bites.
Whilst being an imposing structure, it’s a fairly intimate hotel, hosting 33 rooms and 16 suites. The rooms are light and bright using materials like white Calcutta Cremo marble or beige marble Persiano, wooden floors, white linen, natural silks and 100% cotton. The enormous, plush and perfectly made-up beds ensure you get the ultimate restorative sleep. I drink liberally from the fountain of ‘rest’ in these rooms! The details are beautifully appointed,
The rooms also feature works from celebrated artists, many of whom were local to the area or regular guests such as Picasso, Cocteau, Matisse, Chagall, Modigliani and Rodin.
GHCF is a rare and highly-polished treasure that defines the loftiest echelons of the hospitality industry. It’s renovation in 2009 to mark its centenary has set the standard for elegant and exquisite décor that promotes cognitive ease at every turn. A visit restores and refreshes, time both stands still and runs rampant, the senses are delighted by the finish, and whilst you might fear it too stuffy in your mind’s eye, there’s a casual Riviera poise that wafts through the airy corridors neutralising any semblance of pretension which can otherwise run amok in this part of the world. The price is high (because it is in this part of the world), but that cost buys you a concentrated infusion of both relaxation and vigorous aspirational energy, a purpose and directional drive which I’ve found I carry with me for weeks thereafter. I would rather take fewer days of higher quality time here, above several more days at almost any other destination. A visit comes highly recommended.