On a secluded peninsula snaking out into the Med, Cap Estel’s gated mansion is a shot of Riviera glam amid the azure. Surrounded by palms and terraced gardens, with an elegant restaurant and Monaco and Nice close by, this exclusive retreat is A-list alluring.
Noon, but late check-out may be available for a charge. Check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £1249.25 (€1,450), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast, from €28.
Along with the indoor pool, sauna and hammam, try out some of the spa treatments, such as 90-minute facials, toning body treatments, hair masks, waxing and a variety of massages.
At the hotel
Cinema, spa, gym, library with DVDs and CDs. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD/CD, free WiFi, minibar and bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
The property is in parts: Le Cap is the original building; La Mer and Le Parc are both positioned at the edge of the peninsula. Suite 210, Le Cap, is a palatial expanse with cream and oatmeal decor, high ceilings, a living room with splashes of crayon-bright colour, a vast terrace and two bedrooms and bathrooms. Suite 410, also in the main building, could double up as a company HQ, with its office space, big lounge area, kitchen and terrace – but the ruby accents and African artefacts mean it’s far from corporate. La Mer’s white and airy rooms, perched above the water, are more modest in size, but they have views of the pretty beach.
Not one but two pools to choose from: a fabulous saltwater infinity pool overlooking the sea (open from May until mid-October, subject to the weather), or the spa’s indoor pool.
Your biggest, most movie-star sunglasses; LBD or crisp linen shirt for stylish dining in the hotel’s restaurant; an autobiography of a screen icon such as Grace Kelly or Humphrey Bogart.
Beneath the terraced gardens is Cap Estel’s own secluded stony beach, kitted out with sunloungers.
If you’re prepared to share, bring the mini-Smiths. Extra beds are free for under-12s, babysitting is available from €16 an hour, and the restaurant does a children’s menu.
Request a table outside, so you can bay-watch as you eat.
Côte d’Azur allure: a coral or chartreuse dress, a crisp linen shirt.
La Table du Cap Estel’s neutral decor, low leather chairs, and black-and-white tiled floor provide a sophisticated backdrop to the culinary offerings, which include foie gras with mashed asparagus and rhubarb sorbet.
The traditionally styled bar, with chandeliers, cream leather bar stools and glossy, toffee-toned wooden surfaces, serves cocktails until 11pm. There is also a pool bar in summer.
Rise for morning nibbles between 7.30am and 10.30am, lunch in the restaurant from 12.30pm until 2pm, and linger over dinner at a typically Mediterranean 8pm until 10pm.
Cold snacks (sandwiches, salads, cheeseboards) are available 7.30am–10pm.
The hotel is a 35-minute drive from Nice airport (www.nice.aeroport.fr), or 10 minutes by car from the heliport of Monaco (www.heliairmonaco.com).
From London, take the train via Lille to Marseille; from Paris, board the TGV. The track that snakes from Marseille to Menton – stopping at Toulon, St Raphaël, Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monaco – is spectacular. Eze is two km away, Monaco is 7km, with both serviced by SNCF. The hotel can organise taxis to and from the station.
Cap Estel is positioned at the heart of the Côte d'Azur, on the Basse Corniche, road RN 98 – the coast road from Nice to the principality of Monaco, close to Villefranche sur Mer, St Jean Cap Ferrat and Beaulieu sur mer, and overlooked by the Moyenne Corniche and mediaeval village of Èze. The hotel has free parking space for guests.
Worth getting out of bed for
The terraced gardens make for a romantic promenade – wander down to the tiny, stone beach and pull up a deck chair. If you’re feeling active, improve your backhand on the tennis courts, then cool down in the saltwater infinity pool at the edge of the gardens. For another kind of pool experience, shoot some balls in the downstairs lounge area. Ask nicely and you might be able to watch a film at the private cinema. Having fully scoped out Cap Estel and its five acres, drive 11km to Nice, or 9km to Monaco, and explore the designer boutiques, chic eateries and glamorous bars. Èze’s ancient fortified village, crowned with 12th-century castle ruins, also deserves a recce, as does the seaside town of Èze-sur-Mer, which boasts some pretty beaches and perfect picnic spots. Seek out floral blooms and scents at the Jardin Exotique (www.eze-riviera.com) and continue the fragrant theme at Grasse perfumeries Galimard and Fragonard, which both have shops in Eze village.
The impressive cooking at Auberge de Troubadour, 4 rue du Brec, Eze (+33 (0)4 93 41 19 03) belies its diminutive size. For gastronomic tasting menus and deep-blue Riviera views, eat at Château Eza, on Rue de la Pise (+33 (0)4 93 41 12 24).
Le Cactus on La Placette (+33 (0)4 93 41 19 02) is great for snacks and treats, including crêpes, salads, sandwiches and ice-cream. Eza Café at 197 avenue de Verdun (+33 (0)4 93 41 12 79) is another enticing light-bitery, offering fresh pasta and sushi, along with traditional French fare.
Reviewing is new to me: as a restaurateur, I’m usually on the other side of the game. However, relishing the prospect of embarking on an espionage mission with Mrs Smith, I morph swiftly into a suave spy as we touch down in the South of France. And I take my role seriously. When we arrive at Nice, the only car on offer at Terminal 1 is a Skoda. Now, to go unnoticed in a five-star hotel, we’re going to need something a little more luxurious, so we go the extra distance (on a bus, to Terminal 2) and find ourselves a nice Mercedes.
It’s just a half-hour drive until we reach the winding road we are looking for, where a very small sign indicates that the legendary hotel is nearby. Faintly, in the night, we can see Cap Estel, built as a summer home in 1898, converted into a hotel in 1950, and lavishly renovated between 2001 and 2004. Once we’re through the gates, we swing along another kilometre of bends, amid beautiful Mediterranean gardens. The modernist-style stone and stucco hotel looks like a private residence, perhaps the second home of a big Hollywood producer; it presides over its own mature balustraded gardens, with glossy fig, pine and palm trees, which stop where the sea starts. We park our now-suitable car in front of the palatial entrance and step into the vast lobby.
It’s not long before we’re shown to our room where, once the door shuts, we pull on our detective gloves, adopt low, discreet voices, and inspect every corner, every drawer, every bar of premium soap. We admire the luxurious proportions, and are especially taken with a dressing room big enough to host Mrs Smith’s entire summer wardrobe; it even has room to spare for a few sarongs for me. The bathroom has underfloor heating, a shower that packs a punch, and ample cupboard and drawer space – not always a given in luxury hotels.
The modern-classic decor is soothing and reassuringly expensive-looking, with nothing to jar the senses, though we wouldn’t have minded a design quirk or two; ‘understated chic’ can fly rather close to unadventurous beige. We continue our special-agent duties, entering deep cover, as we do the things couples usually do in hotel rooms. I undertake to judge the comfort of the bed, the smoothness of the Frette sheets and the positioning of the giant flatscreen TV, while Mrs Smith tests the plumbing by running a fuming hot bath. She asks me to join her, to verify the size of the tub. I usually steer clear of such experiences but, as a committed gatherer of intelligence, I get in. I can report that it is indeed comfortable, deep and wide enough for two adults.
Hey, it’s 9pm! We’re expected downstairs at the restaurant. We leap into our clothes and into the lift, which takes us to garden level and La Table du Cap Estel. Perhaps because I own a few restaurants myself, I’m hard to please. And perhaps because I know what it’s like to be savaged by critics, I don’t want to be too rough. The Mediterranean cuisine is light and refined, though hardly at the vanguard of contemporary cooking. We’re duly impressed by the locally sourced vegetables, which are freshly plucked from Cap Estel’s own gardens.
It seems appropriate, at this point, to return to our room for a long night’s sleep. Call us risque?, but we’ve brought along an eight-hour history documentary – the kind you never have time to watch at home. After a few hours of grainy footage, I’m moved to give Mrs Smith a goodnight kiss. Our bed seems to be made of two brand-new mattresses that are rather out of sync, so I have to climb up my side of the mountain with an ice axe and ski down hers. We nonetheless manage to sleep like angels.
After an extravagant, breakfast-missing lie-in, we open our shutters to a magnificent view of palm trees and cliffs. Strolling, sleepy-eyed, onto the roomy terrace, we see the sea and its divine bays, and the salt air reminds us we have appetites. We head to the bar for a coffee and a club sandwich, gaze directed towards the floor-to-ceiling bay windows of the Empire-style salon. While Mrs Smith returns to the scene of the lie-in for yet more horizontality, I take a little wander into the gorgeous garden, where an infinity pool leads to the private beach and a promenade with an exquisite view.
Later on, I find the state-of-the-art spa and submit to an expert massage. The sound of the waves and the wind against the cliff give me the impression I’m drifting on a boat, far away from land. It’s very relaxing, and I’m lost to the world.
Strolling back through the dusk, I cross the garden again, admiring the beautifully restored building. It’s time to take Mrs Smith into Nice for home-style dinner at La Petite Maison. Then we drive back along the coast for a little nightlife at Le Bar Américain in the Ho?tel de Paris in Monaco. (It is only possible to do this with ease out of season – when it’s thronged, the traffic’s a dampener on such gallivanting.) The Hôtel de Paris is a grand old place on the same square as the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo. As we walk into the bar, a dapper bartender seats us at a small table. To the right, the singer and her band; in front, through a door into the main lobby, the end of a party taking place in the extraordinary Galerie Empire. Glittering in long dresses and tuxedos, guests waltz into the bar, full of energy. It’s perfect, like theatre – over a 1962 armagnac.
We return to Cap Estel feeling we’ve had a true Riviera night; on the drive back, we gossip about Greta Garbo, Gina Lollobrigida, David Niven and Rudolf Nureyev, in whose glamorous footsteps we are following by making Cap Estel our hideaway for a few days off-duty and undisturbed. Our mission as spies for Mr & Mrs Smith accomplished, we spend the rest of our stay investigating nothing more than the possibility of getting up in time for a croissant.