Pleasure / July 2017

Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: The Jet-Set's Hideaway

In its heyday, the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc was a hotbed of debauchery where the who’s who of the jet-set came to party in shrouded secrecy.

Sunbathers lounging around at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in 1969. Photo by Slim Aarons.

For those who like to sip from the cup of Sybaris, it’s the jewel of the French Riviera. Hollywood power-publicist Peggy Siegal described it as “one big Vogue spread come to life”. Slim Aarons shot his most evocative portrayal of sun-kissed glamour there, and it served as a model for regular guest F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fictional Hôtel des Etrangers in Tender Is The Night. It has a dog cemetery.

We’re talking, of course, about Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, a hotspot of seclusion and revelry, perched on the tip of a rocky outcrop midway between St. Tropez and Monaco: a fulcrum of Riviera hedonism where stars, artists, writers, jet-set era notables and an embarrassment of Kennedys, Windsors and Berlusconis have all descended, often hell-bent on turning “summer” not just into a verb but a mischievous euphemism.

Where there’s discretion there’s debauchery, so the fact that credit cards weren’t accepted here until 2005 is germane to a history which is spicier than a Jalapeño margarita. The narrative begins in 1923, when Gerald and Sara Murphy — a wealthy American couple with a fondness for distilled palliative and the arts, in that order - convinced the Hôtel du Cap to stay open over the summer so that they could entertain friends such as Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Rudolph Valentino, Jean Cocteau, Ezra Pound, Igor Stravinsky and Fernand Léger.

One can only speculate as to what went on during the nocturnal beach parties of this era, but it’s probably safe to assume that Fitzgerald’s portrayal of misbehaviour in the book many consider his greatest novel is, it’s safe to say, understated. Dalliances to have blossomed here since that time include that of Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan, whose romance unfolded with both Ari Onassis and the Shah of Iran in hot pursuit of, to deploy furtive euphemism again, her charms, while Marlene Dietrich began her affair with Joseph P. Kennedy when the latter’s family spent the summer of 1938 there (JFK was 21 years old at the time).  

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