Captivating Cap Estel
A rare breed of exceptional villa-sojourn.
While we were taking in the rejuvenating early spring rays and sipping our customary glass of crisp champagne on Cap Estel > terrace overlooking the impossibly soul-melting view beyond, I was trying to think of a category in which to slot this stunning place. I couldn't. It genuinely cannot be pigeonholed: it's the Cote d'Azur for sure, but it's a one-off. It offers a unique stay in one of France's most privileged locations, in one of the French Riviera's most outstanding coastal 'mansions'; 'grand-homes'; 'deluxe villas' or for me 'dream/fantasy homes'. Yet it affords all the exclusive prerequisites of a finely tuned five star hotel, which now includes some exceptionally innovative and delectable dining coupled with a faultless service. It is quite easy to understand why guests return year on year and, if they can, choose to stay in the very same suite or apartment - this has become the ultimate extension to their lifestyle.
Perhaps the most privileged setting of all...
Cap Estel sits outstandingly privately, situated on a rocky promenade, within six lush and semi-tropical acres, stretching its wonder way into the waters of the celebrated Mediterranean Sea. To the west is Cap Ferrat and to the east is Cap d'Ail with Monaco and Nice beyond the two. Above this coastal fantasy sits a village quite unique, as well as astonishingly blessed, with breathtaking far-reaching sea views: Eze. It is possible to walk from Cap Estel to the nearby beach of Eze Bord de Mer then serpentine your way up to the precariously perched village of Eze (500 metres above sea level), but most of us would opt for wheels. It's steep up there, very, very steep, in gradient and history, though once you arrive it feels quite exhilarating.
So, there's the beach, the village, and a short distance away some Cote d'Azur hotspots where fame and fortune have gathered for many glittering decades. But for us Cap Estel is so enticing, is so peaceful and charming, that leaving the grounds can feel a little torturous.
The Style - endearingly eclectic...
The eclectic choice of interiors is most definitely part of the villa's charm. The 'home' is owned by an extended family from South Africa, thus the interiors of many of the suites reflect the personalities along with the particular tastes of this close-knit dynasty. A daughter's area leans towards warm rosy shades while a son's area takes on the azure blue of the sea outside. Being a home-from-home the hotel is well suited to family breaks but interestingly it also feels extremely worthy of a sensual honeymoon. Its skilful layout is such that you can feel as though the place is exclusively yours. You wish. The climate here is not unlike Cape Town and in some respects I genuinely felt the dramatic spirit of places like Clifton, perhaps the most sought after spot in Southern Africa.
There has been a keen investment in glorious antiques, on exquisite silk fabrics, on paintings, tapestries, original artefacts from the glamorous eras of the locale, as well as fittings and finishes that, while they may be at the top of their league, make you feel wonderfully spoilt without over-glitzing the place. Less is more but less is undoubtedly superior. What's more, and perhaps this is the most outstanding and priceless feature of all, the sea is scintillatingly omnipresent.
The home and the sea are one. There are very few places where you can genuinely enjoy the luxury of a shimmering sea from all aspects while, where it breaks - a verdant palm tree, or hibiscus, or ficus, or sprawling bougainvillea - whisks you off into the world of Tropicana. But so often the only transient image that breaks your view with the unstoppable horizon is a yacht or ship or speedboat. This place has magic.
The main villa is a grand 18th century neo-classical Italian and Grecian build, blending a French touch with Renaissance Italy featuring solid Doric columns. The fašade, in white and warm cream, with terraces of white and black travertine, gives the building authentic 'mansion appeal' while contrasting elegantly with the exotic sapphire, turquoise, and emerald hues from Nature's elemental embrace. Even the manicured lawns are flawless.
The most exhilarating indoor pool, gymnasium and spa
I am not sure that today this area would pass building regulations; in the rock-face with the sea crashing up against its very foundations! However, many will be grateful that it was not quashed at conception. It is quite staggering. Thus, if on the very off chance there were a little cloud and a spot of rain, so what! Get thee to the indoor pool - the pool that feels like you are in mid-ocean except you are not swaying and grabbing for the sides. Instead you are looking out from a glorious salt-water swim with only the sea, sky and boat-fare to bother you. Also the spa (sadly I forgot to book one of the 'back to the future' body and face state-of-the-art reversal sessions) is sensationally situated with the bed as though you are lying level with the bow of a boat. All bespoke products are designed with organic natural ingredients and the skin is tested prior to lift-off to see which herb, grass, marine, or mineral ingredient will work best for your skin-type. Imagine facing the sea while all your impurities are being skilfully eradicated from your body, plus you end up looking relaxed, even 'younger'. For those who like to tone the hard way the gym is extremely well equipped with machinery facing that sea in order to take your mind of the taxing task at hand.
The outdoor infinite pool and beyond...
This is for some the most sensational feature of Cap Estel. There are so many breathtaking features in and around the property that this beauty comes as no surprise to me. Shaded in part by the impossibly magnificent ficus trees, the pool looks across to the horizon and east to Cap d'Ail. From May it opens its wooden dining doors to several breeze-laden tables for 'guests only' so you can admire that view and enjoy the fare that springs from its very water. Grilled fish and vegetables are cooked to perfection here - drizzled with astonishingly good olive oil. Fancy options are always on offer but for many the dreamy daytime weather coupled with the allure of the surroundings calls for fruits-de-mer, coupled with some very fine wine or chilled rose: this Cap Estel excels in, as well.
Our Sweet Apartment
Arriving at Cap Estel - through the wrought iron gates and into sea-heaven, there is an instantaneous uplifting of your spirits. They shouldn't have been that rough en route to here, however they soar sky high and sea yonder as you wind your way down, past a plethora of thriving foliage, to the welcoming entrance that starts your luxurious stay. Just standing in the elegant entrance; exotically glamorous, deeply inviting and sea- surging; is exhilarating. However, there is not an apartment or room that should disappoint. They are all individual, they have a personality that suits its privileged setting and they all have something worth returning for.
On our last visit we were fortunate to be smack on the sea, in a maritime Ralph Lauren relaxed yacht-interiors-styled suite 'La Park' with the waves crashing romantically against the foundations beneath us. As I stood proud on the bowed balcony above the waves I had very definite Kate Winslet moments. It was awesome. This time we stayed in La suite 110, one of the two largest suites at Cap Estel and we seriously felt we had arrived - deep into the quixotic pleasures of suite-sea-sanctuary.
There is no overcrowding of furniture and unnecessary objects d'art here; space is one of the greatest luxuries in these suites, so what furniture there is, is covetable. Suite 110 has a contemporary deco feel with a sweeping acreage of smooth almost-white marble floor. Surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass windows and French doors, the sea, sunrises from bed, sunsets from the terrace, and verdant trees, are a timeless vision to behold. It has a large terrace with tightly woven honey-honed rattan sun-loungers, with white linen-clad cushions, a table with chairs for private dining and just about anything you could desire beyond the end of the phone. The wide plasma TV screen sits in true Bond-style in view from the spectacularly comfortable white bed, piled with Siberian goose-down, but the view is a marvellous constant. The suite is open-plan with a separate study/bedroom facing south onto the soothing garden before the sea views, together with all the mod-cons necessary to work away from work!
The bathroom is totally delectable, lavished in wall-to-ceiling limestone and, if you choose, a well exposed east-facing view. It's sublime, totally and utterly sublime. In fact it's so special that you hesitate to close the world outside when eyes are weary; this is not the sort of view you want to leave, even at night. These suites carry a price but then you can't really put a price on the Cap Estel experience, whichever one you choose.