Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Cap Estel


Heavenly vistas, supremely luxurious 5 star suites and impeccable cuisine

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Cap Estel


Situated on the lower corniche that runs along the sea between Nice and Monaco on the Côte d'Azur

Travel Information

Nice Airport - 35 mins

Top Tips

The hotel is closed for most of August for the owner's private use

5-Star X-Factors

Stunning sea views, spectacular suites and superb service, plus Michelin-starred restaurant La Table de Patrick Raingeard


Captivating Cap Estel
Sea dreaming at Cap Estel


Captivating Cap Estel
Sea dreaming at Cap Estel

Captivating Cap Estel

While we were taking in the rejuvenating early spring rays and sipping our customary glass of crisp champagne on Cap Estel's terrace overlooking the impossibly soul-melting sea 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 Côte d'Azur for sure, but it's a one-off 5-star gem.

Cap Estel offers a unique stay in one of France's most privileged locations, in one of the French Riviera's most outstanding coastal mansions, grand-villa, or, for me, dream/fantasy homes. Yet it affords all the exclusive prerequisites of a finely tuned 5-star hotel, which now includes some exceptionally innovative and delectable dining at La Table de Patrick Raingeard, 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.

Perfectly positioned

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 Eze, a village quite unique and astonishingly blessed, with breathtaking far-reaching sea views. 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 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 Côte d'Azur hotspots where fame and fortune have gathered for many glittering decades. But for us, Cap Estel is so enticing, so peaceful and charming, that leaving the grounds can feel a little torturous.

Stylish and ecclectic

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 means 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, exquisite silk fabrics, 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. 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, hibiscus, 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, 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 façade, 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.

Spa delights

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. On the very off-chance there's a little cloud and a spot of rain, so what! Go to 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 the sea in order to take your mind off the taxing task at hand.

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 infinity 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 ocean's fare. Grilled fish and vegetables are cooked to perfection here – drizzled with astonishingly good olive oil. Michelin-starred options are always on offer but for many, the dreamy daytime weather, coupled with the allure of the surroundings, calls for plat de fruits de mer with some very fine wine or chilled rosé. Cap Estel excels in this, as well.

La Suite 110

Arriving at Cap Estel – through the wrought iron gates and into sea-heaven – there is an instantaneous uplifting of your spirits. Just standing in the elegant entrance – impossibly glamorous and surrounded by the ocean's sparkle – is exhilarating. However, there is not an apartment or room that should disappoint. They are all individual, they have a personality that suits the privileged setting and they all have something worth returning for.

On a previous visit we were fortunate to be smack on the sea, in a maritime Ralph Lauren yacht interiors-styled suite La Park, where the waves crash romantically against the foundations below. This time we stayed in La Suite 110, one of the two largest, and we seriously felt we had arrived – deep into the quixotic pleasures of suite-sea-sanctuary.

Design and function are great partners here; space is one of the greatest luxuries in these suites, so what furniture there is, you enjoy. Suite 110 has a contemporary deco ambiance with a sweeping acreage of smooth, creamy marble underfoot. The suite is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass windows and French doors in order to enjoy sunrises from bed and sunsets from the terrace. 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 from dialling 0.

The wide TV screen sits in true Bond-style in view from the spectacularly comfortable white bed, piled with Siberian goose-down, but the view is omnipresent. 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. These suites carry a price but then you can't really put a price on the Cap Estel experience, whichever one you choose.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant

Sea dreaming at Cap Estel

There is a lavish history to Cap Estel: it was built as a datcha, or summer home, in the 19th Century by a Russian prince, on a large peninsula about two hectares in size, between Monaco and Nice. The most exhilarating factor about staying here is its extreme proximity to the sea; this hotel really does have the waves crashing against some of its suites' foundations (ours included) and, it has its own private beach.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, this property belonged to a Greek ship-owner who then sold it to a wealthy American that set scene for the present building. When the Nazis occupied the Riviera, they left their familiar mark, a burnt rosewood parquet floor. In the early 50s Robert Squarchifichi opened a hotel called Cap Estel which became the favourite hideaway for many famous faces viz: George Pompidou, Catherine Deneuve, The Beatles, Joe Kennedy and David Niven, to name but a few.

The glory lives on

Today, Cap Estel has been refurbished with an immaculate eye for stylish detail and its no-expense-barred interiors, with sparkling sea views, are enjoyed by guests from around the world. It is exotic and comprehensively lavish: grand pianos, marble floors with doric style columns, enormous sofas and chaises longue upholstered with French silks, mega-urns housing tropical palms and terraces with uninterrupted sea views. There is an appropriately white tone washing the atmosphere, which sets off the sea and sky in true Riviera style.

Nothing is spared at Cap Estel and, although it is exceptionally plush, families are as welcome as couples. It certainly would be the most fantastical venue for a fairy-tale wedding spreading across the immaculate lawns with palm and cedar trees for shaded champagne moments, surrounded by the sublime smell of frangipani. Aside from the main building, there are two suites and several rooms closer to the sea, and there is even a private super-groovy cinema, which seats 38 in sunken leather armchairs.

XXX factors

In your dreams, this could feel like your private home. In other words, it has more of a personal luxury 'villa' atmosphere than small luxury hotel. That is not to say that the service, and indeed now the food, are not world class; they are. However, the grand architecture, the priceless setting, the sumptuous elegance of the interiors and the private high-tech gym, complete with tiled pool and steam rooms, creates the feel of an exclusive villa.

The second X-factor is its location on a private peninsula with outrageous views from every suite or guestroom; the sea is not only readily accessible, it is also constantly admired. This is seaside living at its most chic. Thirdly, it is located on one of the most revered coastlines in the world, and Cap Estel is somewhat unique here. Moreover, for those who travel with children or teenagers, some of the suites' second bedrooms are tastefully decorated with an eye for the younger generation, so they can enjoy it as much as you.

Sea Suite 510

Our suite was one of two built on the outer perimeter of the property, with the sea directly beneath the terraces. The interiors are relaxed in these suites, with a New England maritime feel, using the right blue canvas on plump sofas with striped cushions, all very Ralph Lauren. The blue and white combination works extremely well with the ravishing ocean view, and the soft white bedding on a voluptuous bed is quite heavenly.

We had two bow-fronted balconies with French windows leading off our suite, which allowed the sea breeze and soothing sounds of the waves' rhythms to permeate our room, 24/7 if we wished. However, for those who prefer a more silent night, the electric shutters reduce the sound to a minimum. If you love to escape beside the ocean, and you want to throw in some stylish luxury, then this is the perfect suite. The sun set to order in front of our west-facing terraces and, that night, the moon eclipsed, turning a pale orange above the darkening sea. If we had asked for some of the best seats anywhere in the cosmos to witness this rare lunar moment then we could not have done better.

Not only did nature perform seemingly miraculous moments for us, but so too did the chef. We enjoyed truly sublime food: a salad of scallops with 'crème légère au caviar' and a reduced port dressing; Dorade Royal, sensationally stuffed with a Mediterranean mix of tomatoes, basil and olives, on a chorizo and langoustine reduction. We savoured this special occasion with our sea view and a chilled glass of 1978 Corton Charlemagne. The moon may eclipse every three years, but the stars here will continue to shine.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant

Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer