A Cannes trio, of luxury hotels

MARY GOSTELOW HEADS TO CANNES

Of course everyone imagines themselves on the red carpet in May at the annual Cannes Festival, formerly called the International Film Festival.  The crowds throng to see the stars arrive at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès..  At the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, 14 to 25 May 2019, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu was the jury president, and Parasite, directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, won the Palme d’Or.

Any time of year, however, Cannes is a delight.  Even in mid-winter the sun just might be shining, and as long as it is not raining local residents, usually immaculately coiffed and groomed, will be walking their poodles or other miniatures along Boulevard, or Promenade, La Croisette.

And THAT is where one needs to stay, any time of year, in one of the hotels on the North side of La Croisette, looking across that fairly-quiet dual highway and the pedestrian promenade, to the beach and ocean.  At the moment the J.W. Marriott, which started out as Noga-Hilton and then became Sofitel, is completely closed for a much-needed botox.  That leaves three luxury hotels, all with different characters.  Whichever you choose, do make sure you get a sea-facing room.  All three, by the way, have perfectly satisfactory fitness centres, open 24/7, and, even at peak times, the concierges – dressed formally, French style, morning suits and so on – were charming and professional.

These three are, from east to west, Hôtel Martinez, now part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection; InterContinental Carlton Cannes, and Majestic-Barrière.

The sumptuous Hollywood-glory Hôtel Martinez, furthest from le Palais, is celebrating its 90th birthday this year. Two years ago, thanks to her Qatari owners, the 409-room beauty finished a Pierre-Yves Rochon redo, more like severe plastic surgery than a standard face lift.  The whole thing oozes style – even the Champagne, which is Taittinger, is bespoke for the hotel, a reminder that the Taittinger family owned the hotel for many years.  Arrive here, at the hotel that traditionally starts the Cannes Film Festival, and you feel elegantly red-carpet from the word go.

The corridors of the seven-floor hotel were grey and dusty pink, before.  Now they are heavenly in pale grey with vivid carpeting that is actually blue, and not any old blue but what I call ‘Martinez blue’. My corner suite, 531, was Champagne-coloured, as if expecting Jean Harlow before she met up with Fred Astaire.

Gone is the main casual restaurant, stretching out to the Croisette. That space is now a proper, and undoubtedly more profitable, bar. The rear of the lobby has become an inner restaurant, no windows but two sides are open so you do look, at a distance, out to the hotel’s front courtyard, and the Croisette and Mediterranean beyond. 

I checked out the weekend brunch, held both Saturday and Sunday.  As exuberant GM Yann Gillet had promised, it was seafood heaven, with really imaginative displays. I even loved the kids’ corner, a riot of colour. You know the staff here are having a good time, too. They are dressed with style – the reception ladies look especially elegant. This is a place where guests look good, (well, this is France, and the boutiques within a few minutes’ walk include Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, Versace and all the usual top names). Of course I had to try to keep up to par, and the hotel’s fitness is open 24/7 – there is an outside terrace up there, for fresh-air exercises. Sadly there was no time this visit for the L. Raphael spa, which attracts global followers who stay here, specially, for her treatments.

Next, moving a few minutes’ walk west, is the 1912-vintage InterContinental Carlton Cannes

“This is MY HOUSE”, declares the GM, Giuseppe Vincelli, firmly. He regards the 343-room property as his personal fief, which he is caretaking on behalf of the (other) Qatari owners.  I loved the way room 633 had a balcony with table and chairs for two, to enjoy the gorgeous sea view.

Tristan Auer, who did part of the renovation of Rosewood’s Le Crillon in Paris, is the chosen designer here and, the new look starts early 2020.  It is known that the C-shaped building will have its inner space turned into a gorgeous garden, with a year-round heated 18-metre pool, unique along the Croisette. There will be a new restaurant, not yet shared: locals will flock to it just as they always have done – it might be the GM’s house but it has, since its start, been Cannes’ second home.

Continuing West, Majestic Barrière is the closest luxury hotel to the Palais – just across the road, in fact.  This means that at festivals and other busy periods its lobby is the hub of networking, and the cognoscenti know to host their extracurricular parties here, in the premium suites. I honestly, during my time in town for ILTM, spent more time at parties in suites than I did in my very pleasant sea-facing room, #540 – housekeeping was meticulous in understanding not to disturb a busy gal’s papers and etceteras.

All this is terrifically pleasing to the hotel’s GM, Pierre-Louis Renou, who also oversees the Barrière Group’s St Barth’s hotel, the Carl Gustaf.  When I was at the Majestic he was pushing the Carl Gustaf via a concoction his creative mixologist, Pierre Damoiseau, had created. And, I must admit, ‘Le Carl’, is a most agreeable concoction of rum, pineapple, olive juice, orange juice.

This is a luxury hotel that knows how to throw a good party.  Every year, on the Wednesday of ILTM, Majestic Barrière’s party for its local supporters and the ILTM delegates who are staying in the hotel is magical for its organisation. Nothing seems to be happening until, from 8.30 p.m., there is such security that only those with invitations can get into a winter wonderland of performance, and food and drink (loved the pyramid of champagne glasses holding savoury custard). But by the morning, at least by 7 a.m. it really did look as if nothing HAD happened. The hotel was back to normal, ready to close in two days for one of its annual holidays, now until 27 December, when they open up for New Year.

Mary Gostelow

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