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Posts Tagged ‘Cap d’Antibes’

Since the villa is now almost completely renovated we have decided as a family to take a trip down to the Riviera to enjoy a summer break for a few weeks. So Mama, Papa, Aunt Mimi, Sir Oliver, Millie and Henri and I take the overnight train and then drive to Cap d’Antibes in two cars that we have rented.

The Villa, Cap d'Antibes

When we arrive the lorry with masses of furnishings has also arrived from Paris and there is also Lorenzo who has been persuaded to come and join us from Italy and keep me company. We have a wonderful day emptying the lorry and placing all the furniture. I am thrilled to be able to hang all the paintings that I bought from Montparnasse. They cause a bit of a debate of course but I prevail. We have employed several local people as cook, housekeeper and gardener but they do not arrive until tomorrow. It is lucky Lorenzo is here because he had the good sense to bring with him in his car boxes of Italian delicacies and he cooks us the most amazing supper. He is such a resounding success that even Papa says “well my boy I suggest you get to London and open a restaurant.”

We take a few days to sort ourselves out, and Lorenzo and the cook argue in the kitchen each night. Papa and I discuss the landscaping of the garden and grounds and the building of a swimming pool with the gardener who will arrange and organise everything for us.

Interestingly, the older generation are not good at simply relaxing and doing nothing. Despite excellent food, brilliant sunshine, amazing surroundings, the gramophone, Mah Jong and charades, they miss the hustle and bustle of big city life and start complaining. I on the other hand have got Lorenzo, so I am perfectly content with doing very little. I have enough of a distraction. Millie and I also spend a lot of time teaching Lorenzo new dance steps and generally improving our own dancing technique. However, to ease the discontent, during the day, we start taking a few trips and take leisurely visits to Juan Le Pins and Antibes. But since most places are closed there are more outbursts.

One day we head for the sandy Plage Garoupe shaded by umbrella pines. We meet the American family of Gerald and Sara Murphy. Millie reminds me that Yvette, Henri’s sister, had told us that the Murphy’s had been here last summer with Cole Porter.

‘We are staying at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc’ Gerald tells us.

‘The hotel is usually closed from May to September but we persuaded the owner Antoine Sella to keep the place open with a skeleton staff this summer.’

He is thrilled when we tell him that we have bought and renovated the villa near to the hotel and suggests we join them for dinner, which we graciously accept.

We spend a pleasant afternoon swimming and lounging around and the Murphy’s extol the virtues of sunbathing. Lorenzo, Millie, Henri and I are appreciative but Mama and aunt Mimi huddle under a vast umbrella afraid of the sun. Gerald and Sir Oliver have a lot in common as they are both artists and converse for ages.

We have a delightful dinner at the Hotel du Cap. I had forgotten what a beautiful place and setting it is. This is where we came to sign the contracts for the villa back in February.  However, as the pleasantness of the dinner recedes, the grumbling gets too much and we are forced to leave early. Lorenzo comes with us. On our way back to Paris we take a detour to the luxurious surroundings of Aix-Le-Bains, or as all us Brits say ‘Aches and Pains’.

Poster for Aix-le-Bains

We arrive and check into the Splendid-Royal on the Rue Georges, just up above the main centre of the town next to the Excelsior. The more salubrious first-class hotels occupy commanding ledges that give sweeping views and a fresh mountain breeze that comes down from the pine covered peaks above. The Splendid-Royal is a model of architectural perfection and gets Aix’s smart summer crowd. It has a richly carpeted lobby, lined with heavy, blue marble columns, showcases from the best Paris shops and double-sized elevators, originally built to accommodate handicapped guests.

Splendide-Royal Hotel

Aunt Mimi tells Lorenzo ‘this hotel has become a favorite with Americans, because they find the usual match-box French elevators claustrophobic.’  I share a room with Lorenzo which is vast with big windows and a balcony, roomy enough for a cozy breakfast in the morning that opens onto a white alabaster terrace with a fabulous view. We congregate for lunch in the splendid dining room with impeccable service on metropolitan standards, which is full and lively and rather like being in a fashionable Parisian café.

View of Aix-le-Bains towards Lake Bourget

‘Ah this is much better’ says aunt Mimi glancing around nodding to people she thinks she knows.

‘I have no idea why you like that dreary spot on the Riviera at this time of the year’ says Mama. ‘This is where we should be. It is a perfect mix of elegance, good weather and correct company.’

‘Well’ says Millie with a sly smile ‘looks like you and Lorenzo will be spending the summer down there all alone next year.’

 

One of three Aixes in France, Aix-le-Bains of Savoy in the lower ranges of the French Alps is delightful and picturesque and I love being here. Perched on the banks of the beautiful Lac Bourget, which is eleven miles long and therefore the longest lake in France, it has become most fashionable mountain resort in Europe full of rugged crags hovering over deep wooded valleys.

View of mountains, Aix-le-Bains

In the afternoon we take a short stroll down into the town through some quaint streets that wind down the hill with some scenic views and the alpine rooflines behind us. Since Lorenzo has never been here before Mama and Aunt Mimi have taken it upon themselves to introduce him to Aix and I tag along. We reach the thermal establishment which is a veritable palace appropriately designed with a classic Roman façade but fitted with every modern up-to-date device to aid the natural powers of the waters.

Thermal establishment, Aix-le-Bains

Mama steps into guide mode as we wander around and says, as if we haven’t noticed…. ‘the Romans founded this health resort because of the spa and the natural powers of the waters in 122B.C. More recently, the King of Sardinia laid the foundations for another thermal spa in 1776. This new structure was created in 1857.’

She continues Over a million gallons of water pour from Aix’s spring every day, hitting the surface at nearly 115 degrees. It provides the foundation for all treatments which vary according to the condition being treated from gout, nervous disorders, rheumatism, faulty blood circulation or arthritis.’

‘Of course all the ‘cure towns’ including Evian and Vichy have been made so luxurious, expensive and fashionable that many think ‘How can I be chic though sick?’ offers Aunt Mimi.

‘So you have to have the right kind of ‘chic’ malady?’ asks Lorenzo.

‘Of course. Overeating, overdrinking, insufficient use of the legs and too much wear and tear of the grey matter are chic’ replies Aunt Mimi with a laugh.

‘You see Lorenzo’ I say ‘ all the hotels are filled during the season with more or less perfect cases of overindulgence.’

In the centre of the town, just below the thermal establishment and opposite the town hall or Hotel de Ville, stands the arch of Campanus commemorating that illustrious Roman general’s soujourn here.

Place de Ville, Aix-le-Bains

Clustered around the sources, the park and the fountains are other hotels including the Villa Victoria. We walk further and wander around the delightful gardens and terraces associated with the entertainment centres of the Casino and the Villa des Fleurs. The Casino also called Le Grand Cercle was built in 1824 and is a large comfortable, rambling building with a multitude of rooms inside.

The Villa de Fleurs is an equally sumptuous building. Both host excellent restaurants, a theatre, ballrooms and salons. We sit and take tea on the terrace at the Casino listening to a concert which is given daily and browse the programme of events for both venues.

Villa des Fleurs, Aix-le-Bains

Mama continues her lecture ‘Not only is it a cure town but Aix offers the most amazing array of entertainment since there are always many notable quests staying here. Of course Aix has many royal connections. Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor as was Victor Emmanuel II, Napoleon III, Wilhelmina, George of Greece and Leopold of Belgium. There will be fetes, galas and many dancing opportunities for you boys all with the right kind of girls.’

That night we have cocktails at the hotel and then make out way to the Casino for dinner. I am hugely delighted to see that Sielle and Mills, who we caught at L’Ours cabaret in Paris a few weeks ago, are the cabaret and they are once again magnificent. As the older generation drift off, we dance the night away in wonderful surroundings. Our earlier polishing of our dance routines in the villa, pays dividends and we are highly sought after as dancing partners for  a succession of charming ladies. It is very early in the morning and almost breakfast time when we walk up the hill to our hotel and we notice other people walking down the hill.

Henri says  ‘You see one half of Aix-les-Bains goes to bed about the time that the other half ventures to be parboiled and massaged.’

The next night we have dinner in the Villa des Fleurs and spend a great evening dancing in their ballroom. But in Aix-Le-Bains the dance craze doesn’t let up. Besides the casino and the villa there are always dances every night at each of the hotels and at La Polonaire and the Castel Bisolet.

Interior of Villa des Fleurs, Aix-le-Bains, during a gala night

We have a busy and pleasurable stay taking in the air, walks, boat rides on the lake, frolicking on the landscaped sandy beach and enjoying all the evening entertainment, not to mention a steady flow of impromptu invites to private cocktail parties and soirees. Obviously we do not make the regular early morning trek of mountain climbers with their knapsacks, spiked canes and long alpenstocks but do partake of some light tennis in the afternoon and watch boule. But, all too soon, it is time to leave and return to London via Paris.

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The Ambassadeurs Restaurant and the Casino

Saturday 3rd February

The week has flown by. We are now three sets of couples. Cécile and I , Monty and Dolly and Lorenzo and Gabrielle. At first Monty was a little frosty with Lorenzo but they now appear to be getting on. One day we visit Lorenzo’s family villa which is delightful and other days we play tennis, take delightful walks around the Crossiette, the Casino gardens and the town and harbour, watch horse racing, polo and dance each night. We even spot Winston Churchill being chased by photographers as he tried to play golf.

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Jean Gabriel Domergue has transformed the Ambassadeurs Restaurant into a courtyard of an old inn in Seville, decorated with whitewashed and pink walls under a blue sky for the Gala Seville sprinkled liberally everywhere with flowers. He implored all the diners in a neat little invitation booklet to wear appropriate dress for each gala occasion but let’s face it who could ever get self-conscious British aristocrats to wear anything but ultramodern raiment? However, some dress up in Spanish colours of yellow, red and gold, including Dolly and Cécile.

For the entertainment, musicians who looked as if they had just come back from a bull fight, play popular Spanish songs of the 18th century as a background for the Spanish artist Argentinita whose castanets gave point and rhythm to her excellent dances.

“She is known as the Flamenco Pavlova and the Queen of Castanets”
says Monty.

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The Spanish dancer Argentinita

That night when we are on our own, Lorenzo says “Gabrielle tells me that she and Cecile are rather hoping they might become sister-in-laws.”

Saturday 10th February

The next gala at the Casino is the Enchanted Garden fete and the Ambassadeurs has become a garden festooned in flowers and fruits of every hue. The roof is covered with interwoven leaves and branches and huge dragonflies of all colours are suspended from the ceiling. The walls have been transformed with panels of climbing white roses and pergolas of red jasmine.

As we take our seats, Mama, pointing to a rather excitable group says “Prince George is over there. He motored over from Beaulieu just for the night!”

Argentina provides a wonderful new set of dances and the cabaret is augmented by an hilarious interlude when members of Billy Arnold’s orchestra appear dressed in rather airy costumes and perform a dance of the wood nymphs. This is followed by Chris Lee dressed as a Spanish dancer doing a burlesque of Argentina..

After Papa returns from the Casino itself he says “Our royal guest is causing quite a stir. He tried to get entry to the Casino but was refused because of his age and it has not got down very well!”

I danced the night away, predominately with Cecile, who like all the girls had been propelled into a world of gushiness by the enchanted garden and was becoming rather lovey-dovey.

Monday 12th February

I spend the day with Papa exploring land and properties for sale first in Cap Ferrat and then Cap d’Antibes. The latter looks more promising because it is nearer Cannes which we all prefer.

Tuesday 13th February

It is a good job we are not superstitious and thank God it is not a Friday. Just south of the sleepy little port of Antibes amongst the pine clad slopes of the peninsula, we find and buy a rather magnificent, large plot of land with a run-down villa and its own bit of coastline. There was a sense of remote tranquillity at this spot that will be a welcome relief to the usual hustle and bustle of city life and yet even here, Cannes and Nice are very accessible.

We are not far from the Hotel du Cap at Eden Roc where we take afternoon tea to finalise the deal. Although it will take a while to finalise everything we see a variety of people over the next few days to plan the renovation work.

Thursday 15th February

We have a family day out to show everyone the villa and there is much excitement and discussion about décor, furnishing and the garden as we have a picnic on the Plage de la Garoupe. Aunt Mimi has bought Sir Oliver.

“I have an announcement” she says “Sir Oliver and I are engaged. We are planning the wedding for late April.”

We all burst into guffaws of congratulations and hugs as Sir Oliver says “and I have arranged a special dinner party on Friday evening at the Carlton in celebration.”

Friday 16th February

I am having a quiet lunch in the Carlton with Cecile, Monty and Dolly when suddenly I hear familiar voices and in come the Dolly Sisters accompanied by a very tall and handsome young man. When Dolly waves they come over to our table and introduce us to their brother Edward, or as they call him Eddie.

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The Dolly Sisters

“We have been in America since we saw you last in Deauville.”
“We have done a long vaudeville tour with Eddie and a great singer called Harry Richman.”
“And, now we are here for our debut on the Riviera tomorrow night.”
“We hope we will see you.”

Saturday 17th February

The gala at the Ambassadeurs has a winter theme as “The Kingdom of the Queen of Winter’. The huge chandeliers were half covered in cotton wool cut out in shapes of large holly leaves. There was a giant snowman in one corner and little leafless trees covered in crystallised imitation snow dotted around the room. The lights were turned down for the entry of the Dolly Sisters who appeared in white tulle frocks. At the same time waiters handed out paper bags filled with imitation snowballs and everyone pelted each other while the Dollies skipped daintily out. They returned dressed as jet black ponies with high head-plumes and other jingling equine paraphernalia driven by their brother Eddie with a cracking whip and hard bowler hat as he directed them at a gallop round and round till the entry of a reindeer, more snowballs and a walking snowman drew their prancing pony trot to a close.

The evening was a huge hit. The Dollies are unique and amazing and their dancing so different from anything ever seen before. We dance all night and the rather dashing Eddie monopolises Dolly who looks as if she is being swept off her feet. I of course have several dances with each of the Dolly Sisters.

Saturday 24th February

The Dolly Sisters have been such a success at the Ambassadeurs that dancing managers along the coast are offering large sums of money to lure them away.

The gala evening tonight has the theme of ‘The Venice of Casanova.’ The Dolly Sisters dressed identically in Venetian gowns are once again escorted by their brother Eddie and give another unbelievable performance.

I am still quite alarmed when I overhear embarrassing comments at a nearby table.
“The Riviera is not what it was. It is different and it is not better. I am not concerned to maintain that is less attractive than the Spring of 1914, say, but it is certainly a very much less attractive, less amusing and less intimate place than it used to be 20 or more years ago. It has become democratic, for one thing and full of these Americans.” Says a very pompous older English lady in a very loud voice to other members of her table “Take these dancers, for example: they are brash in a new and rather disconcerting way. They are far too modern and indiscreet and quite unbearably nouveau rich.”

Monty is not amused and says equally loudly “It is interesting that with the Russians banished, it is us Americans that are keeping the Riviera afloat you know.”

Dolly is clearly enamoured with Eddie and I say to Monty “So are you or are you not together?”

“We are not” he says gruffly.

I dance again with Jenny and Rosie and they both tell me that they have accepted a very lucrative offer to dance at the new Casino in Juan-les-Pins. Apparently Édouard Baudoin a restauranteur from Nice purchased a dilapidated and almost bankrupt casino there and rebuilt it believing that this area, mid-way between Cannes and Nice, had great potential. The Dollies were going to star in his opening-night gala to be held in early March in an attempt to put his casino and Juan-les-Pins on the map.

I am really amused given that we have just purchased a villa nearby. I think we might have chosen wisely.

Wednesday 28th February

Monty and Dolly have already left for Paris. All too soon our soujourn on the Riviera also comes to an end and are forced to leave and return home. I have an emotional farewell with Lorenzo, who promises to visit London and Paris soon.

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Carlton Hotel, Casino Municipal

Friday 26th January

We finally arrive at Cannes our last destination and swiftly settle into the smart and ultra-fashionable Carlton Hotel with its twin domes said to be modelled on the breasts of Belle Otero, a famous 19th century femme du monde, nestled at one end of the elegant palm filled Boulevard de la Croissette.

Carlton Hotel, Cannes

Carlton Hotel, Cannes

Monty and Dolly have already arrived but they have gone out for the morning and I meet them in the lounge in the afternoon. We have a wonderful re-union and a nice cup of tea. This is Dolly’s first trip to the Riviera and she has decided just to stay in Cannes. I tell her that it is wise choice since there is a different ambience and air to Cannes.

“It is less stuffy and more relaxed here than Monte Carlo. And, although Nice is fun Cannes is far more fashionable. I love this hotel too, it is so chic which is probably why it is so expensive.” I say.

“Ah therein lies an important distinction”
adds Monty “It is not true to say that the very expensive hotels are always chic, but it is true that all the chic hotels are very expensive.”

I think the worse when Dolly says “And, I have a bone to pick with you.” Thankfully she simply reproaches me for not seeing the Hippodrome pantomime of Cinderella.

That evening the three of us go out on the town. We take drinks at the busy Rendezvous Bar opposite the Casino get a taxi to eat at the Reserve restaurant on the rocks at the far end of the Croissette and then dance all night at the Casanaova night club. Monty tells me there is another one exactly the same in Biarritz. Once again my dancing is greatly admired and I am in great demand. Dolly dances all night with Monty.

I pluck up courage when Dolly whisks off to powder her nose. “Are you and Dolly an item?”

“Ah” says Monty “that” and takes another drink. “Did you know that your article about the history of cabaret in London was published? I must give you a copy tomorrow. It has gone down a treat my boy. It looks like the editor wants you to write a weekly column. I suggest you call it After Dark.”

Saturday 27th January

After a rather late breakfast, Papa drops by my room to give me a message that Lorenzo and his family will arrive at their villa sometime today. He also reminds me that Cecile’s party have arrived and that we are having lunch with them and the battle of flowers begins at 2.30pm. I have to hurry.

For the Carnival, the Crossiette is closed to traffic and numerous stands have been built for spectators amidst arches of flowers and the palm trees creating a veritable fairyland. Our seats at the front of the Carlton Hotel stand give us a good view. At 2.30pm prompt, the guns go off, the band plays and a stream of vehicles drive from the Casino gardens along the Crossiette. They are all decorated in a unique fashion and filled to overflowing with pretty girls all dressed to match the floral theme. The mail coach from the Beau Site Hotel was made to look like a gigantic basket covered in mimosa and narcissi and wins first prize. The tennis player Suzanne Lenglen was one of a dozen girls who stood in the midst of all the flowers.

Needless to say, for the first gala night of the season in the opulent Casino, the ladies are dressed in their finest gowns. We are a large party with Cecile’s and some of Henri’s family and Sir Oliver in attendance with Aunt Mimi. The Casino complex, one of the largest on the coast, is surrounded by gardens and includes an opera house and the Ambassadeurs restaurant (where the galas are staged) and is a short walk from the Carlton Hotel. It is under the management of Eugene Cornuche who also runs the Deauville Casino. Do remember, he is a rather close friend of Mama. He greets us when we arrive and shows us a magnificent set of tables replete with champagne.

Casino Municipal, Cannes

Casino Municipal, Cannes

The first fete is called Gala Souk Marocain and the ballroom has been transformed into a Moroccan fairy-land. Mama is entranced and behaves in a rather sentimental way.

“Oh it is so divine”
Mama says with a sigh “Eugene has been very clever you know. He engaged that very talented artist Jean-Gabriel Domergue to stage the gala fetes this year and he has simply outdone himself.”

Mimi whispers “ Your mother went to Morocco with Eugene before she married your father.”

“Why there is M.Domergue” points Millie to a rather strange spindly little man with a goat like beard and long straggling mutton chops “he might look odd but he is very much a la mode.”

Lorenzo and his family arrive and before they settle in an adjacent table they very politely come over and greet us all. Lorenzo is looking superb and is accompanied by a ravishing looking brunette who is wrapped around him like a python. I am really pleased to see him.

“Lorenzo, this is Cecile d’Orsay”
I say.
“Fynes, this Mlle Gabrielle Foray” Lorenzo says.
“Gaby ma cherie” says Cecile.
“Cecile ma loulou” says Gaby.
“Hello Fynes. Hello Millie. Hello Monty” says Gabrielle with a sly smile “How nice to see you all again…”

Oh dear I think. After all this is THE Gabrielle we met in Paris, the boring friend of Millie’s and she knows Cecile! Lorenzo is taken aback too and quizzes me later about how we all know each other. Perhaps I was a little harsh on Gabrielle. She isn’t that bad.

We dance to the famous Billy Arnold Orchestra, who had also played in Deauville last summer. The entertainment is provided by the legendary American dancer Harry Pilcer and his dancing partner Wynn Richmond. They danced everyone into a mood of moonlight and minarets. Of course I know about Pilcer, he is famous for being the partner and lover of the incomparable French star Gaby Deslys until her untimely death in 1921. But Monty, the font of all knowledge recounts his career with relish. “Harry was the eldest son of an Austro-Hungarian Jewish tailor who had emigrated to America when he was young. He wanted to be a performer and by his teens was working as a chorus boy in Chicago before moving to New York in 1911. Called upon to partner Deslys in the Shubert show Revue of Revues at the Winter Garden they formed a famous dancing partnership and his innovative and uniquely American style took her and later Europe by storm.”

Millie says “Well, Harry has become quite the night club proprietor and the toast of Paris organising one success story after another. First the Apollo’s Tango Teas, then the Oasis, then the Sans Souci and now the Acacias. And, he also danced with June Day.”

“That was where Jenny Dolly scored such a big hit with Clifton Webb last summer.” Adds Cécile.

Quite oblivious to the fact that Monty is American Yvette, Henri’s sisters says “The Americans are odd. Do you know, Cole Porter and Gerald and Sara Murphy rented the whole floor in the Hotel du Cap at Cap d’Antibes for the summer. They even created a beach by removing the seaweed to reveal the sand and dowsed themselves in banana oil and sunbathed. Whatever next.”

“I heard that the opera singer Mary Garden did exactly the same thing.” Says Millie.

This gets me thinking about my days spent exploring the coast with Lorenzo. I have a quiet word with Papa who has been thinking about buying a villa on the Riviera for several years. “I think we ought to buy some land in Cap Ferrat or Cap d’Antibes. I have this feeling it might be a good investment. It will also be a perfect spot for a villa I think.”

“I will take a look Fynes” he says.

Later, I am getting ready for bed when there is a quiet knock at my door. It is Lorenzo. “I had to see you” he says.

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