Trip to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat

During the winter months The Grand Hotel Cap Ferrat used to host an excellent Sunday brunch. Last summer, the hotel brought in a new chef, probably with a view to obtaining a glittering Michelin star for its main restaurant, and it stopped providing Sunday brunches. But lo and behold they’ve re-introduced something similar. A three course luncheon on Saturday and Sunday which kicks off with a selection of five starters, a main course and concludes with five desserts. We were fortunate to try this out before you know what had us all in lockdown.

One of the joys of eating at the hotel is the possibility, either before or after our meal, to have a wander around its wonderful gardens and beyond. It’s an area where I frequently train on my bike during the winter months. The roads are quiet and on my bike I can look over the high walls at all the truly splendid, drool-inducing, property porn.

The peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat became a leading holiday resort around the end of 19th century. Its dry and rocky landscape was originally home to just a handful of fishermen’s and farmers’ cottages clustered around the church and harbour. This hamlet was known as Saint Jean and was part of the commune of Villefranche sur Mer.
In 1876, the Compagnie Générale des Eaux created a large artificial lake within leafy parkland. Fed by the river Vésubie, this lake also featured a small island and a waterfall. As a consequence, the peninsula became covered in denser and more diverse vegetation. From then on, Cap Ferrat became a firm favourite with families who would arrive from Nice by horse-drawn carriage to have picnics under the pine and olive trees, or have lunch in one of the many restaurants that sprang up near the harbour.

In 1904, Saint Jean separated from Villefrance sur Mer and became an independent commune. Originally named Saint Jean sur Mer, the commune took the name of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat in 1907.

In the early 1900s, winter tourism became popular on the French Riviera. Its very mild climate made it attractive to rich British and Russian families who soon made it a highly acclaimed destination. Saint Jean Cap Ferrat became very popular, and the first of many grand estates were built. In 1904, the Hôtel Bedford (now the Hôtel Royal-Riviera) was built at the base of the peninsula. Its geographical location made it popular with high society. Designed to accommodate a wealthy cosmopolitan clientele, 1908 saw the construction of the Grand Hôtel on the Cap-Ferrat headland surrounded by lush greenery.

In the Fifties, tourism started to become more summer-based and Cap Ferrat became a fashionable seaside resort popular with celebrities from all over the world. But it wasn’t just celebrities, the place was also popular with artists. Henri Matisse paid many visits to the Villa Natacha, owned by the art publisher Alec Tériade. The painter had already created a stained glass window and a ceramic mural for the villa’s dining room. The publisher invited many of the artists he worked with to his villa, most notably Chagall and Picasso.

But the artist who had the biggest impact on Saint Jean Cap Ferrat was Jean Cocteau. A regular guest at the Santo Sospir villa whose walls he decorated with splendid frescoes, he was also behind the fresco that graces the wedding hall in the Town Hall.

Before heading home, we enjoyed a ramble round the busy Harbour. Initially a life line for the village, fishing played a key role in Saint Jean’s birth and its development around the harbour. Now known as the Quay Lindbergh, the old harbour was built by inmates from Villefranche prison between 1840 and 1876 while the current marina was inaugurated in 1972. It can accommodate 580 boats, including 362 private moorings. There are a variety of restaurants, shops and galleries alongside the quay, as well as the municipal ‘Neptune’ hall that regularly hosts exhibitions, concerts and other events. On a sunny afternoon in early March, the grand summer residences may have been shuttered, but this place was buzzing.

Lunchtime date: Sunday brunch

My beloved and I enjoy going out for Sunday brunch, particularly during the winter months. We’d spotted that the weather this past week-end was going to be wet and chilly, so had decided to go out for brunch in nearby Cannes. We’ve tried brunch at the Marriott and Martinez, but our favourite is the Carlton. It’s one of those over the top, fin de siècle, overblown wedding-type buildings and quite iconic on the Croisette.

In the summer, we like to dally in the Carlton’s terrace gardens over a pot of tea or a cocktail but in the hotel’s low season we can be found, from time to time, enjoying Sunday brunch or its Friday night lobster and champagne menu.

Of course, while my beloved can and will eat anything and everything on offer, I have to be more cautious. There’s lots that I can’t eat, but equally there’s plenty that I can. Of course, tackling any buffet requires pacing. We’ve found the trick is to book a table, arrive early at 12:30 and tarry for at least three hours.

I like to start with the oysters and a selection of other seafood, typically smoked salmon, octopus salad, sushi, marinated salmon and prawns. Then I’ll eat some of the various salads which don’t contain meat before tackling a bowl of vegetable soup. I like to take a bit of a rest between each course and I find elasticated or loose-waisted attire essential.

For my main course, I’ll have a plate of cooked mixed vegetables with some potatoes, or maybe the pasta. There’s always a large selection of hot dishes, most of which I have to ignore. I’ll naturally skip the cheese course before moving swiftly to a conclusion with a fresh fruit salad. The dessert buffet is a refined form of torture, groaning with small servings of delicious hot and cold desserts – the French like to have a bit of everything.

We’ve found the brunch clientele to be largely French. Lots of tiny French people with huge appetites and hollow legs. We’ve always done the buffet justice but we never manage to eat as much as the French who eat loads of small plates of food. I’m tempted to ask whether they’ve starved themselves all week? But I know the answer will be a surprised no!

Aside from the Carlton in Cannes we can highly recommend Terre Blanche (in Tourrettes, Cannois hinterland) and Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap, Cap Ferrat. The latter is a favoured spot once the weather improves allowing us to dine out on the terrace.

Indulgence necessitates a long leisurely walk, despite the weather, before returning home for a relaxing evening, no dinner!

Images of the Carlton Hotel courtesy of their website


12 days of Christmas: day 10

My two sisters complain that I never take photographs of people and it’s true. Mine are typically of places. This is a rare photograph featuring my beloved. It was taken back in April while he was recovering from his broken leg. As you can see, he’s still on crutches and standing in front of one of our favourite locations on the Cote d’Azur for brunch. It’s a fabulous hotel on Cap Ferrat, wonderfully managed by the Four Seasons Group. We love going for brunch in early autumn and late spring when it’s warm enough to sit on the terrace and drink in the magnificent views. I’m a big fan of buffets because although there’s plenty I can’t eat, there’s lots that I can. This one has a particularly good seafood buffet where I can fill my boots with oysters and prawns.