If the weather is to keep you prisoner, where better than five-star hotel, Le Hotel Majestic Barrière on the Croisette, Cannes.
Cannes is not usually shrouded in mist nor virtually unreachable on roads turned to rivers. Ordinarily the French Riviera is irresistibly filmic, bathed in glorious sunshine, the shushing of cicadas soothingly audible above the gentle lapping of the Med… But visiting the Le Hotel Majestic Barrière during dramatic autumn storms gave me the opportunity to fully luxuriate in the old school comfort and style of a Riviera icon where film festival stars are wont to stay.
My room has an undisturbed view over a slate grey sea. Palm trees wave bravely in the squall. But I can easily imagine how grateful I would be for the awning that keeps the worst of the rain off the sun loungers were the sun to require me to lounge on a balcony that is really too grand to be a mere balcony but is more of a private terrace. In a separate wing, the hotel’s most sumptuous suites all face directly onto the famous red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals up which have glided stars from Sophia Loren to Angelina Jolie – in fact every imaginable A-lister since the Cannes Film Festival began in 1946. Each impressive suite is decorated in a distinct style: the fashionably chic Dior; the Riviera, whose nautical theme recalls the spirit of a luxury liner; a set of rooms celebrating cinematic style; and the classy classic, Morgan. The penthouse has its own private rooftop pool with sea view. Lesser folk make do with the hotel’s (still rather fabulous) heated seaside pool or its private beach.
But as much as the Majestic revels in its very grown up glamour, the hotel is as welcoming to families and is justly proud of its special film-making club for the kids, part of the Le Studio by Petit VIP concept, which hosts family fun workshops and 5-star activities for children. The charm of a traditional hotel is, at least partly, in the warmth of the welcome and the Majestic is keen to make sure its guests are thoroughly at home. My friend Claudia remembers staying here as a child with her family in the 1970s. She licks her lips recalling the steak tartare some thirty-odd years later, so my expectations are high – and I am not disappointed.
When in France… Fois gras is a guilty pleasure but at Fouquet’s – the Majestic’s expansive bar and Parisian-style luxury brasserie – the pleasure easily outweighs the guilt. Classic French dishes such as duck fillet and pepper beef sit alongside fish and chips and burgers. We try the squid and the pan-fried scallops on a smooth buttery artichoke puree. The Mediterranean influence is clear from the number of fish dishes on the menu. It takes us an age to choose the Hautes Côtes de Nuit Domaine Chambris Bourgogne but we are delighted with a white that can sit happily with our seafood and hold its own against the fois gras.
I indulge in breakfast in my room on day one and I feel a little bit of a princess as I nibble tiny pastries and sip café au lait, but I am glad to have made it to the breakfast buffet the following morning where I chip chunks off a laptop-sized honeycomb to sweeten my pancakes and consider having a glass of Champagne to get the day started.
On Saturday night we eat at La Terrasse du Gray, the gourmet restaurant at the Majestic’s sister hotel just around the corner, Le Gray D’Albion. Here the menu relies on seasonal produce and experiments with more international flavours. Risottos and ravioli remind us that we are not all that far away from Italy, but the latter comes gyoza “dumpling-style” stuffed with prawns, while the sea bream carpaccio is tangy with a mango and coriander salsa. I plump for the burrata and grilled zucchini salad to start. (It’s not been that long since lunch where I’m working my way through the chef’s daily specials at Fouquet’s.) Mains include a wok section with a tempting-sounding Peking duck glazed with honey from the restaurant’s own hives while the rest of the menu feels familiarly Mediterranean with a twist: grilled lamb chops and caponata, octopus with preserved lemon, pan-fried beef brightened up with a chimichurri condiment.
Dating from 1926, the Majestic has undergone major renovations in the last two decades, evolving to incorporate the most modern ideals of luxury while keeping true to its roots. The vast entrance hall is decorated in Venetian-style sumptuousness, all gold and glittering lights. I nestle happily with my laptop in the spacious lounge and can see why the hotel is popular with business travellers and for conferences. Sparkling chandeliers, glass, mirrors, leather, and gilt all go a long way to take the edge off a Powerpoint presentation. The restoration of this part of the hotel, unveiled during the 2016 film festival, was inspired by Art Deco designer Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, at work in the 1920s and 30s. Amid the dreamy ivory and cream interior – at once grand and yet comfy – I expect Hercule Poirot to walk in at any moment.
When the sun breaks through, I venture out for a turn around the harbour to admire the yachts in temporary residence. I stroll past the luxury outlets that line the street outside the hotel, Cannes’ famous Boulevard de la Croisette: Prada, Gucci, Dior. Despite the hype, the old town retains the charm of the fishing village it once was. A sudden downpour, though, and it’s not so much Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief as Mr Bean’s Holiday, but there is sanctuary in the Diane Barrière spa, where I relax on a heated bed in a lilac-lit room, massaged with scented oils. Partnering with skincare experts Biologique Recherche, the wellness centre has a range of beauty treatments fit for any aspiring starlet, while the Caribbean-infused Ligne St Barth line promotes the three Rs: relaxation, restoration, rejuvenation.
As I am packing to leave, a call comes from the concierge to tell me that the roads are closing between Cannes and Nice airport. By the time I make it to the front desk, taxis are no longer picking up. Enter Joel, bellboy extraordinaire, tasked with getting me to the airport come hell or high water. At last I feel I am starring in my own movie as we dash up the motorway, wiggle along mountain lanes, edge through flooded roads and make it, finally, to the airport. If only Cary Grant had been waiting there for me…
10, La Croisette, 06407 Cannes, France (+33 (0) 4 92 98 77 00; hotelsbarriere.com)