A la recherche du temps perdu
Yesterday I revisited a place where I stayed 6 months between March and September 1966, Cap Ferrat. I was amazed how little it had changed even the personalities I remembered were still with us. I was staying with a school friend whose father was a successful property developer and who had a villa next to the Grand Hotel.
Then it was rather run down but now under the management of the Four Seasons, one of the most luxurious hotels of the coastline. Les girls and Daffers were mightily impressed.
We arrived at around 11-30 am after a breathtaking drive through Villefranche and Beaulieu. There are 3 principal roads, the highest the Corniche where Grace Kelly met her end, the Middle and the coastal. We took the coastal.
On arrival we found the swimming pool largely deserted. I told the manager that I last came here 50 years ago and recalled the Nageur (person in charge of all swimming activities) Pierre Grunewald, the son of German Jew.
He escaped Germany and became a swimming and ski instructor of some renown particularly for his breathing technique which he would teach in a salad bowl prior to moving to the pool. I was pleased to hear aged 84 he still was to be found poolside come June. Sitting atop an umpire’s chair I recall him as rather forbidding figure as he presided over the pool. One day a terrific row broke out when it all kicked off and I have to say I as a spirited thirteen year old was at the heart of it, swinging my goggles at all and sundry. I was summoned before Grunewald
After a swim we took the cable car to the Veranda restaurant. I will let Daffers review the food as only she can but I could find no fault in the cuisine, the service or location. Polly – always the enthusiast – repeatedly said that it would take some beating. The pool in the Eden Roc at Cap d’Antibes enjoys s higher reputation but sadly does not open until the 15th April.
After a splendid lunch what could be nicer than a stroll in some gardens so we duly visited these in the Rothschild ephrussi villa.
Those who have read The Hare with Amber Eyes will know that the Ephrussi, like the Rothschild, were one of the wealthiest families in Europe. Originally from Odessa they settled in Vienna and all their wealth was sequestrated by the Nazis. They even occupied their house but a maid hid the tiny Japanese figurines under a mattress and they were preserved by a gay member of the family living in Japan. Beatrice Rothschild, having no descendants, left the house to the state. It is a fabulous pink palace with 9 Gardens and a breathtaking view over the bay.
I made a sentimental journey to Cap au Vent the house where I stayed all those years ago. It had security fences, our driver informed us that many houses are owned by Russians including Roman Abramovich, so I could hardly see anything. However there was a van of a construction firm called Caserta. I recalled a builder called Caserta, a jolly Italian, who had never been in car as he walked everywhere and never left Cap Ferrat. His business now extended to swimming pool construction had evidently prospered. To return and finish with a theme: one of the reasons why the Riviera remains so attractive is that the development of construction is restricted, the integrity of the region and character of each resort preserved and, 50 years from now I doubt if it will be much changed either.