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That riviera touch

Published 11 August 1996
Style Magazine
162nd article

Regal reception: Michael Winner, Vanessa Perry and Willy De Bruyn at the Royal Riviera

I am always grateful to receive advice from readers. Mr Frank Peel, writing from Geneva, who signs himself "Member of the New York Bar", says when I considered storming out of La Reserve de Beaulieu instead of asking "But where to?" I should have gone next door to the Metropole. "It's much nicer," he tells me, "more friendly, the food is better, it's better value (he used much stronger language!) and you can swim in the sea, which is more than you can do at La Reserve. You must be getting short-sighted if you've never noticed it." I am getting short-sighted, I have 36 pairs of cheap reading glasses scattered throughout my house. But I have noticed the Metropole. I've wandered through and it looks lovely. Sizable gardens, a Michelin star, which La Reserve lacks, and a noticeably better exchange rate for guests on the days I inspected. It's a place I may well try in future, in view of an extraordinary letter I received from the manager of La Reserve, Gilbert lrondelle.

He dismisses my room not being made up (for £690 a night!) as "anyone can make a mistake". About my comparing his inadequately stocked bathrooms with the excellence of the Mount Nelson in Cape Town, he said we do not like "copying those big American chains of hotels which try to compensate the service (sic) with all sorts of gifts which are more for publicity than use". I will not let a jibe at the Orient Express people go unchallenged. They are my favourite hotel group. It is not American, Mr Irondelle should know that, and if it was, so what? It's a Bermuda-based company operated from London. They have a small family of hotels, all immaculately run. On the few occasions they slipped a tiny bit in my presence, I let them have it! The managers took it in their stride. They remained confident, friendly and excellent. "We do not have vanity kits, nailfiles and sewing kits," says Mr Irondelle proudly! Nor does he have cotton buds, razors, cotton wool . . . I could go on. None of them generally considered "for publicity rather than use". It's a pity, really, I've stayed at La Reserve for decades. I'm sure it will regain its position and thus be lucky enough to get me back!

In the area of Beaulieu and St-Jean-Cap Ferrat, by far the best preserved and loveliest part of the French Riviera, there are other places I can recommend. The Hotel de la Voile d'Or on the Cap Ferrat side of the bay has a terriļ¬c garden overlooking the harbour and the mountains beyond. It's immaculately run by the Lorenzi family, father Jean, after 30 years, handing over some of the job to daughter Isabelle. When I criticised a rare bout of not-so-good food. Mr Lorenzi wrote "We hope to be able to do better next time." What a difference! A real super-luxury hotel with massive grounds hidden in the heart of Cap Ferrat and by the sea is the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat. This has a Michelin star for its food. I ate there once overlooking the flowers and the Mediterranean. That, too, is a wonderful spot, a haven for the "rich and famous"!

For a bit less money, by which I mean startlingly good value, you can go to the Hotel Royal Riviera on the Beaulieu-Cap Ferrat border. It has an oddly formidable street-side, but as I walked through the immensely chic lobby, I thought, "Oooh, this is good." It's owned by a man introduced to me by my favourite marchioness. His name is Willy De Bruyn, the only entertaining Belgian in the world. The superb gardens of the Royal overlook their own beach and pool. I toddled on to the terrace for lunch, passing a young lady in a backless cocktail dress playing the harp. This was Tamara Warren from Kensington. An ex-neighbour! I had some extremely good shrimp canapes, a very fresh John Dory and a wild raspberry souffle with wild raspberries on the side. Vanessa had a lemon souffle that was historic. No wonder the locals support chef Yves Merville and come to eat here! Mr Irondelle used to manage La Re serve and this place, but he's not at the Riviera now.

One problem with La Reserve is it's owned by the Credit Lyonnais bank, which "took it back" like it did Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. All these other places I've recommended have real live, authoritative owners at the top of the totem pole caring for and caressing them. We poor boys from Willesden have always been frightened at the thought of middle management running amok. James Sherwood, boss of Orient Express, would never permit such a thing. He's my hero.


Dear old Michael Winner must have a thing about Coca-Cola he gave it a mention four times in his column of July 28. But what half a ton of flavoured sugar does flowing over his taste buds just before a meal, I really can't imagine! As intuitive Chrissy Iley would say, never trust a man who drinks three cans of Coke before a meal he is going to comment on!
G G Lionel, Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire