Only four stars?! That modesty (and the discursive menu) is what makes the Voile d’Or so charming, says William Cash
AS YOU CAN tell a lot about what a party is going to be like from the printed invitation, so you learn a lot about a hotel from the quality and language of its menu cards. The moment you sit down on the terrace of La Voile d’Or hotel, overlooking the harbour of Cap Ferrat, you know you are somewhere special.
The menu card and wine list are as stiff and beautifully printed as any summons to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, engraved in a chic, bold script in a claret red that reads very much as a personal invite to gourmand heaven from the head chef, Georges Pelissier.
At €48, including mineral water and a glass of wine, a typical menu is: ‘Wild Cep Mushrooms and Carpaccio Salad with Smoked Duck Magret, Foie Gras and Pine Nuts, followed by a Poached Mixed Fish Bouillabaisse accompanied by traditional Garlic Rouille flavoured with Saffron, and then Pineapple marinated in Bourdon Vanilla Syrup and pan-roasted on a Coconut Bitter Biscuit accompanied by a Rum Creamy Custard…’
Classic French food, in other words, is the foundation-stone of this family owned and run hotel. For over 75 years, it has stood as a benchmark of Côte d’Azur sophistication — an increasingly difficult challenge in an era when so many of the world’s soi-disant ‘leading hotels’ are now owned by Russians, Middle Eastern potentates or multinational groups who cater for the vulgar and expensive.
The menu advises that ‘as our dishes are prepared on request you may experiment some waiting time depending on the dishes ordered.’ In other words, the food is cooked to an exacting standard — and if you are the sort of customer who wants to come in for a hurried pre-cooked lunch and then roar off somewhere, then the Voile d’Or might not be for you.
Somerset Maugham found Cap Ferrat so congenial and civilised that he became a regular at the recently opened and ultra-chic Park Hotel — which later became La Voile d’Or — where he often stayed while his new Moorish-style villa and garden were being renovated. The Park Hotel had opened in 1925, built by an English ex-golf and billiard champion called Captain Powell who turned the hotel into the celebrity mecca of its day.
Today, there are 45 bedrooms but it remains a discreet haven for the very rich or well known, only they do not advertise any names. There is only one entrance and it is guarded by a uniformed concierge. ‘We get some very famous people,’ says executive manager Bruno Thevenin, a charming anglophile Frenchman from Limoges who used to work at Duke’s Hotel in St James’s. ‘They know they can rely on us to be completely discreet.’
The décor is what you would expect of one of the French Riviera’s most iconic four-star hotels. Yes, I said four star — not five. This is also part of what makes La Voile d’Or so exclusive and appealing. It has been part of the family’s policy to keep the hotel a four-star establishment that retains its charm rather than to try to match the range of air-conditioned luxury spa facilities of other five-star hotels where prices have risen to stratospheric levels over the last few years. This means that they tend to cater for super-rich Russians or non-Europeans rather than the sort of Spear’s-reading crowd who enjoy the very best of life but also want value.
The best rooms are known as ‘the eights’ as they are corner rooms that can also be turned into apartment suites. So when you book, ask for rooms 8, 28, or 48.
There are few hotels in the world that are more private. While you do not have to be a resident to enjoy the terrace, the swimming pool at La Voile d’Or is for residents only and is strictly private. The hotel also has its own private beach, and if you want a wonderful old-fashioned beach restaurant, with sun-beds, a bar and dancing, there is the Paloma Beach Club which is just ten minutes’ walk away, not far from the sprawling and heavily guarded villa of Lily Safra.
In short, La Voile d’Or is like one of those vintage Riva speedboats with polished wood you will have seen in countless glamorous Ralph Lauren ads. Yet there is nothing corporate about the place. It remains elegant, timeless yet subversive.