Juan-les-Pins is under-the-radar Riviera. Those who want to be seen head for Cannes or St-Tropez. Those who do not want to be trailed by paparazzi are more likely to head for this Juan-les-Pins, part of the Antibes metropolis. It goes back to time immemorial but its modern history really kicked off when Frank-Jay Gould opened a hotel in May 1927. Two years later, Russian-born Boma Estène and his wife Simone, who came from a family of Antibes hoteliers, converted the Villa St-Louis, right on the coast, to what is now the luxury Hôtel Belles Rives, part of Small Luxury (today, says the gal, it is owned by the Estènes’ great-granddaughter, Marianne Estène-Chauvin, and run by her son, Antoine Estène-Chauvin, and their GM, Stéphane Vuillaume).
I stayed in the 610 sq ft Zelda Suite, overlooking the water immediately in front – see a video of the suite, below. It is named for the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who somehow started Tender is the Night while they both lived here (how he had time and patience to write while Zelda appears to have already been going mad and the two fought continually, is hard to imagine, plus the area was full of socialites). Tender is the Night, for instance, is written about a fictional couple, Dick and Nicole Diver, thought to have been based on Gerald and Sara Murphy, who lived nearby in Villa America. This was the period of Great Artistic Talent Grand Tours – Ernest Hemingway was a regular to Juan les Pins, as were Maurice Chevalier and Pablo Picasso. Did they too, I wonder, look out of this 44-room hotel’s windows and get inspiration? Thanks to the Estène-Chauvins, the arts association continues.
There is a Fitzgerald literary prize every June – current winner of the eighth Claude Aïelio ceramic trophy is New York-based Christopher Bonnen, for Beau Ravage (Bonnen is Editor-in-Chief of Interview, and he writes regularly for such publications as The New York Times). There is also a five-yearly Gatsby prize, currently held by Frenchman Nicolas Rey for Dos au Mur. And more art. Look at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, La Passagere, overall white for simplicity and as balance, perhaps, to the blue of the sea and sky outside. The room’s columns, however, are enlivened with Picasso-like cartoons, and hanging strategically through the rooms are dividers of coloured glass – cartoons and dividers are by Patrick Ifergan.
Aurélian Véguand’s menu certainly highlights proximity to the sea. Starters are bundled together as ‘Weigh anchor’, and main courses are ‘Sail away’. I had the good luck to dine with Antoine Chauvin-Estène, and loved the home-made warm loaf round with soft butter infused with local seaweed. My artichoke tart shared billing with its black truffle accompaniment, and, after a scallop presentation I had to try something with lemons, for which this area, especially Menton, is renowned (for gastronomic heaven, dessert addicts choose the lemon soufflé with calamansi sorbet). And then, like regular movers and shakers, and a few first-timers, head to the adjacent piano bar, perhaps for a Gatsby, gin with lychee and violet syrup, or a Hemingway, rum with cherry Marasquin. SEE THE ZELDA SUITE, AND THE RESTAURANT