Multi-million pound luxury, Michael Douglas and tongue-tying Thais: the shiny spirit of Cannes.
The question is: would you be enflamed – or, on the other hand, intimidated - if you found above your bed photos of Brigitte Bardot, Cathérine Deneuve and Elizabeth Taylor in all their cinematic splendour? It’s a vital point. On it may hang the success or failure of the recent £35-million re-fit at the Stéphanie.
Bang on the Croisette, the place is one of Cannes’ prestige addresses. (You may remember it under its former name, the Noga Hilton.) If you’d been in town for the 2010 film festival, you would have bumped into Michael Douglas there. Or film director Apitchapong Weerasethakul who, as I needn’t remind you, won the 2010 festival’s Golden Palm award. His name is not only well-known but also pronounceable in his native Thailand.
So, the Stephanie is an important constituent of Cannes’ international image. It’s also a key landmark on the Croisette boulevard. The façades - swathes of sky-blue glass encased in some kind of stone that gleams white in the sun - still look nicely futuristic. You could imagine the building being blasted into space to serve as an orbiting shopping centre. Captain Kirk would dock for groceries.
But, over time, the interior had become a little dowdy. Hence the big-bucks renovation, which ushered in a film theme throughout the hotel. This isn’t unusual in Cannes, where it is sometimes quite difficult to find anything that isn’t film-themed. But the Stephanie has a better excuse than most: it’s built where the Film Festival Hall used to be, before they knocked it down and transferred operations to a maximum security blockhouse just along the Prom.
Grand and buzzy
And it has to be said that the theme works well, evoking not so much contemporary movies as what are always supposed to be the great glam film days of the 1950s and 1960s. (I’ve no idea why, especially, the 1950s film world is considered so glamorous. Could it be that the decade was otherwise so grey and mundane that, by comparison, any hint of tinsel seemed impossibly exotic? Or is it just the black and white photos?)
Anyway, you wander into the soaring white and metal lobby to be confronted by a giant Golden Palm leaf – a wildly oversized version of the trophy Mr Weerasethakul received in May last year. It is hemmed about with black, white and brown seating, enlivened by orange cushions. The whole looks rather like those islands of seats you find in the more recently-designed airports. You’ll already notice the big movie photos on the walls. There’s an undoubted air of the unexpected, even of mild excitement, about proceedings, as if you’ve been thrown back towards the 1960s without having quite left the 21st-century. It’s both grand and buzzy.
Bardot in the bedroom
Beyond, corridors are of the sort along which James Stewart might have strode in a homburg hat, looking for a wife someone had shot. The bedrooms themselves continue to straddle the 1960-2010 divide in admirable fashion – all chocolate, cream and grey, with leather on some walls. They’re airy and pretty spacious, too. The more expensive ones have fine balconies. They afford the sort of views which, 50 years ago, always came accompanied by swirling strings and an ecstatic voice-over announcing: “Ladies and gentlemen - the French Riviera!”
And then there are the almost wall-sized photo-portraits of the stars, as mentioned above. How much you appreciate the presence of the young Bardot in your bedroom (or Paul Newman, or Rock Hudson) will determine how comfortable you feel here. In truth, I’m confident you’ll get along with them pretty well, though you might choose to undress and dress in the bathroom.
Lounge et trendy
Then you should make your way to the lovely roof-top pool, with attendant bar-restaurant. A roof-top pool on La Croisette in Cannes really does jump-start you into the elite. There aren’t too many more exclusive things you can do in France – at least, not many that don’t also require a police escort.
There’s also a pretty ace private beach barely a hobble from the Stephanie. If you need water sports, they’ve got them. A restaurant, too – though you might prefer to save yourself for the main eatery, back at the hotel. On the ground floor, La Scena is, as the contemporary French say, “lounge et trendy”. The bar whisks us back 40 or 50 years once again, with long curvy leather sofas, leather pouffes and a proper zinc bar-top.
I don’t recall such places serving, say, traditional mezze in the 1960s, as La Scena does. Then again, I may be wrong. In those days, if they didn’t serve rusks, I didn’t go. But I would suggest you seriously consider going to the Stephanie, if you’ve got deep enough pockets. Should everything else pall, you might idle along to the on-site casino. All in all, it’s doing Cannes as Cannes likes to think it should be done. You’ll be helping to burnish the image. They’ll be grateful.