Great hotels constantly improve. That is why I was not surprised to find that the appearance of the splendid entrance hall of the magical Chateau de la Messardière had changed. Now its colours are gentler. I very much like its new and sophisticated tones of blue and grey. Only a handful of hotels in France are officially designated ‘palaces’, and the Messardière is of that number. It is not just one of the best hotels on the French Riviera: it is one of the best hotels in Europe. And much of the credit for this exalted position must go to the hotel’s Director General, Alexandre Durand-Viel (pictured). He has taken this sparkling jewel in the treasure chest of French hospitality and has polished it until it sparkles like the brightest diamond. Monsieur Durand-Viel is a remarkable hotel manager. He is also a civilised and cultivated gentleman, being not only the President of the SociétéTropézienne des Amis de la Musique but also the instigator of the Messardière Prize for Summer Novels.
Grand hotels in seaside towns are one of the joys of life. If they have been cared for properly, they speak to me of comfort, salt air, invigorating breezes and long, lazy days in the sunshine. They are living symbols of a healthy civilisation. And so it is in the elegant seaside town of San Remo. Here there is exactly the sort of hotel in which persons of taste and refinement will wish to stay – The Royal. Opened in 1872, and still owned by the Bertolini family, its 126 rooms have welcomed many of the great and the good over the years. Since my first visit, when I was considerably younger than I am now, the railway line – which used to separate The Royal from the sea – has been moved inland. This means that the hotel’s 16,000 square metres of gardens are now undisturbed by the sound of rattling carriages – which is as it should be for a famous palace hotel.
The Althoff Villa Belrose is the sort of hotel I like. Indeed, when I consider its location, its level of service, the excellence of its food and the civilised nature of its atmosphere, I can think of few hotels which can equal its charm. Everything and everyone is of such high and pleasing quality that, when one is a guest, it is difficult not to imitate the pussy cat with the bowl of cream and simply purr with pleasure. Clearly, this must have a great deal to do with the man in charge. Mr Robert-Jan van Straaten, a tall and imposing gentleman, is the sort of General Manager who is ‘hands-on’. He is here, there and everywhere. He ensures that everything is exactly as it should be. I salute him – and will even forgive him for not always wearing a tie.
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