GRAND HYATT CANNES HOTEL MARTINEZ & RESTAURANT LA PALME D’OR
PLEASE NOTE: THERE HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANT CHANGES TO THIS ESTABLISHMENT SINCE THIS REVIEW WAS WRITTEN.
“The Martinez is Cannes, and Cannes is The Martinez.” Since this huge Art Déco masterpiece opened in 1929, on the site of a villa once owned by the exiled King of Naples, anyone who has been anyone on the Côte d’Azur has passed through its doors. In those early days the 409 rooms and suites of The Martinez made it the largest hotel on the French Riviera, and, of course, it opened only for the winter season. But, from 1931, changing fashions demanded summer opening. Now it is open throughout the year for the film stars and for all those beautiful and talented people who have the taste and the means to enjoy its many delights. They include your correspondent, of course.
Such a grand and important establishment deserves one of the very best hotel managers. And it has one. I first met Mr Claudio Ceccherelli in Milan, where he was the General Manager of the Park Hyatt. Affable, charming and efficient, he has inherited from his distinguished forebears – many of whom were Franciscans, serving the Church and the poor – an ability to lead and to inspire. He is exactly the right man to ensure that The Martinez goes from strength to strength. As we chatted – a moment captured in the picture – he told me of his plans to guide his establishment to yet more glories.
The apartment for my stay suited me very well indeed. On the fourth floor, room 423 was a ‘Sea View Deluxe’ and therefore 490€-770€ a night for two, according to the season. For a luxury hotel in an expensive place like Cannes, these rates struck me as very reasonable. (You will need to check the rates for specific dates on the hotel’s website.) A corridor hall contained fitted wardrobes on the right (with a private safe, of course) and double sliding doors on the left (leading to the bathroom). A door of light wood took me into the air-conditioned bedroom, a pristine space of cream and beige, with a huge (and hugely comfortable) bed, with a stately cream headboard in what appeared to be buttoned satin silk. The high ceiling had one of those lovely Art Déco features – a stepped cornice. Two comfortable armchairs and a chaise longue, along with a chair at the oval writing desk, provided my seating.
Through the window was a small balcony. And there, of course, was The View. I use the capital letters because the panorama deserves them. Below was the swimming pool. Framing it on the far side were the palm trees of the Croisette, then the sandy beach (the town brings in sand, so that visitors do not have to suffer the pebbles of places like Nice), and then the sparkling wonders of the Mediterranean. Below the bluest of skies was the bluest of seas. Perhaps the sweetest moment of each day was in the early morning, when my languid finger would touch the bedside button and the three blinds would rise in stately agreement to reveal this scene of sun-blest harmony.
I will propose a special vote of thanks to my bathroom. It was magnificently spacious. (I do hate pokey bathrooms, don’t you?) Again the sense was of Art Déco – this time from black and white tiles and chrome. Here I found two wash basins, a large and commodious tub and toiletries by Annick Goutal of Paris. Beyond doors of frosted glass were the compartments for the loo (and bidet) and for the shower.
On no account should you miss breakfast at The Martinez. If not in your room or suite (and I never like to break the fast in the same room in which I have slept), it is served in the hotel’s ‘all-day’ restaurant, Le Relais. I found a table on its glass-covered terrace and, sitting in a wicker armchair, each morning happily tucked into the comestibles I had obtained from the buffet. All of these were of excellent quality. Apricot tart, peach crumble, croissants, pineapple, grapefruit, cheese, cucumber, bacon, scrambled eggs, chicken sausages and ratatouille – you will realise, I hope, that I did not go hungry at The Martinez. And to my table the pleasantest of ladies brought pots of coffee, cups of cappuccino and jugs of orange juice. (This last beverage was wonderful, because it was freshly squeezed. And, because it was freshly squeezed, after a few minutes it began to separate. I have lost count of the number of hotels in which waiters have insisted that their orange juice was freshly squeezed, and then it has not separated, proving that it was not.)
The other dining room at The Martinez is one of the most famous in France. The Restaurant La Palme d’Or has two Michelin stars, and occupies a large space on the first floor at the front of the hotel. It was created in 1985 by Christian Willer. Later he was joined by Christian Sinicropi, and the two worked together until Chef Sinicropi took over in 2007. Mr Sinicropi (pictured) is a man of many talents. He writes much – both in the menu and in a scroll which is presented to guests at the beginning of the evening – about the principles which guide his cooking. He also designs and makes (with his wife) interesting ceramics – some of which are used to present his dishes.
My dinner was a memorable occasion. Restaurant Manager Cédric Servain took me to a large round table, with a lovely view out to sea. The napery was white and the glassware was Riedel (the Vinum range). There was canned music, but one of the helpful waiters – smart in their dark suits and ties – turned it down for me.
The menu is long and unusual, and repays some prior study. (You will find it on the internet.) A set lunch with half a bottle of wine and coffee is offered at 69€. Set menus at dinner go up to 230€, with a 6 course set menu at 185€.
My four courses revealed a cuisine of subtlety and refinement, with complex combinations of tastes and textures. I began with 3 scallops, one cooked plain, one tartare and one stuffed. The ingredients included lemon, olive oil, black radish, cinnamon, ginger and citrus fruits. The presentation was pretty and the experience in the mouth was intriguing and impressive. Next came perhaps the finest interpretation of quail I have ever encountered. The quality of the meat and of its cooking struck me first, but then I was charmed by the way in which its rich tenderness combined so pleasurably with mushrooms, hazelnuts, blackberries, redcurrants, lemon, sweet red pepper and a tiny, fried and battered frog’s leg. This was a superb dish. My main course was wild turbot, cooked on the bone with clover hay, and served at the table with creamy polenta. And I ended with the restaurant’s famous hymn to milk chocolate and puff pastry – the Chocolate Palme d’Or. (These four courses from the carte were 283€)
Sommelier Dominique Vion from Burgundy presides over a list offering 536 bottles, including 32 magnums and 43 half-bottles. All are French. Prices run from 45€ for a red from Provence (Ch. Vaudois 2012) to 14,500€ for the 2005 Pétrus. The cellar is strongest in clarets. Indeed, if you have some friends who love red Bordeaux and who would like a horizontal tasting of the best of the 2005 vintage, this is the place to come. As well as the Pétrus, you and they could try the following: Lafite (6,400€), Latour (4,950€), Margaux (4,400€), Haut Brion (3,400€), Cheval Blanc (3,200€), Cos d’Estournel (830€), Pichon Longueville Baron (490€), Montrose (490€), Beychevelle (410€) and Giscours (280€). From the wines Mr Vion recommended to me, I will pick out the Poilly Fumé from the Loire, which was a liquid of smoky and caressing loveliness (Eurythmie, J.D.Pabiot, 2011 – 125€), and a Provençal white, a chardonnay blend, with suggestions of Burgundian creaminess (Ch de Bellet, 2011 – 90€).
La Palme d’Or sits well in The Martinez, and The Martinez sits well in Cannes. For all of them are stylish, luxurious and elegant. As they say, “The Martinez is Cannes, and Cannes is The Martinez.”
GRAND HYATT CANNES HOTEL MARTINEZ & RESTAURANT LA PALME D’OR
73 boulevard de la Croisette, 06400 Cannes, France.
Telephone +33 (0)4 93 90 1234 (Le Palme d’Or: +33 (0)4 92 98 74 14)
Fax +33 (0)4 93 90 1334
Double rooms from around 180€, breakfast extra, in low season.
See hotel website for rates for specific dates and for special offers