The vibe: Belle Époque glamour
Location: 58 Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes, France | View on Google Maps
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The AFAR take
A dramatic restoration project—lasting five years and costing an undisclosed sum that’s the talk of La Croisette—has transformed a much-loved grande dame. The Carlton was the first luxury hotel to open in Cannes in 1913, and more than a century later, it stands as a symbol of the Belle Époque Riviera. Facing the Mediterranean, the cream-colored facade is instantly recognizable, its twin domes inspired by the breasts of the Spanish Greek courtesan known as La Belle Otero. The subject of more than 6,000 photos each day during the Cannes Film Festival, this protected historical monument is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world. In its latest iteration, the Carlton has been rebranded as a Regent, one of the most luxurious of IHG’s hotel collections.
The expansion has added two new wings, a Mediterranean garden fragrant with 22,000 plants, an infinity pool, and the C Club Fitness and Spa, set to open in time for the Cannes Film Festival in May, complete with the city’s first boxing ring. To create a new conference and events center, construction teams excavated more than 60 feet underground. But what struck me most when I walked through the revolving door was the light and sense of volume. Gone are the false ceilings and large concierge counters that used to confine the space. Instead, the eye is drawn to the soaring columns—their original rare marble uncovered under eight layers of paint by technicians—the Murano glass chandeliers, the flower arrangements by star floral designer Djordje Varda, the colonnaded expanse of Camélia Tea Lounge, its arched windows framing Mediterranean views.
Interior designer Tristan Auer (behind the reimagined Hôtel de Crillon, another grand dame in Paris) took inspiration from the hotel’s heritage. Nods to the clay tennis court pioneered in Cannes appear in lounge tables made from swirled resin and in the actual clay embedded in the glass-topped reception desk. A team of 750 French artisans were enlisted to rejuvenate the hotel. The Ateliers Gohard gilders attended to the gold leaf, while the Mathieu Lustrerie workshop—famed for its work on the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles—renovated the vintage chandeliers. Fabienne L’Hostis, an expert in raku ceramics based in nearby Mouans-Sartoux, hand-crafted the bar counter.
Who’s it for?
Hedonists and sun seekers. History buffs who want to soak up the stories. The Carlton is a magnet for celebrities; this is where the president of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival always stays. You’re just as likely to see A-list film stars as you are ladies of a certain age, toy dogs in tow, enjoying afternoon tea.
Located in the center of the Croisette—the main boulevard of Cannes—the Carlton is a quick stroll to the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the site of one of cinema’s most high-profile events every May. Also walkable: the atmospheric Suquet quarter, which is threaded with cobblestone alleyways and crowned by the hilltop citadel. Accessible by boat, the Îles de Lérins just offshore make for a dreamy excursion. In this archipelago, Ile Sainte-Marguerite is where the man in the iron mask was imprisoned, while on Saint-Honorat Island, Cistercian monks produce a prized wine.
When the Carlton launched the area’s first beach club in 1930, the summer season in Cannes was officially born.
The Carlton has 332 rooms and suites, including 72 with sea views. French windows open onto wrought-iron balconies that frame views of the sea and Esterel mountains. Cream-colored love seats in the alcoves take advantage of the views. The intent of the white-on-white palette is to be a canvas for the ever-changing Mediterranean light, which bathes the walls over the course of the day. The famous suites, named after celebrities associated with the hotel, will reopen on the sixth and seventh floor in time for the film festival: Alfred Hitchcock (no. 623), Grace Kelly (no. 760), and Cary Grant (no. 750). The new Suzanne Lenglen suite (no. 641) is named for the French tennis star whose 1926 match against American Helen Wills on the now defunct Cannes clay court is one of the most famous in the history of women’s tennis. The showstopper, though, is no. 130 because its terrace sits atop the hotel’s arched porch entranceway.
The food and drink
Bring your entourage for long lunches on the sand at the Carlton Beach Club: Bottles of Château Minuty, Château Miraval, and Whispering Angel rosé are available in the methusalem size. After sunset, rendezvous for aperitifs in the Bar °58 to soak up the Great Gatsby vibe. Barmen in dapper white suits and black bowties mix drinks with flair, spritzing them with olive oil infusions from crystal perfume bottles. During the hotel’s closure, the team spent months in a laboratory developing recipes, incorporating classic spirits like Suze. The favorite of bar manager Franck Gamba? The Oaxacan Old Fashioned, which he’s nicknamed the “ball of fire.” This concoction of tequila, mezcal, house-made agave syrup, and chocolate bitters is served with a balloon-shaped ice cube filled with smoke. Dinner options include the Riviera Restaurant (to start, don’t miss the Carlton’s cigar-shaped twist on the local pissaladière tart) and the soon-to-open Rüya for Anatolian cuisine.
The breakfast spread is not to be missed: It flows from the Riviera’s bar counter to the chef’s table and into the kitchen itself. All baked goods are made in house; think giant madeleines, flaky croissants, braided brioche, and rolls iced with orange blossom.
Staff and service
Warm, professional, and discreet. Travelers keep returning to the Carlton for the staff, many of whom have worked there for decades. The team—500 strong, swelling to 800 in the high season— was kept on the payroll during the renovation closure. A lobby ambassador greeted me at the door wearing a blue pleated skirt inspired by Grace Kelly’s iconic dress. Head sommelier Mikaël Goger might regale you with tales about interesting local wines. Since 2003, the concierge team has been led by Maxine Nerkowski, also the president of the Cléfs d’Or in the Côte d’Azur, a global association founded at the hotel in 1952.
For those with reduced mobility, there is a separate hotel entrance adjacent to the revolving door. Seven rooms and one suite are ADA accessible.
Looking to the past
The Carlton is shrouded in legends. The story began in 1911 when a banished Russian duke, forced to renounce his title because of his love for a commoner, financed the construction of the first luxury hotel in Cannes. The English aristocracy wintered here, and when the Carlton launched the area’s first beach club in 1930, the summer season in Cannes was officially born. In 1922, the first meeting of the League of Nations took place in the hotel’s majestic Grand Salon.
The hotel’s link with cinema began when it hosted the eight journalists who covered the first-ever Cannes Film Festival in 1946. This is where Alfred Hitchcock filmed To Catch a Thief, Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco (her future husband), and Elizabeth Taylor brought five different husbands. Elton John staged his comeback in the ’80s with the “I’m Still Standing” video filmed on site.