"But what if we're recognized? Suppose a reporter sees us there?" My wife was understandably concerned. As the authors of "Europe on $5 a Day," we were about to spend a week at what was then perhaps the single most expensive hotel on earth.
It was 1964, and we were tootling along the Riviera in a battered Volkswagen, our wardrobes a pair of dirty jeans and T-shirts, when we spotted the celebrated Hotel du Cap at Cap d'Antibes. An immense, hilltop chateau in an expansive, forest-like setting that sloped to a rocky cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, it looked fully as costly as it was -- but perhaps it had a cheap room without private bath, we reasoned. It did, and we grabbed it -- the only such room in the hotel.
In bathing suits, we emerged each morning to frolic at the cliffside sunning area with the likes of Louis Jourdan and assorted sheiks. In the same bathing suits, we lunched at the original Eden Roc restaurant on the hotel grounds, dining next to an elegant French model who occasionally limited her meal to a single stalk of raw celery. At night, having nothing suitable to wear, we sneaked down the back stairs, extracted our Volkswagen from the Rolls Royces surrounding it and drove for dinner to the inexpensive restaurants near Cap d'Antibes.
It was an idyllic week, marred only by the eventual bill presented for the solitary strawberry tarts and teas to which we treated ourselves each afternoon (interrupting conversations with the Emir of Kuwait or the widow of an English lord). "How much can a strawberry tart possibly be?" I reassured my wife, when she questioned the possible cost of this daily indulgence. We learned.
I shall always remember the hotel's panelled library with priceless oil paintings, in which I leafed through ancient engravings on an overcast afternoon; the scent of pine needles as one walked on an actual red carpet through the forest that leads to the sea; the sight of the glittering Mediterranean, unmarred by a single structure or activity, from a rocky niche on the cliff of the Eden Roc.
Would that all people, of every class and condition, could share the pleasures of the Hotel du Cap.