PLAYGROUNDS OF THE MID-CENTURY JET SET
From Bianca Jagger’s favourite Caribbean island to a hotel created for Brigitte Bardot, we revisit three legendary destinations.
They don’t make them like they used to. Happily, this isn’t true for any of the iconic hotels, bars and haunts namechecked herein. We’re taking a whistle-stop tour from the Caribbean to the French Riviera to the Ligurian coast to explore the playgrounds of some of our favourite ‘50s and ‘60s Mondo muses. Together, let’s savour stories of serial honeymooners, eight-week hotel stays, gilt-painted men and Hollywood-worthy spaghetti, while musing upon how to recreate a little old-school glamour in 2021.
Mustique, St Vincent and the Grenadines
It was Mustique’s picture-perfect beaches and clear turquoise seas that persuaded Colin Tennant, Scotland’s third Baron Glenconner, to purchase the then-undeveloped Caribbean island in 1958. Together with Swedish architect Arne Hasselqvist and British set designer Oliver Messel, Lord Glenconner went about transforming Mustique into the luxurious private hideaway it remains today.
Glenconner once said, ‘I’ve always found that people envy you less if they get things for free.’ ‘The King of Mustique’ - as monikered by friend Princess Margaret - practised what he preached, inviting London’s royals, rockstars and socialites to the island, and most extravagantly, gifting Princess Margaret a ten-bedroom, pale green villa named Les Jolie Eaux. As part of his week-long 50th celebrations, Lord Glenconner threw The Golden Ball, into which Bianca Jagger was carried by a troupe of men painted entirely in gold - no paparazzi in sight, only the lens of then-fledgling photographer, one Mr. Robert Mapplethorpe. For his 60th, Lord Glenconner organised a lavish cruise south of Mustique, with Princess Margaret, Jerry Hall and Racquel Welch all in tow.
Hankering to recreate a little of this decadence today? Book a stay at Cotton House, a 17-bedroom boutique hotel (and incidentally one of the first buildings Glenconner converted). While you’re on the island, be sure to spend at least one evening sipping Mustique Mules at Basil’s Bar - an island institution since the ‘70s. Gold-painted men optional.
We have Brigitte Bardot to thank for both Club 55 and Hotel Byblos - two of the French Riviera’s most legendary haunts. Club 55, the iconic, bamboo-enclosed beach hut nestled upon Pampelonne Beach, was originally conceived to cater for Brigitte Bardot, Roger Vadim and crew during the filming of And God Created Woman in 1955. 12 years later, Lebanese entrepreneur, Jean-Prosper Gay-Par created Hotel Byblos to catch the attention of Bardot. Since then, the peaches-and-cream hotel has played host to a myriad of well-heeled guests, including Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Jack Nicholson, and Mick and Bianca Jagger, who honeymooned there in 1971. Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin were such Byblos fans that they stayed for eight whole weeks.
More than half a century later, The Byblos has undergone several updates and is more Bardot-worthy than ever. Feast upon salt-crusted sea bass with home-grown asparagus at Arcadia, the hotel’s poolside restaurant. Imbibe generous quantities of champagne at Byblos’ iconic club, Le Caves du Roy (legend has it that they stock 1,000 bottles every night). Or do a ‘Gainsbourg and Birkin’ and book ‘Byblos Confidential’ - the newly unveiled series of luxury apartments, designed for particularly long and particularly lavish stays.
‘I found my love in Portofino,’ sang Fred Buscaglione in 1958. We suspect Elizabeth Taylor was taking note, as she is said to have honeymooned with all four of her husbands at the pastel-hued, sun-drenched haven that is Hotel Splendido, a coastal classic presiding over the once-unassuming fishing village.
Liz was in good company; the signatures of Grace Kelly, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Clark Gable all feature in The Splendido’s framed visitors book. There is even a suite named after Splendido regular Ava Gardner, occupying the whole top floor of the hotel.
This year, the hotel underwent a significant redesign, sympathetic both to its reputation as a glamorous mid-century enclave, and its humble beginnings as a fisherman guesthouse. Think elegant walnut armchairs, sweeping wooden floors inspired by the town’s San Giorgio church, and cinematic photographs. Even if you don’t stay overnight, be sure to book a table at the terrace restaurant, where you must order Spaghetti alla “Elizabeth Taylor” - the screen star’s dish of choice while holidaying at this Ligurian coastal idyll. Elsewhere, the pesto lasagne at harbourside restaurant Da Puny, is a must-try.