Who doesn’t occasionally want to forsake this world and inhabit a superior one where civility reigns, the news is inconsequential, and the worst thing that can happen is a cloudy day?

And yet this fantasy approximates reality at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, the grande dame of the French Riviera. Perched on a 22-acre park at the tip of Cap d’Antibes, it’s been specializing in old-fashioned escapism since the French owner of Le Figaro built it in 1870 as a writers’ retreat. It owes its mythical status to birthing great love affairs (Marlene Dietrich and Erich Maria Remarque), greater novels (Tender Is the Night), and the greatest excesses known to man (one guest chartered a helicopter to procure a tarte tropézienne). It’s the only place in the world where nobody would be surprised to see Barack Obama, Joan Collins, Don DeLillo, and Princess Charlene of Monaco polish off a bottle of Armagnac together.

Last spring, I lived at the Hôtel du Cap for three days, and I mean really lived. I wore lipstick to breakfast and Charvet to the gym. My manners improved, my mood brightened, and I moved through the world—well, the world of the hotel—with an elegance and optimism that had, until then, eluded me.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, with the Hôtel du Cap’s original proprietor, André Sella, in 1936.

When I joined Philippe Perd, its king (sorry—director general), at lunch, I asked him how the Hôtel du Cap became so much more than a hotel. He took a sip of his $14 iced tea. “Palace attitude,” he replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

I wore lipstick to breakfast and Charvet to the gym.

Palace Attitude sounds like—and is—a way of life, but, more precisely, it’s the proprietary training program administered to every Hôtel du Cap employee by Laurent Vanhoegaerden, who worked with Perd for 16 years. After his retirement, in 2022, Vanhoegaerden spent several months finessing and formalizing the course before returning to administer four-hour, small-group workshops to the hotel’s 580 employees before the start of the season.

After several impassioned e-mails, Perd and Sophie Volant, the hotel’s general manager, agreed to let me sit in on one such session. On a cinematically sunny day in late April, I sharpened my pencil and took my seat in the Eden-Roc Restaurant’s private dining room, accompanied by three trainees in the floral, front-desk, and concierge departments.

Preparing breakfast on Bar Bellini’s terrace.

Following introductions and espresso, there was a general-knowledge quiz. What are the Hôtel du Cap’s distinguishing features? The trainees mentioned the pet cemetery, pétanque courts, 33 cabanas, the immortalized–by–Slim Aarons swimming pool, Riva boats, and the extraordinary new Dior Spa. (“But why is it extraordinary?,” Vanhoegaerden pressed.)

But it soon became clear that we were really here to talk about control. At the Hôtel du Cap, absolutely nothing is left to chance. “It starts,” said Vanhoegaerden with gravitas, “at the Nice airport,” where impeccably attired employees await select guests at the door of the airplane, fast-tracking them through customs and the baggage claim before delivering them into an Evian-stocked chauffeured Mercedes-Benz.

Then there’s the personalization. Babies’ names are embroidered on their towels by the same seamstresses who sew actresses into their dresses for premieres at Cannes. Personal passions are remembered and immortalized. One equestrian—who could probably buy a brand-new Fiat 500 for every night spent at his villa—arrived to discover a handwritten note from Perd alongside a spectacular horse molded from chocolate that resembled one from his stable. (The Hôtel du Cap was the first hotel in France to open its own chocolaterie, in 2007.) “He didn’t even see the villa,” said Vanhoegaerden. “He only had eyes for that horse.”

Cool, crisp, refined: the hotel’s lobby.

The third pillar of Palace Attitude: the restrictions. Hôtel du Cap is one of the very few in the world with house rules that are printed on cards and conspicuously placed in bedrooms. Among them: No smoking. No swimsuits in the garden. (“You are at Hôtel du Cap. You are not ‘in the garden.’”) No shorts at the Eden-Roc dining room. (“Pants can be purchased in the boutique.”) And, most importantly, no disrespecting staff, ever. It’s the one area of hospitality where the Hôtel du Cap is notably intolerant. “Monsieur Perd and Madame Volant will do whatever is necessary,” said Vanhoegaerden ominously about those who break this golden rule. Once, that meant packing the bags of a longtime client whose offense, I gathered, was too egregious even to revisit.

Babies’ names are embroidered on their towels by the same seamstresses who sew actresses into their dresses for premieres.

The staff, too, must maintain impeccable standards. Some are basic—using a personal cell phone is verboten; leave it in the locker. (“A phone in the pocket is not very Palace.”) Food, drinks, and petites cigarettes should be enjoyed only in the employee-designated areas, where “decency” must also be maintained. (When someone wore a visible thong, it did not end well.) Uniforms are cleaned and mended by the Hôtel du Cap’s on-site laundry, but even the clothes one wears to arrive at work should be “elegant, not ostentatious.”

Marlene Dietrich exudes her own attitude at the hotel in 1938.

This kind of thing is seen at many five-star hotels, but I finally started to understand what the Hôtel du Cap is really all about when Vanhoegaerden unfurled the Palace Attitude approach to staff-guest relationships. Those who stay at the Hôtel du Cap—primarily masters of the universe—are used to creating moods, controlling rooms, lording over underlings. But not here on Cap d’Antibes. At the Hôtel du Cap, Vanhoegaerden explained, “we create emotions together.

“You’ve got to be daring,” he demanded. “Learn which button to push to appease, or move them, or create a positive emotion.” When an American wine aficionado checks in, “remember—they want to feel like they are in France. A day can take on a new dimension, thanks to a plate of cheese or a bottle of Saint-Estèphe.” During every minute of every day, emotional intelligence is paramount. What does a situation require: “A 20-, 40-, or 100-euro smile?”

See and be seen by the sea: the Hôtel du Cap’s legendary swimming pool.

“Here’s an interesting challenge,” said Vanhoegaerden, finishing off his bottle of Badoit (pétillant, not gazeux). “Each morning, ask yourself, What can I do to make my client happy today?” Certainly, bad things can happen, especially at the Eden-Roc, whose restaurant is open to the public as well as hotel guests. The fries might be late, a bottle of rosé could be forgotten—even paradise is subject to the small calamities of the lunch hour. But that, explains Vanhoegaerden, is where Palace Attitude’s 360-degree régard comes in. The staff is told to “look for faults everywhere” and then deliver them to the higher-ups, who are empowered to implement immediate change.

This was all very inspiring. Armed with Palace Attitude, I returned home eager to infuse it in my daily life. Now, my house and the Hôtel du Cap have very little in common. One is a sagging Victorian adjacent to a construction site, and the other is a wedding cake anchored by the 660-foot-long Grande Allée. Instead of guests, I have family members. But still—I gave it a go one Monday, showering before breakfast, choosing a freshly pressed day dress, leaving my phone in its charging station, identifying operational faults in my daily routines, and, above all, creating positive emotions. My household ran so smoothly that my husband asked, “Adderall or Xanax?”

“But why is it extraordinary?” The Dior Spa’s oceanfront cabana.

After 12 hours of elegant efficiency, everyone was happier. But, eventually, I couldn’t help but clock out and return to my natural state, mainlining digestive biscuits while watching, only sort of ironically, Hotel Portofino.

With the proper training, the Hôtel du Cap’s specialness can be replicated elsewhere. But that may not be such a good thing. If every home is a palace, what’s the point of ever leaving the house? I can’t even stomach the idea without a glass, or bottle, of Saint-Estèphe. Garçon!

Ashley Baker is a Deputy Editor at AIR MAIL and a co-host of the Morning Meeting podcast