The incredible story of the biggest and most luxurious hotel in the world, built in France in the 1920s – a place so grand that the apartments in it had their own private swimming pools – it would go down in history long after it had disappeared…
I recently stayed at the lovely art deco style Westminster Hotel in Le Touquet Paris-Plage – a very swish place indeed. It is considered one of the grandest luxury hotels of the north of France, so I was intrigued when someone told me that there used to be a hotel in Le Touquet which in its day was even bigger and better. In fact it was in its day, the most luxurious hotel in the world.
The Royal Picardy Hotel, Le Touquet
The Royal Picardy Hotel was built in 1928-1929 in the little town of Le Touquet Paris-Plage which was THE place to go for the rich, famous, infamous and anyone who wanted to party and could afford to do it in style.
Le Touquet became a magnet for the wealthy of the world, grand villas were built there, fabulous sports facilities, a race course, golf course, beach sports, this chic little resort was cutting edge gorgeous for its day. It was a prototype for resorts of the future – it was there that architects and designers tried out new ideas for hotels and facilities.
Noel Coward and Cecil Beaton loved to have fun in Le Touquet; HG Wells eloped there with his mistress. The then Princess Elizabeth learned how to sand yacht on the beach at Le Touquet in the 1930s, a sport instigated by local resident Louis Bleriot, the first man to fly a plane across the English Channel. The famous Dolly sisters, vaudeville performers who captured the hearts of men around the world strolled along the front with their pet tortoises set with a pair of four-carat blue diamonds by Cartier, given to them by millionaire Harry Selfridge, of London Selfridges fame.
Royal families, Maharajas, politicians, Hollywood stars and millionaires – in those days, if you were famous or rich, then you stayed at Le Touquet which was in its heyday throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
If you were disgustingly rich, you stayed at The Royal Picardy hotel.
It had 500 bedrooms. Every bedroom had a private bathroom, at a time when this was hardly heard of. Every room had a telephone in the rooms, the absolute last word in luxury in those days.
There were 120 lounges for guests.
A heated swimming pool and state of the art gym was available to the those who wanted to take a spot of exercise.
The hotel was 9 floors high, and in additional to the bars, restaurants, 120 lounges and 500 bedrooms it also had had 50 apartments.
Very nice, but not, you might think, that luxurious.
But, what if I told you that those 50 apartments were so large that every one of them had its own swimming pool?! The apartments also had their own kitchen with rooms for the butler which of course one couldn’t live without. In fact the apartments had up to 10 rooms each giving the hotel more than 1000 rooms which for that day and age was was quite unheard of and made it the biggest and most hedonistic and luxurious hotel in the world.
When The Royal Picardy opened in 1930 to great fanfare, the wealthy flocked to book rooms, this was the absolutely flavour du jour of the privileged classes from all around the world.
PG Wodehouse of Jeeves and Wooster fame rented a room there and wrote a book of short stories with Guy Plum – one of which was the basis for the Hollywood film “Anything Goes”. Cole Porter stayed at Le Royal Picardy and wrote the music for “Anything Goes” – on the piano at the casino across the road. That casino was later to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond thriller Casino Royale.
Le Royal Picardy was a masterpiece of design based on plans by Louis Debrouwer and Pierre Drobrec. A mix of 15th Century French and English Gothic, a bit of Norman and Flemish style thrown in for good measure – it was majestic, splendid and grandiose on a supersize scale. The developers named it Le Royal Picardy after a famous regiment in Louis XIV’s army and wall frescoes depicting their heroic actions were created in the hotel.
1200 workers from 87 trades toiled on the building.
But such an undertaking doesn’t come cheap. The developers overstretched their budget and when the financial crisis of 1929 took hold across the world the worst happened. Just one year after the hotel had opened in 1930 with such promise, the owners filed for bankruptcy and the world’s biggest and most luxurious hotel was closed.
Le Royal Picardy was put up for sale. Six months later there was no interest in taking on a hotel which even full, would struggle to meet its costs. The owners decided the only way to recuperate some of the money was to re-open.
To everyone’s surprise it was a huge success. The rich and famous clamoured to enjoy the excesses of the legendary hotel. The Prince of Wales stayed there, American billionaires loved its excess, royal families of the East and Asia were at home in the opulent surroundings. It seemed as if The Royal Picardy would at last be able to achieve the heights of success it deserved. And for a few years this incredible hotel was the height of luxury and fame.
Alas, more bad news was to come. When war broke out, the hotel was commandeered by the German army. It was rumoured that Hitler held a conference there, and the hotel was bombed several times. After the war ended it was discovered that bunkers had been built in the 6 hectare private park and the beautiful state of the art heated swimming pool had mines floating in it.
Only 86 rooms remained of the original more than 1000 rooms. The days of grandeur were lost forever and in 1951 the hotel closed. The town of Le Touquet purchased the ruins which were finally demolished in 1968 and in its place a hotel school was built, perhaps a fitting end to the hotel that set the bar for all others to follow…