Built in 1870, the cliff-edge saltwater swimming pool of the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc in the south of France has been the centerpiece of that fabled celebrity resort for more than 80 years. Clark Gable bronzed himself on its sun beds; Brigitte Bardot made waves in her bikini; Egypt’s King Farouk liked to throw in his eight wives.
But what really makes this pool so legendary is its view: an overflow seawater pool blasted into seaside bedrock with a panoramic view out over the glamorous south of France Mediterranean.
Just as it’s an unwritten rule of a house party that everyone will end up in the kitchen, it’s guaranteed that guests at a hotel resort will spend most of their time around the swimming pool—even if there’s a fine beach and warm stretch of ocean to swim in right nearby. And that's especially true when the pool is dripping with scenery.
Yet these days it’s not enough to simply have a rectangular hole of water in the ground surrounded by a few palms and deck chairs. Swimming pools are more spectacular than ever, and they not only have to look incredible (Eden-Roc’s vintage pool was redesigned in sleek infinity-edge style in 1992); they have to have great views too.
"It’s like an icon, a magnet for the guests," says international spa designer Sylvia Sepielli of the gorgeous ocean-side spillover pool at Pangkor Laut Resort in Malaysia, which she created as part of the hotel’s Spa Village. With the pool’s jade-green color matching the ocean beyond, and its calm surface drizzled with frangipani and bougainvillea leaves, Pangkor Laut has elevated pool design to the status of high art. Which might help explain why, according to Sepielli, many of its guests don't even bother to swim in it.
"In truth, they seem to prefer the calm they get from just being beside it, staring out at the palms, the villas on stilts, and the views of the sea and the jungle island in the bay," says Sepielli. "The pool becomes a monolith, a place people feel comfortable to gather around."
Few resorts in the world are as committed to the swimming pool view as Banyan Tree Seychelles, which opened in 2002. Each of its 60 villas has at least one private pool with ocean views, while six recently completed DoublePool Villas have—as the name suggests—two pools each. And yet, in front of the terraced veranda of the main hotel, above its powdery sand beach, is yet another pool, bigger than the others—taking up the most valuable real estate on the property. A raised-level infinity structure with a narrow point jutting out above the beach, the pool looks like it's floating on the sea, with palms drooping over its sides and waves crashing on huge granite boulders below it. All of which has the desired effect.
"People are mesmerized by it," says Reinhold Johann, general manager at the resort. "Guests swim to the edge overlooking the ocean and they fall totally still, as if in a trance. The tranquillity of the view and the still of the pool water has a stunning, meditative effect."
Not all of the greatest swimming pool views are on islands or at beach hotels however. Urban hotelier André Balazs, whose Standard hotels in Los Angeles and Miami are loved by the stars, is the king of the city hotel rooftop pool—best enjoyed with a cocktail in hand. His first Standard Hotel, on Sunset Boulevard, immediately rivaled Ian Schrager’s adjacent Mondrian Hotel for rooftop-pool glamour, but the 12th-floor pool of his five-year-old Standard Downtown L.A., with its views of skyscrapers, crowded city streets, and even the Hollywood sign in the distance, beats both for sheer urban drama.
That said, Balazs would probably acknowledge that another urban hotel pool has a more spectacular cityscape, if a less throbbing social scene: that of the Park Hyatt, Tokyo. Located on the 47th floor of the second tower of the glass-and-steel hotel, it’s set in a double-height glass atrium with floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing you to look out on Tokyo below, and even Mount Fuji on the horizon. At night, when the pool is lit a luminous blue and the city glitters below, you feel like you’re on the set of Blade Runner. Except, of course, you're in a bathrobe, fresh from a massage in the spa.