Mary Gostelow visits three exquisite hotels in St-Tropez
First of this trio is Hôtel de Paris Saint-Tropez, ideal for those who like to stay right in the centre of town and have lots of fun. Drive to this luxury hotel, which thoughtfully has six floors of underground parking, and leave your vehicle there until you check out. You can walk wherever, which is incredibly useful, especially in high summer (even the 150 employees walk to work – the owner sensibly put up a building specially for them, 10 minutes away). Actually many guests staying here simply never want to move. Like the humorous Fabienne Ferrer statues dotted around, they stay put. This is a hotel that has everything you might wish for, right here.
Looking after this 90-room establishment is a pretty extraordinary lady, Danielle Lagrange, originally from Bordeaux with a professional career that includes beauty in Paris and selling Accor in Havana. She is one of those hoteliers who believes in being on the floor rather than sitting in an office. We had lunch up on the fourth floor rooftop, in the glass-walled Les Toits restaurant overlooking the pool – this was the occasion for traditional Mediterranean fare, a mélange of different coloured tomatoes with a whole burrata on top, and then beef tartare with a mesclun salad (there is also a caviar restaurant somewhere).
Down at ground level you think you are in an art gallery, which in fact it is. The owners are the art loving Dray family, who have considerably upgraded the hotel. It was built in 1930 as a retreat for Parisians, hence its name though it is essential to give it the whole name, Hôtel de Paris Saint-Tropez, to distinguish it from Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. The ground floor bar is surrounded by memorable art, and its permanent ceiling is pretty notable too. The presidential Dolce Vita suite, which is on two floors, has annotated photos of Brigitte Bardot with comments, in her own hand, from St Tropez’s most famous citizen, and there is a photo collage of her in an events room.
Go down 24 white sculpted stairs from the ground floor to the wellness oasis and there is more art, here in the form of shape and ambience. As the photo shows, the entire reception area looks as computer-generated as the interiors of a 777 plane: the Clarins spa has five treatment rooms and the whole caboosh will be an essential element in enticing business during the winter. Yes, this is the one significant luxury hotel that is daring to stay open around the year, giving people a reason to come to St-Tropez away from the crowds of summer.
Next on this list is the Muse, St Tropez the getaway-from-it-all luxury Riviera hotel. In fact, you are only 10 minutes by BMW navette – running on demand, 24/7 – from the centre of town but there, up in the peace of Ramatuelle, you are in a tranquil oasis. YTL’s Tan Sri Francis Yeoh CBE apparently had always wanted a St Tropez hotel and he bought what had been the 42-room Castel Laudon. Three years and lots of pennies later, it reopened as the 15-room Muse – Hôtel de Luxe. Read Tripadvisor comments, and you see why people love it. It is peace and quiet, heavenly local pines and sit-up-and-beg bikes.
Everything is unique about this place. There are no sounds of the outside world. There is no timeframe (want a meal? They start serving breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12 noon, dinner at 7pm but nothing finishes until all who wish to eat have eaten). This is what you want, when you want it. No wonder many guests come back again and again. Then consider the GM Karim Chaouane, a first-generation Frenchman, from Toulouse, who still has many family in Algeria. He always wanted to travel, and worked with a tour operator as on site, first in Nairobi and then Luxor. He never had formal hotel training but who cares; he anticipates and reacts and nothing, be it a faulty safe or sitting with a guest at dinner even though he was fasting for Ramadan, caused any hesitation.
When YTL bought this place they could not alter it structurally, and no new buildings are allowed. I was in Sophia (Loren – all rooms are named after female movie stars). I was up 22 stone steps from the ground floor: my suite had a divine Iman Bowie-type standing lamp and the unusual wall mirror that is a feature of many YTL hotels, and on the big terrace, looking down into others’ plunge pools, I had an absolutely-private massage table where Dewi did a truly memorable muscle-relaxing massage. See the video for the suite, and its clever bathroom layout, and Smeg items. The designer is YTL’s own inhouse architect, Baldip Singh.
No, I did not play boules or take one of the bikes but I did swim in the glorious pool, with surrounding cabanas that have in-water loungers. I also did some serious workouts in the 24/7 Technogym, with Sudoku. And there was serious eating, thanks to chef Kevin Altier’s menu, which included the local version of bouillabaisse, Aigo boulido, with sage emulsion – the hotel’s own wine labels are both local, Côtes de Provence 2016 Vignobles de Ramatuelle. It was so hot I started with heavily iced rosé, went on to the red. Dinner is poolside, but at breakfast tables are moved inside, the other side of a glass wall: sensibly there is no proper buffet, other fruits and the brilliant breads that you do not honestly expect to see in France – but you do here, with a Swiss knife that really slices. This is indeed a unique luxury hideaway hotel.
Last on the list for St-Tropez essentials is LVMH’s Résidence de la Pinède, on the eastern outskirts of St-Tropez. This is for dining memories. Look at the culinary accolades that this luxury hotel has – when Arnaud Donckele won his third Michelin star in 2013 he was, at 36, the youngest holder of that accolade; that year, Le Chef magazine named him chef of the year; today, Gault-Millau gives him 19.5 out of 20. Today, it is near impossible to get a reservation at the 40-seat, dinner-only restaurant, outside on a terrace shaded by a 250-year old cypress that is custodian, so to speak, of the hotel that Bernard Arnault fell in love with January 2016, and bought for his LVMH portfolio.
Restaurant Manager Thierry Ditullio also deserves praise, for the art of his serving crew, who glide around as if in a ballet. They are all so passionate, explain everything minutely without later bothering you continually. The first amuse evoked a smile. As the name of the 36-room hotel implies, there were formerly pines and olive groves here, and to set the ambience, a 15-inch living olive tree is brought to table, a wide wood belt around its trunk. This holds a pair of oysters with fennel, a pair of minute grapeseed tartlets, and two anchovy-filled olives. Amuse follows amuse – as Arnaud Donckele says on his impressive menu, “Being a cook is a simple act of love and sharing, between the produce and the people who grow, farm or fish it.” He names producers for many of his dishes.
I start with vine-ripened yellow and black Crimean tomatoes, over which is poured iced tomato essence with Lambruscum vinegar. My main course (seabass fillet and cheek cooked in vine shoot embers, nage of local vine-ripened tomatoes from Yann Ménard’s garden, courgettes scented with Alpille oregano) comes in two dishes. The cheek is still smoking as it is brought under a glass cloche, removed to get the aroma. Having started with Sacha Lichine’s Whispering Angel Caves d’Esclans Rosé 2016 we go on to another Provence wine, Domaine de la Tour du Bon En Sol 2014, a Bandol Mourvedre from winemaker Agnès Henry. The cheese trolley is wheeled up, to no avail, and shortly after we have finished berry feuilles with, separately, frozen nougat ice cream with Grasse rose and caramelised almonds, and fruit water essence apparently produced over 24 hours, a postprandial drinks trolley again comes unsuccessfully.
In the morning, once the sun is up, I am up and out, walking any slight hill I can find for exercise (I could, instead, have gone up and down the 30 spiral stairs that lead from room 237 down to the terrace, and the heated pool and the adjacent beach – the only private beach in St-Tropez). I meet up with the GM, Olivier Raveyre, born nearby in St-Raphael and determined to travel (now, he is a full hour away from his birthplace, but his circuitous professional route took in London, and Burg Al Arab, Dubai). There are all kinds of plans for this gorgeous place, says this super-passionate hotelier, whose aim in life is to please. Bernard Arnault has bought the adjacent plot, and undoubtedly the LVMH influence, and potentially even more Cheval Blanc association, will become apparent. Already about 60% of hotel guests are repeats, presumably making dinner reservations first and then booking a room.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com