Say the word “Saint-Tropez” and you may conjure up images of Brigitte Bardot frolicking on a sunny beach, the international jetset hobnobbing on luxury yachts and dining at la Pinède. But did you know that this Mediterranean playground is also a place of rich Provençal culture and wonderful wine tourism? On a recent jaunt to the south of France, Luxury Travel Advisor found that this sexy summer destination never goes out of style. Here are some insider tips.
There’s a chic address that’s a closely guarded secret among luxury travelers. Located between Saint-Tropez and the wonderful Pampelonne beach, Muse Saint-Tropez embodies “la belle vie” in Provence. What really distinguishes this intimate retreat — part of the Malaysia-based YTL Hotels group — is the outstanding service from smiling staff who introduce themselves by first name, and create a genuine rapport with guests. The delightful General Manager Karim Chaouane ([email protected]) has assembled a team that creates a warm and gracious vibe. They want guests to immediately relax into a vacation mindset, Chaouane explains. Like his staff, Chaouane can be found on the hotel grounds chatting with guests, cooing over kids, even picking up his phone to pull strings in Saint-Tropez. A quick flip through the guest book and you’ll see a recurring phrase: “a special stay.”
This is a poetic place. A short stroll through the gardens — planted with 160 native species — and you’ll feel instant calm. Sophie Agata Ambroise, the landscape architect who also conceived the Bulgari Hotel garden in Milan, designed the three-acre garden to be totally self-sustainable, without watering. The centerpiece is the turquoise infinity pool flanked by cabanas with billowing white curtains. Some sun loungers are even set up in the shallows, reminiscent of a tropical island resort. From the adjacent bar, try a glass of rosé wine especially created for the hotel by the Vignobles de Ramatuelle.
The small restaurant faces the pool, so you can dine en plein air, candles flickering, while the sun sets over the Provençal landscape. Chef Kevin Altier changes the menu twice in the season; the tempting dishes coming out of the kitchen might include a starter of Asparagus and local morel mushrooms served with a wasabi mousseline, followed by Mediterranean red mullet with sundried tomatoes and a chorizo-studded risotto, or the Filet of beef “d’Aubrac” topped with onions caramelized in red wine. Even if you don’t stay the night at Muse, we highly recommend dinner. (Outside clientele are welcome but, bien sûr, hotel guests get priority for reservations.)
The infinity pool at Muse Saint-Tropez is lined with loungers and curtained cabanas
Everything is sur mesure here. One prank-loving guest, not believing that breakfast is served anytime, tested the kitchen by ordering it at 10 p.m. What’s more, room service is available 24/7. Staff can arrange any number of activities like helicopter excursions and vineyard visits to nearby domaines like Château la Rouillère, Château Minuty and Château des Maures.
Another example of this bespoke care is the spa program. For the summer season, Dewi Hopley — one of YTL’s most accomplished spa therapists — has arrived from Asia (via England) to implement the “spa village” philosophy. YTL has created a pioneering program called the “spa village” — at properties like Gaya Island and the Gainsborough Bath Spa — which offers a mélange of the world’s top spa therapies integrated with local healing practices. The “spa village” takes personalization to another level. At Muse, the menu comprises unique treatments named in homage to famous Provence-inspired artists. For example, the two-hour “Pablo” experience includes an intense full body massage with a personalized blend of detoxifying oil, followed by the application of steamed cloth pouches filled with rosemary, myrtle and cypress picked from the garden.
The hotel only has 15 suites, named for different “muses”. The average size of a room in Saint-Tropez is 22 square meters (237 square feet), but at Muse, they start at 40 square meters (430 square feet) — and some are equipped with their own massage tables and plunge pools. Designed with custom Maison Henryot furnishings and Pierre Frey linens, these elegant, light-filled suites are also uber-comfortable and made for relaxation: art books line the shelves and the bathroom boasts Hermès bath products. The top digs are the two sprawling duplex suites in the “Muse” category, Grace and Ava, plus the 1,400-square-foot Romy Suite — in a category all its own with two bedrooms, a pool and a garden with outdoor shower. Note: The entire hotel can be privatized. For VIP bookings, luxury travel agents may contact GM Chaouane ([email protected]; 011-33-494-430-440).
Another hotel perk is the complimentary shuttle service which takes guests both to the heart of Saint-Tropez and the beach. Classified a “remarkable natural space” beneath the verdant hills of Ramatuelle, the Plage de Pampelonne is dotted with famous beach clubs like Club 55 — which got its start when the film crew for Brigitte Bardot’s “And God Created Woman” were looking for somewhere to eat while on set. Just offshore, billionaires’ super yachts ply the waters. Fabulous long-time employee Paolo Falduzzi is one of Muse’s drivers, and he happily shares insider knowledge about the area and clubs like Maison Bianca and in-demand Bagatelle (sadly, La Voile Rouge, another famous club, has been closed).
The Romy Suite at Muse is spread over 1,400 square feet of space and comes with two bedrooms, a pool and a garden with outdoor shower
For the first time this year, a contemporary art fair called “Art Pampelonne” took place at the end of June — an effort to create the French Riviera’s very own Art Basel. A partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Ramatuelle and Nikki Beach, the fair presented 60 international galleries with a sexy side of entertainment (like the Nikki Beach pop-up Champagne bar). First opened in 2002, Nikki Beach hosts daily fashion shows and world renowned DJs like Bob Sinclar. With a sparkling pool and all-white décor, Nikki Beach is just a few steps from the beach. The club is available for complete privatization, starting from 6,000 euros in April, May and October. For VIP reservations, reach out to Paola Sireno ([email protected]).
In a privileged location in Saint-Tropez proper, Hotel Byblos is a mythical address that’s part and parcel of the town’s glamorous history. The story, now legendary, goes like this: Lebanese business magnate Prosper Gay-Para is smitten with Brigitte Bardot and decides to build a hotel “worthy of the Arabian Nights” on her home turf. Alas, she’s honeymooning when the Byblos throws its launch party, but she’s in town to serve as “godmother” for the inauguration of Les Caves du Roy, one of the most famous nightclubs in France. Classified as a “palace” hotel, the Byblos was inspired by the ancient Lebanese port of the same name; it was designed to resemble a village of colorful façades with the pool serving as the “square” and staircases ambling between levels. Continue down the steps and you’ll find yourself just a stone’s throw from the Places des Lices, the beautiful, sun-dappled square that’s the beating heart of Saint-Tropez.
Today the Byblos, part of the Groupe Floirat, continues to be a family-owned operation, with some staff working at the hotel for decades. For example, Ali Hassani has been cooking breakfast omelettes for 27 years. Giuseppe Pochintesta ([email protected]; 011-334-9456-6808), the wonderful head concierge, oversees a team of five, three are Clef d’Or status.
This year the Byblos is celebrating its 50th birthday in a big way: Rosita Missoni has designed a signature suite (the first time, outside of their now-defunct hotel brand, that Missoni has decorated a hotel room). The hotel has also teamed up with top brands like Audemars Piguet, Goyard, Rolls-Royce and Dom Pérignon to create limited-edition luxury goods to fete the occasion.
Hotel highlights include the B. lounge, with live music nightly, and the Sisley spa, with a stunning suite called “the Lebanese salon,” which was transported piece by piece from a 17th-century palace in Beirut. The Byblos was where Mick Jagger honeymooned with Bianca Perez in 1971, and it continues to be a favorite hideaway for A-list stars.
The décor of the rooms at Hotel Byblos is a mélange of antiques and custom furniture
Booking Tips: Some of the 91 rooms face the pool; others overlook the luxuriant gardens, fragrant with lavender, jasmine and roses. Suite No. 611 has a terrace with views of the pool and the Mediterranean beyond. The décor deserves a special shout-out: a beautiful mélange of antiques and custom furniture like the leather trunk hiding the minibar. There are lots of interconnecting rooms in the hotel, perfect for families — as the hotel’s many repeat guests, who faithfully return year after year, now return for the season with their kids. A duplex like No. 615 is also good for families, with beds both upstairs and down. For VIP requests, reach out to Pascale Fontaine ([email protected]), the sales director.
The hotel’s restaurant, Rivea by Alain Ducasse, is a showcase for the best local Mediterranean products: organic vegetables cultivated exclusively by farmer Yann Ménard, charcuterie from the Spigaroli brothers in Italy, fish sourced daily from local fisherman. Here you can enjoy the aperitif hour with a selection of traditional appetizers to share (like pissaladière and socca), or indulge in a multi-course meal on the leafy garden terrace. To celebrate the hotel’s 50th anniversary, Chef Vincent Maillard has designed a signature dish highlighting the region’s best bounty: eggplant and raw seabream, marinated in a special No. 50 olive oil, created especially for the hotel’s birthday by Moulin du Haut-Jasson. Don’t miss the divine dessert made with Alain Ducasse’s artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate.
A word about the season in Saint-Tropez: It runs from mid-April through September, with a lot of hospitality workers heading to Courchevel for the winter. May is a wonderful time to visit, with less gridlock on the roads and fun festivals like Les Voiles Latines, when traditional sailboats line the port, and the Bravade, a fete celebrating the village’s patron saint that’s taken place for more than 450 years. At the end of September, Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez — the famous sailing regatta — brings some of the world’s most beautiful boats to the port.
Note that the Hotel de Paris is one of the few hotels that’s open year-round, except for a brief closure in December. With a destination spa by Clarins, this elegant five-star hotel is situated on the famous Place de la Gendarmerie. The 52 rooms and 38 suites were decorated by designer du jour Sybille de Margerie with contemporary designer furniture and pops of color evoking the history of artists in Saint-Tropez. On the top floor of the hotel with 180-degree views over the bay, the Presidential Suite “Dolce Vita” comes with two terraces. Why not invite your posse for a cocktail? Top Tip: We highly recommend the rooftop terrace with its sparkling pool and Les Toits Lounge. For VIP hotel reservations, reach out to Sabrina Noto ([email protected]).
The rooftop Les Toits Lounge at Hotel de Paris has an open-air pool, restaurant and lounge-bar
Saint-Tropez is sublimely situated on a peninsula surrounded by the glittering waters of the Mediterranean. What this means is that there’s one road in and out, so traffic can be a problem in the July-August high season. Why not skip the crowds and arrive by helicopter or boat? An hour away by car, Aéroport Toulon / Hyères is the closest commercial airport, and a lovely little one, at that. With genuinely helpful service, friendly on-ground staff create a relaxing travel experience for passengers on flights to Paris (operated by HOP!/Air France) and other destinations in Europe. Even closer to Saint-Tropez, the Golfe de Saint-Tropez Airport serves private jets. The Riviera’s largest international airport, Nice-Cote d’Azur, which has direct flights to the United States, is 1.5 hours away by car when there’s no traffic. Luxury travelers should consider helicopter transfers with companies like Heli Sécurité or Azur Hélicoptere. Another option is boat service from St Raphaël and Sainte-Maxime.
A Saint-Tropez institution, la Pinède must be booked in advance. (The five-star hotel and Michelin three-star restaurant was acquired by LVMH with plans to convert it into a Cheval Blanc hotel.) You’ll cross paths with stars at L’Opéra, which is always a scene with entertaining nightly shows. A wonderful meal is guaranteed at Caprice des Deux. For seafood lovers, choose Les Viviers du Pilon with beautiful panoramas over the Gulf of St Tropez. In the countryside of Ramatuelle, reserve at La Ferme Ladouceur, where you’ll enjoy the set menu on a terrace surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. A landmark on the port (the red terrace is instantly recognizable), Café Sénéquier was first made famous by Brigitte Bardot, then a wave of celebrities who frequented it. We recommend trying la tarte tropezienne at their épicerie, a short walk away. Also don’t miss the nougat, the great house specialty for over 120 years.