It’s been another perfect day by the pool, topping up my tan and I don’t think anyone’s noticed I’m more high street than haute couture.
This is St Tropez at the start of the summer season, the playground of the rich and famous, and I’m staying at the Grand Dame, The Byblos. Anyone who’s anyone has stayed here from the sixties siren Brigitte Bardot to present day A listers. From the moment you check in the Byblos experience is personal, discrete and flawless.
The hotel began life in the mid-Sixties, built by a Lebanese businessman (it’s a long story, well documented), now it’s in the hands of the family-run Groupe Floirat.
Built up and on over the years, the Hotel now looks like a small Provencal village, with 41 rooms and 50 suites dotted over the site.
I’m staying in a duplex which is plenty big enough with bath, shower and rose-smelling toiletries. There’s a safe in the room and there’s also a Hotel safe for your Rolex’ and rocks.
The bed is so comfortable I don’t want to get up for breakfast but a full buffet of everything you could want, both hot and cold, and some things you don’t but can’t help but try, is something you can’t miss. Sitting outside in the sunshine is a bonus and something I haven’t done for a long time. It’s bliss.
The Sisley Spa has six treatment rooms, a VIP treatment suite with its own Turkish bath and a Hammam enjoyed to the full by one Mick Jagger and his new wife Bianca.
A five-minute stroll and you’ll find yourself at the historic Port which is fuller than normal as yachtsmen taking part in the 63rd Giraglia Rolex Cup are moored here. This three-day in shore sailing race takes place around St Tropez, ahead of a 243 off-shore sailing route, ending in Genoa, and it’s no wonder they’re getting into the party mood.
When the sun goes down, the restaurants come alive, and when the candles burn out, the queue forms outside the Hotel’s legendary nightclub Le Caves du Roy. This is one place where age is no barrier to a good party and you can expect to find sugar daddies rubbing shoulders with models, actors and F1 drivers, in fact, anyone who can afford to get in and stay all night. Thankfully it was shut when I visit but just to give you the ‘heads up’, a glass of wine or water is almost €30. You can expect to see the big hitters go for the Methuselah of Dom Pérignon, Rosé of course, a snip at €150,000. This is the place to indulge in the one sport I love world-class people watching.
Right in the heart of the town, the Hotel’s within walking distance of dozens of designer stores and plenty of cobbled, narrow streets filled with bars and restaurants.
If shopping or wandering through the quaint streets is not your thing, it’s a short ride to the nearest beach (the hotel has a VIP shuttle) and in the south of France they love a beach club.
Le Club 55 is a great place to eat lunch, and you can catch a glimpse of how the other half live. I arrive in the shuttle bus while three tables arrive by their own yacht, collected by the Club’s tender.
If, like me, your yacht is moored elsewhere and you have no place to float, you can either hire The Byblos’ yacht the Algandra, a Princess V62, or retire to the three-mile stretch of beach, where Bardot shot the 1958 film And God Created Woman, back then it was empty, now 30,000 visitors visit every day during the Summer.
I’m staying at The Byblos because there’s an opportunity to cook with a protegé of Alain Ducasse. Vincent Maillard is in charge of the Rivea restaurant and still works closely with Ducasse to develop the seasonal menu.
It reads like a catalogue of summer with both French and Italian influences. You must try the magnificent pizzetta, cold meats, which include the awesome fat-dense Lardo, lobster, prawns, sea bass, octopus, veal, beef and a variety of salads.
The desserts range from chocolate rich tarts to their very special Zuccotto bomb, made for sharing.
Eating under the stars, by the pool in the ‘B Restaurant’ is a very relaxed affair and the small plates are delicious.
A perfect opportunity to enjoy the rose wine, great company and the acoustic live band which serenades the tables.
Vincent runs cookery classes and he’s showing a small group how to make a couple of dishes using courgettes and artichokes. All the fruit and vegetables for Rivea come from a local farmer and as you’d expect only the best make it through. Beautifully fresh trumpet courgettes along with the regular yellow, green and their flowers are used in the recipe.
A Mediterranean paste is made to stuff and cook the courgette flowers.
Courgettes are prepared, chopped and cooked down to make a soup.
Globe artichokes are prepared and cooked for the risotto, along with parmesan crisps to garnish.
Chefs arrive and begin to prepare for the dinner service as we plate up and eat in the restaurant.
The famous Tarte ‘Tropizienne’ dessert has already been prepared, light sponge sandwiched with a tangy orange custard, dusted over its crumble-top with icing sugar and served with a bitter marmalade sauce.
Whilst I can cook risotto, I learnt some new dishes, but for me the chance to work with a magnificent chef highly regarded by Alain Ducasse is priceless.
Everyone should experience the atmosphere and hospitality offered at the Byblos Hotel, a cheeky overnight is do-able if you’re on a budget, just keep away from the nightclub!
The cookery course costs €190pp and includes tuition, lunch, wine and a small gift. Single rooms start at €340 in low season and €575 in high season. Continental breakfast €36 and full buffet €42.
British Airways fly to Nice, St Tropez is a good 40 minutes drive away.