Danielle's Social Diary:
February 26, 2012
St. Tropez to Cap Ferrat: A Crush on the Cote d’Azur
Mediterranean indolence and golden days in the land of Brigitte Bardot
By Danielle Rollins
From palmy beach clubs pitched in white sand to pools perched infinity-edge over the blue Mediterranean, grand hotels to Medieval castles, local markets to luxe boutiques, Cote d’Azur remains the favored haunt of artists, movies stars, fashion designers, moguls and European aristocrats alike.
Overlooking the beaches of Pampelonne Bay on a pine-covered hillside, Villa Marie resembles a chic private house rather than a hotel. Gardens with flowering shrubs, roses, lavender and fruit trees surrounding the property give it an intensely private feel. The Orangerie restaurant, located in a tropical greenhouse, features superb Mediterranean cuisine by an unbelievably attentive staff. The tiny seashell-covered bar is a great place for a cocktail before dinner or for champagne on the terrace post-dinner. The scenic pool and spa are just the icing on the cake of this Small Luxury Hotels of the World hotel.
Pan Dei Palais
Located near the “Place des Lices” center square in the old town of Saint-Tropez, Pan dei Palais is a stone throw’s from the port and all the wonderful shops and restuarants. An ornately carved Indian wooden door opens to reveal a small, exotic 16-room hotel, formerly the residence of the mistress of the mayor of St. Tropez. Each room is individually decorated with an Indian-inspired décor. In the daytime, the hotel is available to guests only, but at night dinner is open to the public, surrounding an intricately tiled pool.
Le Club 55
Once you’ve experienced 55, as those in the know call it, enjoyed the food and surveyed the most unbelievably good looking crowd you have ever seen, you won’t be tempted to go anywhere else! And Christophe, the head valet is likely to remember you by name. If you arrive by yacht, there is valet service by motorboat too! Celeb sightings have included several supermodels like Naomi Campbell plus entourage, Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford. A boardwalk, surrounded on both sides by bamboo, leads into a captivating courtyard dining area perched in the sand. The spot is shaded by canopies of tamarisk trees and white canvas awnings. Patrice de Colmont, the owner, attends to every detail, just as his mother did when the restaurant first achieved fame in 1955. It is known as “the little wood hut” that fed the crew of Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman, starring none other than Brigitte Bardot. Lunch service is at 1 or 3PM and make sure you remember to reserve one of the thatched-covered huts on the beach for pre and après lunch lounging and a dip in the Mediterranean. Blue and white table coverings and cork bowls heaping with crudité set the mood to sit back and relax and enjoy the scenery! A bottle of Petal de Rose and a dessert of tarte tropezianne top off the sybaritic surroundings.
An alternative beach club in case you tire of Le Club 55 is L’Orangerie. It features a Provencal menu with a family-friendly feel and casual atmosphere.
Of course, if you’re bent on a wilder scene, Nikki Beach is always an option and now that La Voile Rouge is closing there isn’t any competition in the dancing-on-the-tables, champagne-spraying bacchanal arena! Proceed with caution. And a very large wallet. A tip for first timers: bring your own towels! Most beach clubs offer them as a rental with the chairs but that is a dead giveaway that you’re a newcomer! I stash thin but absorbent Turkish towels in my suitcase, which can double as sarongs!
This exotic restaurant, located in an alley-like street on Rue des Tisserands, feels like you are entering the Medina in Marrakech. Delightful Moroccan cuisine served in a beautifully serene garden under the canopy of a tamarind tree is the perfect spot for a cozy but glamorous dinner before hitting the dance clubs!
Joseph L’ Escale
If you want an authentic St. Tropez experience make sure you enjoy a meal on the port. One of my favorites is Joseph L’Escale with its all-white décor, floors of beach sand, and menu specializing in seafood.
9 Quai Jean Jaurès, St. Tropez, Tel: 33 4 94 97 00 63
The famous café overlooking the port (since 1887) is a favorite of Karl Lagerfield. It’s also perfect for morning breakfast, quick, casual lunch or an afternoon espresso and people watching. Locals are known to make three rounds a day! A mimicking mime usually takes to the street around 8PM and delights the crowd as he catches some unsuspecting tourist off-guard. But once your in the crowd be prepared to stay awhile because not only is he beyond funny, but you’ll be afraid to move from your post for fear that you might become the next unsuspecting target!
Enjoy a soft serve ice cream from Glaces Alfred as you stroll and admire all the boats or head up into one of the upper streets, Rue Remparts, and wait in the always long line for a wonderful crepe from Creperie Grand Marnier. I can never decide between sucre limon and buerre cannelle so I often hedge my bets and get both!
Rue Remparts 83990 Saint-Tropez, telephone: 04 94 97 07 29
SOUVENIRS & SHOPPING:
Created by the Jacques Keklikian family, K Jacques has been famous since 1933 for hand-made, irresistible sandals based on simple fishermen styles. There are several shops in town and they are still made-to- measure. Whatever you pick out, your sandals will be made in two days and ready for an immediate dose of French chic to your wardrobe!
There are not one but THREE Vilebrequin stores in St. Tropez, which is to be expected because this is where the label was founded in the 1970s. They specialize in the chicest men’s swim trunks. In addition to a standard store, there is a limited edition store with the signature silver tip drawstrings, as well as women’s swimsuits and cover-ups and one featuring only solid colors swimsuits and accessories.
Be sure to visit the markets at the Place de Lices on Tuesdays and Saturday before 1PM, for a popular open- air market with vendors selling everything from home furnishings to hot pizza fresh off a wood-burning oven! There is another small market every morning near the archway, featuring all the fishmongers, which I find much more charming and less crowded.
In the afternoons just plop on a park bench in the Place de Lices and watch the locals playing a game of boules, just be careful not to do as I did and walk right through a game in process!
Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc
This hotel in Juan les Pins, between Nice and Cannes, is quite simply one of the most divine places I have ever been and deserves its reputation as the most beautiful hotel in the world. In fact, it is the only hotel I can think of with its own coffee table book! It was immortalized by F. Scott Fitgerald in Tender Is the Night. Karl Lagerfeld recently held a Chanel runway show on its lawn and everyone from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to ElizabethTaylor and Richard Burton have stayed here. The grand hotel is situated on a 20- acre forest at the point of the “Cap.” The lobby is a dream of blue-and- white and the rooms are superbly decorated. A stunning teak-surrounded pool and restaurant overlook the sea. It is known for excellent service, and if you look on the trip advisor website, you will notice that EVERY single user review has a personal response from the managing director. Now that is a hotel that understands customer service!
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“Jazz a Juan” Festival
The legendary “Jazz a Juan” jazz festival, held under the famous pine trees July 12-22, 2012, is a big draw during the summer.
Nice is the most accessible city in the South of France and where all airlines fly into and out of for travel. From Nice most places are accessible by the TRV, but for St. Tropez you must have a car. I have not found a hotel I love in Nice, but I like the conveniently located Grand Palais de Mediterranée and I have heard good things about Beau Rivage, a 4-Star hotel with a beach club across the promenade. I have stayed at the legendary Hotel Negresco and it needs a renovation, but if you’re in the mood for a grand art collection and eclectic décor it’s the perfect spot!
La Petite Maison
There’s a famous outpost of this restaurant in New York City, but this is the original. A reservation is an absolute MUST, but even then be prepared to wait during high season. It is quite possibly one of the coolest places around--a reflection of the owner Nicole. The food and the ambience are also due to Nicole's inimitable style. The food is simple, seasonal and uses the freshest of ingredients. A meal starts with “Pissaladiere”, a Nice speciality, similar to a pizza with onions, olives and anchovy. One bite of macaroni and cheese with truffles is simply a straight-to- heaven moment. The bread is served steaming hot in a brown paper bag as if it were just delivered from the boulangerie. The menu isn’t extensive but it is impeccable. The tables are set with natural, local produce, herbs, vegetables and occasionally flowers. but never overdone and always in harmony with the season. The restaurant’s slogan “Tous celebres ici” meaning “all famous here” will certainly make you feel that way. Expect a nightly visit from The Gypsy Queens during high season--a very fun musical group renowned for their ability to get people on their feet and often on their seats and tabletops!
Translation: “The Chimney.” Everything at this restaurant, located just outside of Nice proper, is cooked from the fireplace, as its name implies. There is no menu-- just go and submit yourself to the chef''s whims.
The Columbe d’Or hotel and restaurant in nearby Saint Paul de Vence, is another of the spots where you’re sure to see a star! The walled, medieval village is home to many artists and a former favorite painting place of Marc Chagall. Since the 1920s it’s been a famous artist haunt for the likes of Miro, Braque, Chagall, Calder and Picasso.
Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat
The recent renovation of this grand hotel is absolutely amazing! I stayed there nine years ago and upon a recent return, found it to be just splendid in every way! The spa was exceptional and featured By Terry cosmetics, which are incredible but very hard to find. The lobby was filled with white upholstered furniture and a huge chandelier featuring Lalique doves. For a nice club sandwich or cheeseburger lunch, visit Club Dauphin within the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat. Take the dramatic funicular ride down a beautiful cliff and dine poolside, perched on the edge of the Mediterranean.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Don’t miss this stunning estate, once the home of Rothschild heiress Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild and now a museum. The architecture was inspired by Italian palazzos and the interior are primarily French and kitted out with a stuning collection of 18th-century Sevres procelains. Be sure to walk the formal gardens with special French, Spanish and Japanese sections.
Paloma Beach Club
Paloma beach club is the local choice of the beach chic, with vast villas overlook the ocean, owned by titans like Microsoft’s Paul Allen.
Chevre d’Or at Eze
The Relais & Chateau hotel and restaurant Chateau de La Chevre d’Or is perched cliffside in a small castle in the medieval hill town of Eze. High above the Mediterranean, it offers breathtaking views, while its restaurants offers delicious examples of French gastronomy!
Beaulieu Sur Mer
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was filmed in the nearby town of Beaulieu Sur Mer, which is picture perfect. The harbor features an Hermes store about the size of a closet in case you need to grab a stash of beach towels or a Birkin!