In the centre of town, at the heart of the legend ...
The first time we stayed at the Byblos, we got to our room and my wife went euphoric. The space! The furniture! The view! The fruit bowl! “These tiles,” she cried from the bathroom. “I’ve seen similar in a magazine. They’re 400 quid a square metre!”
I had to clamp the room-service nougat between her teeth just to get some peace. No doubt about it, though: arrive at the Byblos and you’ve really arrived. I wandered back to Reception where, across the acreage, I spotted former ManU, now Arsenal, soccer player Mikaël Silvestre on one of the sofas. I bet he thought he’d arrived, too.
But arrived where? Well, at the very heart of the Côte-d’Azur legend. The Byblos used to say that it was “entwined in the mystique of St Tropez” and it’s not an unreasonable claim. Mick and Bianca celebrated their marriage here on May 12, 1971. Elton John and Brigitte Bardot have been regulars. Bruce took his shirt off in the bar (that’s Willis, not Forsyth).
Vows of courtesy
And the hotel’s Caves-du-Roy nightclub runs the tightest door policy on the coast, thus ensuring the patronage of the likes of George Clooney, Bono and Naomi Campbell. (The door policy is, incidentally, no problem for hotel guests: they get in as of right.) The Byblos is, in short, St Tropez’s emblematic spot.
In the circumstances, you’d expect the place to be up itself to a critical degree. Astonishingly, it’s not. Staff are so warm and welcoming that you suspect they’ve taken vows of courtesy. And there’s a sort of tightly-controlled casualness throughout – including in the conception of the building. No palace, it’s styled rather as a Provençal hamlet, a succession of ochre frontages descending the gentle slope to embrace the pool.
Outside, Med horticulture explodes abundantly. Inside, walkways and galleries wind all over the place behind the mock hamlet façades. They’re dotted with antiques, crannies, busts and ceramics. Wandering around the delightful warren, it’s generally quite a surprise when you find your own room. A good one, though. Since my wife’s euphoria, most rooms have been renovated – but they remain big, and refreshingly free of mad minimalism.
Taste and cash
They recall, rather, rooms in a contemporary Provençal country house, one owned by someone with equal amounts of taste and cash. Many have terraces, either over the pool are or the gardens.
Of the hotel’s two restaurants, Spoon is down the stairs, on St Tropez’s main square, the Place-des-Lices. (I’ve forgotten to mention that the Byblos is bang central in the village, so jolly handy for everything.) If you can understand the menu (no mean achievement), it will serve you flurries of little dishes from around the Med either on the low-lit terrace or within.
The second, Le B, spreads from a classy dining modern room out onto the surrounds of the swimming pool, just across from the bar. If you don’t feel among the planet’s privileged when eating there, you’re perhaps too blasé for your own good.
In recent times, a Spa by Sisley has been added. I can’t judge these things, but it’s been decently reviewed. And then there’s the nightlife. The Byblos casts off its cultured calm and becomes party central. The queue of aspirants for the Caves-du-Roy club can stretch a hundred yards back onto the square.
The place has been the Côte’s N°1 club for 40 years or more – and has recently given itself its first makeover since the late 70s. It retains the strangely appealing mix of Mediterranean and Oriental excess - with palm trees by the dance floor - but has been sharpened up all round.
If you need to be at the centre of things, with Bruce and Naomi in view, then the Caves-du-Roy is the place to be. I prefer to be to one side, so am happier under the moonlight in the poolside terrace bar, with a cognac in view. For a few moments only, I'm under the impression that I'm a St Tropez insider.