The discreet charm of the (Provençal) bourgeoisie - as interpreted by British designers.
On arriving, you’ll think I’m bonkers for having recommended this place. On the main route into town – just where the road splits round a giant anchor on the central reservation – it’s hellishly easy to miss.
And hellishly easy to ignore, even if you don’t miss it. The flat-faced grey frontage couldn’t be more anonymous if it wore an anorak and collected train numbers. But trust me. Turn in and you’ll find the Pastis a treat. It’s my favourite boutique hotel in St Tropez by a street. Except that “boutique hotel” doesn’t do it justice. The term sounds too self-consciously trend seeking.
The Pastis, by contrast, is a friendly, informal, let’s-have-a-glass sort of place that just happens to have been redesigned and restored brilliantly. By two Britons, though nationality has nothing to do with my judgement. I’d be just as happy if they were Swedes or French.
Fuelled by design careers in London and a hankering for the south of France, Pauline and John Larkin took over the Pastis building early last decade and opened their hotel in 2005. In between times, they gutted the place, re-created the gardens and gave the whole a swish of style you never would suspect from outside.
This style is, though, difficult to describe. It’s sort of classical Provençal at every turn (from the back, the place looks like a stately southern villa) but filtered through a prodigious imagination. The Larkins haven’t been afraid of stripping out clutter to make way for art, space, homely touches and, in reception, an armchair like a minstrel’s hat.
Reception is, in fact, a fine introduction to the place. Beyond a display cabinet of pastis jugs stands a real French-café bar, bistro chairs and tables, a Louis-the-Somethingth fireplace, a grand piano and, on the walls, black and white film stills. It’s like being welcomed into the home of cultivated new acquaintances. They’ve got more inventive taste than you have. They deploy it, though, not to intimidate but to make you feel welcome.
The principle is sustained into the bedrooms – which are large and soft, with floors of whitened oak, Baroque mirrors, wooden beds, flanking banquettes and enough free space (in some) to hold a game of boules.
Sensibility is especially evident in the detail: sumptuous bedding, posh equipment for making tea, coffee and chocolate, mini-bars with a selection of proper bottles of wine, plus books and DVDs. I cannot imagine anyone entering such a room and not sighing at the light rightness of it all. A few have ‘sea-aspects’ – which differ from ‘sea-views’ by virtue of the fact that you must lean out of the window to see the briny.
Behind, a lazy terrace – perfect for a summer breakfast or evening aperitif - leads to a Provençal garden from central casting. Here are mature palms and a swimming pool, fig trees, lavender and other aromatic herbs. There are further rooms beyond, quite as stylish. Their balconies overlook what is, in short, a hidden little outpost both of Provence and of cultured English-speaking conviviality.
I find this admirable. The British were, after all, the first tourists in the French south. We “invented” the Côte-d’Azur. The Pastis Hotel does honour both to this tradition and to Provence itself. And it does so over a glass of wine. Or, of course, pastis.
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