Where to stay (and pose) in St Tropez

by Anthea.Gerrie

The perennially chic resort of St Tropez, in the south of France, is not so much about a sea view, more about how and where to see and be seen

It may be one of the smartest resorts on the Riviera, but no-one in St Tropez has much interest in gazing at the Med. There’s no beach in the resort proper, and none of the best hotels are anywhere near the sea. But who cares when the greatest sports are shopping and people-spotting?
For decades, there was only one hotel worth talking about - and the Hotel Byblos Saint Tropez still endures. This former haunt of Brigitte Bardot is a labyrinthine hive of luxury on several levels, prettily pastel-painted and underpinned by a central pool perfect for poseurs. Many who don’t stay - and this is a pricey joint at around £300 per room - frequent the two smart lower-level haunts open to the public: Alain Ducasse’s Spoon restaurant and the Caves du Roy, still considered the hottest nightclub in town.
But now many of the smart set are spending their evenings dining at a hotel so exclusive, you could have trouble even finding it. The Pan dei Palais may be bang in the middle of the Rue Gambetta, the main shopping drag that runs down from the famous Place des Lices to the port, but its doors are firmly bolted shut against looky-loos by day. However, by evening the big iron bolts swing open to reveal an unexpected urban paradise.
And what a revelation it is, this so-elegant townhouse built by a French officer for his wife, an Indian princess, in the 18th cenutry. The furnishings speak of colonial India, and the pool and terrace are stunning. At night, the restaurant twinkles enchantingly as candlelight catches the coloured water-glasses, and a sophisticated set nibble on fusion cuisine. There is a nod to Morocco in the facilities as well as the food, with a hammam and massage room in the basement. A lot of style here for a lot less than the Byblos Saint Tropez, from around £200 per night.
Sitting between the two price-wise, and a lot more moderne than either is the Hotel Benkirai, which sits in the pine forest behind the resort proper. It’s a bit of a hike from town, though the hotel operates a shuttle bus. The Hotel Benkirai is the imagiinative refurbishment of an older hotel by cosmetics tycoon Jacques Bogart.
A profusion of staff with attitude, clad in chic white duds, immediately says St Tropez upon entry into the open-plan reception, as does the chilled lounge music that plays constantly from the hotel's own signature compilation CD. The lobby gives on to the casual indoor-outdoor restaurant, which is the hotel's biggest asset. It leads on to a vast terrace (whose intimate outdoor lounges, built around huge trees, are a pleasing touch) and swimming pool, all surrounded by a scented garden replete with olive trees, ancient cypress trees, jasmine and wisteria. 
The B Restaurant serves Thai food, in keeping with the oriental vibe the hotel pushes in spirit, if not in its distinctly Californian appearance; the name Benkirai denotes an exotic Indonesian wood, resembling redwood, which was used to clad all the hotel's exterior structures. Lunch and dinner, overseen by noted Thai chef Oth Sombat, plus a traditional French breakfast, are all served in this one space, as are exotic cocktails day and night.
The swimming pool , lavishly decked with the exotic wood the hotel is named for, is the centre of daytime activitives. Massages and facials are offered in a small spa, with a signature treatment of Thai aromatherapy. All guest rooms are done out in blue and white, and the baby-blue bathrooms, with their hidden sinks and separate toilets with nighclub-style blue neon lighting, are pleasing, if a squeeze. Not a lot of space for £250 per night, but lots of opportunity for posing and preening beside the pool.
One of the nicest smart places to stay in the St Tropez area is not in St Tropez at all. It’s in the nearby charming village of Ramatuelle, where the Villa Marie is a haven of chic rooms, huge pool, gorgeous dining terrace and sybaritic spa. You may not see any stars in this romantic hideaway, which is more of a chic retreat than a poseurs’ paradise, but my goodness - from many rooms you can actually see the sea!