The big trip

Hôtel Byblos review: a heavenly retreat in Saint-Tropez

This is one of the few hotels in France to be granted ‘palace’ status

A calmer, quieter neighbour to nearby Monaco and Cannes, Saint-Tropez has more of a traditional village feel about it. It’s easy to drop off the beaten path and find yourself exploring a warren of alleyways or sitting at one of the square-side haunts sipping a café allongé with the locals.

The town on the French Riviera has attracted the rich and famous since the 19th century but remains truly unspoilt – residents go about their day-to-day business, shopping at a butcher’s in between Chanel and Dior boutiques.

Hôtel Byblos is located right by the Place Des Lices, which hosts a Saturday market during the summer months. It’s just a short stroll to the harbour where superyachts sit side by side with fishing boats – and the market sometimes relocates there.

Hôtel Byblos feels like a village-within-a-village

Hôtel Byblos feels like a village-within-a-village

Why come here?

In the mid-1960s, Lebanese billionaire Jean-Prosper Gay-Para began building Byblos, focusing on designing a luxury hotel that felt like a village-within-a-village. Architects Christian Auvrignon, Philippe Monnin and Philippe Siccardon worked with Gay-Para to fulfil his dream of creating a bridge between the French Riviera and the Middle East, building a Provence-style village featuring narrow houses of various shapes and sizes. To complete the look, an ancient olive tree was imported from Lebanon and planted on the grounds; it still stands today.

Rumour has it Gay-Para built Byblos to impress French actress Brigitte Bardot, whom he had fallen hopelessly in love with. She spurned his advances, not even making an appearance at the glitzy opening party attended by a crowd of international royalty, movie stars, singers, rock icons and writers. 

Whilst distinctly French, nodding to Saint-Tropez’s life as a traditional fishing village, Byblos’s heavy Grecian influence is evidenced both in colour (all creams, blues and terracotta) and throughout the art and ceramics that adorn the hotel’s walls, floors and pool.

The family-owned property is one of only 30-odd in France to be granted “palace” status, a prestigious award given to hotels showing consistent levels of excellence. 

The Missoni Suite is a collaboration between the hotel and the Italian fashion house

The Missoni Suite is a collaboration between the hotel and the Italian fashion house

Rooms and suites

Hôtel Byblos is home to 87 bedrooms, 47 of which are suites. If you’ve got cash to splash, the jewel in the crown is the Missoni Suite. For its 50th anniversary, the hotel collaborated with the Italian fashion house to convert its famous bar into an ultra-luxe suite.

Generally, the rooms are a soothing celebration of muted tones and are a lesson in restraint; bathrooms are huge and mosaiced; beds are about the comfiest I’ve tried – no creaky backs in the morning here.

Spacious and comfortable, the rooms all have differing views of the surroundings or the gardens. If you’re a fan of an early night (staying in is the new going out, no?), make sure you request one away from the central area as the bar and club can get a little noisy when the coolest cats descend to party the night away. 

Cucina is Byblos’s Italian restaurant

Cucina is Byblos’s Italian restaurant

Eating and drinking

In January 2021, Italian chef Nicola Canuti joined Byblos to lead the hotel’s food offering as executive chef. Canuti cut his teeth under the tutelage of Alain Ducasse before heading to Asia to work at a series of luxury hotels. Just prior to coming on board at the hotel, he taught at the highest level at the legendary Institut Paul Bocuse in France.

Canuti has developed a garden a few doors down from the hotel which supplies the kitchen with a range of familiar and unusual ingredients (ask nicely and you might get a guided tour here). There is a particular focus on herbs, which crop up as garnishes, as infusions in oil or cream, or turned into teas.

Geoffrey Turpin, the hotel’s dedicated pastry chef, works alongside Canuti. His Michelin experience is evident in the staggering execution of all the sweet treats – from the elegant and perfectly laminated viennoiserie at breakfast to the decadent (and fairly inebriating) rum baba served in the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Arcadia.

The menu at Arcadia is haute-Mediterranean, showcasing the best the region has to offer – red tuna tartare with new season olive oil, sea salt and pickled vegetables; pea gazpacho with mint, lobster and creme fraiche; beautiful and delicate little stuffed vegetables garnished with veal jus and truffle; fresh fish, grilled and filleted, table-side. Don’t miss the region’s favourite sweet, Tropézienne Byblos, which has been given a five-star makeover. 

Cucina is Byblos’s Italian restaurant presided over by Alain Ducasse. Here, a wood-fired oven takes centre-stage among the outdoor tables – the small pizzas to start are a must. There’s Apulian burrata, vitello tonato – a host of classics gone upmarket. The star of the show is a deep, rich hug in a bowl – paccheri with beef cheek confit, guanciale and baby onions.

Les Caves de Roy at Hôtel Byblos

Les Caves de Roy at Hôtel Byblos

What to do

The hotel is home to the legendary Les Caves de Roy (The Royal Cellars) which has been Saint-Tropez’s, and indeed the riviera’s, hottest nightspot since 1967, with queues of cool, young things lining the street to get in. It was completely renovated in 2017, restoring some of the original features from the ’60s. Those in the know rate it alongside some of the most infamous nightclubs like Studio 54, Pacha and Le Palace; if you’re lucky, you might even see the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio hanging out here buying rounds of fizz for all.

For daytime escapades (or to blow away the cobwebs of the night before), a short shuttle ride away on Pampelonne Beach is the hotel’s beach bar and restaurant, Byblos Beach. It sits right on the sands next to the sparkling sea; remarkably, it’s entirely temporary, with local legislation requiring all structures on the beach to be removed for the winter season to prevent coastal erosion. You’d never guess though, whilst sipping icy rosé and munching on delicious Mediterranean-ish treats (sourced wherever possible from the local area).

A must-order here is the céviche de sériole, leche de tigre – refreshing, thin slices of citrus-cured Amberjack with a light, coconut dressing infused with Thai flavours; and don’t miss Le Tout Chocolat – a tribute to all things chocolatey. Sunbeds are also available, making Byblos Beach a great spot for a post-lunch snooze in the sun.

Byblos Beach is the hotel’s beach bar and restaurant

Byblos Beach is the hotel’s beach bar and restaurant

For the oenophiles among you, the hotel has teamed up with Domaine Ott, a fabulous local vineyard producing some remarkable wines; being the south of France, the focus is on rosé – their vines grow right down to the beach which provides an exquisite, briny note. Byblos has a dedicated piece of land to produce its own rosé which is available at the hotel’s bar and Byblos Beach. 

For a bit of R&R, Byblos has a fab spa by Sisley with a steam room and a rather whacky shower that plays nightclub music with flashing disco lights. Not necessarily your thing? Me neither, but it does take all sorts.

Rooms at Hôtel Byblos start from £400 per night; byblos.com

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