What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever done in the name of romance?
For most of us, it’s probably fairly tame: perhaps you lined the hallway with roses, or staged an elaborate (and possibly excruciating) public proposal.
In 1967, Lebanese businessman Jean Prosper Gay-Para went a little bit farther. In an attempt to catch the eye of Brigitte Bardot he built a luxury resort in Saint-Tropez, the town most connected with her fame; aware of her love of dancing, he built a nightclub underneath it. He borrowed the name of one of the most famous villages of his homeland (it’s where the first bible came from) and Hotel Byblos was born.
Sadly for M. Gay-Para, Ms. Bardot didn’t even bother to attend the opening party and his efforts to woo her came to nothing. Seven hundred others did, however, and the hotel was immediately the hottest spot on the Riviera for luxury travellers of the time. Today the property is one of very few to hold the official title of Palace, awarded by the French government, and is the jewel in the crown of a family-owned hospitality empire.
The original concept for the hotel was to create a “village within a village” and this is very much the feel of it today. The pool acts as the town square, with the rest of the complex built around it. Eighty-seven rooms, 47 of them suites, are housed in the surrounding buildings, along with the restaurants, bar and Sisley spa. If one were so inclined, it would be easy to spend an entire break relaxing on the premises.
Of those suites and rooms a select few have terraces overlooking the pool, some of which also give a view down the hill into the town and port. The most impressive is the signature Missoni suite, opened in 2017 to mark Byblos’ 50th anniversary and renovated in collaboration with the famous Italian fashion house whose name it bears. The signature colourful knitwear of the brand is emulated in the upholstery of the suite, and the finish of this room is of a standard only to be found in the most discerning of properties.
The area the suite now occupies was originally the hotel bar – famously host to Mick Jagger’s honeymoon in 1971 – but has been completely reimagined as accommodation, including relocating the entrance to a more discreet position. A vast private terrace and smaller balcony both overlook the pool, providing the perfect spot for an undisturbed breakfast and a spot of sunbathing before taking on the day.
If not taken on your balcony then breakfast will be served either by the pool or in Arcadia, the adjoining restaurant. The honey served with this breakfast comes from their own beehives, located in the kitchen-garden just a short walk from the main entrance. Executive Chef Nicola Canuti is passionate about using as much local produce as possible, sourcing many of the vegetables and most of the herbs he uses from the same garden. If you can talk him into a tour you won’t regret it – his enthusiasm is infectious, and his knowledge consumate.
Gastronomy is key to the philosophy of Hotel Byblos, and Canuti is the maestro charged with harmonising all their offerings. After the breakfast service Arcadia is reconfigured and ready for lunch and dinner, where it serves dishes inspired by the Mediterranean location. Petits Farcis – stuffed vegetables, again grown in the garden – are both starters and desserts, depending on the filling. Either option is outstanding, and the differences between them have to be tasted to be believed.
Just down the steps from the pool area is Cucina, an Italian trattoria overseen by Alain Ducasse. Only dinner is served here, but the food is as impressive as the setting. Lights are strung from olive trees to create an almost ethereal atmosphere, and fine Italian cuisine is served alongside a comprehensive wine list.
While the on-site dining options are impressive in their own right, they are not all Byblos has to offer. A ten-minute car journey from the gate, which the hotel is happy to provide, brings you to Byblos Beach in the village of Ramatuelle. The entire structure of this elegant beach club can be dismantled and removed each winter, allowing the ecosystem of the area to recover from the high season, and when open the menu is filled with light seafood dishes – perfect for the heat of the Côte d'Azur in the middle of the day. Cool off with a dip in the ocean then relax on one of the loungers and beds provided, preferably with a cold glass of local rosé to hand.
That rosé, in this case, is provided by Domaines Ott, a 4th generation family run vineyard about an hour down the coast. Their partnership provides bespoke wines to all Byblos restaurants and bars – including the one in your room – and is yet another sign of their commitment to locally-sourced luxury.
Luxury, after all, is what was intended when M. Gay-Para first conceived this wonderful place all those years ago – luxury, and a healthy portion of decadence. Les Caves du Roy, the sprawling nightclub designed for well-heeled guests to dance the night away in, is still exactly that. Revellers flock here each night both from the hotel itself and the other properties around the town, as well as those yachts moored just minutes away. People-watching here is simply magnificent, as the mix of characters is unlike anywhere else.
The French Riviera as a whole is known for its popularity with luxury travellers. Where Saint-Tropez differs from some neighbours along the coast – like Cannes or Monte-Carlo – is in its retention of quaint village charm. It feels truly relaxed, not as posed as other places often are, and Hotel Byblos is the epitome of this. If the attentive nature of the staff, the laid-back service of magnificent food, and a leisurely dip in that pool leave you unconvinced, book in for a massage in the spa. It will truly make this feel like your home away from home on the Côte d'Azur.
Rooms from €480. For more information, see byblos.com