The French Riviera is just the spot for a luxurious Gatsby-like getaway. Tracey Nightingale jets off
Great food, fabulous beaches, a world-famous party scene and bucketloads of glamour are always de rigueur on the French Riviera but there’s also charming villages, a rich artistic heritage and some stunning scenery to be discovered around the Cote d’Azur region. What’s more, with just under two hours flying time, you can leave the office on Friday afternoon and be sipping a Cointreau Fizz on the French Riviera by sunset. What better reason than that?
Whether you want a quick autumn getaway or are looking ahead to spring, the French Riviera is glorious before or after the crazy summer months of July and August. Temperatures can reach up to 24oC at the start of October, the sea is still warm for swimming and there’s the added bonus of a lot less people to share a beach with.
The stunning Althoff Hotel Villa Belrose
You really must:
Switch on your out of office pronto. Fly to Nice, and then head down the coast to glorious Cap d’Antibes. With its endless stretch of sand and nods to the Gatsby era, buzzy Juan-les-Pins is a fun place to hang out. It’s busy in summer and heaving in July, when the crowds flock to the renowned annual jazz festival (jazzajuan.com). So if you want some sunbed space visit out of high season, when the pace slows, but the nightlife is still lively. By day, hit the beach and swim in the warm, calm water; by night, take a walk along the promenade, then dine until the early hours at tables on the sand overlooking the picturesque bay. Of course, there is lots more to do here – an excursion to neighbouring Cannes or a boat trip to the enchanting Lérins islands, perhaps – but you can’t beat the little pleasures in life – sunbed, parasol and a chilled glass of rosé.
American literary legend F Scott Fitzgerald found inspiration in this rocky peninsula when he lived here in the mid-20s and you don’t have to go far to see that the legacy of Gatsby lives on through millionaire’s villas nestled in the hills, the A-listers and aristocracy who regularly check into glamorous Eden Roc and billionaire yachts moored up in Port Vauban, Europe’s largest marina (below).
Just behind the marina, Antibes’ medieval walled town is well worth a visit – think cobbled streets, stone buildings, busy little street cafés and stunning sea and mountain vistas. You can see why writers and artists like Monet and Picasso were drawn here. Wander up to the Picasso museum (antibesjuanlespins.com) in the impressive 16th-century Château Grimaldi – the artist’s home for two months in 1946 – and be inspired, like he was, by the view. Then, head down to the covered Provencal market, where painters and sculptors exhibit their work in the afternoon and food sellers set up in the morning. Despite the superyachts in the harbour, chic Antibes is not as flash as St Tropez, so you’re less likely to bump into Kate Moss here than you are in the Place des Lices market. But that doesn’t make it any less alluring. And when you do get that craving for a celebrity fix, St Tropez is beckoning just an hour and a half away.
You simply can’t go to the Cote d’Azur without visiting the most glamorous town in France. And the journey here through pine-tree forests and attractive seaside resorts is as Instagram-worthy as the luxury yachts moored up in the harbour. This once sleepy fishing village was transformed in the 50s into a hedonistic playground for the rich and famous and it hasn’t looked back. Thousands of people throng St Tropez’s narrow streets every day in summer, where the Ferraris are lucky to make it out of first gear, but this doesn’t seem to put anyone off. The yachts, the wild parties, the glitz and glamour make it an exhilarating place to visit. It’s a people-watching paradise and a mecca for designer-label shopping, yet at the same time charming and quaint, with old men playing boules in the shady town square flanked by plane trees, cute independent boutiques and lovely little art galleries.
When the beautiful people aren’t, well, being beautiful in St Tropez, they are looking gorgeous on glorious Pampelonne plage. It’s the longest and most popular beach in the area and everyone flocks here for the white sand, azure water and cool beach clubs. But if the super-rich flaunting their superyachts doesn’t float your boat, you can always head for laid-back L’Escalet and the wild beaches of Cap Taillat – or the hills.
You don’t have to drive far out of St Tropez before the road opens out into rolling countryside and endless vineyards. Follow the signs to Ramatuelle – you’ll see it before you arrive, perched on top of a hill, the terracotta roofs a blaze of orange against the vivid green pine forest. It was built to escape pirates and now tourists come to seek respite from the hordes. The pace is slower here. There are old stone houses, bougainvillea and honeysuckle, and café tables that spill out on to the pavement, tempting you to pull up a chair and while away the hours over lunch.
Neighbouring little Gassin, 4.4km away, is another gem. It’s been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France and has one the narrowest streets in the world, and if that isn’t enough to tempt you here, the outstanding 360-degree view across the entire peninsula and the gulf of St Tropez certainly will. Looking out across the bay, it’s hard to believe this simple village with cobbled streets and shaded square is in the same vicinity as swanky Pampelonne plage, but that’s the beauty of the Côte D’Azur – there’s something for everyone.
Hôtel Belles Rives (Doubles from about £315 a night; slh.com/bellesrives) in jazzy Juan-Les Pins. Immerse yourself in 30s style in the former home of F Scott Fitzgerald, who lived here in 1925 before it was transformed from private villa into a 42-room luxury hotel. The Belles Rives oozes historical charm from the wrought-iron lift cage in the lobby to the intimate Fitzgerald bar with grand piano, original parquet floor and funky leopard-print club chairs. Fitzgerald penned Tender Is The Night while living here and said he was the happiest he’d been for years. Nowadays, joy can be found in the fine sea views, cosy bedrooms with balconies overlooking the bay, Michelin-starred dining in La Passagère (see below) and cocktails on the terrace at sunset. There is also waterskiing, spa treatments, a terrific waterfront restaurant (La Plage) and ample sunbathing opportunities on the jetty, terrace or sandy beach (sunbed hire from about £15 a day).
The beautiful Hotel Belles Rives
If you want to escape the crowds but still be close to the action, check into idyllic Althoff Hotel Villa Belrose (closed from 23 October 2016 to 14 April 2017; doubles from about £360 a night (slh.com/belrose). Nestled in the hills on a private estate just 5km from St Tropez, this fabulous Florentine-inspired villa is an elegant five-star sanctuary that has 40 luxurious bedrooms with Italian marble bathrooms, chic, modern decor and super sea or garden views. There’s a 25m-heated swimming pool, gym, beauty centre, Michelin-star restaurant and sweeping outdoor staircases leading down to the terraces below. Here, you can enjoy breakfast, served with coffee in silver pots, lunch by the pool and superb evening meals (see below). Whatever the time of day, the views across the bay to Sainte-Maxime and St Tropez are magical, and while the towns are tantalisingly close, it’s all too tempting to just to hole up here for a while and savour the moment.
There’s no shortage of Michelin stars lighting up the restaurant scene on the French Riviera, so if you want a slice of foodie heaven you’ve landed in the right place. Yoric Tièche, executive chef at La Passagère (Hôtel Belles Rives), received his first Michelin star last year for his elegant Mediterranean-influenced creations served up in an impressive art deco-inspired dining room. On warm, dry evenings, the seating spills on to the terrace overlooking yachts bobbing in the bay. Book a front-row table in advance, and then dive into the six-course Grand Blu menu (about £75). Highlights include sautéed monkfish cheek with a passion-ginger dressing and tasty sea bass and coral sausage, finished with dreamy desserts by Gault & Millau pastry chef of the year Steve Moracchini. His award-winning pastries can also be ordered at the hotel’s La Plage restaurant, which, with its enviable location right on the water, is also a popular spot for lunch and a cooling Aperol Spritz.
Along the coast at the Michelin star La Belrose restaurant (Althoff Hotel Villa Belrose), chef Pietro Volontè is also cooking up a storm with creative cuisine that nods to his Italian roots. Try the signature risotto served in a Parmesan wheel, the heavenly Esprit à l’Italienne menu (about £100) or the stunning seven-course Menu Dégustation (about £125). The cheese trolley is epic and so is the wine list (there are over 500 to choose from). And the combination of dining al fresco and romantic sea views make it the go-to destination for dinner à deux.
If the twinkly lights of St Tropez lure, Cave du Roy (open from mid-April 2017) is the place for all night dancing. Sénéquier is another institution. Brigitte Bardot placed this harbour-front café firmly on the celebrity map in the 50s and it’s still the place to see and be seen. So too is Pampelonne beach. Key West beach club stays open all year and has a cool vibe and great Mediterranean menu. Before you head home, you must try the famed tarte tropézienne, a rich cream-filled brioche (hey, you are on holiday). It’s sold in most bakeries, but the finest can be found at Marcel Cavazza (29 bis Rue Georges Clemenceau). And if you want the best gelato in town, head to Barbarac (2 Rue Général Allard). There’s a huge variety to choose from, including strawberry cheesecake, lemon tart and iced tea – was that one scoop or two, madam?
Straw bags, olive oil and boho beachwear from St Tropez’s Place des Lices flea market (Tuesday and Saturday mornings 10am-1pm); Rondini made-to-measure sandals (rondini.fr); Provence rosé and gastronomic goodies from Antibes’ Provencal market (Tuesday-Sunday, 6am-1pm).
Hôtel Belles Rives and Althoff Hotel Villa Belrose are members of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (0800 0482 314). EasyJet flies from London Gatwick to Nice from about £65 return in October. Car hire is available through Affordable Car Hire (0345 9000 420), which offers car hire in 192 countries, across 30,000 locations. Prices start from £15 per day for a four-door Fiat Punto or similar in the South of France.