THE FRENCH RIVIERA
Some hotels, like some people, are so utterly charming that one is entranced by their company. The Villa Belrose is such an hotel. Indeed, when I consider its location, its level of service, the excellence of its food and the civilised nature of its atmosphere, I can think of few hotels which can equal its charm. Everything and everyone is of such high and pleasing quality that, when one is a guest, it is difficult not to imitate the pussy cat with the bowl of cream and simply purr with pleasure. Clearly, this must have a great deal to do with the man in charge. Mr Robert-Jan van Straaten (pictured with your correspondent) is the sort of General Manager who is ‘hands-on’. He is here, there and everywhere. He ensures that everything is exactly as it should be. I salute him – and will even forgive him for not always wearing a tie.
At the top of one of the hills which surround the Bay of St Tropez, the Belrose is reached by driving up a twisting road between some of the most expensive homes in Europe. But, once you reach this gaily-coloured villa in the Florentine style, you will find an atmosphere of exclusive exclusion. The surrounding properties do not impinge at all. And, of course, the views over the sea are enchanting. And you do not need to be right next to the sea, for the Belrose has the largest hotel swimming pool in St Tropez. It is a pool so cleverly set amidst the immaculate grounds that it appears to be a decorative feature of the grandest kind. There is also a luxurious spa, for those who like to disrobe for their pampering.
My room was on the level of the main entrance. Number 403 was a ‘Prestige Double’ and therefore 805€-1,045€ a night bed and breakfast for two, according to season. This was a restrained essay in grey and white, with its walls hung with black and white photographs. The hallway was lined with fitted wardrobes, wherein was my private safe. Lighting was from three table lamps and a standard lamp. In the bathroom I found plenty of red/brown marble, one wash basin, a tub of decent size with a shower over it, a separate loo and lots of Penhaligon’s toiletries.
The bedroom was comfortable, with two large wing chairs covered with a fabric of red-and-white check and a bed which had been made deliciously soft for me. But the bedroom was really an ante-chamber for the terrace. Yes, through the French window was a great and mighty wonder: my very own viewing platform. Here, having chosen my manner of repose from the collection of cushioned chairs and low recliners, I could gaze out upon the beauty of St Tropez Bay. I loved particularly, as the late afternoon became the early evening, the remarkable sight of the distant town blushing a divine pink in the setting sun. La ville rose, seen from the Villa Belrose. In the early afternoons I enjoyed the same view from the main terrace of the hotel – for I tend towards the gregarious after lunch – and sipped my Earl Grey tea from a white porcelain cup made by Fürstenberg.
In the morning the view was more brightly lit, and on the terrace of the restaurant the splendid Pascal pushed the umbrellas this way and that until my table was in the shade, shielded from the rays of the sun. Then, with white napery and blue and yellow crockery by Villeroy & Boch on my table, I tucked into the delicious fare from the buffet: baked custards, pancakes, carrots, walnuts, melon, strawberries, pineapple and the most wonderful bread rolls – all washed down by coffee from silver pots and, of course, my concluding cappuccino.
The quality of this food led me to expect great things at dinner, and that expectation was not disappointed. (And, I need hardly say, the food here has to be good, to compete with magnificence of the view.) My picture shows both the Executive Chef, Pietro Volontè, and the Consultant Chef, Simone Zanoni. The latter commands the stoves of the two-star restaurant in the Trianon Palace Hotel at Versailles. The collaboration between these two gentlemen is producing some very fine food at the Villa Belrose, and I will not be at all surprised if Chef Volontè claims his own Michelin star before too long.
I began with a dish which was certainly of star-quality: langoustine and lobster ravioli, steamed in a Riesling bisque, with lemon marmalade and a bouillabaisse sauce. There was so much here which could have gone wrong, but it was exactly right, and its delicacy, subtle balance of tastes and textures and delightful presentation, made it a thrilling opening to my meal. Then a light tart with seasonal vegetables was almost as good, the accompanying red onion chutney and balsamic vinegar providing just the right ‘lifting’ of flavour. My main course was veal sirloin, cooked slowly with sage and served with celery and truffle millefeuille and mashed carrots with ginger. This was lovely meat, and my only hesitation about the dish was that I would have like more of it. I finished in a traditional manner with a rum baba, enlivened by lemon curd cream and basil gratiné. (These four courses were 188€. A tasting menu is offered for 140€.)
Sommelier Arthur Chabidon has 313 offerings on his all-French list, which include 27 magnums and 18 half-bottles. Prices run from 38€ for a local white (Perle de Roseline, 2013) to 5,100€ for the 2005 vintage of Pétrus and 3,800€ for a magnum of 2008 Cheval Blanc. Other bottles to catch my eye were: Krug Grande Cuvée (450€), 1995 Yquem (600€, half), 2001 Mouton Rothschild (1,950€), 2000 Cheval Blanc (2,250€) and 2006 Haut Brion (1,900€). Among the wine I had poured into the Schott Wiesel glasses was a delicious 2010 red Languedoc-Roussillon Vin de Pays d’Oc. This blend of cabernet, merlot and grenache was big, luscious, forward, bold and tightly packed with intense black fruit (Chateau Mas Neuf – 115€).
After this excellent dinner I returned to my own private terrace and looked up at the stars. The thought came to me then as it comes to me now: The Villa Belrose is a truly charming hotel.
Boulevard des Crêtes, La Grande Bastide, 83580 Gassin/St Tropez, France.
Telephone +33 (0)4 94 55 97 97
Fax +33 (0)4 94 55 97 98
Open: April – October
Double rooms from 485€-725€, according to season, including breakfast
Check the hotel website for the rates for specific dates and for special offers