In St. Tropez, where decadence reigns supreme, it isn't easy being an ordinary civilian. In this small fishing hamlet on the French Riviera, one has to brave traffic jams, endure crowded bistros and wade through an endless parade of bathing beauties straight out of the pages of Vogue. Although a new legion of Naomi Campbells continues to flock to this chic seaside playground, it's still possible to relax and relish the beauty of the French Riviera at the Hotel Byblos, the Côte d'Azur's lavishly appointed cigar Shangri-la.
Nestled on a hillside only a few steps from the fashionable boutiques on the Place des Lices, St. Tropez's main shopping area, this red, ocher and blue bougainvillea-and-lavender-shaded haven is a complex of multileveled houses, most of which sport duplex suites with Soleiado furnishings, Jacuzzis and terraces overlooking a swimming pool. Throughout this captivating, Middle Eastern-themed property (the original owner, a Lebanese businessman, was a bon vivant) and its souk-like maze of corridors are Syrian tablets, antique Persian rugs, mother-of-pearl-encrusted Moroccan furnishings and a colorful array of Iranian mosaics.
Although the hotel's ambience seems straight out of The Arabian Nights, this is still "Saint Trop," as the locals like to say, and that means spirited action poolside. Flanked by Le Byblos restaurant and a patio bar with humidors offering a wide range of Cuban Cohibas, Montecristos and Partagas, this jasmine-scented watering hole is a magnet for jet-setters, a temple where sun worshippers splash in the cooling waters, savor the culinary wizardry of executive chef Georges Pelissier, and watch the world go by.
The poolside atmosphere is France at its most sensual. Statuesque tanned goddesses returning from jaunts to Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana parade designer originals. After settling into seats next to the piano bar, the masculine audience lights long cigars, partakes of Martinis, pastis, or Campari, and savors the head-spinning ballet of frocks and fantasy.
But since a man can't feast on visual pleasures alone, Pelissier's award-winning cuisine, which includes such dishes as oysters in a thick, creamy, radish-infused sauce, a grilled dorade in olive oil, crabmeat on a bed of avocado, and a Provençale-style redfish with risotto, is also worthy of the festive surroundings.
After sampling such epicurean delights, guests can choose from several diverting activities nearby such as playing golf, shopping at fashionable boutiques, or savoring a cigar while strolling along the Place des Lices. Then again, one can always relax poolside and talk cigars with the other guests.
The jovial mood carries over to dinner, at either Le Byblos or the less formal pizza, pasta and steak brasserie, Le Relais des Caves du Roy. During the summer, the hotel pays a one-month tribute to Morocco by inviting chefs from that country's fabled La Mamounia hotel to cook Arabic lamb and fish dishes. Each eatery boasts a distinguished wine list, featuring such regional and classical favorites as reasonably priced Puligny Montrachets, Pomerols and Paullacs, along with an extensive list of Cognacs and vintage Armagnacs.
Once those veal chop, lobster or beef with foie gras dinners conclude, revelers typically return to the candlelit bar to enjoy spirited piano music--and to wait for the night's real entertainment to begin at Les Caves du Roy, the town's hottest nightclub.
Another nonstop Champagne and cigar party, this European take on New York's legendary Studio 54 will satisfy any desire to be among the fashionable crowd. But even if that carousing spells de ne pas déranger warnings on your hotel door the following morning, make no mistake about interpreting the Byblos's true spirit. Not only inviting and convivial, the Byblos epitomizes a rollicking devotion to the pleasure principle.--Edward Kiersh
Edward Kiersh is a Florida-based writer and a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.
Avenue Paul Signac-B.P. 160-83991
Phone (33) 4 94 56 68 00
Fax (33) 4 94 56 68 01
Rates Single $300 and up, double $382 and up, double deluxes $525, suites from $1,100 to $1,450