Inside the Hotel Byblos, the hotel in Saint-Tropez that is nothing short of legendary
The Byblos Hotel was built in the 1960s to woo Brigitte Bardot, and in 1971 hosted Mick and Bianca Jagger’s wedding reception. In all this time, it never stopped swinging, writes Edwin Smith
By the pool, an Englishman with a northern accent and an expensive watch is reading a book called I’m a drug lord. Not far from him, seated, an impeccably dressed Frenchwoman of a certain age is joined for a late lunch by her bichon frize. A young Russian woman maneuvers her deckchair at the exact spot which, later, will capture the last rays of the early evening sun.
These, at least today, are the inhabitants of the “village within the village” that is Hotel Byblos – a jewel in the crown of Saint-Tropez. They are in good company. Since the hotel was founded in 1967 by Lebanese billionaire Jean-Prosper Gay-Para, anyone has stayed here.
According to legend, Gay-Para opened Byblos in order to woo Brigitte Bardot, whose 1956 film And God created the woman was filmed in the city. In this endeavor, he found himself in competition with German playboy Gunter Sachs, who allegedly used a helicopter to scatter thousands of red rose petals at Bardot’s family home in La Madrague on the French Riviera.
Ultimately, Gay-Para’s charm offensive ended in defeat, but since Byblos opened its doors, it has attracted bold names – from Grace Kelly to Jack Nicholson, Cher and Elton John. In 1971, Mick and Bianca Jagger even had their wedding reception here.
Today, Byblos is under the aegis of Antoine Chevanne, CEO of the family business Groupe Floirat. The interiors are overseen by her mother and are beautiful. There’s artwork everywhere – from an exquisite tiled staircase designed by a pupil of Picasso, to paintings (many for sale) that hang all around and a dedicated gallery that features some serious pieces including sculptures by Jeff Koons.
Almost everything in the hotel bears the Byblos logo – from cutlery to salt shakers, from cushions to backgammon sets, from candles to stationery. It could easily be too muchbut the quality of each item is such that the effect is one of extraordinary attention to detail.
There’s no doubt what the star of the 91 rooms and suites is: the Missoni Suite is filled with rainbow-hued sofas, curtains, pottery, bed linens, cushions, bathrobes and of towels. No wonder they used it to film the TV show French Riviera with Julia Stiles and Poppy Delevingne.
The best thing about the suite, however, may be its location within the hotel. Its large bay window and sunny balcony both overlook the swimming pool, itself located in the central courtyard. The balcony is like a stage in the middle of an arena. One of the hotel staff tells me, with a hint of pride, how a group of guests were having such a good time in the suite that they decided to put on a show and dive from the balcony into the swimming pool. Sir Mick would agree.
The food in Byblos is never less than excellent. The poolside restaurant, Arcadia, might be the best of all the options, with its Asian-inspired ceviche among the best dishes. It is the work of Executive Chef Nicola Canuti. But don’t ignore the hot new joint downstairs, Cucina Byblos, orchestrated by Alain Ducasse. When the weather is nice – which is always the case at Byblos, as it’s in St Tropez and closed for the colder months – Cucina serves its Italian-inspired dishes under the trees with lights hanging from their branches.
In 2019, Byblos also opened a beach club on Pampelonne beach, 10 minutes by air-conditioned shuttle from the hotel. Magnificently designed by François Frossard, who also redesigned the hotel’s mythical nightclub, Les Caves du Roy, it is the most aesthetic and comfortable place on the long beach. Considering the strict plastic ban and local environmental regulations, the whole wooden structure is packed in low season, barely leaving a trace.
But on the day of the end of summer when spear visited, it was in full swing – Byblos guests passing from waterside daybeds to linen-covered tables. Almost all seemed equipped with a magnum of rosé. Again, you imagine, Sir Mick would agree.