Open the Hotel Byblos book and you’ll be greeted by a black and white photo of a shaggy haired man on a Honda Japauto motorbike. He’s not in full leathers – in fact, the only thing he’s wearing are boots.
This should be enough to tell you that the Byblos is not your average luxury hotel. For starters, most don’t have a hard-back weighty tome dedicated to their history, peppered with the biggest stars of film and music of the last five decades.
One of only a handful of establishments awarded ‘palace’ status for “embodying French standards of excellence”, there is nothing average about this 51-year-old institution.
It has everything you’d expect for its 5 stars, and then some, but it’s the backstory of unrequited love, high-stake business deals, wild weddings and celebrity excess, that set it firmly apart.
The rock n’ roll history
Like a surprising number of things in St Tropez, the story of the Byblos begins with its most famous resident, Bridget Bardot.
Enter Lebanese businessman Jean-Prosper Gay-Para, who does what any multi-millionaire businessman besotted with a young actress would: builds a sumptuous hotel to woo her.
The Byblos is born – like a village within a village, its rooms (then and now) overlook a central courtyard, jasmine-scented walkways hide high-end boutiques, and the ceramics of Roger Capron, a Picasso prodigy, adorn the grand staircase and pool.
A three day party for the opening is held in 1967, which legend has it – and in a case of disastrous mistiming – Bardot misses due to being on honeymoon with one of her four husbands.
That same winter, with war raging in Lebanon, Gay-Para sells-up to the current owners, the Floirat family, and the rest is history. Most notably, Mick’s wedding to Bianca Jagger in 1971; the wild afterparty taking place in the saloon bar.
Constructed from 17th-century marquetry panels transported from a Lebanese palace, it’s now part of the extensive on-site Sisley-branded spa.
Luxury in every room
“We had 59 keys, now we have 91,” says general manager, Stéphane Personeni, “and no two rooms are the same.” Every chambre a lottery of tasteful decor, and intriguing features, mezzanines and balconies, in which every guest wins. But the jackpot is the Missoni Home Suite.
Revamped by the Italian fashion house – at 180 square meters, it comes with its own sun terrace and sweeping balcony overlooking the pool. It was here a nonchalant Mick Jagger was snapped in the early 70s. Today, rock stars are joined by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, moneyed Brazilians, and oligarchs, in treating to themselves to a stay in the suite (and from €5,000 to €10 000 a night, a treat it is).
At the heart of St-Tropez
Perched high on a wooded hill, most rooms at the Byblos enjoy a vista of St Tropez.
A byword for luxury and decadence since the 50s – July and August aside – the town retains a laid back Riviera feel: old men throwing boules in the square, dangerously beautiful women in stripey tops shopping for bread (albeit in bakeries sandwiched between Hermes and Dolce & Gabbana).
The rich and famous can walk “incognito”, says Stéphane, from the hotel, and a few minutes later be rubbing shoulders with locals in the market, and making questionable impulse buys of Marseille soap and ‘Keep calm I’m in St-Tropez” t-shirts.
Walk through the 18th century old town, and you could be in any idyllic French resort, until you turn the corner and you’re met by the sight of a flotilla of multi-million-pound yachts (the £9.5m Black Sails turning heads on our visit) bobbling alongside wooden day cruisers in the harbour.
Provenance at the Rivea restaurant
The yacht crowd, we’re told, are frequent visitors at the hotel’s Rivea restaurant. Overseen by collector of Michelin stars, Alain Ducasse, the GJ are treated to a tour of the kitchen by head chef Vincent Maillard.
The late great AA Gill once lamented the death of “the French’s obsession with the finest things, that could be grown, picked, plucked or bottled.”
But it appears to be alive and well in Vincent. He tells us how he spends his winters (the hotel is closed from mid October to late April) sourcing the best charcuterie across the country, and smuggling contraband pure alcohol over the Italian border to make fennel digestivo.
This provenance shines throughout the menu. Gamberoni and rock octopus, coco bean with rosemary; grilled young pigeon, caramelised turnips, salmis; black risotto and clams; and famous Tropezienne cake. It’s a tour de force of good taste.
Something which can’t be said for Les Caves du Roy – the Byblos’ very own nightclub next door. Here discerning musical preferences should be left in the cloak room and punters be prepared – like Elton John, Bruce Willis, Grace Jones, and Leonardo DiCaprio before – to party like it’s 1968 in a palace of glass palm trees and glow in the dark champagne buckets, while a giant mirror ball rotates above.
Peace and partying
Whether it’s peace or partying, wellness or excess, you can find it at the Byblos, as rock stars, business leaders, oligarchs, families and naked motorcyclists have done before.
Since those heady days of the early 70s, Mick and his band have toured the world, while the world has come to the Byblos; a welcome oasis of luxury and perfection on the Cote d’Azur.
Rates for a Classic Double Room (for two people) at Hotel Byblos, range from €480 to €855 a night. A junior Suite (for two people) €910 € to €1,600.