The French Riviera is a special sliver of the world. The light on the sun-drenched Côte d’Azur has a luminosity that has drawn everyone from Matisse and Picasso to Signac and Seurat to paint its glittering seascapes. The region has also seen its fair share of writers pass through in search of sticky days and wild nights – F. Scott Fitzgerald based his fourth and final novel, Tender is the Night, on the Riviera having spent much of the 1920s there, while W. Somerset Maugham, Edith Wharton and Vladimir Nabokov all immortalised the Riviera in literature, with Maugham calling it “a sunny place for shady people”.
While Monaco and Monte Carlo are synonymous with cocktails, casinos and corruption, mere minutes from St. Tropez lies a tranquil hideaway in the tiny village of Ramatuelle offering all of the beauty of the Riviera minus the bustle. Owned by hip hotelier Michel Reybier, who counts esteemed Bordeaux estate Château Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe among the jewels in his well-endowed crown, the five star La Réserve Ramatuelle has such a calming effect on its guests that they practically have to be dragged out on the way home.
Boasting just 28 rooms, 19 of which are suites, its restaurant, La Voile, was recently awarded a Michelin star, which is no mean feat considering that head chef Eric Canino shuns the use of two of the pillars of French cuisine: butter and cream, in his dishes. Designed by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the hotel is incredibly Zen – you get the feeling that the placing of every last pebble has been thoughtfully considered.
A sister site to the original La Réserve on lake Geneva and newcomer La Réserve Paris, action at Ramatuelle is centred around an expansive spa offering an array of treatments, from vivifying Crème de la Mer facials to Thai massages, reflexology, jet showers, scrubs and body wraps. Post massage, guests can make the most of the indoor and outdoor pools, hammam and steam room, if they’re able to stay awake after all of their knots have been blissfully untied.
Living a frenetic urban existence in London spent rushing around to a soundtrack of bleeps from a phone keeping me connected to an avalanche of information I feel obliged to wade through, I stepped out of the taxi on arrival at Ramatuelle sun starved and utterly frazzled with more knots than a naval recruit on training day. Would the hotel prove the elixir I was desperately seeking?
Soon after arriving we were shown to our rooms, though apartment would be a more accurate description of my luxurious suite, which was larger than my flat in Chiswick. Leaving the porter with a grin as wide as the Cheshire Cat, I set about exploring my expansive abode. Tastefully designed with a neutral palate of white, beige, taupe and grey (Kelly Hoppen would approve), the most exciting features of the exquisite space were the gigantic bath that could comfortably fit all of the Beckhams, and a terrace with a heart-stoppingly beautiful view of the Med; a broad brushstroke of blue lustfully licking the shore.
Donning my fluffy white dressing gown and monogrammed slippers, I headed to the spa for a full body massage that promised to activate cell regeneration and ease muscle tension. Given the choice of almond, coconut or macadamia nut oil, I sniffed all three and opted for the coconut. My French masseuse proceeded to slather me in it to the ethereal whispers of Enya, weaving her magical fingers in rhythmical patterns, leaving me feeling like a Bounty bar ready to be devoured.
The next day I signed up to the terrifying sounding “Nordic boot camp”, which was mercifully far less spartan than it seemed. Leading our power walk was dashing young Frenchman Benjamin, with eyes as blue as the Med and a chest you could grate Comté on, or at least that’s the impression I got from his tight black t-shirt. Fresh from a winter season in St. Barts, Benjamin took us on a two-hour trek along Ramatuelle’s rugged coastline to get our blood pumping and lungs filled with sea air. The walk ended with some roadside stretching with the aid of our Norwegian hiking sticks, much to the amusement of passers-by.
That evening I put on a sailor dress and headed into St. Tropez to walk among the shady pines, bobbing boats and super yachts, stopping to drink in the view with a glass of Provençal rosé. The fishing village is still bewitched by Brigitte Bardot, who propelled St. Tropez to global fame in 1956 when she appeared in And God Created Woman; you can’t walk five paces without spotting her in a Warhol-style screen print or gracing a coffee cup. While it was lovely to watch the sun sink into the harbour, I found myself itching to get back to the hotel to enjoy the last few delicious hours I had left ensconced in its soothing cocoon.
On the last morning of my stay, after a simple breakfast of fresh orange juice and Greek yoghurt with tart raspberries, I spent my final hour trying to commit the view from my terrace to memory. Looking in the bathroom mirror that morning, my eyes seemed brighter and my skin was glowing from a mixture of much-needed vitamin D and a decadent Crème de Mer facial. After only 48 hours in its grip, both my body and mind were in much better shape than when I arrived, having had the chance to recharge and unwind. Usually quick to fire up my iPod on entering a hotel room, here I found solace in the silence. Out on the terrace, all I could hear were chirping birds, buzzing bees and the faraway hum of a lawnmower. Before making my way inside, I sat and watched a solitary sailboat cut lazily through the big blue until it slowly drifted out of view.
Deluxe rooms at La Réserve Ramatuelle start at €780 per night (not including breakfast). + 33 4 94 44 94 44. For more information, visit www.lareserve-ramatuelle.com.
British Airways flies daily to Nice from London Heathrow from £92 including taxes. For details and booking, visit www.ba.com.