This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
La Réserve in Ramatuelle, over the cusp weekend of September/October. Good. The St Tropez peninsula will be awash with the party crowd from Les Voiles de St Tropez for the season’s last laugh. Very good. Glitch in the works: Météo-France forecasts BIG rain. Bad. Then again, and to paraphrase Woody Allen: ‘Boy-meets-girl in the sunshine – could be platonic. Boy-meets-girl in the rain – could be serious.’
Luckily for Mr and Mrs Smith, Météo-France’s Monsieur Poisson had got it wrong. But the Franco-Swiss owners of La Réserve have got it right, very right, creating a remarkable, modern-aesthetic hotel of 23 rooms and 11 villas in a private domain of 14 acres.
If you thought the Swiss only made cuckoo clocks and played cache-cache with money, you’d be off the mark. They also possess an incomparable eye for a site: we get jaw-stretching views of a wine-dark Mediterranean, parasol pines and olive trees of near-Biblical age. This isn’t hyperbole – the setting of La Réserve is spectacular.
La Réserve has turned the clocks back where it matters (setting, service, calm, space) and forward to where it matters, too (comfort, design, decor, privacy, grasping when less really is more). And there’s a spa, as well – the size of Leamington – with an in-house doctor to advise on body-streamlining treatments, in serious French style. However, our arrival on a sleepy fin de saison Sunday didn’t augur too well. The carpark told its own predictable story: Geneva plates and Monaco’s dinky sky-blue ones. I shuddered. The plastic was melting already, and we hadn’t even crossed the sleek threshold. We were ushered into the CinemaScope lobby, and swept along by the panorama of the Baie de Bonporteau to suite 21. Mr Smith immediately spied the bar’s long balcony looming above, which rendered the 60-square- metre private terrace not so, er, private.
‘Thank you for the upgrade to this suite, mademoiselle, but could you please downgrade us?’ Mrs Smith had never heard those words before. A perplexed smile, perhaps, but we were ushered straight out; the Swiss management have napalmed the infamous St Tropez arrogance. So, off we trotted to a junior suite, a snip at €840. Smaller, yes, but perfect. For traditionalists like this Mr and Mrs Smith, it had an instant calming effect, clutter-free in cream and neutral tones, with expanses of dark wood. No print curtains, and not a generic painting in sight. No need – the design, our private 30-square-metre lawned terrace, the view of the Mediterranean and Cap Taillat was enough, and more. We both flopped onto the bed with contented grins.
Given the choice of lunch or dinner, we prefer ‘long lunch’. Invigorated by the sea air, we mooched up to the bar. Freshly made Rossinis (juice from strawberries, not cartons) in hand, we impolitely peered down into the gardens of suites 20–23, grateful for our downgrade. (This ‘private but not really’ dottiness, we are assured, will be rectified before long.)
Lunch: suffice to say, nouvelle cuisine is alive and well here, at nouveau-riche prices. Our sea-bass for two was an eye-popping €112, and a bottle of Château Pampelonne rosé (which you can guzzle for a fraction of the price at the eponymous winery, 10 minutes away), was €50. Even by St Tropez standards, that kind of mark-up could feel like trop-to-pay, if you weren’t feeling flush. The service at every meal was slick, polite and bilingual. However, were you here for much more than a long weekend, the almost curt lunch and dinner menu might prove challenging.
The toss of a coin determined our next move: Mr Smith to the spa and Mrs Smith to the pool. Hewn from the living rock, the spa is quite extraordinary. Here are the stats: 1,000 square metres, 13 treatment rooms, 24 different treatments, indoor heated pool, hammam and a gleaming gym full of contraptions and wizardry. The massage itself: sublime. I even slept the sleep of the innocent. Mrs Smith was equally laudatory about life poolside. She had ensconced herself at the eastern end, overlooking the grounds and the sea. No white plastic furniture here – rather soft, industrial-sized beanbags, and fabric-and-wood loungers with plump towels. Pool boys are on hand to provide free (yes!) bottles of Evian, and the pool itself is long and shallow and ideal for relaxing.
La Réserve Ramatuelle is magnificent. At their peril, fine hotels forget detail, detail, detail. It’s the dinosaurs who cling to location, location, location. Here’s a tale: we returned from supper (don’t skip sunset cocktails, whatever you do) to find the perennial cat’s cradle of Mr Smith’s headphones painstakingly untangled. As neat as fresh snow trails, they’d been placed on the desk. From any hotel, anywhere, that’s impressive. Then, they went one step further. They did not deposit any platitude and/or chocolate on the Siberian goose pillows. Sometimes, it’s what a hotel doesn’t do that makes it really impressive.