When the brightly lit bustle of St Tropez gets too much, La Réserve Ramatuelle is your release, offering heart-stoppingly magnificent views over the Med from a crow’s-nest setting just outside the city. The spectacular spa is the star performer, but the imaginative detox-friendly cuisine and the modern all-white rooms turn out memorable supporting roles.
27, including 19 suites. There are also 14 villas available to rent.
Noon; check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £2914.79 (€3,400), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €4.51 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include buffet breakfast.
La Réserve à la Plage, the hotel's Philippe Starck-designed beach club, is about 15km away on Saint Tropez's famous Pampelonne beach; ask the concierge to reserve a seat on the free shuttle, which runs from 10am to 10.30pm.
November to March.
At the hotel
Spa, gardens and terrace, free WiFi throughout, book and DVD libraries. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, preloaded iPod, free bottled water, pillow menu in suites.
Our favourite rooms
Every room is decorated in a palette of muted minks, taupes and crisp whites, and looks out over the ocean. We’re keen on the Junior Suites with their jaw-dropping Mediterranean panoramas and floor-to-ceiling windows, but if you’re travelling en famille or just feeling plush, Suite Camarat is one of the biggest boudoirs in the house, with two bedrooms, a homely lounge area and a terrace the size of Cannes. Maybe slightly smaller.
Order a drink from the bar, sink into one of the beanbags around the heated outdoor pool, and lazily contemplate a lap or two. Indoors, the spa’s pool has a jet lane.
The La Réserve spa is a cut above: choose from 24 different treatments including balneotherapy and fangotherapy (volcanic-mud fun), drift away during a massage or purify your pores in the steam bath.
Missoni swimsuit, superstar-in-waiting sunglasses, and a determination to detox.
Two rooms are wheelchair-accessible.
Kids are welcome. Cots can be provided free and extra beds for older children cost €210 per night. Babysitting can be arranged with a local nanny for €20 an hour.
Make sure to get a table by the glass doors to make the most of the Med views.
Keep it pure and simple: post-beach chic, crisp linens and minimal make-up. Sun-kissed skin is a must.
Dining is a relaxed affair with food served both in the softly lit lounge and on the terrace under breeze-rippled canopies. Helmed by chef Eric Canino, mod-Med restaurant La Voile (the sail) charts a course towards reimagined Provençal classics, including calamari and cuttlefish in basil-laced tomato sauce, ginger-infused langoustines and whole Mediterranean sea bass. Enjoy seaside lunches of ceviche and grilled shrimp, and leisurely dinners of the chef’s multi-course tasting menu – the kitchen will work with the spa to offer you a menu attuned to your body’s biorhythms. Breakfasts – Continental spreads of freshly baked breads and pastries, fruit, eggs and yogurts – are also served on the terrace. There’s also a poolside Italian eatery that serves light lunches of gnocchi, risotto and burrata. From April to October, the hotel's Pampelonne beach club outpost, La Réserve a la Plàge, serves Mediterranean sharing dishes like grilled catch of the day and vegetables from the hotel's vegetable garden.
Cocktails are served on the terraces and in the lounge-ish lobby, where enormous picture windows let in views of green hills and blue sea.
Food is served from 7.30am to 10pm and the bar is open until 2am; drinks can be ordered any time in the lobby or around the pool.
A selection of starters, mains and desserts from the restaurant menu is available 24 hours a day.
The hotel is an hour’s drive from Toulon airport (www.toulon-hyeres.aeroport.fr), and 90 minutes from Nice (www.nice.aeroport.fr).
The nearest station is at St Raphäel, an hour’s drive away. For theTGV, get off at Les Arcs and take the shuttle service to St Tropez.
Getting to La Réserve by car can be a challenge: the traffic can be the stuff of nightmares on the N98 towards St Tropez. Take the motorail from Calais (see the motorail page on www.seat61.com) to Avignon or Nice and carry on from there. There’s free parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
It’s easy to forget about the outside world in the spoil-yourself spa and pools of La Réserve but the shops and beaches of St Tropez are worth a trip (although the traffic and crowds during summer might make you think twice). When you're ready for a gentle retox, take the free shuttle to the hotel's pretty Pampelonne beach club: La Réserve à la Plage's Philippe Starck design personifies barefoot glamour. By day, there are sunny, Mediterranean sharing dishes paired with the requisite crisp glasses of rosé; in the evenings, you'll find Riviera glamour, live music and champagne. For a more off-the-beaten-track excursion, visit the lighthouse at Cap Camarat, just a few minutes’ drive away: it’s the second largest in France and on a clear day you can see Corsica from the top. Afterwards, quench your thirst and give your taste buds a treat with a visit to a local cave to sample wine from the region: Château de Pampelonne (+33 (0)4 94 56 32 04) and Château Minuty (+33 (0)4 94 56 12 09), both in Gassin, 13km away, produce excellent rosé.
Drive (or take the free hotel shuttle bus), to Pampelonne beach seven kilometres away for the area's most acclaimed eateries. Chez Camille (+33 (0)4 98 12 68 98), dishes up fantastic bouillabaisse.
People-watch (Gucci-spot) in the velour-furnished intimacy of Café de Paris, overlooking the St Tropez port (+33 (0)4 94 97 00 56), or escape from the crowds in Octave Café, in Place de la Garonne (+33 (0)4 94 97 22 56), a low-key piano bar that channels Fifties film-star fabulousness.
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.