Villa Marie, St Tropez

St Tropez has become the most popular place for celebrities and stars to holiday in the South of France. For 9 months of the year it is an idyllic seaside town with fresh seafood restaurants, picturesque white sand beaches and quaint museums and shops to look around. But in the heat of the summer everyone descends on this piece of coastline resulting in stifling crowds, awful traffic and tourist ridden beaches. So I have two recommendations for you: visit St Tropez outside of peak season; and stay outside of the main town in Ramatuelle, at the Villa Marie hotel.

This lovely sleepy little place overlooks St Tropez but is removed enough to give you a peaceful holiday – blissfully quiet and perfectly civilised. Villa Marie hotel is part of the sophisticated and traditionally French Sibuet Hotels group, an understated offering of 5* luxury located amongst a seven acre pine forest. There are 45 rooms and suites, each designed and consciously decorated by Jocelyne Sibuet.

We were in a cosy room on the ground floor, with a balcony that opened out to the forest and a path down to the swimming pool. Unusually the bathroom and bedroom were together in one long room, with just a toilet separately. I was delighted to find a wonderfully indulgent free standing bath, which I used at every opportunity to soak and unwind. The bed was gloriously soft and comfortable, and the natural surroundings were blissfully quiet in the night. The pale white, cream and grey colour scheme in the bedroom is subtle and calming, and suits the character of this area of France.

The terrace restaurant looks out to the sea and the menu is simple but focuses on fresh fish and seafood from the area. Drinking the hotel’s own deliciously crisp rose under the starry sky was a real pleasure for our last night in Provence. We chose a few dishes to share, highlights were; the calamari and vegetable tempura, light and crispy with flavoursome seafood inside and accompanied with a creamy rich aioli; and the asparagus and truffle risotto, a dish too tasty to be classified vegetarian. After the delicious dinner we retired to the sitting room inside to test our skills in a competitive game of Scrabble, whilst sipping fresh mint tea.


After an al fresco breakfast of coffee and croissants on the terrace, I enjoyed a brief massage at the hotel’s boutique spa. The shabby chic spa has a beachside feel and stocks all of the Pure Altitude products, the brand founded by owner Jocelyne. I specifically asked to try a treatment which used the range of products, and found the argan and neroli balm to be deeply relaxing and soothing. It was the perfect envigorating morning wake up and I imagine would be a great place to be pampered after a day at the beach.

Villa Marie is open from April to October inclusive every year. Instead of joining the Riviera regulars in the heat of summer, opt for a quieter time of year and enjoy a truly relaxing Provencal holiday.

More information and book a stay here.

Domaine de la Baume, Tourtour

I’m not sure I want to tell you about Domaine de la Baume… This hidden hillside hotel feels like the best kept secret in Provence and is certainly the most magical hotel I have been to in this part of the world. Recently refurbished, my grandparents visited a few years’ ago and have gushed about the idyllic setting and sensational food ever since.

This 18th-century Provençal house is the former home of expressionist artist Bernard Buffet, and painterly memories of his life hang on the walls. Just three kilometres from the village of Tourtour (known as one of the most beautiful villages of France) it is hard not to instantly fall in love with the area. However, you will need a car to reach la Baume, and with only a tiny discreet signpost it is cleverly concealed and almost impossible to find.

The traditional yellow house is located amongst 99 acres of lush land, where a spectacular waterfall is found and the hotel’s olive oil is made. Domaine de la Baume is part of the Sibuet Hotels group and I was impressed to discover how involved the family are in the running of the group. Jocelyne Sibuet is the interior designer for all the hotels and she curates every item personally. She also runs the beauty brand, Pure Altitude, which is used through the bathrooms and spas.

The hotel has 15 rooms and suites, each with its own personality and style. Despite the rustic façade, the inside of the hotel is grand with period-style rooms. We were in the Torero suite downstairs and enjoyed the spacious but cosy feel of the bedroom and living space, equipped with discreet technology (flatscreen TV hidden behind a mirror) and comfortable furniture. The windows open out to wonderful views and aesthetically offer lots of natural light and fresh air. I loved the ensuite bathroom with a lovely big bath and powerful shower. I slept blissfully well at la Baume, catching up on sleep after an extremely busy summer.

There is plenty to do on site, make use of the tennis court and outdoor swimming pool, or simply walk around the Provençal gardens. But should you wish to venture further afield the staff are on hand to give suggestions of the local markets and exciting day trips. Nearby towns Tourtour and Aups are well worth seeing, or drive a little further to the famous Gorges du Verdon for some spectacular sights.

All guests are half-board (breakfast and dinner) which allows you to relax, and very soon after arriving la Baume felt like home. General Manager Davide ensures everyone is looked after and pampered during his or her stay, a trip to la Baume feels special. The chef François Martin and his wife Elodie as Pastry Chef take control of the kitchen and produce the finest food. On the first night we had dinner on the terrace, a beautiful view and starry sky ahead of us. The food is of the highest quality; exemplary produce is treated with respect and care by François. The predominantly Provençal dishes are created with skill and thought. Aubergine caviar to start and a prime but dainty cut of beef for main, with a very special rich meaty sauce.

On our second day at la Baume we were lucky enough to dine at the chef’s table in the kitchen, it was a magical and memorable lunch. My favourite dishes included an unusual purple risotto made with venere rice, ceps, olives and parmesan. It was a comforting bowl of buttery earthy food, and silence fell over the table as we devoured it. Little portions of exquisite meat and fish followed; pork that tasted too tender to be pork, beef that was wonderfully rich yet lean, and sauces that were good enough to drink. Everything looked beautiful and the smells of the kitchen surrounded us. The meal was paired with the Sibuet hotel’s Villa Marie wine, particularly delicious with the selection of local cheeses.

Secluded and stunning, Domaine de la Baume provides the perfect Provençal getaway. The service is quietly meticulous, the setting is sublime, and the food is better than you could ever imagine. Looking out of my window in rainy London, the stay I enjoyed at this fairytale house now seems like a distant dream.

More information and book a stay at Domaine de la Baume here.


The thought of interrupting one’s Provencal holiday with a visit to an exhibition about cities in a stuffy museum doesn’t sound at all agreeable. However Toulon’s Hotel des Arts is an oasis of cool and the current show, Villissima! is a pleasure from start to finish. Curator-philosopher Guillaume Monsaingeon follows up his highly acclaimed 2013 map art show, Mappamundi, with another thought-provoking exploration of geography and how humans transform it.

The exhibition does not take the predictable dystopian approach to urban living instead it attempts to celebrate people’s ingenuity and invention, the pragmatism displayed when we have to share very limited space and the curious cultural results of living together in this close proximity. That is not to say there is a lack of darkness – on entering, one immediately encounters Mathieu Pernot’s photographs of tower blocks frozen in mid-demolition, chilling images of modern buildings in their death throes.

The discrepancies of scale are examined by several artists, most notably in Tony Cragg’s faux minimalist ‘Three Modern Buildings’ made from simple stacks of salvaged breeze blocks, and Julia Montilla’s diminutive city of artfully folded medicine capsule packs.

The insectiness of people streaming down streets, tunnels and staircases is captured brilliantly in Alexey Titarenko’s slow exposure photographs that record the buildings as static but with the crowds as blurred tides washing over them. The complex geometric patterning of the metropolis is enjoyed in the work of many – for instance flatly in the graphic assemblages of Nigel Peake and expansively in the luminous plexiglass city of Bodys Isek Kingeles from the Congo.

Villissima! takes a refreshing new look at city life, proposing that we must accept it, not so much with the cool observational haughtiness of the flaneur but instead as a component in a huge and wondrous organic machine, forever reinventing itself and us at the same time.

Continues at Hotel des Arts, Toulon until 27th September. More information here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Chris Kenny.