Like the movie stars who put it on the map, St-Tropez is smaller in the flesh than you might imagine. Watching locals play late-afternoon boules in the town square, dwarfed on every side by sea, sky and rugged Provençal mountains, it's hard to reconcile this place with its fabled excesses (until you realise that those rustic, cobbled alleys are lined with designer brands, or you take a closer look at the prices on the menus).
And although the mental image summoned by the mention of St-Tropez is these days less Brigitte Bardot and more Paris Hilton, the charm that earned the Côte d'Azur town its status as a seasonal colony of the rich and famous has not diminished.
The Hotel Sezz, an offshoot of the ultra-designy eponymous Paris hotel, is a blend of these contradictory Tropezien elements, resolutely nonchalant while tacitly asserting its prestige at every turn. To this end, there is no reception desk; you're met instead by a "personal assistant", who takes care of your stay, organising treatments in the spa for sybarites, yoga lessons for fitness freaks or, for serious gastronomes, dinner at Colette, the Sezz's swanky restaurant, overseen by star-chef Pierre Gagnaire. Bon vivants will also be glad to hear that there's no gym, but you can flex your biceps, and your credit card, at the poolside Dom Pérignon champagne bar.
If it all sounds a bit flashy, it doesn't look it – aesthetically, the Sezz pays due respect to its environment. The 35 single-storey rooms, each with a terrace and some with a private plunge pool, plus two villas (complete with two bedrooms, a garden, pool, Acqua di Parma toiletries, and Nespresso machine) are set around a central pool and surrounded by pines, eucalyptuses and gardens, so it all feels comfortingly secluded, even for those of us in no danger of being papped on a sun-lounger.
Low, grey sandstone buildings echo the silvery bark of the olive trees, and the enormous glass windows acknowledge that the quality of the light is what makes this part of the world so lovely. Nevertheless, the futuristic loungers and oversized vases that glow on the terrace after dark are a reminder that this place is ultimately a temple to culture, not nature.
The hotel is a five-minute drive from St-Tropez. Free transfers to and from town are available until about 10pm, or you can borrow one of the chic white bicycles. Walking after dark is not advisable, since the road the hotel is on has no pavement and is unlit. I came unstuck here, coming back at midnight. The hotel offered to call me a taxi, which added a whopping €30 to my night out.
The nearest airports are at Toulon (by the beach in Hyères, 55 km from St-Tropez) and Nice (98 km).
When is a room not a room? When, according to Sezz it's a "cocoon".
"Conceptual twaddle!" I thought, then had to admit it was apt. The wall behind each bed curves gracefully back to form the ceiling before hitting the opposite glass wall, which opens on to your private garden.
The designer behind Sezz, Christophe Pillet, is a protégé of Philippe Starck, and his work here is thoughtful, creating a cosy but cool feel with pale stone, marble and wood and a "1950s colour code".
Another highlight: the bathrooms – yes, plural. Inside, you'll find half the floor is stepped to create a swimming pool of a bath. Outside, you can shower while gazing up at the palm trees. My only quibble was with the mixer taps that sent a torrent down into the shallow basin, then straight back out again on to your clothes. I normally blame such impracticalities on male designers, but since a sodden crotch is a more damning look for a bloke, I'm not sure who to pin that one on.
Hotel Sezz, Route des Salins, St-Tropez, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur (00 33 4 94 55 31 55; hotelsezz-sainttropez.com and designhotels.com).
Double rooms start at €400, including breakfast.Reuse content