St-Tropez has been synonymous with jet-set glamour ever since Brigitte Bardot filmed And God Created Woman here in 1955, popularising both the French Riviera and the bikini in one sultry swoop. Today, it remains the place where film stars, rock stars, footballers, supermodels and the super-rich step off their mega-yachts to preen and be seen. But once the partying is done, and the long lenses start to pry, where do the well-heeled turn for privacy and respite?
Tucked around the headland on a secluded forested hill overlooking the Mediterranean, away from the glitz of St-Tropez and the party beaches of Pampelonne, La Réserve Ramatuelle is the perfect place to hole up for some first-class pampering.
This well-hidden, exclusively priced and exquisitely presented luxury spa resort is the newest stablemate of the Geneva and Paris hotels of the same name, owned by the French industrialist, hotelier and winemaker Michel Reybier.
Opened on the site of a former 1950s resort last year to a stunning design by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the buildings convey a nostalgic kind of futurism reminiscent of the Thunderbirds' headquarters. The beige concrete lines and swooping half-pipe of a roof leave you wondering where the hidden launchpads are – beneath the long, narrow infinity pool, perhaps? Or somewhere in the belly of the building, where the 1,000sq m spa and fitness centre are carved out of the rock? You can certainly imagine Lady Penelope coming here to get her strings unwound.
In keeping with the utopian architectural style, the staff are effortlessly poised and polite, informally attired yet smart as a button. The restaurant service is impeccable, the food light and delicious, and the concierge the most helpful man in France. You might imagine that such exclusivity would breed snootiness in hotel staff. Not here. When I arrived with my wife and baby daughter in our 10-year-old VW Golf – the windscreen cracked and smeared with every flying insect from Calais to the Côte d'Azur and the paraphernalia of new parenthood bursting out of the boot – it was never going to be the most stylish entrance. Yet the welcome we received was grace personified. The concierge tracked down a windscreen repair service in minutes, a task which was taking my insurance company days to accomplish.
La Réserve was to provide two nights of luxury on our French driving holiday, and it didn't disappoint. Even a 33cl bottle of Evian gets treated like royalty here: ask for some water by the pool and the little chap arrives in its own clear plastic bag of ice with a draw string, accompanied by a can of Evian face spray – just in case the water alone is insufficient to cool you down (price: €5). This is decadence of the highest order, where the sublime and the ridiculous happily blur – so long as money is no object.
A 15-minute drive from St-Tropez, and an even shorter drive from the beautifully crumbly Provençal hilltown of Ramatuelle, La Réserve surveys the Med from a nature reserve on the south of the St-Tropez peninsula. The estate is dotted with villas that are also available to rent, all serviced by the hotel. The nearest airports are St-Tropez (28km, with flights only to Geneva), Toulon (63km) and Nice (122km). Hotel transfers in a chauffeur-driven car from Toulon and Nice start at €280 one way. The nearest train station is Saint-Raphael, 40 km away, from which transfers are offered for €180 one way.
Minimalist, muted, coolly lit and eminently stylish, the seven rooms and 16 suites range in size from 50 to 100sq m, and frame the panorama perfectly. They are all south-facing, with sea views from private terraces or gardens. Our garden room (number 50) had a huge double bed, a large comfy beige sofa, a Bose iPod dock, a ceiling-mounted flat-screen TV and a white leather swivel chair that any Bond villain would have been at home stroking a cat in.
The bathroom, which ran parallel along the whole length of the room behind a dividing wall, featured a giant spa bathtub and a monsoon shower. This exceptional en-suite aqua-therapy was trumped only by the hotel spa; a subterranean haven with 12 treatment cabins, fitness centre, a series of seaweed baths, an indoor pool with jet streams to swim against or pummel stubborn muscles into submission, hammam, sauna – and a glass model of a shark projecting its own moving image on to a wall.
La Réserve Ramatuelle, Chemin de la Quessine, Ramatuelle, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur, France (00 33 4 94 44 94 44; lareserve-ramatuelle.com)
Doubles start at €650 including breakfast. Spa treatments from €60