24-hour room service: Villa St Elma, Les Issambres, France

The Cote d'Azur has always been a curiously tricky place to find a romantic hotel. If you happen to be an oil magnate, you can choose from all manner of glitzy hotels. But those of lesser means can end up pushed inland, away from the beaches, or stuck in characterless modern places, which might as well be in Newbury. The Villa St Elme is the exception so it comes as little surprise that the owner spent years looking for the site. Perched on the coast between St Tropez and Cannes, this is an area that is dotted with beautiful villas but, until recently, few nice hotels.

The Cote d'Azur has always been a curiously tricky place to find a romantic hotel. If you happen to be an oil magnate, you can choose from all manner of glitzy hotels. But those of lesser means can end up pushed inland, away from the beaches, or stuck in characterless modern places, which might as well be in Newbury. The Villa St Elme is the exception so it comes as little surprise that the owner spent years looking for the site. Perched on the coast between St Tropez and Cannes, this is an area that is dotted with beautiful villas but, until recently, few nice hotels.

The first thing that strikes you is it really is on the sea, below the coast road that winds between the towns. You could dive in to the Mediterranean straight from your bedroom - though you'd break your nose in the shallow water - and the view is utterly tranquil, with nothing but calm, blue water.

The windows of the dining room, similarly poised on the water's edge, face a different direction and, in the evenings, the lights of St Tropez illuminate the distance beyond the bay. There is a small public beach 50 yards away from the hotel but we preferred the hotel's seawater swimming pool, just above the waves, with a waitress returning with endless refills of refreshing Rosé de Provence.

Hotel dining ought to be compulsory at the Villa St Elme. Angling for a Michelin star, the chef produced a savagely gorgeous tournedos with foie gras and black truffles, in a sauce of mourvedre, the juicy local red grape. Breakfast was not really an option after that, but those who did take it were sitting on a sunny terrace with a view of the sea and the hills, all lined with pine forests.

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION

The hotel is at Corniche des Issambres, 83380 Les Issambres, France, 00 33 494 49 52 52, www.saintelme.com.

If you feel like posing, the Villa St Elme is about 15km from St Tropez. You'll need a car to get around, though. It's 45 minutes' drive from Nice's international airport; rental car is the only way.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

The jacuzzi was so relaxing I wanted to sleep in it but the bed, a four poster, commanded views out of three windows in three directions, and because I couldn't see land beneath me it felt like being on a ship. Some hotels are good bases for exploring a surrounding region. Others provide every facility to help you relax. At the St Elme it's just the simple life: jacuzzis, lounging by the pool, lunch on the terrace, strolls on the beach and astounding dinners. They say there are plenty of sights nearby, but, frankly, when you're in a hotel like this, who cares?

Freebies: I failed to persuade the maid to give me a lifetime's supply of the Bulgari bath gel, but we did get a complimentary glass of vintage pink champagne.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms cost from £100 to more than £300 per night; be sure to ask for one with a view.

I'm not paying that: The Hostellerie Berard, 45 minutes' drive westwards, is another flag-carrier of Provençal cuisine. It's a beautiful old village house 3km from the beach in La Cadiere d'Azur. Doubles start at £51 per night. Contact 00 33 494 90 11 43.

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