SAINT-TROPEZ, FRANCE: Villa Belrose is an elegantly stunning 5 star luxury hotel in the hills above Saint-Tropez with sweeping views of Saint-Tropez Bay and the village below. Now celebrating its 21st year, this sprawling Florentine villa in the sky features the exquisite Michelin starred restaurant Le Belrose.
Set in a mansion on a hillside in the tony neighborhood of Gassin, Villa Belrose is a landmark property of the prestigious Althoff Hotel collection and a stellar member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Althoff Hotels Villa Belrose: A Florentine Mansion on the Hill
It rises like a golden icon across 5 levels, starting with the stunning main house, to the restaurant level below. Terraced rooms extend above the grassy lawn, leading down to the massive swimming pool, and the sun bathing terrace on a promentary at the bottom of the property. The views from every level are breathtaking.
With just 40 luxury rooms, it is a retreat for the soul and the senses, just above the harbor of St Tropez. Just off shore a collection of large yachts can be seen anchored in the bay, adding to the mythical sense of the region.
Villa Belrose: A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
Hotel manager Robert Jan Van Straaten is a commanding figure who has been at the hotel the last 18 years. With a presence like a movie star, he is the glue that holds together a remarkable team of colleagues.
Winding up into the hill, the entranceway to the hotel looks like a sumptuous mansion in Bel Air or Beverly Hills. The lobby is compact, evoking the charm of an exclusive club or private enclave.
Patterns of red and white marble tiling line the hallways. Two large sitting rooms, impeccably furnished, stretch out on either wing of the entryway, divided by a large vase of fresh orchards.
Villa Belrose: The Grounds
The upper terrace is also the bar area, where guests gather in the early evening for cocktails, relaxing on comfortable settees while gazing off across the Saint-Tropez Bay.
The Michelin starred restaurant Le Belrose fills the center of the second level of the center building. It opens up onto a sweeping terrace where dinner is served in the summer months, flanked by identical grass lawns on either side.
Rooms in the hotel are on the top floor, and on either side of the dining room level. In a lovely architectural flourish, there are two levels of sweeping rooms under the lawn area, on either side of the pool.
Almost every room in the hotel has a terrace or a balcony and floor to ceiling French doors. Rooms are masterfully furnished with brilliant touches and sumptuous bedding.
Villa Belrose: The Pool
A colonnade of steps lead to a vast 200 square metre heated pool of a stirring azure blue. It is a gorgeous environment, the epitome of what might be conjured in the mind when thinking of a luxury hotel in San Tropez.
Beyond the pool the property extends to an oval terrace where chaise lounges are arranged in a semicircle. On the edge of the terrace is the turquoise blue Mediterranean sea, the curving bay, and in the distance the old town of St Tropez.
The atmosphere here is otherworldly. The sense of being transported to a serene environment is palpable. The calming serenity powerfully beautiful. The magnificent grounds and transcendent elegance serves as an eloquent setting for the fine dining experience that lies ahead.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose – Michelin Star Chef Pietro Volonte
Dinner at Le Belrose is a joyous excursion into the cuisine of Michelin starred Chef Pietro Volonte. He has held 1 Michelin star each of the 4 years he has been head Chef here.
Orginally from the Lake Como region of Italy, his growth as a Chef has been exponential. He worked for four years, from age 18 – 22 under Claire Schultz at Gordan Ramseys Royal Hospital in London.
For two years he was head Chef at the restaurant at Versaille. Only 32 years old, his future as a rising master chef in the culinary firmament is assured. He brings flair, precision and style to the kitchen with his own take on contemporary Haute Cuisine.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose: The Restaurant
The restaurant is gorgeously designed, with a trio of French doors and Palladium windows framing the exterior terrace. The dining room extends across the entire floor of the hotel. Polished hardwood floors are accented by walls of grey and cream with an array of mirrors.
A trio of octagonal inlays create a distinctive ceiling, a large one in the middle with two smaller ones on either side. 3 circular light fixtures illuminate the room like giant round Japanese lanterns.
The sun is setting across the bay, golden light reflecting off a trio of yachts offshore. In the distance are the twinkling lights of St Tropez at dusk.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose: The Meal Begins
Matre’d Jonathan Legoff is a buoyant presence, amiable and charming as he welcome guests and orchestrates the experience of the evening.
A Frenchman raised in the Ivory Coast with an Austrian mother and a French Algerian father, he brings an international flair and a sophisticated confidence to the proceedings.
The restaurant has 14 tables in the main restaurant and a number of additional tables on the terrace for summer dining. The room is a alive with animated conversation as it fills with guests.
It has an air of class and elegance as well dressed clientele from at least three countries, Germany, France and the United States, as well as Austria, Switzerland and Italy, are joined together for an exquisite evening of exhilarating Haute Cuisine.
The Althoff group of fine hotels is based in Germany, and the staff here is fluently multilingual. A well heeled group of auto rally enthusiasts are here in the hotel. The parking lot is filled with classic Mercedes, Citroens, and an array of restored automobiles.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose: Pink Champagne and Scottish Scallops
The evening begins with an aperitif of Ruinart pink champagne, its ruby red color matching the glowing sunset. The air of expectation and excitement, stimulated by the setting and surroundings, is palpable.
Sommelier Florian Merlet is an intensely focused and impressive young man who has been here for 5 years. Only 27, he spends the summers working as a Sommelier, and in the winter he is a winemaker in Provence.
The crosspollination of these skills, each of which require years of study and apprenticeship, make him an unusually powerful source of knowledge about wines, bot the making and the drinking.
Fried scallops from Scotland, with small mussels, coriander, and a spring onion salad, set on a bed of Pigna’s beans with a simple crustacean sauce, is a sensational starter course.
The scallops are a succulent treat, with a delicate crust on the outside, and a firm and tender texture on the inside. The beans and mussels provide a delicate counterpoint in flavor profiles.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose: Zuchini flower and Squid Ink Risotto
Zuchini Flowers stuffed with sold cod and mashed potato, flatleaf parsley and fresh lemon peel is a delicate dish with subtle flavoring and an imagined hint of ricotta. Brilliantly prepared, it dazzles with its subtle undertones of flavor.
Risotto “Vialone nano”, with black squid ink, eggplant caviar, stewed cuttlefish, oregano and grapefruit peel is wildly amazing, and sumptuously beautiful to ingest.
The risotto is absolute heaven, a rich dark color from the squid ink, the cuttlefish permeating each bite of this extraordinary dish. A culinary masterpiece from Chef Volonte, reminiscent of an afternoon along the canals of Venice, it is consumed with a gusto reserved for only the finest of Haute Cuisine.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose: Fine Wine and the Main Courses
The meal is accompanied with a wonderful 2011 Nuit St George Clos des Angillieres 1st Cru form Domaine Rion.
Full bodied with a deeply resonant taste, it is bountiful from the first sip, and opens up to full flower over the course of the next three hours.
Monkfish with variations of asparagus, poached oyster with tarragon with a Caviar Baeri and a red bell pepper sauce is a tour de force of fine dining.
The monkfish is slow cooked at low temperature, succulently juicy, tenderly falling apart with each forkful. A cooking technique growing in popularity with top chefs, it is a venture into the next generation of Haute Cuisine.
Ballotine of rabbit, panisse, candied chard with mashed roasted pepper and a red wine Rossese sauce is a remarkable climax. The rabbit is like a fine fillet, firm but delicate, meaty but with the slight taste of rich game.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose: a first class staff
The staff is a synchronized team operating with genial but seamless efficiency, including the younger members. Samara Hidan is 24, in her first season here, but already a veteran of the Allain Ducasse bistro Allard in Paris.
Server Jules Louis is only 18, just starting his career in fine dining, but is preternaturally confident and charming, with a great command of language. The whole team is the sum of the parts, emanating down from Chef Volonte and through the effervescent charm of Matre’d Jonathan Legoff.
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee signals the dessert courses, this world renowned beverage providing a jolt to the senses at the end of the meal.
Le Belrose at Villa Belrose: Dessert and coffee with Chef Volonte
A chocolate mousse with green apple, vanilla balm and caramelized onions is irresistible. A delight to consume, and richly decadent, it disappears in the blink of an eye.
Terrine of apple confit with coriander, peanut panna cotta and mango sorbet is a finale worthy of a grand evening. Luscious, flavorful, but not sweet, it exemplifies the subtle culinary sophistication widely apparent at Le Belrose.
Chef Volonte joins the table for a conversation. A genial man, passionate about his cooking, he transcends nationality and influences with a sophisticated palette that finds definition here at Villa Belrose.
Villa Belrose: Part of the prestigious Althoff Hotel collection
The Althoff Group operates a small number of 5 star hotels in Germany, here in St Tropez, and in London. Incredibly, two of its restaurants hold three Michelin stars, and one holds two Michelin stars.
Villa Belrose and the St James in London each hold one Michelin star. All incorporate a level of passion and sophisticated brilliance thatg are the hallmark of a great hotel group.
The lights of St Tropez twinkle in the distance, and the Mediterranean reflects a glowing moonlight across the bay as the evening comes to an end.
Villa Belrose captures the imagination with its magnificence, its unique location, and the transcendent feeling of a grand boutique hotel that feels like home.
Villa Belrose www.villa-belrose.com @VillaBelrose
Althoff Hotels www.althoffhotels.com @AlthoffHotels
Small Luxury Hotels of the World www.slh.com. @SLHLuxuryHotels
Air France flies direct to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and from there to the rest of France and all of Europe from Washington, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of American cities.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds. @BigAlPeoplesPal