Of all the destinations on the French Riviera, there are none quite as socially symbolic as St Tropez. Cannes has its film festival, Monaco has its casinos and Antibes has Hotel du Cap. But the bragging rights of St Trop’, as it’s colloquially known, are a little harder to package – and that’s because there are no particular physical manifestations with which to illustrate it.
The story of how this city rose to fame is one well told, and involves a young Brigitte Bardot, her husband director Roger Vadim and a scandalous one hour and 35 minutes in a sleepy fishing port. This film, And God Created Woman (1956), was not only instrumental in raising the profile of the actress and putting St Tropez on the map, but it’s credited with being one of the first to portray a woman who was sexually liberated – and who acted and dressed how she pleased. That set the tone for what St Tropez would become renowned for – a city of deconstructed social codes and anything-goes behaviour – and soon the masses flocked to the area to channel that attitude.
Although it might not be a physical manifestation of the city itself, Hotel Byblos is a tribute to and an authentic representation of this era – and indeed, it was certainly built with that intention. Like many alive in the 60s, Jean-Prosper Gay-Para, a Lebanese businessman, became infatuated with Bardot and the carefree attitude the city represented, and set about building a palace in honour of the gap-toothed actress. This was designed to bridge the French Riviera and the Middle East – hence the name Byblos, after the ancient port town in Beirut. “Just like ancient Byblos,” Gay-Para said in 1965, “St-Tropez is a place where the arts and fertile creative talents converge. I have dedicated this hotel to these Mediterranean people, past and present, to help perpetuate a wonderful story born of the worship of beauty, love, adventure, human relationships and the renewal of life.”