It's filled with the wonderful contrasts that come from spending four days experiencing the best of both worlds — the jazzy, blingy, just-a-little-decadent St. Trop (as we super-yacht people call it), and the dream-like former country house of the famous French Expressionist painter Bernard Buffet on its own woodland estate in the Haut Var.
The sun bathed it all in a golden October glow, enormous yachts, stylish slipper launches, tiny dinghies, all filling the small St. Tropez harbour for the Annual Voile (sailing festival). Literally, thousands of boats — including gorgeous, old sailboats with masts 50m high being dwarfed by these vast tank-like pleasure ships. But the cute little harbour takes it all, ‘parking’ them neatly, so the many visitors can enjoy their ‘promenade’ around it all. The locals take it all in their stride, and play boules in the Square under tall, old elm trees like they always have done. And onlookers could pretend they were part of that huge sailing crowd: excitement rising with each new arrival, delicious ice-creams at the ready, to admire the next one sliding in elegantly.
As it was October, the very beautiful people had already left for other hunting grounds, but that made it far more relaxed and manageable. Who wants to sit in traffic for two hours to cross the village for Cannes, as is normal for July?
What bliss then, to leave even those crowds behind and just 10 minutes away, enter a little paradise of your own, full of calm, comfort, contentment. Villa Marie is in Ramatuelle, the little village on whose wide sandy beach Bardot first attained her fame. The villa still resembles a private house, but is the creation of Jocelyne Sibuet, whose immaculate style is visible everywhere, from the delicate colours of the walls, blended perfectly to be warm, welcoming but never frumpy, to the comfortable chaises at the heated pool, all surrounded by a large garden full of wonderful surprises. One corner has a small stone bench to just sit and read your book; another is covered with vine leaves to shade you from the summer’s burning sun. A small fountain sings along day and night ... how refreshing! It is so clear that someone has taken care with every aspect of the villa. If you visit is in May, you could breakfast on your own tiny balcony swathed in Wisteria (to preserve your privacy). You can, of course, leave this luxurious peace and indulge your club-vibes easily; just pop into Club 55, a five-minute drive away. Or sample simpler French fare in a nearby restaurant La Pomme de Pin, always crowded with eager French diners, not chic, but fun.
After two glorious days of all this smart pampering at Villa Marie, we chose to try for even greater bliss by driving an hour or so north into the Haut Var, an area of truly outstanding beauty, to experience a new venture the Sibuets have taken on. Domaine de la Baume is the French country house that we have all seen in our dreams. Large but not imposing, nestled in luscious woodlands, and a beautiful traditional ochre façade with dimensions that feel like conceived by Palladio, it is all so perfectly balanced. The sheer beauty of this place takes your breath away. And inside, it manages to be homely and cosy! Take a room on the first floor and you will be astounded. This is no starchy country pile often found in comparable luxury transformations in England, where all chintz and no real warmth is all too evident.
There, you can easily feel like a barely tolerated intruder; here you feel that you instantly belong, helped by the ambiance created through comfortable but stylish furniture, and such is the welcome of the people who work here, you feel part of the house. And to make it all perfect, the food is delicious. Very fresh and traditional, but with a little twist to keep you interested, served in various small rooms, so that you can actually have a conversation.
Domaine de la Baume is a bit wild in places, maybe, as it is so vast — but it is so warm and real, you won’t ever want to leave. And there are so many things to do. They have waterfalls, splendid gardens with large lily ponds surrounded by fields of lavender, horses, and even a little church, which would make this the perfect place for a stylish, small wedding. And the 80 hectares of woodland surrounding the property make you feel so safe and protected.
If Villa Marie is like the home of an eccentric, chic aunt who has created a place full of astonishments and excitement, then Domaine de la Baume is the place you hope a rich and ancient uncle will soon leave you. And together, they make the perfect weekend.