Life On The Riviera
How did a French chateau become a judge’s house in The X Factor?
Like some tanned, Hermès-handbagged dowager cloaked in pashminas and expensive perfume, the Côte d’Azur continues to justify its own reputation. The region has attracted high society for centuries, and it’s still somewhere that knows the meaning of genuine, old-world luxury. But don’t think of it as behind the times – it remains a coastal playground for modern high-end travellers, and has the ultra-chic hotels and residences to show for it.
We spoke to two converts to the Côte d’Azur way of life – a New Yorker and a Brit, both of whom have become heavily involved in the local five-star accommodation scene – to hear how they fell for the region, and what makes today’s French Riviera a place to see and be seen.
Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out.
Banner Image Credit: iStock.com/mydegage
Adrian Baleiron moved from New York to the South of France in 2002, and now looks after two exclusive luxury hotels: the Tiara Yaktsa and the Tiara Miramar Hotel & Spa.
Image Credit: Tiara Yaktsa
How did you end up living on the Côte d’Azur?
When I moved over from New York, it was my first time in the region. My wife had an opportunity to come and work here, so we came and began the adventure together. I haven’t thought about moving ever since – I’ve travelled all over the world and, for me, this is the place to come. The amazing blue sea on one side, the beachside with the palm trees on the other, the mountains – it’s incredible.
What makes the region so glamorous, in your view?
Historically, it’s pretty much been the high stratosphere of society that has come here, starting with the Russian tsars and aristocrats from the UK. Even today in fact, our second biggest market at the hotels, after France, is guests from the UK. But the region’s appeal is a mix of so many things. The weather – we’re looking at more than 330 days of sunshine a year. And of course the food – French food, especially in the Mediterranean area, is absolutely wonderful.
Any particular dishes you’d recommend?
I love what they call la daube niçoise – it’s like a beef stew with veggies. It’s to die for. It’s served either with small ravioli or polenta – there’s an Italian influence, with us being so close to Italy. And fish in the south of France is always amazing, usually grilled and served with some olive oil and herbs. It’s very healthy.
What’s the best way to enjoy the region?
Explore. Our hotels are only a couple of hundred yards away from each other in the heart of the Riviera. Rent a car and go and discover the cities in the area – St-Paul-de-Vence, Eze, Grasse, Monaco, Nice, Cannes, St Tropez. Choose one and discover the restaurants, the shopping, the art and culture. Each day, do something different. Then the next day go off on another adventure.
Image Credit: Tiara Miramar Hotel & Spa
The Tiara Yaktsa – open from April to September – is a luxury boutique hotel with 21 rooms which has recently joined the Relais & Chateaux brand. The Tiara Miramar Hotel & Spa – open year round – is a luxury beachfront property with 59 rooms, and has recently had an 18 million euro renovation. www.tiara-hotels.com
Morag McLaren Baxter and her partner Chris purchased Château Lou Casteou in 2006, and have restored it into a luxury French residence.
Image Credit: Château Lou Casteou
How did you come to own a century-old château on the Côte d’Azur?
We’d been looking to purchase a property in the South of France to set up a family-run business with a focus on high-end luxury. We’ve always been drawn to period properties – we enjoy the appeal of renovation and recreating historic beauty. The château is also very convenient for Nice Airport.
What makes the Côte d’Azur so synonymous with elegance?
It has a wonderful year-round climate and a great many charming towns and villages, both inland and on the sea. They’re green, floral and maintained to a very high standard. And of course the area is famous for its excellent cuisine, its romance and its glamorous history – life is never dull.
When did you first visit the region?
We’ve been visiting the area for about 15 years with friends and family, for the golf courses, the wonderful restaurants and the high quality of life. One always feels healthy and energised in this part of the world.
Image Credit: Château Lou Casteou
For guests looking to explore the region, what tips would you give?
Lou Casteou is in the Esterel National Park, which is a protected green area, but there are also some beautiful coves and sheltered creeks located close by. They’re ideal for snorkelling and picnics. Tennis, golf, horse-riding and coastal walks are all at hand too, plus wine-tasting trips can be arranged to the local Provençal vineyards. We’re also in close proximity to two Michelin-starred restaurants.
What’s your favourite time of year?
The spring, when the wildflowers are in full bloom and there’s a warmth in the air and stunning natural light. My perfect weekend would include a walk along the seafront, wine-tasting, lunch at Le Relais des Moines and dinner in the cloisters at Lou Casteou. A round of golf and a sail in the bay of St Tropez would be perfect additions on the Sunday.
Originally built in 1904 by an English lord, Chateau Lou Casteou sits in the Esterel Mountains between Cannes and St Tropez. It can take up to 32 guests, and its features include a home cinema and heated outdoor pool. Simon Cowell has used it as his “judge’s house” in X Factor. www.loucasteou.com