Hotel Byblos in Saint Tropez 1970. All photos courtesy Hotel Byblos.
When Brigitte Bardot filmed And God Created Woman in the then unknown Provençal village of St.-Tropez in 1955, the sex-kitten actress’s allure was so powerful she put the sleepy town on the jet-set map. She also inspired a smitten Lebanese businessman named Jean-Prosper Gay-Para to build a hotel and nightclub in the place that Bardot had come to love in hopes of wooing the actress. Opened in 1967, the Byblos Hotel and its on-site nightclub, Les Caves du Roy, quickly became synonymous with celebrity joie de vivre (Gay-Para was unable to win Bardot’s affections, but she did show up for the opening festivities, which spanned three days and totaled 700 guests).
This month marks the iconic hotel’s 50th anniversary (Les Caves debuted two months later, in July 1967). Byblos has become synonymous with celebrity and hedonism. Over the years, a rotating cast of boldface names has included Grace Kelly, Prince Charles, Romy Schneider, Lauren Bacall, Paloma Picasso, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyoncé, Patrick Demarchelier, Naomi Campbell, and even straitlaced Bill Gates. Although high-society photographer Slim Aarons never shot at Byblos, his axiom about the places he captured, “attractive people in attractive places doing attractive things,” easily applies to Byblos and Les Caves.
Gay-Para, who sold the properties to French businessman Sylvain Floirat a few months after their inauguration, imagined his hotel would resemble a fairy tale–like mix of a Provençal hamlet and the tiny port of Byblos, one of the oldest villages in Lebanon, and which could rival a palace in One Thousand and One Nights. It’s fair to say Gay-Para achieved his dream: Perched on the highest hill in St.-Tropez, the hotel’s salmon-, lemon-, and apricot-hued stucco buildings sport short chimneys atop tiled roofs that slope toward a palm tree–dotted courtyard with a swimming pool and bar. Today, 91 individually decorated rooms and suites—think: plush furnishings saturated in color and breathtaking vistas of the Riviera—a decadent Sisley Spa, and a restaurant overseen by Alain Ducasse round out the high-end amenities. (The property is one of only 16 hotels in France awarded the prestigious Palace distinction.)
Although management prides itself on keeping juicy stories about its guests under wraps, some secrets get out, and they’ve formed not only the properties’ lore but also their lure. In 1971, Mick Jagger and Bianca Perez-Mora Macias celebrated their nuptials at the Byblos. After seeing the scrum of paparazzi that awaited their departure for the St.-Tropez town hall, Bianca is said to have remarked, “Oh la la, I can’t do it now, man.” Back at the Byblos, friends like Peter Frampton, Ronnie Wood, Roger Vadim, Julie Christie, Terry Reid, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr feted the newlyweds till 4 in the morning, with Stephen Stills, Bobby Keys, and David Brown of Santana performing. (On the private plane that Jagger chartered to fly 75 guests down from London, McCartney and Starr, who were embroiled in a legal battle, were reportedly seated far apart.) Keith Richards was present, but “out to the rock world, flat on his back with his mouth open,” according to a Rolling Stone article from the same year.
Les Caves du Roy, with its stone palm trees and where about 1,000 bottles of Champagne are on hand each night and the red carpet is rolled out without fail, has its own share of naughty stories. Sometime in the ’70s, Grace Jones showed up at the nightclub dressed in a slinky outfit and boxing gloves, surrounded by men, also in gloves, play-fighting each other. Another time, a famous rock star drove into Les Caves du Roy on his Harley-Davidson, revving up the stone steps, while another well-known guest arrived at the hotel with seven cars, one to use each day of the week. Even Grace Coddington, Vogue’s Creative Director at Large, got in on the action. In 1973, Richard Avedon photographed Coddington for British Vogue in Byblos’s swimming pool, looking insouciant in a black bikini and sunglasses at night, while others around her lounge about in eveningwear.
Antoine Chevanne, Floirat’s great-grandson and current owner and chairman of the hotel group, grew up visiting the hotel with his family. “Though I wasn’t allowed to go to the Caves du Roy before I was 18 years old,” he says with a laugh. Chevanne says part of the reason the property has been so successful with celebrities is because the hotel and club do a superb job in shielding VIPs from paparazzi. “Our secret is keeping the secret,” he says.
But even tight-lipped Chevanne is willing to share a few of his personal starstruck moments: One evening at Les Caves du Roy, he met Bruce Willis, who left the VIP area and joined him at the bar by the entrance. They spent all night buying each other drinks. “People were wondering, who is that guy next to Bruce Willis?” he recalls. Another time, a ’90s supermodel who had appeared on the cover of Vogue asked Chevanne to open Les Caves while it was shuttered for the winter. She wanted to throw herself a birthday party with 30 of her closest friends. “When she gave me the list of people, it was just amazing, like a who’s who of Hollywood,” Chevanne says. “It was a lot of fun,” he adds with a laugh.
A few years ago, Lionel Richie requested to perform at the Byblos to launch a new album. He told Chevanne he had held his first French concert in the hotel’s courtyard; Richie believed that performance brought him good luck throughout his career.
The celebrities, in turn, seem to have brought Byblos great luck. As a thank-you, the hotel will host a gala dinner for its most loyal guests on May 27, the same date Byblos opened half a century ago. On July 19, at Byblos’s annual star-studded summer party, a world-renowned musician will perform by the swimming pool, which has been the stage for countless musical performances by entertainers like Seal, Dean “Diddy” Combs, Will.I.Am, and David Guetta. Byblos also teamed with luxury brands to create exclusive products and experiences for the hotel in honor of the golden anniversary: Among others, Missoni Home designed interiors for a guest room; Audemars Piguet created a limited-edition watch; and luggage-maker Goyard produced a bag inspired by the property. To top it off, Byblos will release a limited-edition coffee-table tome this month to celebrate its glittering history.
Chevanne says the celebrity factor remains a hallmark of the hotel: “You can be 100 percent sure when you open the magazines every summer and see the stars coming to St.-Tropez, that once during their stay, they pass through Byblos or Les Caves du Roy.”
Mick Jagger at Hotel Byblos, 1971
Brigitte Bardot at Les Caves du Roy
Grace Jones at Hotel Byblos, 1978
Michel Polnareff at Hotel Byblos, 1973
Elton John at at Les Caves du Roy