Somehow the defining characteristics of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) properties, namely that they be small and luxurious, fit especially well in the French Riviera, where giant, anonymous hotels would seem out of place.
The two SLH properties along the Cote d'Azur that I sampled this fall, the Althoff Villa Belrose in Saint-Tropez and Hotel La Perouse in Nice, fit into those categories easily, but in other ways the hotels were as different as the two cities in which they are located.
Technically, the five-star Villa Belrose is located in Gassin, a tiny hamlet overlooking the Bay of Saint-Tropez, and its Tuscan villa-meets-French resort style reflects the exclusivity of Saint-Tropez itself.
After all, the picturesque former fishing village has been on the radar of the rich and famous since French movie star Brigitte Bardot helped put it on the map in the 1960s, and it has never looked back. Yachts bob in the harbor, Michelin-star restaurants serve up gourmet fare and expensive baubles tantalize from boutique windows.
Adding to Saint-Tropez's air of exclusivity is its relatively inaccessibility. The nearest rail station is in Saint-Raphael, about 12 miles away as the crow flies. Given that the French Riviera is known both for its switchback coastal roads and, unfortunately, its traffic jams, this can translate into a journey of over an hour by car from the nearest train station and much longer from Nice airport, about 112 miles away.
A better option is the ferry, but it operates on a very limited schedule, especially off season.
Guests at the Villa Belrose need not fret about any of this, however, thanks to a menu of transportation options offered by the hotel.
Helicopter transfers from Nice airport directly to the villa are available from about $1,200, up to about $6,000 for a deluxe helicopter with a minibar and leather seats. Or the hotel will pick you up in a private limousine for approximately $650 or in a sedan for about $350.
Once you arrive at the property, the staff dispense with formal check-in queues and instead welcome you straight into the waterfront lobby with a glass of rose while your bags are whisked to your room.
There are 40 rooms and suites in all, overlooking either the Mediterranean or the garden, and some feature private balconies or terraces.
Foodies will appreciate Le Belrose, the restaurant overseen by Michelin-star chef Pietro Volonte, known for such Italian-inspired dishes as risotto served in a wheel of parmesan cheese. The restaurant, which also features a vast wine list of more than 500 French wines, serves guests either outside on the terrace, weather permitting, or in an elegant, glassed-in dining room overlooking the sea.
There is a heated outdoor swimming pool, a low-key Petit Belrose poolside restaurant, a small but well-equipped fitness center and the full-service Spa Niance.
The property is open from mid-April to mid-October, and rates start at about $285 per room per night.
By contrast, the four-star hotel La Perouse in Nice presents an interesting reflection of a city that is generally upscale without being over-the-top luxurious.
Real people live in Nice; unlike Saint-Tropez, which is mostly a showplace for jet-setting visitors, Nice is a thriving city of more than 2 million where people live and work. But the city also caters to international tourists, both high-end and mainstream, and those locals and tourists often mingle along the bustling Promenade des Anglais.
The 56-room hotel sits squarely in the center of the hubbub, literally steps from Old Town and built within the limestone cliffs that overlook the Baie des Anges.
Once inside, however, the hubbub vanishes, and the property offers the serenity of a private villa. Most guestrooms offer dramatic sea views, and the heated outdoor pool; the sunny, shared terrace; and the al fresco Restaurant Le Patio are elegant without being fussy.
The hotel, which dates from the 1930s, comprises six floors in two interconnected buildings so that sometimes it takes more than one elevator, not to mention a trail of breadcrumbs, to find your way from one part of the hotel to the other. The somewhat quirky layout, combined with the fact that each guestroom has a unique decor, adds to the appeal of this historical property, although it might not be the right choice for guests with mobility issues.
That said, the hotel boasts a strong repeat clientele, including couples, families with children and small groups of family members.
The location, in addition to being convenient to Old Town Nice, is also easy to access via air and rail, and valet parking is available for those intrepid enough to arrive by car. The property, which is open year-round, is also within easy daytrip distance of such popular attractions as Monte Carlo and Eze.
Room rates start from about $140.