HOTEL: Pan Deï Palais, Saint Tropez
WORDS: Phoebe Hunt and Louise Long | IMAGES: Louise Long
Pan Deï Palais is a love story. But before that, it is a tale of warfare and flight, unfolding during the tempest of the Napoleonic wars. Our protagonist is seafaring General Jean-François Allard, born in Saint Tropez in March 1785. Aide to Napoleon I, the defeat of the king in 1820 sent the general into exile - first to Egypt, Persia and then Pakistan, where he served under King of Lahore, Maharajah Ranjit Singh. The story goes that here, during the siege of the Himalayan fortress of Chamba, the General met and fell in love with the young Princess Bannu Pan Deï. Her radiant beauty, intelligence and countless charms were only to be matched by a precious gift from the General: the building of a spectacular palace in his princess’s name - a palace inspired by the majestic examples of Punjab. Bringing precious Indian coloured silk, wooden carvings and antique furnishings, the pair returned to Saint-Tropez, were married, and five children were born in the Pan Deï Palais. It became a family home enlivened by colourful memories of India, just off the sparkling seafront of the Cote d’Azur.
Today, the Pan Deï Palais is home to whoever is lucky enough to step across its threshold. Indeed there is nothing quite like stepping off the Rue Gambetta through the hotel’s solid wooden door. Poised between the bustle of luxury retail, the glamour of the port, and the gentle reportee of petanque players on the Place des Lices, the palace is a portal into another world. An oasis of exotic charms, within a stone’s throw of the bucolic diversions of the old town and the sailing possibilities beyond.
With twelve rooms across three floors, Pan Deï Palais is boutique in every sense of the word: from its private hammam to intimate music evenings under the glow of the garden cocktail bar. Herein lies the hotel’s best kept secret: by day, it’s a paradise of poolside palms and shaded tables, heady with the scent of jasmine. By night, the terrace invites outside diners to Cookoovaya, a brand new restaurant opening in May 2022. From the team of the well-loved Cookoovaya in Athens, Hellenic cuisineinjects yet more colour, sunshine and warmth into the heart of St Tropez; a welcome breather from the town’s otherwise Italian-tinted culinary landscape.
Further gastronomic variety can be found at Pan Deï Palais’s sister Saint Tropez hotel, Château de la Messardiere (reachable by electric shuttle from Pan Deï Palais); with four restaurants including pan-Asian Matsuhisa, and a new chef’s table from Chateau d’Estoublon. The table’s sumptuous garden location, with double views of sea, is reason alone to visit. Whilst on site, fitness and spa facilities freely available to Palais guests, are on hand to help work up an appetite.
Tradition and innovation are in constant dialogue at Pan Deï Palais. Breakfast is classic silverware, a dainty fruit salad and teetering pastry platter, served, meanwhile, with a ‘detox’ juice shot (a delicious hit of ginger, orange and grapefruit). The new and the old weave their way through the palace’s twelve suites, too - with two freshly converted to the highest spec of comfort. No detail has been spared - from ‘zen’ atmospheric lighting (one of three possible settings), to high-tech loos and underfloor heating. Intricate Persian textiles and antique chests soften the sharp lines of new fittings, all contributing to a feeling of discreet luxury. Where the hotel’s traditional rooms boast four poster beds, designer Christophe Tollemer’s reinterpreted interiors include a scalloped headboard mimicking an Indian Mughal arch.
The longer you linger at Pan Deï Palais, the more stories begin to seep out of its walls, its furnishings, and people. Each room has its own tale to tell, with names such as Minakshi, Deva and Kamadeva each recounting a slice of family history or Hindu legend. We learn that the top-floor ‘Shanti’ suite is where the princess would cast her eye over the town each morning; the terrace still yielding breathtaking panoramic views for guests today. Adorning the palace’s central staircase, large painted portraits return us to the family’s ancestral past - none more so than a family portrait of general, princess wife and five children presiding over the first floor ironwork balustrade.
The princess and her children remained in the Saint-Tropez palace until her death in 1884, at the age of 70. The General had been required to leave several years earlier, as French Ambassador to India. Mourning his absence, the princess went to the shore each morning, praying for his return under the light of the moon. Tragically, husband and wife were never reunited. Pan Deï Palais’s Shandra room is so-called in tribute to the Hindu Moon God; in honour of the princess’s unanswered prayers. Still, their romance lives on - in the exoticism and beauty, in the lively charms and intimacy of the hotel Pan Deï Palais.
Luxury is not hard to find in St Tropez, but to find a place with such rich history, so seamlessly updated for modern-day luxury, yet still with laid-back charm, is a surprising treasure in this town. Pan Deï Palais feels like a precious a gift to guests today, as it surely was for its very own Indian princess.