07/29/2013 10:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Travel Guide: French Riviera

From the latest hotels and restaurants to the established classics, a guide to the essentials in the storied getaway on France's Côte d'Azur

By Dana Thomas, Architectural Digest

Photo: Rainer Raffalski

With its rolling countryside, long, golden beaches, and breathtaking light, Saint-Tropez is one of the French Riviera's most enticing destinations. This picturesque peninsula on the Côte d'Azur still embraces its history as a quiet fishing village and artists' enclave--it lured painters such as Henri Matisse long before it was made famous by legendary beauty Brigitte Bardot, who has called it a "little nook of paradise." But today the sun-kissed locale is also well-known as a glamorous playground for the yacht and jet sets, with stylish nightclubs and restaurants filled with summer regulars like Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Karl Lagerfeld, and Kate Moss. "In Saint-Tropez you have nature and modernity," says Milan-based designer Antonio Citterio, who helped conceive chef Alain Ducasse's new dining spot, Rivea, at the iconic Hôtel Byblos. "It's not for nothing that everyone wants to come here."

Since opening in 1967, the Hôtel Byblos has remained the town's top address. The 91-room property, tucked into a hill overlooking the leafy Place des Lices, boasts a Sisley spa, a pool, and the fabled Caves du Roy discotheque. This season, the hotel has debuted a charming villa a few miles away, by the beach, but the big news is Rivea, which replaced the resort's decade-old restaurant, Spoon. The of-the-moment eatery offers regionally sourced Franco-Italian dishes, such as pan-seared veal piccata and roasted blue lobster with artichokes, served in warm, modern surroundings created by Citterio and his partner, Patricia Viel--with an outdoor dining area nestled under a canopy of plane trees.

More: See AD's stunning slideshow of the French Riviera

Saint-Tropez's most-buzzed-about new accommodations are at the Hôtel de Paris, a long- shuttered 1930s retreat that was just overhauled by local architect François Vieillecroze. The contemporary decor by French designer Sybille de Margerie is bright and summery, with bold furniture by Zaha Hadid. The hotel has a spa as well as a rooftop Japanese-fusion restaurant, but the star attraction is the clear-bottomed swimming pool that forms part of the lobby's ceiling. And for high-design luxury there is Lagerfeld's favorite, La Réserve Ramatuelle, a sumptuous 28-room hotel devised by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, with an additional dozen villas by interior designer Rémi Tessier. The wellness-minded property, in the neighboring hilltop village of Ramatuelle, features a spa, multiple pools, and a farm-to-table restaurant headed by chef Eric Canino.

As it happens, many of the top places to stay are also the best places to dine. Ducasse's biggest competition comes from his protégé Arnaud Donckele, whose dinner-only space, La Vague d'Or--at Résidence de la Pinède, an elegant 39-room hotel on the edge of town -- is the only new restaurant in France to earn three Michelin stars this year. Situated on a stone terrace overlooking the twinkling lights of the village of Sainte-Maxime, the restaurant serves pitch-perfect Mediterranean-inspired cuisine with an emphasis on local fish.

Of course, so much of the daytime action occurs by the sea. Those in the know head to Pampelonne Beach, which is dotted with clubs bearing exotic names like Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Zanzibar. The most celebrated is Le Club 55, founded by the French explorers Bernard and Geneviève de Colmont in 1955 as a tiny shack dishing up roast beef and ratatouille to fellow travelers. Today their son, Patrice de Colmont, welcomes the chic and famous for long lunches of grilled seafood and overflowing baskets of crudités, shaded by bamboo and tamarisk trees.

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