Secret Hotels of the French Riviera
Where life is both sweet and salty, thanks to the Mediterranean breezes.
Hotel Le Provence
A far cry from the gloomy cut-rate hotels of Nice and Cannes, this 200-year-old former private home has a flower-filled garden and cheerful rooms that get plenty of light. Most of the 16 rooms are in a separate building on the far side of the garden. They're furnished with remarkable care for a hotel at this price. Lace bedspreads and faux family heirlooms are mixed with a few modern chairs; some rooms have old-fashioned wallpaper that'll make you feel like you're in your grand-mère's house. There's no A/C, but some rooms have ceiling fans. Most have a view of the garden, and six look out to the sea, which is a 15-minute drive away. The owners and a good deal of the clientele are from Sweden, and the website is in Swedish, but you'll find the staff speaks excellent English. 9 avenue Marcellin Maurel, 011-33/4-93-58-04-21, hotelleprovence.com, doubles $55-$94.
La Bastide Gourmande
If you like to be near the beach but can't take crowds, La Bastide Gourmande offers a nice compromise. In the hills south of the medieval village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, but less than two miles from the beaches at Cagnes, the friendly hotel offers clean, colorful rooms; a good restaurant; and a lovely pool with a great view of the classic Provençal countryside. There's even a boulodrome, should you feel inclined to indulge in a game of petanque. It's an excellent deal, especially when you consider how much even the most basic of lodgings cost down by the water's edge. The eight rooms are a little on the small side, but each has a different theme, such as Coquelicot (with bright red poppies on the curtains), Bretagne (a life buoy on the wall), and even Disney (this is a room for kids). In summer, chirping cicadas are pretty much guaranteed. 660 route de Cagnes, 011-33/4-93-22-62-42, labastidegourmande.fr, doubles $72-$84.
Adorable is the only way to describe this one-story villa with its three bungalows clustered around a garden shaded by orange trees. Though lacking A/C and not at all luxurious, each of the 10 smallish rooms has been decorated in a manner that's usually reserved for high-class accommodations--rich colors on the walls, original artwork (including paintings by one of the owners), and imaginative choices of furniture and fixtures. Some rooms have distinct themes: birds, calligraphy, angels. Breakfast receives equal attention: The orange juice is fresh-squeezed, the jam homemade. It can be taken in the courtyard or in the entry/lobby, which resembles a cross between a living room and a crafts boutique; paintings and ceramics here are nearly all for sale. Though the hotel is in a quiet residential neighborhood, the beach is only 60 yards away, and Old Antibes is an easy walk. 13 avenue Max Maurey, 011-33/4-93-61-45-89, jabotte.com, doubles with breakfast $101-$118, closed the last three weeks of November and Christmas week.
Hotel le Mas des Brugassieres
The most stressful thing about staying here is pronouncing the name. Once you've managed that (broo-gah-si-ehr), it's simply a matter of throwing your luggage on the hand-quilted boutis bedspread, freshening up in the large bathroom, and heading out to the hammock. Nine twisty miles inland from the glorious madness of Saint-Tropez, the low-key hotel is in the Massif des Maures, a sparsely populated region of low mountains, scrubby pine forests, and an occasional vineyard. The two-story hotel is based on a classic Provencal mas, or house; each of the 14 comfortable rooms has a private entrance and a terrace with table and chairs. All but three rooms have A/C. Take breakfast on your terrace or next to the pool shaded by olive trees. (Breakfast is mandatory in high season, which raises the rate by $10 per person.) Biking, hiking, and horseback riding are all available nearby; the beaches of Sainte-Maxime are eight kilometers away. Route de Grimaud, 011-33/4-94-55-50-55, mas-des-brugassieres.com, doubles $114, closed mid-October to late March.
The hotel sits atop a hill behind the tiny beach resort of Cavaliere, and every room enjoys a view that includes Cavaliere Bay and the Hyeres Islands. The 24 rooms are very simple and bungalow-like, but cozy, and each has a private entrance and terrace. There's no A/C, but a refreshing breeze comes in off the sea. You can walk down to the beach in a matter of minutes, but the last stretch back up is a killer. Driving is an easier option--or just stay on the premises and paddle around in the pool. It'd be a shame to miss the beaches around here, however, as they're some of the best on the coast. Less frequented than the more developed areas near Cannes and Nice, this stretch of the Riviera has smaller crowds, golden beaches, and crystal-clear water. Domaine de l'Aragail, 011-33/4-94-01-54-54, lelavandou.com/azur-hotel, doubles $80-$98, closed mid-October to March.