Published 2 August 1998 Style Magazine 264th article
Pine fare: Michael Winner and Nicole Delion at Residence de la Pinede
I've never quite understood St Tropez. I visit it from time to time, usually driving through Cannes and then along the winding coast road where the rocks turn red and the architecture becomes less interesting, until eventually you hit the harbour of St Tropez. It's pleasant enough, without being spectacular, and surrounded by a warren of lanes stuffed with boutiques, remarkably offering shirts large enough for me to get into.
I usually eat lunch at Byblos, for years the most fashionable hotel, set well back from the sea, with a nice pool to relax by. A wealthy friend of mine, admiring the oil paintings on sale in the harbour, once chose one of the original works of art, haggled, took it away - and was surprised to find the next day an identical picture on offer in its place. Thus tourists have been fed for centuries. Canaletto had students churning out the same picture, sometimes touched up by him, usually just copied from one on an easel in front of them. Why should the French do differently 250 years later?
I was told about Residence de la Pinede by Jean-Claude Delion, owner of that hotel and La Reserve de Beaulieu, where I was staying. Madame Nicole Delion runs La Pinede, leaving her husband miles away in Beaulieu. What effect did such parting have on their marriage I wondered, before accepting it was absolutely none of my business. M Delion suggested I visit La Pinede. I discovered you could park a helicopter only a few feet from La Reserve de Beaulieu, although you needed permission from the mayor's office as it took two police officers to ensure tourists didn't get chopped to pieces by the rotor blades. You could also land in St Tropez, some 20 minutes away, very close by La Pinede. I decided a day trip would not be out of the question.
Residence de la Pinede was built in 1952, with more of it added in 1970, in provencal style. It has a beach, a pool and overlooks the harbour of St Tropez. It's very luxurious in a modern way. We were taken to a suite with a view of the courtyard and the sea. A television showed pictures of the hotel set to Muzak. One was of the front desk, where two male staff looked into each other's eyes. Vanessa recognised one of them as the receptionist we'd just left behind in Beaulieu. Then there was a photo of a blonde looking lovingly into the eyes of a man in a suit and one of a lady making the bed.
We went downstairs for lunch, admiring a 400-year-old cypress tree, a number of pine trees (pinede means pine) and a bit of the hotel that is an 18th-century windmill, much tarted up. There's a large, stone terrace with white plastic chairs and yellow-striped cushions, a lawn, red geraniums, palm trees and, on two sides, stands the hotel with lots of balconies and those crinkly terracotta tiles.
I walked toward the table with the best view of St Tropez. The waiter said, "There's a nice table over there," pointing to one with no view at all. "If you want to eat there, please do," I said. "I shall sit here." "I wonder if pine cones fall on your head," said Vanessa, looking up.
La Pinede has a Michelin star, the Byblos does not. We both had salad nicoise. Vanessa had spaghetti with tomato sauce and I had tagliatelle a la carbonara. The freebie starter was a rosette of salmon and crayfish. We were hardly testing the chef, but it was all very good. We also had an excellent pre-dessert, a sun of chocolate with three wild strawberries decorating the rim. It was like a frozen chocolate truffle. Some time later, I recommended the place to a highly signiﬁcant newspaper editor. He went to dinner there with a party of three and thought it totally superb.
I noticed that when they brought the cutlery, the spoons and forks were placed face down on the table, not with the prongs pointing upwards as usual. I'm sure that is unbelievably chic, but I couldn't be bothered to ask why.
Madame Delion told me she and her husband came there on holiday in 1985, liked it and bought the place. She was very elegant in a light blue blazer and dark blue trousers - or were they black?
I can highly recommend La Pinede: it's less formal than the excellent La Reserve de Beaulieu. Madame Delion told me there were only 5,000 permanent residents of St Tropez, but in the summer there were 100,000. She added that the main nationality of her guests was Belgian. This is something you may have to put up with.
I have now agreed with Winner two weeks in a row - if this continues I could even finish up liking the fellow. Like Michael Winner, my wife and I love the Griffin Inn at Llyswen (Style, July 19) and never miss an opportunity to dine there when we are in the area. With Wales and its tourism currently being criticised, I'm sure the Welsh Tourist Board would like a Griffin in every town.
Michael Bradley, Newport, South Wales
It is nine years since I last visited Harry's Bar in Venice and I am glad to have confirmation from Michael Winner (Style, July 12) that nothing has changed. It sounds as though the plain decor and cramped tables are exactly the same as they were during my frequent visits from 1950 to 1989. The only change I noticed over the years was that Harry's father started using Italian dry spumante in the bellinis instead of champagne. None the less, they remained the "best on the planet".
John Parkes, Gavirate, Italy
I thoroughly agree with Michael Winner's findings at Llangoed Hall (Style, July 5). On our third visit, a managerial person stood at the front door and watched as my disabled husband struggled out of the car with crutches. Eventually, the front door was opened for him, but no greeting was offered, and I was left to park the car. Mr Winner should have travelled on to The Lake Country House at Llangammarch Wells, where there is a friendly atmosphere and guests are greeted and cared for.
Patricia Ross, Ludlow, Shrops