This new luxury slab of gorgeousness that has evolved over three years of partial opening to completion this year is what is known in the travel business as ‘a story’.
First of all, it’s from the hugely talented and successful Costes brothers, the team behind some of the fanciest hotels and cafes and clubs in Paris: Hotel Costes, Le Marly, Georges at the top of the Pompidou, Matignon, the most beautiful modern spots in a city that’s always been beautiful but often struggles with modern. So, already a story. Secondly, they have chosen to locate their luxury digs in Palavas. Huge story! A luxury hotel in Palavas, where, you know, regular French people in Monoprix shorts and comedy t-shirts come on their holibobs? What the…?
It’s not that Palavas – a hop and a skip from Montpellier, apparently the gayest town in all of France outside Paris – is terrible, especially when you compare it to some UK resorts we could mention but would rather not. It’s just that it’s not where you’d expect to find a five-star luxury property of such incredible fabulousness. Not that you can see or feel or smell or sense in any way the outside world once you’re locked down in Plage Palace, you understand. The Costes are good at that: discretion. In the restaurant at Hotel Costes you need a guide dog to get you through the darkness to your table.
If you can find the entrance (discretion!), drive in and leave your car with the valet then wander down the little sandy lanes through what feel like dunes towards the building obscured by trees. And suddenly, there you are, in a huge reception-cum-bar-cum-lounge that leads right through to the plage. Which is beach to you. Pass the swimming pool to your right, with the huge swimming-pool-size jacuzzi attached to the spa just beyond it and the terrace attached to the restaurant to your left, follow the sand – manicured with a rake every morning – and you find yourself between their two identical beach bars flanking the white-on-white beach chairs and umbrellas with the sea right there. That’s also a story. It’s the only hotel that opens right onto the beach in the whole area.
Anyone who is anyone in Montpellier (and the fact that it’s just up the road means you can actually take the always-chic Eurostar all the way from London changing at Paris or Lille and, while the ‘Star’s trains onwards to the South of France are on Covid-hold, you just jump onto an SNCF for the rest of your journey), have made Plage Palace their glamour go-to, and who can blame them? It’s a Soho House-style retreat where the female staff chic around in figure-hugging summer dresses (though it’s going to be open year-round, so expect cashmeres) and the men colour-block in matching navy, always a good look against sun-drenched modern architecture.
And it’s beautiful modern architecture by all the right big-name architects built to resemble blocks balancing precariously on each other, with most rooms facing the sea all with great balconies big enough for settees and chairs and tables and floor-to-ceiling white curtains sometimes billowing out of an open floor-to-ceiling window.
Inside the rooms – 72 of them, so not huge but not boutique – the vibe is beach shack-y: tones of white and grey and a pop of black with the bathroom like a cabana built into the room. Light, bright, easy peasy with furniture that is modern but not too modern: contemporary rocking chairs, a sleek roll-top bath, balcony furniture that looks like it’s been fashioned out of packing boxes then whitewashed. And whitewashed again.
The atmosphere of the place, meanwhile, reflects the fact that this is a nostalgia project, this being the very beach that Guy and Jean-Louis Costes played on as children, no doubt fashioning state-of-the-art sandcastles with stunning interiors. The food at the restaurant is luxe but simple luxe – a gazpacho then maybe lobster and frites – while even the spa manages to balance chic and sexy with simple clap-boarding and that mega-jacuzzi surrounded by artfully tumble-down fences and planting.
And there we end our story. With – despite the challenges of a pandemic just as they were opening their finally completed doors – a very happy ending.
London to Paris/Lille: eurostar.com