Photos: Benoit Linero
The French Riviera is known for glitzy—if somewhat anonymous—grand hotels, where sunbathers pay upward of $100 for a spot on a prime lounge chair. That began to change last May, when Válery Grégo opened the Hôtel les Roches Rouges in the petit village of Saint-Raphaël, 35 minutes southwest of Cannes. In the shadow of the Massif de l’Estérel’s red rocks, which give the hotel its name, Grégo created a retreat that forgoes the area’s usual extravagance in favor of a more authentic vibe.
“My body tells me if it’s right,” says the 41-year-old hotelier, whose Perseus brand also includes four boutique properties in the French Alps, one in Nice, and one in Paris’s Pigalle neighborhood. “I need to really feel the place and see something right away. For all my hotels, I had a vision of what I wanted them to become within the first 15 minutes I spent there.”
The Hôtel les Roches Rouges uses the Riviera’s best trait to full advantage: The Mediterranean is visible from many of the 50 rooms. “Boom! The water is everywhere,” says Grégo. The hotel also features many local products. Toiletries from Le Labo, based in nearby Grasse, perfume the space with bergamot. Riviera Beer, brewed in Saint-Raphaël, is served at the bar. And many activities are guided by area experts. For example, Olivier Bardoux, a fisherman who docks at the hotel each morning to deliver the daily catch, leads fishing tours.
Grégo’s other properties also adhere to this community-first model. At Le Pigalle in Paris, in-room reading materials are curated by neighborhood bookshop Les Arpenteurs, and the Alpine chalet Alpaga sources cheese from Les Caves d’Affinage de Savoie, whose tunnels were used for storage during World War II.
“We try to be rooted to the neighborhood,” Grégo says. “If you go fishing, you’ll go with a proper fisherman. If you want to play pétanque, you’ll play with someone who knows the game. I don’t want to try and be what I think Pigalle is, or the Estérel. I’m going to find someone I trust, whose affinity is stronger than mine.”