St Tropez has always been associated with Brigitte Bardot’s pouting lips and polka dot bikini. I have always been more intrigued by the inscrutable beauty and ferocious talent of Jeanne Moreau, who wisely knowing the impact of living in the constant glare of the paparazzi, chose to buy and renovate Le Preverger hidden in the hills around La Garde Freinet. She was able to buy her baguettes in peace and dip in and out of the fast pace as she pleased.
I was introduced to the area by Tony Richardson, when I was eighteen and have been going there ever since. Jeanne and Tony had fallen in love in 1967 when he directed her in ‘Mademoiselle’ and she found him an abandoned hamlet nearby which he aptly named Le Nid du Duc .So I too learnt, from Tony, the comforting rhythms of up early to the markets, peace and privacy and knowing that all the pleasures of the Club 55, the boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs were just a short drive away, and I find that the most civilized way to enjoy St Tropez.
So when John Spence, the new owner, asked me whether I was interested in representing Le Preverger, I leapt at the chance, having heard about the house for so many years.
Whereas Le Nid du Duc has remained within the family Le Preverger has had three incarnations. One summer when I was staying with Tony, Vanessa Redgrave showed up on the back of Timothy Dalton’s motorbike : this used to be a normal way to get to the South of France and apparently Bernard and Laura Ashley found Le Preverger as they wound round the steep hills at fast speed on his motorbike. Jeanne Moreau duly sold it to them and they made many improvements. She presumably decorated it with her floral fabrics; they landscaped and created beautiful gardens and Bernard touchingly built a railway set and track for his son on the hill behind the guest house that looks like a mini Roman amphitheatre. It used to burrow through a tunnel and whizz around what is now the games room.
The house changed hands again with the Karma Group buying it in 2012 and Nicky Haslam was the perfect choice as a decorator. Having himself known the house for years, he was keen to maintain the history and provenance of the house, while adding every possible comfort that would be expected of a property at this level.
Driving through a discreet entrance and down a long winding road, as if approaching a traditional ferme, the landscape opens up and one comes across Le Preverger, sitting in all its bucolic glory.
Set in 150 acres, the house has uninterrupted views of olive groves, vineyards, oak and chestnut woods. We walked around for an hour and I still didn’t have time to explore all the grounds. I could hear a river running in the distance. I wanted to run barefoot across the lawn, sprint through the woods and over the hills. My spirit lifted with pure joy.
The house was built in 1851 in a honey coloured local stone, covered in jasmine, the windows painted that perfect pale French green, a bronzed door-knocker reminding one one of the former chatelaine. A vast cedar stands guard nearby.
The property now consists of 15 bedrooms spread between the main house, a large guesthouse and a pool house.
French Provencal houses can sometimes feel small and cramped but Le Preverger feels large and airy, with a double height drawing room and large games room. Nicky has heightened and widened doorways for uninterrupted flow and the charming nooks and crannies are emphasised and feel cosy and snug, such as a child’s bedroom where the bath peeks through an arch at mid-height.
Le Preverger represents privacy, luxury and class.
There is a helicopter base for those in a hurry – a tennis court, gym, vast pool area, organic vegetable garden, chickens and even two gypsy caravans fully decked out. Whichever lucky children get to sleep in those will have very sweet dreams.
For more info, see Le Prevenger