||Les Parcs de St Tropez
A land of adventure, innovation and men's passions
Between sea and sky, a unique haven of peace
« No road goes through Saint-Tropez. There is only one that takes you there and goes no further. If you want to leave, you must turn back. But will you leave ? »
This quote from Colette on Saint-Tropez, rightly defined the magic that radiates through Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez.
Set on a lush headland, on the Cap Saint-Pierre peninsula, bathed by the waters of Canoubiers Bay, enjoying an exceptional view of the Massif des Maures, the gulf and the open sea, Les Parcs de Saint Tropez exude a special and mysterious charm that cannot be copied.
Are the lush vegetation, the sea and the sun enough to explain the whole attraction of Les Parcs ? Most certainly not. This subtle blend of authenticity, privacy and luxury is not a coincidence. The creation of this exceptional site embodies the spirit of adventure and the dream of a few stubborn men and women, lovers of nature, space and tranquillity. For five years multiple negotiations, talks and meetings with the local authorities follow, to give birth - between pines, shrubs, vines and weeds, - away from the mattresses and parasols, to a haven of enchanting peace.
The saga of Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez
« In 1951, arriving from the islands, with engine failure and immobilization of my yacht in the port of Saint-Tropez for repairs, I sent a member of my crew to find a small piece of land at the edge of the sea to build a house and keep a small boat for the winter. »
Who could imagine that this trivial incident of navigation, narrated by Robert Geffroy, would give birth to one of the most magical residential complexes in the world : Les Parcs de Saint Tropez ?
Today, seeing the manicured lawns and lush vegetation surrounding each property, it is hard to imagine that, originally, there were hectares of rebellious scrub, up to two metres high, on which no inhabitant of the country dared to settle.
To what magic wand is such a metamorphosis due ? Who turned this wild site into a little Eden, both elitist and simple, living to the rhythm of the waves and seasons, where men who are dreamers, idealists and realists, search for a life both serene and wondrously renewed each day ?
A name is required, Robert Geffroy. A passionate and visionary builder who would fight tirelessly to develop this ambitious and crazy project : Les Parcs de Saint Tropez.
An unexpected obstacle : convincing the Estate Agent to come and discover the land « Each visit costs me a pair of stockings » she confides. Never mind ! It takes more than that to dampen the enthusiasm of Robert Geffroy. And now he's back with a briefcase full of stockings !
Hardly does Robert Geffroy discover some sixteen hectares of wild land than difficulties arise. Particularly, legal entanglements on which lawyers, notaries and tax advisors will work non-stop for three months.
Once all these challenges are overcome the long awaited reward occurs : On June 19, 1952 the proposed development of a residential complex called Park Pointe Ay on this site is accepted.
Later, merging with other nearby areas would give birth to Les Parcs de Saint Tropez.
From the Park de l'Ay to Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez
« My first idea was to divide this land into large plots of 10.000m² each. It would be a unique opportunity to choose my neighbours and find myself surrounded by friends. »
In 1953, the first land sale of Parc de la Pointe l'Ay allows Robert Geffroy to lay the groundwork for an ambitious building program. He orders numerous field studies, conducting multiple negotiations with the water company, PTT and EDF, who claim themselves unable to carry out underground installations.
He also encounters some buyers who want plots of only 2.500m²...
Overcoming all obstacles, Le Parc d'Ay becomes a total success. It satisfies future owners as much as the people of St-Tropez, anxious to preserve the beauty of their peninsula.
The way is now open to construct a larger project !
Then Miss Maria Leone, Robert Geffroy's associate and faithful accomplice during 36 years for the Parcs adventure, arrives on the scene. This dynamic and enterprising woman was not difficult to convince, because she was born here, into a family who have lived on this magical land for over a century.
« Creating a company of this size means driving a steamroller from the front seat. This can only be done if we control the fittings, away from all involved, even be it the Administration. Otherwise one day or another we will find ourselves like a pancake behind the wheel ! »
When asked what had seduced her in the Parcs project, Maria Leone replied without hesitation, "The extraordinary unity of the site : a tip of peninsula, fully enclosed, totalling 120 hectares which we access by one sole entry point. As a bonus, like in a fairy tale, situated among woods and vineyards, is a sumptuous sleeping estate : Chateau Borelli."
In order to complete their project : to create a large prestigious residential complex, guarded and forbidden to public traffic, the duo Geffroy - Maria are quick to acquire a neighbouring 40 hectare vineyard, which on its coastal side, would become Le Parc de la Rabiou and on its country side, Le Parc des Canoubiers.
Another difficult step was left, that of convincing the Administration not to interfere with its whole armada of finicky regulations. Suffice to say that the Prefect of the Var, Mr. Ottaviani was surprised when the two adventurers asked for his trust in that they be exempted from all restrictions and administrative controls !
But how could they show themselves to be credible enough to be given this freedom to begin with ?
Simply by imposing much higher standards than all the requirements usually set by the Administration itself !
Innovative and pioneering choices
Transform an austere land into a beautiful and cosy residential park, while strictly respecting the environment : this is the challenge faced by the builders of Les Parcs.
Through the experience gained from around the world - Germany, Scandinavia, England, Switzerland, United States - and with advice from scientific laboratories, architects and professionals of all skills, the installations at Les Parcs rapidly become a model for nature protection.
Top Swiss teams contrive to hide lines, pipes and other technical elements likely to deface the site, underground. The same sophisticated treatment applies to telephone cables, with at least one line per residence.
As for the future villas' water supply, it also is absolutely innovative. Finished is the 'gauge' water system, delivering a fixed amount of water from a common reservoir at low pressure to each owner daily ! Now, thanks to the creation of a pumping station, water is supplied in unlimited quantity and at high pressure.
« Here reigns a blue colour which elsewhere is that of a dream, but along the Provencal shore bathes all realities. »
Finally, to seduce the Administration once and for all, no funding will be requested. Out of the question to involve the Municipality's budget in ensuring the care and management of Les Parcs !
A private organisation, Les Parcs Agency created by the tireless Maria Leone, Robert Geffroy and his wife Ruth, directs the work and manages Les Parcs shared services : security, maintenance of roads and footpaths, features such as showers, diving platform, pier docking...
Difficult to find a more demanding program, or one more compliant to regulatory requirements and more economical at the same time! The longed for result isn't too long incoming and the prefectural decree of January 11, 1956 allows the dream to become reality. The green light is given to launch Les Parcs de Saint Tropez with a set of specification allowing land sharing without plans, even before the viability studies are completed !
To give the site even more unity, there remains only the incorporation of a neighbouring forty hectare estate containing a marvel : Chateau Borelli. A challenge taken after long and difficult discussions with Jean Bréaud, the owner of Domaine du Cap on which stood the stately home.
The Château Borelli
As famous as the marine cemetery, the Citadelle or Colette's house, "La Treille Muscate", Château Borelli is part of the Saint-Tropez landscape.
Impossible to miss it ! Located on the most magical point of the peninsula, on a hillside overlooking Canoubiers Bay, it seems like a marine temple, protecting the entrance to the Gulf. Behind this building worthy of the Thousand and One Nights, is a civil servant, Philippe Octave Borelli, lover of the splendour of the East and nostalgic for the pyramids repeatedly visited during his many trips to Egypt.
Constructed between 1895 and 1900, thanks to the Bernardi Company of St Tropez, majestic and vast, with its magnificent rooms, high ceilings, frescoes, dashing corridors and cutting-edge facilities, such as warm air heating, the Chateau was the scene of lavish receptions.
Around the palace ranged farms, an aviary, a bandstand, a chapel and other annexes, often grandiose, such as the Egyptian Villa, where the staff lived.
The grounds were a delight : woods and vines, but also venerable palm-lined pathways and a range of exotic and rare species.
In the possession of the Borelli family until 1928, the castle was then sold, resold, then commandeered and occupied by different armies - French, Italian, German and finally the Allies, in 1944. Before the landings, the shelling of German artillery batteries installed at Cape St. Pierre, cause the destruction of the roof and the library. Dilapidated, open to all winds, the Chateau somehow survived the years...
But in 1988, Norbert Ribémon decides to play Prince Charming by bringing this mythical estate out of its lethargy. After three years of painstaking work, carried out according to documents of the time, the castle is reformed to its former glory! In this extraordinary architecture, six luxury apartments between 300 à 500m² are created.
In this way the inhabitants of Saint-Tropez see again, with pleasure, the imposing and familiar silhouette of their Chateau, while sailors recognise once more this clear signal shown on all charts.
Philippe Octave Borelli, another adventurer...
Born in 1849, this great idealist is only 29 years old when he leaves for Egypt, a place where French and English influences clash, to defend the rights and interests of Egyptians and serve France fighting against the growing influence of England.
For his sense of justice and fairness, the title "Bey" is awarded to him by the Sovereign of the time, the Khedive Tawfick. In 1883, he contributed to the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution and founded a newspaper, the Egyptian Bosphorus, the spearhead of attacks against British policy and some members of the Egyptian government who support it.
Having become general counsel of the Daira (Royal House), he participates in various mining and oil businesses, the creation of the National Bank of Egypt and the construction of the Aswan Dam. Services which he renders to the land of which he is host lead gradually towards real independence.
In 1900, Philippe Octave Borelli Bey leaves the political arena and returns to France. He divides his time between Paris and Saint-Tropez, where he had built the splendid chateau that he loved so much. He died in Paris July 25, 1911.
Disaster scenarios foiled
When in 1989, Robert Geffroy leaves the Presidency of Les Parcs, everything is in place, well thought out and defined through a set of specifications and very precise regulations. But the pressures of private interests quickly bring multiple threats to hover.
For tenacity, persistence and diplomacy, it took Frederick Spitzer, Robert Geffroy's successor to the presidency of the ASP (Association Syndicale Libre des Propriétaires des Parcs de Saint Tropez) from 1989 to 1990, to thwart plans that threatened the integrity of the site. Particularly targeted are two enclaves right in the middle of Les Parcs : La Maison du Cap and NA Zone, called "Pin", an agricultural zone which awaited the coming attribution not yet determined by the municipality.
The ancient Egyptian Villa, now La Maison du Cap whose cellars were used to gather the harvest of surrounding vineyards, was to have have been transformed into a retirement home. A long struggle by owners including Count Boel then Mr. Gobert, resulted in the purchase, restoration then sale as apartments, of this great building which is now part of Les Parcs.
Worse still was the threat to the seven hectares of area "Pin". All the more unusual projects were tabled : from a Polo field to the installation of a Thalassotherapy hotel with 130 rooms !
After working long and patiently to persuade them, Dr. Michel Canque, President of the ASP since 1990, finally succeeded in making them agree that they shouldn't destroy the site by opening it to the public. The best way to preserve this special area is a gentle urbanization. Thus with the help of an owner, also a developer, five houses, surrounded by marvellous gardens, now happily occupy the land.
The spirit of the place...
« We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow the earth from our children. »
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Full of wisdom and humility, this sentence from Saint Exupéry can be regarded as the profession of faith of all the owners of Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez. Whether they have acquired a sumptuous estate, a country house, a farmhouse or an apartment, with an address within the boundaries of Les Parcs, they are driven by the same spirit as the pioneers who created it : to protect vegetation and sea, favour aesthetics and space, preserve the serenity and friendly hospitality. A lifestyle that everyone can revel in.
This island of happiness that Les Parcs represents would not be perfect if the children as well do not relish their holidays splashed with laughter and joy. In the same way sports leaders, tennis and swimming teachers do not forget them. Between breaststroke and the other art of backstroke, they are also organizers of the Olympic Games, key event of the summer. A demonstration glazed by prowess that brings parents and children alike together in a good atmosphere.
« To my right an old farmhouse that serves as a backdrop to the Pierre Tchernia film "Le Viager", in front of me vines which blend green, almost without limit into a blue sea stretching out of sight. It is a daily wonder. »
...and the inexhaustible dedication of managers and leaders
Luxury, Calm and Serenity...
This trio seems obvious in the life of Les Parcs, if we are unaware that behind the scenes, discreet, effective and benevolent teams are working non-stop to solve many problems daily and often urgently: storm damage, boar fights, neighbourhood disputes, helicopter disturbances, maintenance of palm trees and the beach... so many challenges faced on a daily basis, often with nobody's knowledge.
Private driveways have no cars, sensual shores preserved from concrete, festooned with beautiful pines, are a haven of serenity and silence. Viewed from the highest point of the Belvedere du Chateau, the houses are so scattered in the surrounding nature that there seem to be only fifty when there are two hundred !
Preserved, magnificent, seemingly so carefree, for sixty years this is the atmosphere of Les Parcs that Colette already relished in "Treille Muscat".
« I would like to continue this life of unbridled luxury that I lead here: barefoot, an old jacket, lots of garlic and bathing at any time... »
La reproduction de ce texte, même partielle, quel que soit le pays, la forme et le support, est strictement interdite.
Text : Anne-Marie Picciot - Translation : Anna C.