Located in southern France, Saint-Tropez is a chic destination for international jet-setters, often visited by celebs, glitterati and the world's wealthiest. Luxe, glam and uber exclusive, Saint-Tropez village has a population of only 5000, but over 5 million travellers visit annually. To add to the growing list of globetrotters, the Tourism Office of Saint-Tropez has their eyes all set on the Indian Luxury Traveller.
Apart from private yachts, a sexy nightlife and gorgeous water views, what else can Saint-Tropez offer Indian globetrotters? In my endless search in finding new and inspiring destinations to add to my bucket list, I came across a surprising historical connection between Saint-Tropez and India.
Love Story: General Allard & Princess Pan Dei
Saint Tropez residents love retelling the romantic story of General Jean-François Allard. Born in Saint-Tropez, the General served in the Napoleon army until the Battle of Waterloo. In 1820, Allard drifted around the Middle East before travelling to Punjab, India in 1822 and serving under Maharajah Ranjit Singh's army. During his time in Punjab, the General met his future wife, Bannu Pan Dei, Princess of Chamba in northern India. Transfixed by her beauty, the General fell deeply in love with the princess, and their idyllic union produced five children, the youngest of which was born on their return to France in 1835.
The General returned to India as French Ambassador while Princess Bannu stayed behind in Saint-Tropez. The General feared if she was to go back and he died that she may have to endure "sati". Three years later, the General passed away in Peshawar. Princess Bannu, along with her children and her handmaid, was to remain until her death in 1884 in the beautiful St Tropez dwelling. On her tomb in the little seaman's cemetery overlooking the waves, engraved in golden letters is this simple epitaph:"The General's Wife".
Pan Dei Palais
The royal dwelling of General Allard and Princess Pan Dei on Rue Gambetta has been turned into a 3 storey luxury boutique hotel, the Pan Dei Palais, preserving the legendary 19th century love story. Decorated with Indian and Asian elements, the hotel's interior decorator Francoise Piault explains, "I really wanted to bring back something of the life of the Princess to whom I felt very close. Having escaped her tragic destiny, I imagined that she left her roots here."
The Pan Dei Palais has 12 adjoining rooms and suites with each having its own look and feel.
The largest of the suites is that belonging to the princess, notable for its 55 m² floor area. The headboards were made in India from wood salvaged from ancient temples. Others are embellished with Balinese terracotta. Hand embroidered Indian cotton drapes, cushions and throws, oversized bathrooms with traditional style bathtubs, wooden modesty screens, period pedestal tables and divans; all the style and elegance of colonial-era India.
Although I'm usually weary of "Arabian Night" themes ("exotic" can easily look tacky and misappropriated), the Pan Dei Palais looks chic and elegant.
As a culture and history enthusiast, I'm definetely going to add Saint-Tropez and the Pan Dei Palais to my travel wish list!