THE ABSOLUTE SHELTER
Classical sophistication. Understated opulence. Old world charm. Like a Premier Cru wine, Le Preverger Estate has earned its vintage with time. From its pre-Napoleonic beginnings to its emergence as an exclusive milieu for the Beau Monde, Le Preverger was always destined to beguile. Despite its 18 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and eight receptions, the Estate eschews brash grandeur in favour of bucolic comfort. Little wonder that England's doyenne of country style Laura Ashley acquired the property from legendary actress Jeanne Moreau. Or that guests like Bardot, Picasso and even Princess Diana have sought sanctuary within its ample grounds. Le Preverger Estate is a singular chateau for the discerning few.
BARDOT, PICASSO, PRINCESS DIANA
A rustic-chic country house sitting amid 150 acres of idyllic chestnut woods, olive groves and vineyards near Saint-Tropez, Le Preverger deserves its reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful settings.
THE 7 STARS HIDEAWAY
British designer Laura Ashley first set eyes on Le Preverger from the back of her husband’s motorbike while on honeymoon and vowed to “work like hell to become successful and live there”. She bought the hilltop château in 1983 after her fashion and furniture empire took flight, fulfilling a decades-long dream of “owning the most incredible home in Saint-Tropez”. US fashion legend Halston, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher were sometimes flown in for long, languorous lunches or candle-lit dinners on the terrace. Jeanne Moreau, the queen of French new-wave cinema, who owned it before Ashley, entertained figures such as Brigitte Bardot, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
THE KARMA PROJECT
Hidden away on the pine-covered hills above Saint-Tropez in the sleepy medieval village of La Garde-Freinet, Le Preverger has been revamped and is now available for hire, still being equipped for some of the best parties on the shores of the French Mediterranean. The new owner, entrepreneur and hotelier John Spence, is preparing to open the property to guests as a unique holiday retreat. He acquired it in 2012, adding it to his Karma Royal Group’s stable of exclusive private enclaves. Spence intends Le Preverger to follow his philosophy of entertaining in the world’s most beautiful settings. The château and grounds (where Jude Law and Richard E Grant shot scenes for the 2013 film Dom Hemingway) will continue hosting special events stemming from its long association with the Cannes Film Festival, as well as local festivals and cultural happenings.
A PRIVATE KINGDOM
Dating back to pre-Napoleonic times, the rustic-chic country house sits amid 150 acres of chestnut woods, olive groves and vineyards. Ashley thought of Le Preverger as more of a kingdom than a house, “where you can grow your own vegetables and fruit, collect wild mushrooms from the woods, press your own olive oil from the olive groves and make your own wine from the vines”.
Arriving down the tree-lined driveway and through the wrought-iron gates is like being swept back to the French Riviera of the 1960s. The estate, along with the main residence, includes a jasmine-covered, shuttered château, a five-bedroom guest villa, a four-bedroom coach house and two-bedroom pool house. It has been elegantly converted from a private home to luxurious escape complete with vaulted cellars filled with barrels of maturing Provençal wine, a tennis court shaded by century-old cypresses and a crescent-shaped pool that spills off the edge of the cliff, where you can take in the scents and views of the sweep of valley and wildflower meadows, as well as the glimmers of the sea beyond.
The property has just been spruced up by Nicky Haslam, society decorator and party organiser, who has designed the homes of Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Roman Abramovich in his signature eclectic opulent style: a mix of old English and old French with the over-the-top flamboyance of over-stuffed sofas, over-sized chandeliers and a smattering of tiger print and leather. Haslam, who has known the house over the years and many of the people who have stayed there, kept the cosily classic interiors intact (including aged gilt mirrors, marble fireplaces, antique sconces and panelled walls). The house is still stuffed with vintage photographs of Jeanne Moreau and decorative 18th century paintings, rich fabrics and framed tapestries that had been part of the house’s collection from its previous owner.
IN THE HOOD : JOHNNY DEPP, REDGRAVES + LIAM NESSON + BARDOT
The grand salons, meanwhile, have been filled with hand-picked pieces that span centuries and continents: densely patterned Oriental rugs that line the terracotta floors; deep armchairs and curvychaise longues in every room; and glittering vases and small sculptures that sweep every surface. Another welcome element of the restoration includes the creation of a new library, curated by British bookseller Philip Blackwell, and stocked with classics, coffee-table tomes and a children’scollection.The property also comes with a Porsche and a helicopter with a pilot — everything you can possibly need for a lost weekend.
The neighbours are pretty starry too; the hillside enclave provides a refuge for nearby residents that include Johnny Depp, the Redgraves and Liam Neeson; and Brigitte Bardot’s rambling farmhouse sanctuary is a few winding lanes away.
Along with its storied past and bohemian appeal, there are endless swathes of quiet woodland to explore, or you can go in search of wildlife in the national park that edges the property, pick wild mushrooms or just traipse through the trees. This is the Provence Cézanne painted, lush with sky-skimming cypresses, shimmering fields of lavender and ancient pastel-coloured follies.
Aside from venturing into free-spirited Saint-Tropez, only minutes away via helicopter, there’s little reason to leave the serenity and enchantment of this castle by the sea.
Le Preverger, Saint-Tropez, is available from around £11,800 per night or £100,000 per week for 14 rooms, including staff, wine and breakfast.
Created to facilitate the needs of our discriminating luxury travellers, Karma Estates is widely recognized for its superlative property portfolio. Relying on Karma's sophisticated team to identify the world's most opulent residences, our clients desire travel experiences that not only offer exclusivity, but also unparalleled pedigrees, six-star service and state-of-the-art amenities, creating a flawless formula that fulfils dreams and meets demands normally deemed impossible even by luxury travel standards.
At the cornerstone of our collection, Group Owner & Chairman, John Spence, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2011, handpicked Le Preverger himself. Spence describes Le Preverger as ‘an opportunity to entertain in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in a chateau that has entertained some incredible people over the years'. The perfect complement to Le Preverger, Karma Estates also offers privileged access to Villa Termini, an impeccably restored 18th century estate ensconced within the Tuscan countryside, and Pelikanos, an Aegean dream custom-designed on the island of Mykonos to accommodate extravagant private events and personal celebrations.
John Spence showed early entrepreneurial flair when, at the age of 12, he bought bags of wine gums, rewrapped them and sold them at a 120 per cent margin. “It was going well until the sweet shop told the police,” says the British-born hotelier and resort owner and founder of Karma Royal Group.
He claims to have got the lowest score of any student in the history of the University of York, before he dropped out after six months. The combination of early-morning rowing sessions and promoting rock bands and staging concerts as the university’s social secretary left no time for lectures.
IT'S BETTER TO BE A PIRATE THEN TO BE IN THE NAVY
A job as a tea boy for a music agency in London led him to begin representing bands such as the Eurythmics, Culture Club and Bananarama. “It was just luck and a lot of fun in the early 1980s,” he says,
Seeking a break from the frenetic music scene, the 24-year-old Mr Spence went to Tenerife and sold property for Global Group. “I discovered I was very good at it, and what started as a holiday job really was the start of the rest of my life,” he says.
He returned to London as a salesman with Global, and spent nine years in a variety of roles before becoming managing director. “The company became the market leader in Europe, but in 1993 I decided to go on my own,” he says. “I wanted my own venture and my own equity in my own business.”
A plan to develop properties in the Caribbean was quickly shelved after Mr Spence, while speaking at a conference in Goa, spotted what he believed was a huge opportunity on India’s west coast.
With cash from a mortgaged flat and some personal savings, the Royal group was born.
The original plan to sell fractional ownership to German, Dutch and British tourists in Goa was abandoned in favour of a much richer prize. “If you scratch below the surface, there’s a huge amount of wealth in India,” Mr Spence says.
Royal opened sales offices in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, selling international-quality holidays to the domestic market. “No one had ever done it in India before,” he says. “The common view outside India was that Indians were poor and wouldn’t be able to buy. We had queues round the block. We’d never seen anything like it. We couldn’t build quick enough.”
A big turning point for the company came when it targeted the large numbers of Indians living in Dubai and Oman, earning four times what they would at home at tax-beneficial rates. “We started selling them a piece of India,” Mr Spence says. “It was just a feeding frenzy. Within four years we had 70 offices around the world.”
Next, Mr Spence turned his attention to the international community in places such as Bali and Phuket. By the end of the 1990s, Royal was a much broader company with properties far beyond its original Indian footprint and customers who were European, Singaporean and Australian.
In 2003, the company launched Karma as “an über-upmarket, five-star offering”. The flagship resorts allowed Mr Spence to sell $1m properties in the relative boom times while providing “a fantastic shop window”, he says.
“While we had the engine room underneath of fractional ownership, Karma has given us a public face. While Karma represents only 10 per cent of our business, it’s what most people see. It’s where the celebrities stay, where the pop stars go, with $5,000-a-night villas. It gets us into the media and gives us fantastic credibility for all our Royal resort owners.”
Mr Spence says independence is important to him. “One of our claims to fame is that we’ve never borrowed a single penny,” he says. “We build from our retained profits. I own 100 per cent of the equity. There are no banks, no venture capitalists, no private equity.”
Karma Royal is headquartered in Australia, and Mr Spence recently won the Australia category in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2011.
Success, he says, is “about being able to do what I always wanted to do. I’m saving golf and gardening until I’m 80. I’ve just turned 50 and I am blessed in life in that what I do is really my hobby … My business is like a job-sport – it’s a business, but it’s also a sport.”