bandol hotel delos from seaFirst things first: the splendidly eccentric Hotel Delos is not, strictly speaking, in Bandol. It's on the Île de Bendor, a tiny island a short seven-minute boat ride from the mainland.

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Bendor was bought in 1950 by Paul Ricard, who had made his fortune from pastis, the iconic anis-flavoured drink of Provence.

At that time it was deserted. Ricard's visionary project was to turn it into an arts and cultural centre, with a handful of restaurants and leisure facilities such as pétanque and tennis courts - as well as the hotel.

The Delos was built in 1962 of rock hewn from the island and "masterfully designed" by Monsieur Ricard in person, as the hotel website modestly puts it. It offers three types of accommodation.

Near the landing stage, behind Ricard's famous "Nul bien sans peine" ("No pain, no gain") monolith, pictured, the main building has traditional rooms decorated in baroque, Spanish influenced style.

bendor monolithThe Palais is modelled on a Venetian palace and has a more contemporary feel. Unlike the main building, it also has a lift / elevator. A little further away on the other side of the marina, eight provençal villas complete the line-up.

You can imagine that, masterfully designed or not, this jumble of styles must have also come across as more than a little chaotic. Certainly after forty years it was beginning to look dated.

And so in 2005 the top British textile maker Carolyn Quartermaine was brought in to give the hotel a facelift. She's done a gorgeous job, creating luxurious hand-printed fabrics to blend harmoniously with the original decor.

bandol hotel delos receptionThe villas were revamped by German designer Herbert Hufnagel and in 2014 the Hotel Delos recived its reward: a promotion from three to four stars.

The little reception lobby, pictured, is all in dazzling minimalist white, its walls scrawled with sketches and fragments of calligraphy.

From it a marble staircase lined with a wrought iron handrail and decorated with an ornate mosaic and gilt lamp sconces leads up to the restaurant and bedrooms. The whole concept somehow manages to combine contemporary chic with the quaint period clutter favoured by Ricard.

We were shown several rooms by one of the very friendly and professional members of staff. Each room was different, so you'll have to take your chances (be warned: some of them are on the small side).

Room tip: no.214 is the only room in its category with a balcony. It looks out to sea and has quite spectacular views.

We didn't spend the night at the Delos, but we did have dinner in the hotel restaurant. In late April business was still quiet. Pictured, the ornate Moorish bar was liberally stocked with bottles, all from the Ricard drinks empire naturally, but empty of customers.

In the restaurant there were maybe eight or ten diners in total and the waiters' scurrying footsteps echoed along the long thin room.

bandol hotel delos barThe indoor dining room is formal and a little stuffy with rather uncomfortable chairs. The table right at the far end from the entrance is the most desirable: it looks out to sea with nothing but the wide blue yonder as far as the eye can see.

It was still a little too cool to eat on one of the two outdoor terraces, but these are the places to book your table in warm weather.

The menu was short: three starters, three fish dishes, three meat dishes, three desserts. A complimentary amuse-bouche, a hot oyster in a mint and lemon espuma, boded well.

Against my better judgement I was persuaded to order a starter of foie gras, smoked eel and bressaola in lime gelée. It was a weird assembly in which the various ingredients sat unhappily side by side on the plate, not really speaking to each other.

The six-minute egg in a hazelnut crust with an emulsion of morels was better but neither struck us as wholly successful.

Things looked up a bit with a John Dorey in a verbena infusion with a Granny Smith apple risotto and you can't really go wrong with a fillet beefsteak. The selection of home-made breads was very good, as was the plate of mini-desserts at the end.

But, while the restaurant styles itself as gastronomic, it isn't really quite there yet. The main charm as far as we were concerned was its extraordinary concept and setting.

Don't miss the Côtes de Provence wines from Les Embiez, another nearby island also owned by Ricard. It has just ten hectares / twenty-five acres of vineyards and this is the only restaurant in Provence where you can taste its wines.

They're modestly priced, presumably as a promotion, and very good. Order up a Ricard pastis as an apéritif to complete the full experience.

Visited April 2015

Book a room at the Hotel Delos on Bendor

Practical information: The attractions of Bendor are quickly exhausted, unless you intend to spend all day at the beach or the pool, but hotel guests get one free return ferry crossing daily to the mainland.

Boats leave regularly throughout the day and into the evening, until quite late in the height of summer. Further details and the full shuttle boat timetable can be found on Bendor's website.

If you are coming over for a meal to the island from Bandol, Bendor also offers free evening boat crossings for anyone with a dinner reservation.

The offer is good for all the restaurants on Bendor, not just the one at the hotel. Click here to read our full guide to the town of Bandol.

It's a rather informal system: you phone one of the island's restaurants to book your table and it will then inform the boat operator, which keeps a list of names.

In April we were the only passengers in each direction, and the restaurant even arranged for the boat to wait for us to finish dinner before ferrying us home!

 

 

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