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A Former Soap Factory on the French Riviera Has Been Reimagined As a Chic Château Hideaway



My first seven years living in France, Nice was my home. I crisscrossed the coast by bus, bike, and train; road-tripped throughout Provence’s lavender and sunflower fields; took ferries over to Saint-Tropez and the Lérins Islands; and hitched rides to shop at the Friday market in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia.

The Riviera I’ve always known has an invisible border in Cannes, where the local train line from Nice arrives at its final stop. The other side, en route to Marseille and the Calanques — jagged limestone cliffs encasing fjord-like aquamarine coves — is like entering an entirely different region of France. On the train ride down to Cannes from Paris in mid-April, I couldn’t quite place the seaside town of Théoule-sur-Mer — a name I’d only seen flashing past as the high-speed TGV train whipped through the tiny station without stopping.

The area’s main attraction is the fantastical, bubble gum-pink Palais Bulles, fashion designer Pierre Cardin’s former “Bubble Palace” that could have been a stand-in as a set for Barbie. But the opening of Château de Théoule, French hospitality group Millésime Collection’s first property on the Côte d’Azur, is setting out to make this sleepy seaside town a destination of its own — a more intimate version of nearby Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins. Both spots have rich histories (F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “Tender Is the Night” when he lived at the home that would become Belles Rives), but Château de Théoule’s story feels like the plot of a Juliette Binoche film that veers off in five different directions.

Operating initially as a savonnerie, or soap factory, when it opened in 1630, it quickly shuttered so it wouldn’t compete with nearby perfume capital Grasse. The first renovation didn’t occur until the end of the 19th century when the child of wealthy silk merchants from Lyon (the city once was the capital of the European silk trade and where Hermès’s ateliers are still located) took over the property.

In 1910, Scottish Lord M. Harry Crowford added the heavy-handed finishing Tudor touches in the form of turrets and serrated ramparts before moving with his mistress to the twin castle across the bay, where he could still keep a watchful eye on his wife and children (the property is now a vacation residence for French electricity company EDF).

The French aren’t shy to share stories like this (in one version I heard, the mistress was the nanny) — it’s all told very matter-of-fact in the same way you might mention the château’s two-year-long renovations, a collaboration between ML Morand Legrix Architectes and the Bâtiments de France architects, the state-run organization dedicated to preserving historical monuments and sites.

“The history of this place — that was my fil conducteur (common thread) for the design,” explains Millésime’s decorator, Marie-Christine Mecoen. “This château passed through so many eras — I wanted to highlight the history but push the story in a new way.”

Courtesy of Chateau de Theoule by Millesime


Over my three days here, I settled into a slower pace of life than I’m used to now in Paris. On morning strolls along the sea with my dog, restaurants received their catch-of-the-day and carefully etched menu additions in cursive on chalkboard signs. Sailboats bobbed in neighboring Théoule harbor, empty masts forming a chorus of windchimes as an occasional breeze rustled. My former home in Nice overlooked a superyacht-lined port, but this one had a sense of calm.

Looking out toward the Bay of Cannes, star-studded La Croisette is just a 20-minute drive away, but the two locales couldn’t seem further apart. You won’t see flashy designer labels and sky-high stilettos here — there are plenty of other places nearby if you want to see-and-be-seen.

While it wasn’t beach weather (temperatures remained a steady, crisp 50 degrees), there was a pre-season energy that felt almost like the last day of school as everyone was preparing for summer days geared around rosé by the water. But shoulder season has always been my favorite time to be in the South of France — and Château de Théoule was the perfect base for exploring a different side of the Riviera.

Château de Théoule

  • Elements from each of the château’s owners are woven into the modernized take on the 19th-century structure — think draped silk headboards, boudoir-inspired fringe lamps, and Second Empire-style furniture and antiques.
  • Each room revolves around its own theme, so no two are alike, and the design is anchored around a sole antique.
  • The private sandy plage (a welcome departure from the Riviera’s pebble-covered coast) opens up to rows of sun beds spilling out along the shore at La Plage Blanche.
  • The convenient location to the region’s gateway airport in Nice places guests equidistant from Monaco and Saint-Tropez, which are about an hour away by private boat.

The Rooms

Gaelle Le Boulicaut/Courtesy of Chateau de Theoule by Millesime


The 34 rooms and 10 suites are spread across the original château and two adjacent villas. Each design and color palette highlights a different aspect of the château’s history and signature notes in fragrances like my second-floor duplex room dubbed La Valérianne (a nod to the valerian flower used in perfumes). Rattan palm tree light fixtures crown each side of my bed, and rich textures like plum velvet armchairs and woven rugs blend harmoniously with the ochre-colored walls.

Gauzy, custom-made eggshell-white linen curtains from Parisian interior design company Maison de Vacances hang over the floor-to-ceiling window that doubles as a built-in glass balcony. Curtains also separate the bathroom (outfitted with KOS PARIS toiletries) from the rest of the room, and a custom scent crafted in Grasse wafts throughout. In the main château’s rooms, Mecoen, a former antiques dealer, blended antiques sourced throughout France (“There’s a spot in Nice I’ve been going to for 40 years that is like Ali Baba’s cave,” she says) with more modern touches like mirrored armoires (mirrors are a common theme throughout), walk-in double showers (this is her signature), and circular soaking tubs.

Rooms in the Art Deco villa next door are softer and coastal-themed, with pastel shades inspired by colors of the seafloor, 1930s-style seashell light fixtures, and glass-encased showers facing the Mediterranean. All rooms show off views of the Bay of Cannes, but only some have balconies or outdoor patios opening out to the pool or gardens. (None of the duplex rooms have an outdoor space.)

Food and Drink

Gaelle Le Boulicaut/Courtesy of Chateau de Theoule by Millesime


Gastronomic Italian eatery Mareluna, in the Art Deco villa, spills out onto a terrace, giving Taormina vibes. The design is playful yet coastal chic with burnt-orange velvet crescent-shaped couches, mosaic-clad walls, and statement pieces like a Julius Caesar bust. With young chef Francesco Fezza at the helm, the team is off to an ambitious start on their mission to secure a Michelin star. (Fezza cut his teeth alongside Ducasse protégé Jocelyn Herland at Le Meurice in Paris.)

Gaelle Le Boulicaut/Courtesy of Chateau de Theoule by Millesime


The Amalfi Coast-raised chef sources ingredients on twice-weekly visits to Cannes’s Marché Forville and from other local producers for a menu that integrates the hotel’s theme of fragrance and scent (starters are referred to as top notes, mains are heart notes, and desserts are base notes). Dishes blend Provençal flavors with Italian touches for plates like ossobuco tortellini, squid ink tagliatelle with Menton lemon and smoked herring roe, and pigeon with stuffed morel mushrooms.

Gaelle Le Boulicaut/Courtesy of Chateau de Theoule by Millesime


Even if you sip one of the cocktails with a small plate, like a truffle croque-monsieur or pissaladiére onion tart at the bar, you’ll still go on a gastronomic journey. Cocktails — which are also available at beach club La Plage Blanche — shake up classics for versions like the Bloody May Day, squid ink-infused mezcal with a tomato and olive oil vinegar and Strawberry Fields, elderberry-infused gin blended with strawberry purée, vanilla syrup, tonic, and egg white. 

Amenities and Experiences

Gaelle Le Boulicaut/Courtesy of Chateau de Theoule by Millesime


During my visit, it was too early in the season for the few beach bars in the area, which is in full swing about now, thanks to the Cannes Film Festival. The hotel’s private beach club, La Plage Blanche, was open only on weekends when I visited, but in high season, the restaurant and bar will be open daily for lunch and dinner (beach chair reservations start at 45 euros and are open to outside guests). As the weather warms, the lounger-lined pool will also feature a bar that stays open until 11 p.m. Even though I couldn’t lounge beachside, I spent my afternoons soaking up the sun at a table in the garden while reading and sipping a glass of rosé.

From the hotel’s private boat slip in the neighboring harbor, you can depart on a full- or half-day cruise to clear-as-glass coves and underwater sculpture parks between the nearby Lérins Islands, where you can dock for lunch at celebrity hotspot La Guérite. The rust-red Massif de l’Estérel mountain range that descends to the sea is also carved with hiking trails and staggering cliffs great for trekkers and climbers. 

The Spa

Gaelle Le Boulicaut/Courtesy of Chateau de Theoule by Millesime


Millésime’s signature wellness concept, Éc(h)o Spa, is extensive for such an intimate property. Treatments like the 90-minute signature hot seashell massage — Coquillages d’Azur, performed with polished tiger clam shells and ending with a rejuvenating LED mask — are offered in three treatment rooms (one is outdoors at the beach club), or guests can opt for a massage in-room. The finishing touches were being added when I visited, but now that the spa is complete, plan to spend a whole morning or afternoon soaking in the indoor jacuzzi or two outdoor Nordic baths overlooking the Mediterranean. A fitness center is also on the way, but in the meantime, guests can book a personal trainer or private yoga session.

Family-friendly Offerings

All of the rooms on the second floor of the château are duplexes — except for the expansive Merveilleuse Suite, which extends out to a terrace crowned with a jacuzzi — and feature a twin bed on the upper level, making it an excellent option for families since the hotel doesn’t have connecting rooms. Near the spa, the 2,200-square-foot, three-room Maison de Pêcheurs (a converted fisherman’s house) takes over one of the hotel’s three buildings, giving families or groups of friends an onsite private villa experience.

Château de Théoule offers amenities for babies and children like a starfish toy and baby kit by French skincare brand Mustela. Pets also receive an in-room treat on arrival.

Accessibility and Sustainability

Château de Théoule’s sustainability initiatives focus on sourcing local ingredients and avoiding single-use plastics and packaging. The entrance, all public spaces, and the bar and gastronomic restaurant are accessible. Some guest rooms are on the ground floor, but travelers with reduced mobility can access upper-level rooms via elevator.

Location

A 45-minute drive from the Nice airport or 20 minutes from the Cannes train station, the hotel is an ideal base for exploring the French Riviera by land and sea. Skip the traffic during the Cannes Film Festival or the bustling summer months and cruise over to La Croisette by boat (the Théoule-sur-Mer port is a three-minute walk from the hotel) or hop on board a water taxi to dine along the water at jet-set favorite Anjuna in Èze.

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay

Château de Théoule is part of the boutique Millésime Collection, so it isn’t linked to a loyalty or points program. Rates in high season (mid-June to mid-September) are comparable with the rest of the French Riviera (read: pricey), so the best time to visit is in the low or shoulder season months (October, April, May), when rates are a fraction of the price, starting around 360 euros per night. Like most resort towns on the Riviera, the hotel shuts for the winter season in October and reopens in April.



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