He is a gentleman, in his gestures and acts, giving his sincere generosity in a very simple way, to make us live an unforgettable stay. In his hotel-restaurant La ferme d’Augustin, a few minutes from Saint Tropez, Christophe Vallet offers a luxury apart, full of charm and with the incredible benefit of excellence. Here, everything is made to make us feel at home: from Mediterranean cuisine, with garden products and the catch of the day, to the comfort of a friendly and well-preserved place. And for the experience to continue, he has launched a unique guide with 550 authentic hotel and cruise addresses around the world. A collection against the current of luxury standards, whose signature is olfactory and perhaps even soon in the birch sugar … because we must always give the best for our guests!
Childhood and his financial career
There is no precise memory for Christophe Vallet, so much his existence is rooted in this place, held by his parents, and that founded his grandfather Augustin in 1950. “My grandfather Augustin had immigrated from Italy at the end of the 19th century, and he built everything with his hands. There was only rockery. He planted the first trees, then started working the land to make a living.” As he had Parisian friends that had bought a holiday home nearby, he invited them for a free lunch with their loved ones, in his sunny place. Until the day he had to keep the sense of proportion! He then opened with his wife a table for his guests, with a menu and a common trunk where everyone would put his participation, because again, he did not want to make his friends pay. The sense of generosity is in the genes! The restaurant was not profitable either and it was finally necessary to move to a chalk board and a personal bill. This is how the restaurant “La Ferme d’Augustin” was born.
The place will attract a large number of curious people, including famous ones, coming from Monaco or further, to taste the authentic cuisine of the boss, and especially his bouillabaisse. “Since they had to stay there, my grand-parents had to organize the accommodation”. They initially gave the room of Ninette, their only daughter, but then, they started arranging other rooms, bringing modernity and contrast whilst preserving the true essence of the establishment with its natural, rustic and friendly atmosphere. The family business will pass to Jacqueline, called Ninette, and her husband Gilbert Vallet, in 1978. They will undertake refurbishment work to enlarge the hotel, creating a unique decoration in each room, with an attention to all the details: the Pierre Frey fabrics, the old paintings and furniture and finally, a balneotherapy pool, heated to 30 degrees, built in 1992. Located in an unspoilt place with timeless charm, ideally located a few minutes away from the sea, the establishment is now classified 4 stars, keeping the original friendly spirit of the house.
“As a child, I was often at the reception or in the garden, and I could see the Prince of Sweden playing bowls with my grand-father Augustin.” And thus will grow Christophe, the only son of the house, surrounded by prestigious guests and customers who have become old friends. “Of course, my parents would have liked me to start studying hospitality. But I wanted to prove to them that I was able to do something else, by myself.” Gifted in Finance, he will attend renowned schools: Sup de Co, SKEMA and Harvard, and will work in this field until 2005, by creating his own company to raise funds and help start-ups in the Information and Communication Technologies. “What attracted me was finance in the service of others, not the one that makes capital gains, as in capital strategy.” He will be finalist of the French Grand Prix in Wealth Management, and will practice in a large bank in Monaco. “With all these years, I was able to build myself a capital to finally devote myself to what I love: to give what is good, beautiful and true to others.”
La Ferme d’Augustin
In 2003, with the birth of his first son, Christophe will want a balance in his family life, which was difficult to have with his frequent trips. It is also at this time that his parents will look at all the options for a possible sale of their establishment. He will then decide to return to the Ferme d’Augustin to work fully there, surrounded by his parents. His father still takes care of home-made olive oil and wine; 3,000 bottles of rosé produced each year from the estate’s vineyards, during a traditional harvest entirely manual and biodynamic. His mother, meanwhile, takes care of the vegetable gardens and the relationships with gardeners and local fishermen. “There is no frozen or farmed fish in our cuisine! Everything is fresh of the day; shrimps and squid are even bought very early in the morning at the Criée of Sète.” They also grow nearly 500 plants of tomatoes and shredded lettuce foots; and make their homemade jams with the fruits of the garden: watermelons, kumquats, quinces or plums.
They propose a simple, sincere and authentic cuisine, based above all on quality raw materials with the seasonal products, coming from local farmers, “as Marie-Christine, for example; a young peasant girl who makes organic products for us.” The house specialty is all the Mediterranean fishes with the ultimate plate: the lobster, just cooked for a few minutes in boiling water to keep all its flavors. They also do themselves, in a very traditional way, anchovies and peppers marinated with olive oil and garlic, octopus or cuttlefish salads, and stuffed sardines, while great Chefs come to create exclusive recipes with the Provence’s flavors, like Patrice Demangel, renowned for its light and healthy cuisine. The hotel restaurant is always full, and it brings this extra spirit by its human size, with 46 rooms in total and a service provided 24 hours a day. “There is no half board included. Breakfast is served until early afternoon, and you can have a coffee even at 3 am!” That’s the real freedom to make your own tailor-made options package and feel like at home.
The Authentic Hotels & Cruises Collection
The establishment had never advertised, but his parents used to pay an annual fee to appear in specific guides, such as Les Collectionneurs (formerly Châteaux & Hôtels Collection). The guests then used the books from the convenience of their room and came back the following year to recount their experiences. Often, with disappointments including the fact that they could not find in it authentic places, such as La Ferme d’Augustin. “I then realized there were a lack; the guests wanted to have an impartial guide, with real good addresses. And as I had a little money aside, I jumped on board right away, out of pure passion.” In 2005, Christophe will launch his new concept: a non-commercial site, with a free admission of the selected hoteliers, to get the addresses of exceptional and charming places in the world, far from standardized luxury. Here, there is no more contribution or commercial margin, but everything is based on the expertise and the opinion of traveler guests and a dedicated selection committee of about forty personalities, accustomed to visiting luxury hotels. The first guide will be published in 2010, with only 40 addresses; Then, every two years, until the fifth edition which will be published at the beginning of July 2018, with 550 authentic hotels and cruises, some of which are exclusive. “Except for a very few exceptions, I always select hotels with less than 50 rooms, to be guaranteed a personalized and sincere welcome, with exclusive charm and above all, authenticity to avoid standard luxury and superficiality with places without identity, nor value.” All the members share a core set of values: the preservation of the environment, out of respect for future generations, refinement in the quality of welcome and service, a privileged setting embodying charm and authenticity, and an enhancement of well-being in appreciation of the art of living.
Soon, hoteliers will want to convey the brand image of the collection, with amenities and welcome products. The signature will be a perfume, form a big nose, Pierre Bourdon, which made Cool Water of Davidoff or Kouros, of Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce Vita of Christian Dior. An exclusive olfactory design for Authentic Hotels, and one of his finest creations: based on essence of lavender, mint, geranium and bergamot from Calabria. Today, Christophe Vallet wants to go further, distributing in all the partner hotels a natural product, a polyol sugar extract from birch bark, to replace all unhealthy sugars on the market. He created the brand “Natsuc”. “It is a sweetener with exceptional virtues and is still very rare in France.” Xylitol is indeed a healthy sugar: 100% vegetable, it has a sweetening power 30% higher than the one of white sugar with the same flavor as sucrose, with a refreshing effect and a calorie intake twice as low and a glycemic index of 7 (which is very low). It even offers anti-caries and anti-infective benefits, “and it’s so important to take care of our customers, when they choose us to get authenticity!”
Creating happiness for people is the goal of Christophe Vallet. A simple and with a rare intensity happiness, which is both discreet and full of charm, to let us taste an incomparable luxury, that takes its source in what is good, beautiful and true. And it is a way of life to help us find our own authentic identity, through these memorable stays. La Ferme d’Augustin, a nearly a hundred years old home, with its warm welcome and relaxing experience, might yield some clues : the return to Naturalness and how to let go to expereince true welcoming. Then to turn our gaze upon not on money and profitability, but on what gives real meaning to life: the shared human richness, because there lies the true value of a unique and exceptional location.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on April 21, 2018, in Ramatuelle (Var, France)