The award-winning Villa Saint Exupery offers five-star hostel facilities, a welcoming environment and an undoubtedly unique experience. Providing budget luxury to holiday-makers on the French Riviera, the Villa prides itself on being a family run business.
The Villa was founded in 2000 and has since won numerous awards world-wide. We have two hostels, Villa Saint Exupery Beach, situated in the city centre and Villa Saint Exupery Gardens, in Nice Nord.
It didn’t start out as a hostel. It started as a nunnery, to which the Carmelite nuns added a French lycée and, later, a student residence. In 1999 the nuns decided to sell; perhaps they ran out of steam, what with all the new French government security regulations requiring major investment; perhaps they did not have enough young recruits to take over the good work.
When Baron Ulf von dem Bussche-Ippenburg and family acquired the property in the year 2000, the average age of the remaining nuns was over seventy. They retired to nunneries in Aix-en-Provence, Paris, Macon and Haifa, Israel. The baron and his sons delivered all the monastic furniture free of charge by giant rental truck to their new homes. The family was received graciously at each location, often late at night, with a three-course meal and white-linen bedspreads in immaculate rooms decorated by quiet white walls. In the morning the nuns formed a chain to disperse the contents of the truck throughout their nunnery. They called the drivers "Les Gentleman Déménageurs" (the gentlemen movers) in recognition of long hours spent in prayer behind rented wheels.
This all meant that the monastery needed new furniture. So a few weeks later Les Gents found themselves driving in the reverse direction, hauling furniture from Germany, and mattresses, bathroom fittings, tiles and blankets from all over Italy. To save costs, they bought directly from manufacturers. The reception at these establishments was not quite as white-linen, but as long as they paid cash on pickup, it was still pretty good.
Some of this remembered graciousness was built into the new hostel. Free delivery of clients from and to bus stops, stations and, when necessary, airports, became tradition at Villa Saint Exupéry. Beds are still turned down, monastic style, friendliness is the centre of all communication, and cleanliness is a mantra. However, with the beginning of the second millennia; a few things had to be modernized. All 75 rooms and 10 dormitories received attractive ensuite bathrooms and essential technology: free cable and wireless internet connections, as well as TV and telephone sockets. Life, which had been centered on bed and board, became quite secular except for classical music piped into the Chapel until noon.
Even on a rainy day the view from the rooms and the terrace is magnificent: the town of Nice stretches away below Avenue Gravier and the lights of the Promenade des Anglais and waterfront glitter after sundown. But there is not much rain on the Côte d’Azur, which boasts 320 days of sunshine annually, and so the visitors spend much of their stay discovering the delights of the Riviera, of which there are many. This area has more to see, more museums and diverse culture (Italy, Monaco, and the Provence) than anywhere but Paris. Information on what to see and how to get there, and at what cost, is dispensed liberally and in professional detail to each client by all the staff.
In winter the ski resort operators pray seasonally for fluffy white snow, but if it doesn’t come they are equipped with the requisite water-cannons to make artificial snow. Isola 2000, one of the highest European ski resorts, Auron and Valberg, along with seven other resorts, is between an hour and two hour’s drive from the Villa. Ski Nice has therefore become a new monastic product, priced low-budget for those wishing to test their skills on weekends in the French Southern Alps.
The heartbeat of the hostel remains the Chapel lounge, where a delicious 10-cereal breakfast is served, for the benefit of recuperating night owls, in unlimited quantities until 10:30 A.M. In the evening guests enjoy fresh pizzas made in the Villa’s Italian oven, or they can choose a homemade Plat du Jour prepared by our very own Chefs. Alternatively, guests can enjoy all the luxuries of home and prepare their own meals in a handsomely equipped glass conservatory kitchen. The bar is open till midnight or beyond, depending on the mood of the clients.
The von dem Bussche family believe strongly that clients should get a good deal on all services and essentials. As such, food and drinks, including beer, wine and juices, are sold at close to cost. In addition, towels are free and the twelve internet computers are free and open around the clock.
"Contrary to conventional business theory that says all products and services must be profit centers," says Baron Bussche, who studied law in Germany and economics, business and political science in the United States, "we are conscious of our clients’ budget limits and we believe that generating a genuine feel-good factor far outweighs the profit benefit of such items."
In reality, it is the clients that create the atmosphere, called ‘ambiance’ here in France, and the success of the whole operation.
"We provide the framework and services," says the Baron, waving at the cavernous chapel and striking stain-glass windows, "but the travelers do the talking and exchanging of ideas and experiences and create the buzz that is palpable throughout Villa Saint Exupéry".
So it is not surprising that the Villa has been ranked in the Top Ten Hostels worldwide five times in five years, that 70% of clients come from recommendations, and that the Villa runs at high capacity most of the year.
"However, in the monastic spirit we are condemned to remain humble," says the Baron. "We are a long way from meriting fully such laurels. At an average 20 euros per bed/night, we have, like most hostels, limited resources. We’re like our cat," muses the Baron, stroking a mottled grey Burmese feline who presented herself one day at the front desk without ticket or reservation, and stayed long term to take on the rodents in the garden and hillside - with great success. "We hope for nine lives, but we’re pretty chuffed if we can get one good thing going in a lifetime, and stay on top as long as our imagination and energy and the clients permit."