Will the Île de Bendor be the next St. Tropez? That’s the plan, anyway—at least for its owners, the descendants of pastis king Paul Ricard. This tiny island, just a five-minute speedboat ride from the French Riviera’s resort town of Bandol, is about to transform from family retreat to luxury hotel.

The late Ricard founded his eponymous distillery in Marseille in 1932 and grew it into one of the world’s largest and most profitable liquor conglomerates. In 1950, when Ricard bought the Île de Bendor, it was just a rocky, uninhabited shoal. He originally eyed it as an idyllic setting for a family summer house.

The Île de Bendor (with Cap Sicié in the background) may be small in size, but it has more than enough intrigue to go around.

After the passage of a 1951 French law that banned advertising for pastis and anise-flavored spirits on billboards and in the press, Ricard shrewdly intuited that the island could also become part of his company’s branding strategy. He began distributing carafes, ashtrays, glasses, and other accessories to cafés all over Europe, emblazoning the items with the Ricard name and illustrations of the near-mythical island.

Eventually, Ricard transformed the Île de Bendor, once a hiding place for pirates, into an open-air, family-friendly destination, a sort of high-proof version of Hersheyland or a Disney World (without its most notorious rodent).

The island was equipped with rental villas, and guests wandered down paths lined with artwork, cafés, and restaurants. Its several museums included one stocked with Ricard merchandise, another dedicated to wine and spirits, and one displaying his art collection. At one point during its heyday, in the 60s, it even had a zoo.

The Café Paul Ricard will honor the spirits king, who bought the island in 1950.

At its westernmost tip, the beautifully sited four-star Hotel Le Delos attracted jet-set types such as Salvadore Dalí, Josephine Baker, and Jean-Paul Belmondo. They swam in its saltwater pool and stayed up late, listening to jazz.

Ricard shrewdly intuited that the island could become part of his company’s branding strategy.

The new five-star hotel, which will be known as Zannier Hotels Bendor when it opens in 2026, will be designed and operated by Arnaud Zannier. The heir to a French garment-making fortune, Zannier began his hospitality career in 2011, when he purchased chef Marc Veyrat’s chalet and restaurant, La Ferme de Mon Père, in the stylish French Alpine resort of Megève. His portfolio now includes Omaanda and Sonop, in Namibia; Phum Baitang, in Cambodia; and Bãi San Hô, in Vietnam.

A pool with a view.

La convivialité is the essence of life on the Île de Bendor, and this DNA will be very much respected,” says Marc de Jouffroy, a great-grandson of Paul Ricard’s, who until recently worked in the corporate office of Club Med and is overseeing the project. “We also want local and regional visitors to feel welcome here, because they’re the ones who give the island its life and authenticity.”

Due to the Bendor’s small size, “and out of a desire to preserve the tranquility of hotel guests,” says Zannier, during peak season, visitors may be asked to brandish a restaurant reservation before boarding a boat to the island. Since La Société Paul Ricard runs the boat service to the island, it won’t be hard to enforce this request.

The Soukana pool will be the island’s centerpiece.

“The first step is building a huge barge that can transport the construction materials and supplies to the port of Bendor, the smallest one on the Mediterranean,” explains de Jouffroy.

Meanwhile, the design phase is well underway; Zannier will be working with Hardel Le Bihan Architects and Niez Studio to create three distinct experiences. At the renovated Hotel Le Delos, expect 60s-style décor straight out of Mad Men. The old fishermen’s houses will be renovated into Mediterranean sea shacks. A minimalist, newly constructed hotel will bring the total number of guest rooms to 93.

“To anyone who knew it before, the island will still be recognizable,” insists de Jouffroy. Upon disembarkation, guests will spill directly into the vintagey Café Paul Ricard. The island’s restaurant will import a new emerging chef every season; there will also be a cocktail bar and a pan-Mediterranean café.

A rendering of Zannier Hotels Bendor’s Soukana rooftop bar.

A charming essay on the Web site of the tourist office in Bandol expresses the wistfulness many locals feel at the impending transformation. In their collective local memory, the Île de Bendor was a happy, easygoing place that was open to everyone—including the children who avoided buying a ferry ticket by arriving in inflatable boats. With room rates expected to be around $1,000 per night—or more—such high jinks are much less likely to be tolerated in the future.

In the meantime, those craving simpler times might want to book a $265 room at the pleasant, low-key Hotel Helios, overlooking the marina on the nearby Île des Embiez. It’s no Four Seasons, but then again, that’s why it’s so charming.

Alexander Lobrano is a Writer at Large at AIR MAIL. His latest book is the gastronomic coming-of-age story My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris