Glitzy and brash? Or one of your favorite places? Opinion is divided on the attraction of Saint Tropez on the French Riviera. In the summer Saint Tropez can be hell – but also heavenly. It’s still basically a small fishing village, surrounded by villas for the super rich and super famous; the town heaves with crowds, but there’s a wonderful 14-kilometer path where you can get away from it all. Whatever you think of the place, it still attracts both the stars and the ordinary vacationer, and therein lies its charm.
The writer Guy de Maupassant started the trend in the 1880s, ‘discovering’ the place when he arrived the only way he could, in his yacht, the Bel-Ami. Then came the painter Paul Signac, followed by other artists of the late 19th- and early 20th-century who found the light fabulous and the living easy.
They loved the small fishing port that went back to the 1400s when the place was independent with its own small army. In the 20th century the trickle of visitors became a tide as everybody followed the famous names of Matisse and Colette, Errol Flynn and Jean Cocteau. By the 1950s Picasso, Juliette Greco and Boris Vian, Jean-Paul Sartre and Francoise Sagan were regulars. But it was Brigitte Bardot who through the film And God Created Woman, became the symbol of fashionable, rather libertine St Tropez. And the place never looked back. Today you might see George Clooney, Jack Nicholson, Liz Hurley and P Diddy strolling around.
The Old Port in Saint Tropez
The best way to arrive in St Tropez is in a yacht -– preferably your own. But if that’s not an option (unless you’re a star or mega rich), then just wander around the old port to see the sleek creatures bobbing in the water in all their million dollar glory. You might also catch a glimpse of a famous face -– either on the boats, or perhaps sipping a drink on a terrace in one of the pastel-colored old buildings that face the water.
There's quite a choice of bars and cafes in the port, but the one to make for, like Colette, Cocteau and countless others have before you, is the Café Senequier, 4 place aux Herbes (tel.: 00 33 (0)4-94-97-00-90). Get there for a leisurely breakfast of coffee and croissants, or go later for a drink and spend the time watching the world go by.
If you're at the port at lunchtime, eat at Le Girelier, quai Jean-Jaures (tel.: 00 33 (0)4 94 97 03 87) where the fresh fish dishes are excellent.
Sightseeing in Saint Tropez
The museums in Saint Tropez come as a delightful extra, and a contrast to the more usual perception of the resort.
- Musee de l’Annonciade
From the port, make your way to the west side and the nearby Musee de l’Annonciade, a 16th-century house with a surprising and impressive collection of pictures of Saint Tropez by the post-Impressionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Also here are works by Van Dongen, Braque, Vlaminck, Derain and the Expressionists Rouault, Utrillo and more.
Open daily except Tuesdays
June 1-September 30 10am-noon, 3-7pm
October 1-May 31 10am-noon, 2-6pm
Closed November, Jan 1, May 1, Ascention Day, Dec 25
- The Citadelle stands high above the town. Go for the naval and maritime history of the area, putting the town in context. Get there at sunset and be rewarded by the splendid view over the town, the golf course, and towards Ste-Maxime and the wonderful backdrop of the Massif des Maures.
Open daily Apr-September 10am-6:30pm
October to March 10am-12:30pm, 1:30-5:30pm
Closed Jan 1, May 1, 17, Ascension Day, Nov 1, 1 December 25
- Maison des Papillons
Finally if you’re at all interested in butterflies, the Maison des Papillons (Musee Dany-Lartigue) is for you. Located in the family house of the photography J.-H. Lartigue, his son collected the 4,500 specimens that vie for your attention with their extraordinary colors and shapes.
Open daily except Tuesday May 2nd-October 31st 10am-noon, 3-7pm
Closed May 1, 17, Ascension Day, November, December 25 and Jan 1.
The Old Quarter of La Ponche
Between the port and the Citadelle lies La Ponche, the oldest and prettiest part of the town, and still the area where the local fishermen and artisans live. In the place de l’Hotel de Ville, the tower is all that is left of the chateau de Suffren, for centuries the home of the lords who reigned over Saint Tropez.
From here walk to the charming little church of Notre-Dame de-l’Assomption. Its tower is on every photograph; in the Italian baroque interior you’ll find a wooden sculpture of St Tropez himself. Yes, there really was a St Tropez and each year on May 15 and 16, the locals take to the street with a procession to celebrate him, with much letting off of rifles. It's called Les Bravades and is well worth getting to see if you're in the south of France in Spring.
Shopping in Saint Tropez
From the pretty port, walk up any of the little streets towards the center. If you fancy high-end shopping, take the Rue Gambetta for a foray into the designer names. This is the place to find that fantastic bikini -- the newly invented oh-so-sexy garment that Brigitte Bardot made famous. The second big shopping street is Rue du General Allard that runs west from the port. It may seem odd to be shopping for Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Dior in the winding streets of the old town, but this mix of old and new, top designer gear and everyday Provencal goodies is what St. Trop, as it's locally called, is all about.
You’ll emerge at the end of Rue Gambetta or Rue Sibilli into the central Place des Lices. This is picture-book pretty, with petanque players providing the entertainment, and plane trees, cafes and a daily Provencal market to keep your attention.
In the Place des Lices, join real old France at the Café des Arts (tel.: 00 33 (0)4 94 97 02 25), with its marble tables, old wooden floorboards and chairs outside giving you a grandstand seat for the age-old pleasure of people-watching. You won't see Brigitte Bardot anywhere here as she's now a recluse though she still lives in St Tropez. Never mind, watch out for the other stars.
Saint Tropez's Glorious Beaches
There are plenty of beaches for sun worshippers on the Saint Tropez peninsula. Possibly the best known because it's a nudist beach is Tahiti plage. Pampelonne beach is a huge sandy stretch along the east side of the peninsula dominated by the Camarat lighthouse. One of the highest in France, it's been guiding sailors up to 60 kilometers out to sea since 1831 (though modernised in World War II and fully automated in 1977).
For the energetic, there’s a wonderful walk along the headland. From Saint Tropez you first pass the cemetery where film director Roger Vadim is buried. The headland is rocky and pine-covered, the perfect place for the villa (and private beach) belonging to Brigitte Bardot. It’s a 14-mile walk, so not to be undertaken lightly though you can just do stretches of it. But if you want to find your own private beach, this is the place to search for it. You'll find peace, tranquility and very few other people as you make your own way down to the sea.
Among the pine trees you come across the villages of Gassin and Ramatuelle. The little village with its tiny roads, old houses and Romanesque church is better known for its two extremely chic hotels (details in the next section). It's the perfect spot for a bit of chilling-out.
Where to Stay in Saint Tropez
Saint Tropez has its fair share of famous and fabulous hotels; all those film stars have to stay somewhere. Hotel Sezz is the latest hip place for them (it opened in July 2010), and anybody else after a stunning experience. It’s set in woodlands just minutes away from the beach, a complex of 37 guestrooms, suites and villas, grouped around a central pool area. The restaurant Colette has top chef Pierre Gagnaire behind it and there’s a wonderful spa by Payot. It feels very Mediterranean and unbelievably chic.
- Hotel Byblos is one of the resort's swankiest hotels. Brigitte Bardot with husband number three, Gunter Sachs, were here for the opening and it was the place where Mick Jagger proposed to Bianca in 1971. Celebrities like George Clooney and rappers Jay-Z and P Diddy drink in the famous in-house nightclub, the Caves du Roy. The restaurant under Alain Ducasse has been renamed as Rivea and redesigned in a relaxed, garden-themed decor with a local menu full of Italian flavors. And the rooms? Superb, and located in a group in a stylish Mediterranean 'village' of stone buildings around the swimming pool.
Just outside St-Tropez at Ramatuelle, two hotels compete for the crown.
- Upmarket and very chilled-out Muse is tucked away among vineyards, pines and olive groves. 15 suites are the attraction here; there’s a beautiful pool, fine-dining restaurant and cosy bar, and a silver Bentley to take you into St-Tropez should you feel the urge. The suites are called after famous muses from Edit Piaf to Catherine Deneuve.
- La Reserve Ramatuelle is a very stylish hotel with a spa devoted to age prevention in a natural way. No invasive procedures, just special meals, energy-building activities and holistic treatments in a perfect setting. Floor-to-ceiling windows and Zen bathrooms with Crème de la Mer products are the order of the day here.
Getting to Saint Tropez
Saint Tropez is in the Var and has a population of 5,612. They are joined in the summer by the crowds who flock to this small Mediterranean village (it's still a village despite its world-wide fame) for its little streets, port, square and beaches. That could describe a multitude of towns, so what's its attraction? Discover for yourself.
Getting to Saint-Tropez
- By air
The nearest airport is Toulon Saint-Tropez (18 km, 11.1 miles south west of St Tropez), served by some domestic routes and some from the U.K. There is a bus link to Saint-Tropez, or take a taxi.
- By rail
The best route is into Toulon from Paris taking from 3 hr.50 ms. Then take a bus to Saint Tropez, or a taxi.
- By car By car
Saint Tropez is off the A8 motorway. From Marseilles, exit at the Cannet des Mauresjunction then continue along the D558 for 38 km following signs for St Tropez. From Nice, exit at the Le Muy junction and continue on the D25 for 40 km. In summer reckon on an hour up for the last couple of miles due to heavy traffic.