The alluring Brigitte Bardot made Saint-Tropez such a legendary destination a Lebanese business tycoon built Le Byblos hotel in an extravagant attempt to woo her. French singer Johnny Hallyday also has a mythical reputation in the village (he’s the subject of an exhibit at the Musée de la Gendarmerie et du Cinema through June 2020). So does resident artist Paul Signac, who lured his avant-garde friends to paint in the village, and who is the subject of a show at the Musée de l’Annonciade.
Saint-Tropez — which, surprisingly, faces north on the tip of a c-shaped peninsula, lures ordinary folks, like me, too, and many of us return time and time again for the simple pleasures of life here.
The port scene, the walk up narrow, hilly, cobblestone streets viewing mini-one-of-a-kind boutiques, pastel-colored houses, flamboyant flowers and shaded squares with the scent of oleander and pine is enhanced by the sheer beauty of it all. In Saint-Tropez, toddlers savor dripping gelato cones (or sugar-covered crepes from Grand Marnier), teens flock to the beach and boutiques, 20-somethings dance ‘till dawn at the famous Caves du Roy and parents display unabashed affection to each other and their children.
September is a wonderful time to visit. The weather is ideal and the town empties until sailors and sailing aficionados converge during the last week in September and the first week of October for Les Voiles de Saint Tropez, a prestigious annual sailing regatta.
Here are some reasons why Saint-Tropez is my favorite port resort.
Outdoor cafés, bars, gelato and souvenir shops line the port at the entry of the village, where most people arrive by car, ferry or cruise ship, though a fortunate few arrive by helicopter. This year, for the first time, we avoided the traffic and opted for the Trans Cote d’Azur ferry from Cannes to St. Tropez, a really comfortable 75-minute crossing offering spectacular coastal views, including close-up views of the Ile de Lérins.
People promenade along the port and ogle at the multi-storied mega-yachts docked. While it’s rare to spot the celebrities onboard, it’s common to see a crowd gather to watch a 200-plus-foot super yacht back into the 20-plus-foot space between two giant yachts.
Musée de l’Annonciade
A breathtaking collection of art from internationally acclaimed, early-20th century, avant-garde artists who Paul Signac invited to paint in St. Tropez — Bonnard, Derain, Dufy, Mattisse and Seurat — is displayed within a teeny, portside, former 16th-century fishermen’s chapel. My favorite painting of the port, Le Quai by Signac, 1899, usually hangs next to an open window through which visitors can see the identical view.
The hexagonal ramparts of the Citadelle were built high above the Mediterranean coast between 1602–1608 and are now the home of a fairly new Museum of Maritime History.
Most days, people play pétanques under the plane trees in the square; on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, throngs arrive to the famed market. Along with beautifully presented produce, gastronomic products abound: black truffles, Tarte Tropezienne, socca, paella, marvelous spices and olive oils. Fashionistas search for boutique-worthy clothing, leather goods, shoes, antiques, vintage posters and paintings.
Cafés and Restaurants
There are countless petit sidewalk cafés and a few gastronomic choices. We dined at Cucina at Byblos, where Executive Chef Rocco Seminara from the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo presents artful Italian fare incorporating fresh produce, much of it grown in a series of vertical gardens that form the backdrop of the restaurant terrace. From Veuve Cliquot and a black truffle-topped pizza to a blue lobster salad with pesto and oranges to a T-bone and dessert, it was phenomenal. Guests were still arriving when we left at 1:30 a.m. for the crowded club, Les Caves du Roi.
Our lunch at Hotel de Paris was at Les Toits, the rooftop indoor/outdoor restaurant that overlooks the pool. Starters arrived after a small basket of fresh hot breads, artichoke salad with both raw and cooked artichokes and burrata with red, yellow, green and orange tomato quarters. After prawns, we chose a pineapple sorbet inside a scooped pineapple with fresh pineapple slices and a strawberry tart. We also lunched at La Guérite, where I had a perfect Salade Niçoise, (with rare fresh tuna, green beans, lettuce, hard-cooked egg) at lunch on a couch backed with an assortment of different blue and white fabric-covered pillows. We stopped for drinks at Senequier, where the pastry showcase includes the famous Tarte Tropezienne and Biglari, where drinks are served in Italian ceramics.
Whether it’s to swim, jet ski, fly fish, parasail or sailboard, Les Sports Nautiques are popular in the Golfe of Saint-Tropez.
The glamorous, long famed beach destinations are located along the east-facing coast of nearby Ramatuelle on the Plage de Pampelonne: Le Club 55, Nikki Beach, Tahiti Beach and the new Byblos Beach. They offer luxurious beach furnishings, double sunbeds and fabulous seafood restaurants.
Saint-Tropez is well worth the effort of getting there.
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