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More insider guides for planning a trip to St Tropez
In orthodox tourism terms – museums, monuments and such like – there’s not an awful lot to do in St Tropez. The point of the place is simply to be there. Wander around, if only to appreciate how the jet set have slotted into the venerable surroundings without (and this is extraordinary) deforming the village allure.
Yacht-watch by the port
Start on Quai Jean Jaurès, by the port. On the harbour side are, of course, the yachts – the size of Salisbury Plain and as sleek as suppositories. Here, daily mooring fees can hit €1,400 (£1,260) a day. Owners and guests take drinks on deck, both ignoring and fully aware of the fact that they are being gawped at by hundreds of passers-by. On the land side are the chic, eye-wateringly expensive restaurants and bar terraces.
Insider’s tip: The most celebrated is the first one along, Sénéquier, with its red film-directors’ chairs and triangular tables. Jacques Chirac has been spotted here, generally sipping piña coladas. So has everyone else you have ever heard of. Sénéquier has retained its cachet despite its recent sale (for a reported €16 million) out of the family that had owned it for four generations.
Enjoy modern art in an old chapel
Spend a morning exploring Musée de l’Annonciade, one of the longest-established modern art galleries in France. This 16th-century former chapel in Place Grammont contains some dross but also cracking stuff from artists connected with Provence in general and St Tropez in particular. Look out for Matisse, Utrillo, Seurat and Dufy.
Insider’s tip: You should also have a look at the pointillist works of Signac, the first artist into St Tropez in the late 19th century. But be warned: all those dots might give you a headache.
Contact: 00 33 494 17 84 10; sainttropeztourisme.com
Opening times: Wed-Mon, 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm
Discover a hidden beach in St Tropez village
Venture down the Quai Mistral to the Portalet tower and dodge through to La Glaye beach. Hemmed by buildings from the oldest part of the village, it is compact but perfectly formed. It is also the first of a succession of three progressively smaller beaches – the only ones in St Tropez village itself.
Insider’s tip: Second beach along is La Ponche – overseen by Simone Duckstein’s Hotel de la Ponche and, more importantly, its bar and restaurant terrace where, in the footsteps of former regulars Picasso, Bardot, and very many others, you might stop for a late breakfast or lunch. There’s a two-course midday menu for €28 (£25).
Meander around the ochre streets
The ochre streets of the Old Village may be the only ones in the world where designer fashion shops stand opposite grocery stores. Pop into the parish church where, to the left of the altar, there is a bust of St Tropez himself. Yes, there really was a chap called Tropez (or ‘Torpes’, or Torpetius in the original Latin). A Roman soldier, he was beheaded for embracing Christianity. His head remained in Italy (it’s in a chapel in Pisa); his body was placed in a boat and pushed out to sea. The boat and its unlikely crew of Torpetius, a cockerel and a dog apparently landed at what is now St Tropez on May 17 AD 68.
Insider’s tip: The town’s former Gendarmerie on Place Blanqui has recently become a museum, inspired by a series of slapstick films, Gendarmes de St Tropez. These are what France has instead of the Carry On films, and the star was Louis de Funès. Look out for the statue of Brigitte Bardot recently unveiled opposite.
Climb a wooded hill to the 16th-century fortress
At the top of the village, climb the green and wooded hill to the 16th-century Citadel. It’s impressively fortified, built both to defend the coast and survey the Tropeziens who, in the view of the French authorities, were a truculent and seditious lot. From outside, the views across the village and out to sea are sumptuous.
Insider’s tip: The interior has been transformed into a museum of St Tropez’s (surprisingly gallant) maritime history. Visit to discover the stories of what happened aboard the navy’s vessels and merchant ships.
Contact: 00 33 494 54 84 14; sainttropeztourisme.com
Opening times: April 1 to September 30, daily, 10am-6.30pm; October 1 to March 31, daily, 10am-5.30pm
Play boules in the central square
The fine central square, Place des Lices, is a couple of times too big for a village the size of St Tropez. Underneath the plane trees, old guys play boules. Their HQ is the appealingly ordinary Café des Arts on the corner of the square. Boules aside, the Place is the second focal point of St Tropez life, after the port, not least because of its mega market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. In summer, it’s hard to get across the street against a steady flow of Ferraris, Mercedes and Bentleys. And you had better believe that St Tropez council treats these motors with due respect. Every year, the height of the speed bumps is adjusted to the clearance levels of the latest models.
Insider’s tip: Should you wish to play, but have forgotten your boules, go to the wood-panelled Le Café where, if you ask nicely, they’ll maybe lend you a set.
Take a seven-mile coastal walk
A splendid alternative to sitting around doing nothing is the seven-mile walk round the headlands to the Pampelonne beaches. The track – called ‘le Sentier du Littoral’ – is quite wild in places, but well maintained and clearly signposted. At reasonable walking speed, it will take about three and a half hours, depending how far along Pampelonne beach you want to end up. En route, you’ll have stirring scenery, interesting coastal flora and the maritime cemetery where the film director Roger Vadim now rests. Brigitte Bardot’s modest place is also nearby, as are charming little beaches such as Plage Graniers, Plage des Canebiers, Plage de la Moutte and Plage des Salins, where the likes of Bruce Willis and Naomi Campbell will never make an appearance.
Insider’s tip: Pick up the ‘Sentier du Littoral’ brochure from the tourist office on Quai Jean-Jaurès, equip yourself with a bottle of water and a mobile phone and set off from La Ponche – once the fishermen’s quarter. The tight scrum of old buildings and the views make it St Tropez’s loveliest, most atmospheric mini-district.