St Tropez is, quite simply, the most famous resort in Europe – and it was attracting the artistic and dissolute long before Brigitte Bardot’s time. The pointillist Paul Signac led them in from the late 19th century and, by the Forties and Fifties, the village was a summertime extension of the Parisian Left Bank: Juliette Greco, Boris Vian, Sartre and Picasso. Then Bardot appeared in ‘And God Created Woman’, transforming localised libertinage into a worldwide reputation for illicit pleasures. The place never looked back.
The great, the rich and the A-listers still tack in by the yachtful, as do any amount of flotsam and jetsam, whose obsession with air-headed extravagance can get on the nerves. But this is vital to keeping St Tropez in the planetary spotlight. The surroundings help, too. The wooded, rocky St Tropez peninsula is spectacular, the views across the sea to the Maures mountains are outstanding. It is, though, only the sheen. It disguises a multilayered life, from villa evenings with moguls through to locals going to the market with baskets to do their daily shopping.
Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do…
Start on Quai Jean Jaurès, by the port, to note the celebrated sleek yachts roughly the size of Rutland. Bars and restaurants line up on the land side, competing for the highest prices. Most famous is Sénequier, with its red directors’ chairs and triangular tables. Everyone you’ve ever heard of has drunk here – and paid through the nose: an espresso is £4, a 25cl beer £8.25 and cocktails around £17.
From the quay, dodge round the Portalet Tower to the tiny Glaye beach, and into the old village. The ochre streets press in, the better to concentrate a past of sailors and fishermen; a present of bars, estate agents and old ladies in housecoats sweeping before their front doors. Within the pink and yellow parish church, note the bust of St Tropez to the left of the altar. He was a Roman soldier, Torpetius, beheaded for embracing Christianity. His head stayed in Italy; his body was set adrift in a boat and landed at St Tropez in AD68.
Key big-name brand shopping (Louis Vuitton; D&G) is within the triangle formed by the Places des Lices, Rues Gambetta and Allard. Meanwhile, the famous St Tropez sandals may be bought most expensively from K.Jacques (00 33 494 974 150) at 22 Rue Allard. Allow £180 a pair.
Stop for lunch at Le Sporting (42 Traverse des Lices; 00 33 494 970 065), a bustling brasserie which is good, with prices which rate as ultra-reasonable for St Tropez: pizzas start at a tenner, savoury pancakes at £7 and fish or meat mains are from £18.
Playing boules beneath the plane trees is a standard pursuit on the Place des Lices. Locals are frequently joined by media stars. Should you wish to play, but have forgotten your boules, go to the wood-panelled Le Café (5 Traverse des Lices; 00 33 494 974 469) where, if you ask nicely, they’ll maybe lend you a set.
Now head for the Musée de l’Annonciade (Place Grammont; 00 33 494 178 410), a former chapel which celebrates the resort’s artistic past, from 1890 to 1950. Pointillist Signac is there, as are Dérain, Matisse, Dufy and more besides.
Begin the evening with a pre-dinner tipple at the clubby Bar du Sube (Quai Bailli de Suffren; 00 33 494 973 004), warm with mahogany, on the port. The place does lots of cocktails and a zillion sorts of whisk(e)y but, if there are four of you, go for a bottle of Mumm brut which, at €90 (£75) is overpriced but, for St Tropez, not outrageously so. Decent tapas, too, from €10 (£8).
Later dine at Stéphane and Sonia Aveline’s Au Caprice des Deux (40 Rue Portail Neuf; 00 33 494 977 678). This brightly decorated spot set on a narrow side-street provides robust country cooking – with a contemporary tweak. It’s a useful refuge from Pacific Rim fusion food breaking out elsewhere in the resort. Try the medallions of veal in béarnaise sauce. At €38 (£32) it’s not cheap, but nothing is in St Tropez.
If it’s Tuesday or Saturday, don’t miss the mega-market on the Place des Lices. It assembles all the abundance of Provence, plus clothes 10 times cheaper than in the big-name boutiques. Then walk up to the Citadel, built both to protect St Tropez and keep seditious locals under control. It’s now a good, and modern, Museum of Maritime History (1 Montée de la Citadelle; 00 33 494 975 943), covering a past of fishing and (mainly) seafaring which distinguished St Tropez centuries before the A-isters showed up (£3.30).
Nearby, the Marine Cemetery hosts, among others, Roger Vadim, who directed Bardot in And God Created Woman before relationships with both Catherine Deneuve and Jane Fonda. A lively life, and great sea views in death, then.
The onward coastal path (sentier du littoral) runs wild, rocky and rugged, by way of half-seen voluptuous villas and coves round to the Pampelonne beach. That’s some 15kms, and four hours trekking. Take a picnic from the market, stout shoes and lots of water. Otherwise, double back to Rolling Bikes at 50 Av Général Leclerc (0033 494 970939), hire an electric bike for €35/£31 for 24 hours and pedal the six kilometres to the beach.
Though Pampelonne is St Tropez’s most famous beach, it isn’t in St Tropez but in neighbouring Ramatuelle. Of all the beach restaurants, Indie Beach (Route de Bonne Terrasse; 00 33 4 94 79 81 04) opened by three local fellows still in their 20s, has maybe the most relaxed vibe, and made it successfully through 2018’s eco-motivated culling of St Tropez’s beach clubs and restaurants. It majors on barbecue grills, Argentine-style, served in laid-back hippie mode. Argentine rib-eye steak €38 (£32); roasted cockerel €26 (£22).
This is the most celebrated three-mile beach in the world. Everyone’s been here – including, most summers, Elton John, Joan Collins, any top model you care to name and Sylvester Stallone. Whence the beach bar prices: on the private beaches, you’ll be paying around £35 a day for a deckchair. So don’t. There’s plenty of public (ie, free) beach flanking the private stretches. Stretch your towel out there in order to soak up the sun-spangled beauty of the sea. Stroll. Swim. Sunbathe. Repeat. Pay nothing.
Try an aperitif on the port, maybe at the Bar du Port (9 Quai Suffren; 00 33 494 970 054). Perhaps a glass of Provençal rosé from St Tropez’s hinterland. Wine growers there need all the help they can get – the pressure on their land from wannabe developers is intense. And prices here are relatively reasonable (on the Tropezien scale of reasonableness): small beer £5, cocktails £13.
Then it’s time for dinner at Le G’Envie (67 Rue du Portail Neuf; 00 33 494 798509). It helps if you like light blue – the place is thus coated – but here, in the tiny Rue de Portail Neuf, is what may be the best value restaurant in St Tropez. These good people do a lunch menu for €23 (£19), and a three-course dinner for €44 (£37). Book ahead to bag a table on the titchy terrace, then try the brochette of monkfish and gambas.
The town’s former gendarmerie (2 Place Blanqui; 00 33 4 94 55 90 20) 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.
To avoid having to drive into St Tropez, which can take several hours in high season, park in St Raphaël or Ste Maxime and take the ferry across the bay. From St Raphaël, the Bateaux de St Raphaël runs a one-hour shuttle service (one way €15 [£13]). In Ste Maxime, make for the Bateaux Verts (€13.50 [£12] return). If coming by plane, there’s a bus from Nice airport handy for both St Raphaël and Ste Maxime.
Did you know?
The famous Tarte Tropézienne – essentially, a sponge cake containing more cream than most humans eat in a decade – was created in the mid 1950s by a Polish confectioner who had set up shop in St Tropez. Brigitte Bardot adopted it, which ensured its notoriety. It’s best eaten at the Table Tropézienne on Place des Lices.
Places to stay . . .
The lavish Hôtel de Paris, a haven of contemporary cool, is the sole hotel in St Tropez with a rooftop pool – and the only large establishment inspired by 1960s and 1970s chic. Its unique partnership with Clarins promises as many stocking fillers as you can squeeze into your suitcase. The location is a winner – it’s a three-minute equidistant walk from the Vieux-Port and Place des Lice.
Walk into the Indian-themed Pan Deï Palais and calm washes over you – there is a sense of zen about the place. Bedrooms are full of antiques and treasures, with arched alcoves, four-posters, many-coloured cushions and comfy sofas and there’s an ace, Asian-influenced restaurant. You’ll find this boutique hotel just round the corner from the Place des Lices, five minutes from the port.
Contemporary rooms, traditional charm, pleasant terraces and a jolly bar close to St Tropez’s Citadel make Hotel B Lodge an ideal choice for those seeking an affordable place to stay in a quiet corner of town. It’s family-friendly, too.
What to bring home . . .
The great perfumier Fragonard has its origins up the road in Grasse. Its latest scent celebrates verveine/verbena. Try it at the Fragonard shop (7 Place Croix de Fer; 00 33 494 561515).
Nor should you ignore the wines of the St Tropez peninsula. The rosés, especially, are terrific. Taste them at La Cave du Golfe (Place Aux Herbes; 00 33 494 972475).
When to go . . .
When to go rather depends on when you are free. If in summer, expect to be packedinlikethis. St Tropez, remember, is a village which, shorn of tourists, has a population of a little under 4,000. Through July and August, it might welcome some six million visitors, with up to 30,000 people a day on the main Pampelonne beach. In short, you’re going to be queuing, and paying. But that merely underlines that you’re in a summer hotspot than which there is nowhere groovier in Europe. If that’s your thing, summer St Trop is your place.
Should you wish less commotion but some warmth all the same, and the possibility of finding most things open, then the shoulder months – May, June, September, October – will suit you fine.
That said, my preference is for winter, when there’s no-one but locals about, you’ll need a coat, bling palaces are shut and St Tropez becomes once again what it was in the first place – a charming little Med port village.
Know before you go . . .
Telephone code: Dial 00 33 for France, if calling from the UK. French telephone numbers are almost all 10 digits, starting with “0”. When calling from abroad, knock off this initial “0”
Time difference: + 1 hour
Flight time: London to both Nice and Toulon-Hyères is around two hours
Local laws and etiquette
French law requires that you always have personal ID about your person, so keep your passport on you.
If driving, you must have a fluorescent yellow bib in the car. It’s to be put on should you break down on a busy road and need to be visible to other motorists, and it’s a legal requirement.
Anthony has been going to St Tropez for 30 years, but as an ordinary-looking, non-famous, non-film star, he remains entirely unknown there.