As a former Tropézienne THE GLOSS Deputy Editor Penny McCormick suggests where to stay and what see in the picturesque port …
It’s been estimated that during the peak summer period of July and August around six million visitors descend on St Tropez – some for a day, others to recline portside on boats to get the obligatory pap shot, or to live it up at the many clubs which populate Pampelonne beach, such as Byblos and Nikki beach clubs. These are posh, pristine establishments, but for me they are not the essence of St Tropez.
There is a bohemian vibe to the port and surroundings which originally attracted artists such as Paul Signac, Georges Seurat and Henri Matisse in the early 20th century –many of their paintings can be found in the l’Annonciade museum, which is worth a visit as is its Butterfly house.
Of course, St Tropez became more famous when Brigitte Bardot starred in the 1956 romantic drama And God Created Women. Directed by her husband Roger Vadim, the film was set in St Tropez and established Bardot’s reputation as a “sex kitten” and by association the little port’s allure for celebrities and other actresses such as Romy Schneider. The National Gendarmerie and cinema museum is a must-see to uncover the history of St Tropez in the 1960s – a key event being Mick and Bianca Jagger’s 1969 wedding – arguably the most stylish of all rock ‘n’ roll nuptials. The bride wore a white YSL trouser suit, as contemporary today as it was then.
Photograph via Jonathan Adler, Slim Aarons, St Tropez
No doubt Bianca and Bardot were drawn to the town’s simple pleasures: its light, its coloured roofs, cobbled streets and rustic beaches. Some of St Tropez’s original charm still exists at La Ponche which is a miniscule beach (with a chic hotel of the same name) in one of the older, quieter districts of the town. Further away still is Les Graniers, 1 Plage des Graniers, where you can have lunch with your toes in the sand, or at the newer Jardin Tropezina an eco-friendly garden in Ramatuelle, a far cry from the throbbing beach parties of say Moorea Plage or Loulou. A must-do though is a visit to Club 55 – where I always think the cost of lunch is offset by the calibre of people watching (Kate Moss, Elton John, models galore and royals). Order the cold fish – not on the menu but delicious. The Club serves divine Petale des Roses – from the Chateau Les Barbeyrolles. I recommend a visit to its vineyard (Chateau Minuty is also close) and squirreling home a case if you are driving.
The focal point of St Tropez, aside from its port, is the Place des Lices. It reminds me of a Robert Doisneau photograph – a picturesque square fringed by sycamore trees which hosts regular boules matches or acts as the backdrop for lovers embracing on benches which edge its periphery. The scene changes on Tuesdays and Saturdays when the bi-weekly market is held. I always love getting in early and having a coffee at Le Clemenceau (or Le Clem to locals) before browsing the brocante (which is on Saturday). Keep your eyes peeled. I’ve spotted so many celebrities from Giorgio Armani to residents such as Jerry Hall or Tracey Emin.
You’ll often see people leaving the market with a Tarte Tropézienne to enjoy after lunch. This signature cake is an egg and butter brioche filled with a mixture of buttercream, pastry cream and heavy cream and topped with pearl sugar. The best ones I found were at Le Senequier patisserie (behind the café) or Aux Deux Freres, rue des Commercants.
Talking of shopping, since I first visited St Trop almost 30 years ago now some of the small boutiques have been eclipsed by the major fashion houses setting up impressive flagship stores. Chanel took over La Mistralée townhouse and the Dior des Lices Maison is another pretty location (a more chi chi place for coffee cannot be found). Also of note is “La Grande Braderie de St Tropez” which is shopping heaven and held late October, when boutiques sell off their wares at reduced prices and set up rails on the little cobbled streets.
While not a sailor, one thing I enjoy is watching the portside action from the best vantage point – the balcony of Hotel Sube (on quai Suffren). It’s above the throng, not as expensive as Le Senequier café and a spot where locals enjoy a verre before dinner. The annual Les Voiles de St Tropez is an end of summer regatta which takes place in early October. I think that’s one of the best times to visit St Tropez, and also marks the last hurrah of the season. As for where to stay: here are my recommendations …
This secluded spot is more like a private house than a hotel – it’s relaxed bohemian vibe, carefully created by owner Jocelyne Sibuet, is enhanced by the pretty Provencal garden. The 45 rooms feature four-poster beds and antiques, while the hotel has a Pure Altitude Spa, heated pool and endless views over the Bay of Pampelonne from the terraced Dolce Vita restaurant. Beach lovers can hop on one of the hotel’s bikes and head down to St Tropez, stopping off for cocktails on the way back at the Plage des Palmiers beach club; www.saint-tropez.villamarie.fr.
Airelles Saint-Tropez, Château de le Messardière
Something of a grande dame, the 19th-century Château de la Messardière reopened last month as an Airelles property after two years of extensive renovations. There is a family focus to the new facilities, which include an Airelles Summer Camp for younger guests with archery, bubble football, gardening, guided horse riding, juggling and calligraphy some of the activities on offer. The Summer Camp is located in its own purpose built villa, and external guests are welcome on a membership basis – good news for summer visitors with children staying in nearby villas; www.airelles.com.
Hôtel Lou Pinet
Away from the hustle and bustle of Saint-Tropez, this hotel channels retro glamour. Its rooms, decorated in natural textures such as linen, wood and stone, by interior designer Charles Zana, border the swimming pool, officially the largest in the St Trop area, while the sleek Tata Harper Spa is a must visit. Its Remodelage body treatment by Martine de Richeville is a particularly impressive non-invasive treatment that detoxifies and breaks down cellulite. In the evening, guests can dine at restaurateur Riccardo Giraudi’s Beefbar and enjoy live music in the gardens; www.loupinet.com.
Muse St Tropez
This modernist Christophe Pillet-designed boutique hotel is a five-minute drive from town, and pitches its glamour perfectly, from the 37 luxurious rooms and the 25-metre pool (the hub of the hotel), down to Le Bar by Dom Pérignon and Spa Sezz by Payot; www.mrandmrssmith.com.
La Réserve de Ramatuelle
This is a destination spa primarily for connoisseurs who prioritise wellness and wonderful views. La Reserve Spa offers 24 different treatments including balneotherapy and fangotherapy (a volcanic mud bath) and is complemented by a detox-friendly menu and minimalist rooms for a truly rejuvenating break. Guests have access to the glamorous Philippe Starck-designed La Réserve à la Plage – pack your Missoni swimsuit and straw hat – while the location is great for exploring the outer region of St Tropez. While you’re there visit the Cap de Camarat lighthouse or take a day trip to the Poquerolles islands; www.mrandmrssmith.com.
For more budget-friendly options, the villages of Ramatuelle and Gassin have many small hotels and are on the outskirts of St Tropez. The small, friendly L’Ecurie du Castellas (route de Paillas) in Ramatuelle has a great view over the village, where a coffee in Café de l’Ormeau feels like being part of a Joanne Harris novel.
On my wishlist is a stay at Lily of the Valley, a little further along the coast in La Croix Valmer. One bonus is the hotel, which is a Philippe Starck creation and a hymn to wellness with a spa featuring Biologique Recherche, Esthederm Ayurveda and TCM treatments) remains open throughout the year; www.lilyofthevalley.com.
Gassin is one of my all-time favourite French villages and Bello Visto (Place dei Barri) is both restaurant and modest guest house. If the weather is good the terrasse restaurant is atmospheric. In cooler times the soupe a la pistou is recommended. The soup is a fresh, vibrant mix of vegetables flavoured with pesto, which like St Tropez, always leaves me wanting second helpings …