St Tropez is possibly the world’s most famous summertime playground for the rich, celebrities, rockstars and the disgustingly rich. It’s said you can never be too rich or too gorgeous for St Tropez. But, what about the rest of us? What delights does St Tropez offer if you’re a mere mortal? It’s a fun place to visit and people watch and there’s still charm to be found…
History of St Tropez
From June to August St Tropez’s harbour teems with mega-yachts. Sleek sports cars, and luxury cars bigger than my aunt’s studio flat in London cruise the streets. The bars and bistros are full of people watching other people and quaffing back aperitifs as the sun sets over this heavenly little corner on the French Riviera. It wasn’t always this way though.
St Tropez was named after a Roman soldier named Torpetius, who, as punishment for converting to Christianity, was beheaded. His headless body was popped in a boat and sent out to sea (not quite sure why but let’s not quibble). The boat washed up on the beach of a little French fishing village and the villagers, adopted the martyr in the boat as their patron saint and he gave his name to their town.
How St Tropez became a legend
For the next 1000 years, not much happened to St Tropez. In the Middle Ages it was fortified, it’s port was developed over the centuries and it was “discovered” by artists in the late 19th century. The fashionable and literary sets then started to visit but it was in the 1950’s that St Tropez was propelled to stardom. A then unknown Brigitte Bardot arrived on Pampelonne beach to film key scenes of a film called ‘And God… Created Woman’.
It was 1955. A small wooden shack was built to house the crew. They booked Club 55 (named for the year it was registered), a hut-like restaurant on the beach with no running water and no electricity. The film made Bardot and the beach, stars, after that the whole world knew about St Tropez. Club 55 is still there, and though it’s been upgraded, it retains its rustic charm and authenticity but now includes high priced cocktails.
What to see and do in St Tropez
Life’s a beach
You pretty much have to go on the beach. It would be mad not to enjoy the stunning vistas and relax in the sun at least for a bit. Pampelonne Beach is the most famous beach and it’s where you’ll find the celebrities, itsy-bitsy bikinis and bronzed bodies, beach clubs and the super yachts. There are public areas, as well as restaurants where you can hire sunbeds as well as eat. A regular bus service runs from central St Tropez to Pampelonne.
If you like things to be a bit more relaxing, Bouillabaisse Beach is far less swanky and less crowded.
There are foot paths and walkways around the coast – great for those who enjoy coastal walks. It’s a seven mile trek to Pampellone and you’ll pass plenty of charming beaches en route.
A boat trip is de rigeur here. You could take a guided trip, fishing trip or even hire yourself a luxury super yacht for a couple of hours or a full day and pretend to be a gazillionaire. I would!
St Tropez has its own dessert: Tarte Tropezienne. It was created by a Polish baker who opened a bakery in the town in 1955, it was a very good year for St Tropez. The brioche and orange scented cream concoction was a hit with Bardot. In fact she loved the cake so much she suggested the baker call it “Tarte de Saint-Tropez” and it became Tarte Tropezienne. The original recipe is a secret but most bakeries in France have a version of their own.
There are lots of restaurants to choose from but not many budget options.
Drink life a celeb
Star spot and drink where the celebrities so at Le Sénéquier, a harbourside café. It opened as a sweet shop specialising in nougat in 1887 but became THE place to go to see and be seen. Matisse, Picasso, Bardot, Joan Collins, Kate Moss, Vanesa Paradis and many more famous diners have sat and enjoyed the view of other celebrities and the sea. Don’t want to splash out on an expensive dinner? Coffee in the morning, a glass of rosé or aperitif…
Wander the town
Head to La Ponche, the old town of St. Tropez. Pedestrian only streets lined with art galleries and boutiques and the Place des Lices with its popular cafés give a flavour of the towns more tranquil past.
Culture in St Tropez
The Citadel was built in the 17th century. The dungeons are now a museum of maritime history and you’ll get great views over the coast from here.
The Musée de la Gendarmerie et du Cinema is located in the old police headquarters. A strange link you might think. However, the highest grossing movie of 1964 in France was ‘Le Gendarme de Saint Tropez’. It’s the tale of a police officer transferred into town to deal with wayward nudists and his errant daughter.
The penitent monks of St Tropez built a chapel in 1510 where they looked after returning prisoners of war. The beautiful building now houses Musée de l’Annonciade with an impressive art collection including Monet, Picasso and Matisse who spent the summer of 1904 in St Tropez.
La Maison des Papillons is a tiny museum with a collection of exotic butterfly specimens and butterfly paintings.
Visit the 17th century Chapelle Saint Ann where Mick and Bianca Jagger wed in 1971. Great for film buffs and for the views over St Tropez.
If you don’t like crowds, avoid July and August at all costs and perhaps make this a day trip from your base in the south of France.