It’s tempting to write about St-Tropez’s glorious département, the Var, as a whole, but it has so many geographical elements, I’m devoting this to the area up to thirty-five minutes drive from St-Tropez. The latter words happen to be similar to the title of my first novel!
The charms of Saint-Tropez
If you decide on a holiday in the Var, you’ll surely be tempted to visit this famous little town, with its oh-so-pretty yellow-topped bell-tower, wonderful quayside, quaint streets and stupendous vistas looking out to sea and then back at the pastel-coloured, tall quayside buildings. As you wander along the harbour wall, you’ll enjoy St-Tropez’s far reaching views towards the coast at Port Grimaud and Ste-Maxime.
It’s ideal for a longer stay too with local beaches and the glamorous Plage de Pampelonne, and others, not too far away. Wander along the quayside, checking out the menus as you pass, before cutting into the back streets, window-shopping before stopping for coffee in plane tree shaded Place des Lices, just a short walk inland. The cafés are a little less expensive here! It’s easy to spend a day wandering around the town itself but it’s possible to escape the crowds by heading out of town towards the fort and sailor’s cemetery. If you like photography, there are fabulous views from the fort of both the town and the coast. For a hike, try the trail around the peninsula. It’s getting on for 20kms so carefully research before you go, wear a hat and take plenty of water.
In high season, St-Tropez is difficult to reach due to traffic congestion and queues into town can stretch for several miles. The secret is to get a boat from Port Grimaud or Ste Maxime. Perhaps head to either place before you plan to visit St Tropez to find out more about where to get the boat, times and costs or take a look at Les Bateaux Verts website. Both places are nice in their own right with sandy beaches, facilities and lots to explore. Read more on what to do in Saint-Tropez
There’s more to St-Tropez… than St-Tropez
You might happen across Le Plan de la Tour en route to Sainte-Maxime. If so, it’s worth a stop as it exudes Provençal authenticity with its dusty-leaved plane trees and old streets, and a café or two. I still remember seeing the signs for Le Plan de la Tour on my first visit in 1990 en route to St-Tropez. I’d seen villas for rent there in holiday brochures and it really caught my imagination. It was years later before I finally got there!
One of the best things about Ste-Maxime is the sandy beach just a short walk from the town and harbour. If the beach or water activities aren’t your thing, wander around the harbour and the small streets behind where you’re bound to be tempted to lunch at one of the open-air shady restaurants. Take a look at Ste-Maxime’s tourist office website for a whole list of events and things to do throughout the year.
Even nearer to St-Tropez is Port Grimaud with its hundreds of canal-side fisherman’s houses, now mostly colourful holiday homes. The port is over fifty years old although its atmosphere makes it feel far older. There’s a church and a wide square where restaurants and cafes abound. Les Bateaux Verts shuttles to St-Tropez leave from here, a four minute walk from the car park, with a stop at the Capitainerie near the beach as well.
The old hilltop village of Grimaud must be one of the prettiest in the south of France. Choc-a-bloc with stone houses, a ruined chateau, a church, a chapel and a well-preserved windmill, it’s very appealing particularly when the oleander and bougainvillea are in bloom giving pops of cerise, white and pink which brighten the scene. Look out for the sea and forest views as you wander to the top of the village.
La Garde Freinet
La Garde-Freinet holds a special place in my heart because it was near here in 2008 that we house-sat, well vineyard-sat, to be exact, for four months, looking after four wonderful dogs who I will never forget. They appear as themselves in my novels and lots of stories are set in and around the domaine, as it is know in French. La Garde-Freinet gets a few mentions too as it’s the nearest village to the vineyard. I remember reading years ago that it’s full of retired British university professors but I didn’t get that feeling when I was there. It’s tiny, with one pedestrian street and a couple of squares where refreshments are on offer. This is hiking country making it a good place to stay if you like getting away from it all but with a bustling village to return to each day.
If you find you have explored all the villages around St-Tropez, there are probably enough pretty villages in the Var for a whole month’s visit!
Francophile Jane Dunning is the author of three novels, a family saga, all set in Provence. She has a colourful Facebook Page www.facebook.com/JaneDunningAuthor and is on Instagram @irresistiblefranceanditaly. Her latest novel features Gordes during World War 2 and in contemporary times.