The sex symbol Brigitte Bardot came to St-Tropez in the ’50s to star in Et Dieu Créa la Femme (1956) and overnight transformed the peaceful fishing village into a sizzling jet-set favourite. Tropeziens have thrived on their sexy image ever since: at the Vieux Port, yachts like spaceships jostle for millionaire moorings, and infinitely more tourists jostle to admire them.
Yet there is a serene side to this village trampled by nearly 60,000 summertime inhabitants and visitors on any given day. In the low season, the St-Tropez of mesmerising quaint beauty and ‘sardine scales glistening like pearls on the cobblestones that charmed Guy de Maupassant (1850–93) comes to life. Meander cobbled lanes in the old fishing quarter of La Ponche, enjoy a pastis at a place des Lices cafe, watch old men play “pétanque” beneath plane trees, or walk in solitary splendour from beach to beach along the coastal path of Ramatuelle.
In a gracefully Museum de l’Annonciade, a converted 16th-century chapel, this small but famous museum showcases an impressive collection of modern art infused with that legendary Côte d’Azur light. Pointillist Paul Signac bought a house in St-Tropez in 1892 and introduced other artists to the area. The museum’s collection includes his St-Tropez, Le Quai (1899) and St-Tropez, Coucher de Soleil au Bois de Pins (1896).
St-Tropez’ legendary and very charming central square is studded with plane trees, cafes and “pétanque” players. Simply sitting on a cafe terrace watching the world go by or jostling with the crowds at its extravaganza of a twice-weekly market, jam-packed with everything from fruit and veg to antique mirrors and sandals, is an integral part of the St-Tropez experience.
Shrug off the hustle of the port in St-Tropez’s historic fishing quarter, La Ponche, northeast of the Vieux Port. From the southern end of quai Frédéric Mistral, place Garrezio sprawls east from 10th-century “Tour Suffren” to place de l’Hôtel de Ville. From here, rue Guichard leads southeast to sweet-chiming Église de St-Tropez, a St-Trop landmark built in 1785 in Italian baroque style. Inside is a bust of St Torpes, honoured during Les Bravades in May.
Built in 1602 to defend the coast against Spain, the Citadel dominates the hillside overlooking St-Tropez to the east. The views are fantastic. Its dungeons are home to the excellent Musée de l’Histoire Maritime, an all-interactive museum retracing the history of humans at sea, from fishing, trading, exploration, travel and the navy.
Understand that this village is so busy in the summer season that you will enjoy it better in spring or autum. Otherwise its a bling-bling, snob, see and be seen place, and that changes a lot from the natural beayty of Saint Tropez and the local population.
Little tip if you go there, try the Caprice des Deux restaurant and sleep at Pan Dai palace.