Until 1956 (when the film And God created woman, starring Bridget Bardot, was filmed here), St Tropez was a typical, quiet fishing village, attracting a handful of artists and very few tourists. Now St Tropez is a world-famous destination that draws celebrities and tourists from every continent. And yet… at the right time of year, you can still find the charm of a quiet Mediterranean fishing village.

‘The season’ takes place approximately between mid-June and the end of October, but things start opening up around Easter (which is busy) and then there is a quieter period of about six weeks before the season really kicks in. So we suggest you come in May (or at the very beginning of June) when the heady scents of jasmine and Japanese mock orange (Pittosporum tobira) fill the narrow streets of the old town and you have your choice of restaurants and bars.

Get up early in the morning, just after the streets have been washed and the last leaves are being blown away, before almost anyone else is up, and it will be worth it. Walk round the port with its fancy bars below the pastel-fronted houses and admire the luxury yachts. Then go up into the old town behind the port and wander round the tiny streets, climbing upwards to the Citadelle. Walk along the wild-flower-edged paths outside the castle walls, joining locals doing their morning walk or jog, and you will be rewarded by breath-taking views out to sea and over the Golfe de Saint Tropez. You will also look down onto what is surely one of the most desirable waterfront plots: the maritime cemetery, right down at the sea’s edge.

Also make sure you go to the Place des Lices, the square at the heart of St Tropez where locals still play boules under the dappled shade of huge hundred-year-old plane trees. If you’re eating at Le Café bar and restaurant, they have a couple of sets of boules they will lend you so you can have a game. It’s here too that St Tropez market is held on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

St Tropez Gallery

  • Pampelonne Beach
  • Grimaud
  • Grimaud moonrise
  • Salins beach
  • Canebiers beach
  • Ramatuelle

Discover St Tropez


Beaches

St Tropez is famous for its beach life and beautiful azure waters. In 1944, the Allied troops came ashore on the sands of Pampelonne beach, in 1955 it was Brigitte Bardot, and now it is the A-listers heading to Club 55 for lunch or one of the overpriced beach clubs.

Pampelonne is the biggest and best-known beach, a 3-mile stretch of sand that starts a couple of miles outside St Tropez. It’s a great beach with gorgeous water in the bay before it, and thanks to strict building regulations there are no eyesores and few buildings anywhere in this bay – little has changed since the allied landing craft came ashore. This level of natural and unspoilt beauty is rare on the Mediterranean.

Most of Pampelonne is taken up by private beach clubs, but some of it is public. A beach club will consist of a restaurant, bar, and rows of sunloungers and parasols edging down to the sea. Some are more fancy than others, with a spa for example, or a pool at Nikki Beach, but without exception they are expensive. Hiring a sunlounger for the day will set you back 30 euros at least. Drinks and food are reliably overpriced. But you don’t go to St Tropez every day, so why not splash out and feel like a celeb? The less expensive beach clubs tend to be at the southern end, that is the end furthest from St Tropez.

If you can’t arrive by yacht, there are access points and car parks (about 5 euros/day) at these locations: route de Tahiti, chemin des Moulins, chemin de Tamaris, boulevard Patch, chemin des Barraques, route de Bonne Terrasse. Facilities are less common than on other French beaches, there are public showers and WCs at Tamaris, Patch and Barraques. However, you can also just stroll into a beach club confidently and use their facilities.

The other way to experience Pampelonne is very much cheaper – take a picnic, parasol and towel, and you get the same sand, sun and sea as everyone else.

 

Other St Tropez beaches:

Plage des Salins: the beach where the locals go, close to town at the north end of Pampelonne, with just one restaurant and 500 metres of sand.

Plage des Graniers: tiny cove on the edge of town, with one restaurant. Crowded in high summer.

Plage des Canebiers (or Canoubiers): another one favoured by locals, it has a view of the Maures mountains, diving platform, and 200 metres of sand.

Plage de la Bouillabaisse: on the other side of town, easily accessed on foot, convenient but not as attractive as the others as it is lined with buildings.

There are also some minuscule beaches right in the old part of St Tropez, if you fancy a dip or a sunbathe.

Culture

A little bit of history
Saint Tropez takes its name from an early Christian martyr: a Roman called Torpes who was decapitated by Nero in Pisa in AD68 for refusing to renounce his faith. His head was kept in Pisa but his body, along with a cockerel and a dog, were packed into a boat on the River Arno that eventually drifted to shore here. He is still represented on the town’s coat of arms but history doesn’t relate what happened to the cock and the dog. The town has a long maritime history that is well documented in the Maritime Museum in the Citadelle.

Museum of Maritime History: Plato said that there were three types of men: ‘living, dead and sailors’. It is to sailors that this recently renovated and re-imagined museum is dedicated. Maritime history is an integral part of the history of Saint Tropez and it is represented in the exhibits documenting trade, fishing, war, etc. ‘Nowadays, people come to Saint Tropez from all over the world. But there was a time when people from Saint Tropez went all over the world.’ Much of the collection has been given or lent by local families.

The Annonciade Museum: Saint Tropez was ‘discovered’ by artist Paul Signac in 1892 and he invited artists such as Cross, Matisse, Derain and Marquet to his studio there. Thanks to Signac, Saint Tropez became one of the most active centres of the Post-Impressionist avant-garde movement at the turn of the 20th century. The works on show in the museum belong essentially to the pointillist, nabi and fauvist periods.

Le Lavoir Vasserot: Created in 1862 by Charles Albert Vasserot, this communal village washing place (lavoir) was unusual in that it very sensibly had three washing basins, one for whites, one for colour and one for rinsing. The lavoir is now a classified monument, used not for washing but as an exhibition space.

La Maison des Papillons (the butterfly house): A huge collection of over 35,000 items, some of which represent extinct or endangered species. The creator, entomologist and painter Dany Lartigue, has taken a highly original approach to displaying the butterflies, which are often pinned onto painted backgrounds depicting their natural environment. A unique and unusual museum in Dany Lartigue’s family house.

Festivals & Events

Several top international sailing events are held in the harbour and bay; for example ‘Les Voiles Latines’ at the end of May, which is the largest gathering of Mediterranean sailing boats from all over the Mediterranean; and ‘Les Voiles de Saint Tropez’, a regatta involving some 4,000 sailors at the end of September/beginning of October.

Les Bravades de St Tropez: A traditional religious festival dedicated to the Patron Saint of the town, held in mid-May. Because of regular raids by pirates, in 1558 the town council decided to elect a Capitaine de Ville to head up a military force to defend the town. To this day, the Capitaine de Ville is elected on Easter Monday and, because the town no longer needs defending from pirates, the Tropezians keep their weapons to honour their Patron Saint.

During 36 hours of the ceremony, the town symbolically takes back its independence from France, which it joined over 450 years ago after a century of independence. It is a ceremony, not a show, and it follows a strict programme. But you will see or hear impressive gun salvos and drum and pipe bands parade through the town.

After Mass on the second day, the decorated figures of the saints are paraded through the streets to the accompaniment of Provencal pipes and drums. The male participants wear their traditional uniforms of soldiers and sailors, and women wear traditional dress.

The bravade finishes on the morning of the third day with a ceremony at the Chapel of Saint Anne (listed building only open three days a year) which is situated on a quiet hill outside the town, overlooking the sea and the countryside, surrounded by cypress, oak and pine trees.

Food

Tarte Tropezienne: Adapted from his grandmother’s recipe by Polish pastry chef, Alexander Micka, this delicious dessert became famous after 1955. Micka was responsible for catering for the film crew working on And God created woman and served them his grandmother’s tart. Bridget Bardot reputedly suggested he call it Tarte de St Tropez but he patented the recipe as Tarte Tropezienne. Although the recipe is secret, the dessert consists of an airy, crunchy sugar-sprinkled brioche, split in two and filled with a light, whipped mixture of butter cream and confectioner’s custard, possibly with a hint of orange flower water.

You can find it in many cake shops all over Provence but the real thing comes from Mika’s chain of shops called ‘La Tarte Tropezienne’ which are to be found in both Saint Tropez itself and as far away as Courchevel, Paris, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Nice (shops in both terminal 1 and terminal 2!) and a total of 20 shops in the Var (four in Saint Tropez alone). Highly recommended.

Large lively Provencal market: 7h – 13h Tuesday and Saturday mornings on the Place des Lices.

Small fish and fresh produce market: Every morning on the Place des Herbes, at the entrance to the old town.

Neighbouring villages

Grimaud

A pretty medieval hilltop village dominated by its castle at the top.

The castle guarded the entrance to the territory of ‘Le Freinet’ (now the Golfe de Saint Tropez) from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution, and there are good views from the top. The walk up isn’t hard and when you get there, it’s a ‘proper’ ruined castle. Great for kids. Take time too to explore the little streets of the village.

From the windmill below the village, there’s a lovely (6 min) walk down to the Pont des fées (the fairies’ bridge). The steps are quite steep but the walk isn’t difficult. The bridge over the stream is in fact the ruin of a unique 16th -17th century aqueduct that brought water under pressure from a spring 3kms (1.8 miles) away up to a fountain in the village. To achieve pressure, the water was forced through a small glazed pipe that you can still see in the ruined wall on the bridge.

Before you get to the bridge, you will see a small irrigation canal alongside the river that provided hydraulic power for watermills grinding flour between the 12th and 19th centuries.

You can go back the same way to the village or continue on the ‘Sentier de découverte du Pont des Fées’ which makes loop of about 1.5km (just under a mile) in total and will take you less than an hour.

 

Ramatuelle

Set in a sea of woods and vines, which roll away to the Mediterranean in the distance, the medieval village streets of Ramatuelle climb up in a sort of spiral intersected by steps and vaulted passageways. Take time to explore the village. There are houses covered with jasmine and honeysuckle and pots of plants line some of the tiny streets.

Grapes have been grown in Ramatuelle for 2000 years and some of the region’s best rosé wines are grown here. Drive along the small, pretty country lanes to visit the excellent Chateau Minuty and Chateau de Barbeyrolles (amongst others).

 

Gassin

At 200m (656ft), Gassin offers stunning views of the Gulf of Saint Tropez and the unspoilt countryside of the peninsula. Recognised as one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France’, it is a picture-postcard village with tiny streets and houses pushed one against the other, covered in bouganvillea, jasmine and plumbago. And if you’re in need of refreshment, there’s the Place deï Barri lined with restaurants under the shade of the micocoulier trees.

Don’t miss the fascinating, private l’Hardy Denonain ‘Botanical Garden’. It is classified as a Jardin remarquable (remarkable garden) and it is. Remarkable. It’s essentially a wild garden, with over 600 different species of Mediterranean and Provencal plants. Created in 1973 by Madame l’Hardy Denonain, it is now run by her daughter-in-law. It has been left wild so that it blends in to the wild land either side, a sort of ‘managed negligence’.  A beautiful, calm spot.

But it isn’t easy to find: coming from the church, count the micocoulier trees and turn left at the seventh tree, weave your way through the tables of the Restaurant le Micocoulier and, if the little gate in the wall is open, you can go down the steps into the garden. Entrance is free.

The labels are all carefully handwritten and one reads: ‘Ici, il faut s’excuser quand on dérange une plante’ which translates as ‘Here, you must apologise if you disturb a plant.’

Shopping

Where to begin? Come with a loaded credit card – the range of expensive, world-class boutiques is mind-blowing. You can pick up a ‘Shopping Map’ to help you find the likes of Hermes, Gucci, Dior, Dolce & Gabanna, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Miu Miu, Giorgi Armani, Louis Vuitton, Valentino and so much more. Wandering through the streets window-shopping is the cheaper option.

A more reasonably priced fashion souvenir might be a pair of Tropezian sandals. Normally flat, always elegant, often surprising, check out those made by the Rondini family (who have been making them since 1927) at 18 Rue Georges Clemenceau and ‘les Tropeziennes par M. Barbi’ at Les Tropeziennes, 19 Quai Suffren.

Transport

Transport to and from Saint Tropez

Car and Bus
There is one road in and out of Saint Tropez, so getting there in summer can involve a long wait in a stream of cars, followed by a search for a precious parking spot. You might consider taking a bus for just 3€ from La Gare Freinet, Toulon, Hyères, Saint-Raphaël, Cogolin, Sainte-Maxime, etc. You won’t avoid the traffic but it can be more relaxing! However, if you do decide to drive in the summer you should definitely aim to arrive early in the day.

By Boat
From April to the end of October, you can take a boat from Saint Raphaël to Saint Tropez. It takes about an hour. In July and August, the boats are more frequent. You can also take a boat from St Maxime (15 mins), Les Issambres (25 mins), Port Grimaud & Les Marines de Cogolin (20-30 mins).

By Bike
There are cycleways from Sainte Maxime (12.2 km/7.5 miles) and La Croix Valmer (12km). The ‘Parcours cyclable du Littoral’ (the coastal cycleway) covers about 80kms (50 miles) at the moment with another 30km (19miles) due to be added.