Saint-Tropez. The glam destination of the jet set in the '60s. Brigitte Bardot. Need I say more?
When most visit the French Riviera they gravitate towards the area to the east known as the Alpes-Maritimes which includes Cannes, Nice, Monaco and everything in between. But there is the area to the west known as the Var that is also worth visiting. It is in the Var that you will find small but sexy Saint-Tropez which used to be just an old, sleepy fishing village until Brigitte Bardot started filming there in the 50's. Today it is a glitzy spot to see and be seen but still holds some of that old world charm from days past. That atmosphere makes it one of my favorites on the Riviera.
The beaches in this part of the French Riviera are sandy (unlike those in the Nice area) but St-Trop as it is often called, actually does not have many beaches in its town center. You must venture to the outskirts of town to find the sandy stuff. For the crème de la crème, head to Ramatuelle (about 10-15 min away) and you won't be disappointed. It's for this reason that I recommend having a car during your stay. Hitting the beach and soaking up that hot sun should definitely be on your list but here are some other suggestions as well:
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Stroll the quaint cobblestone streets of La Ponche (the old town). Lined with shops, cafés, restaurants and more these skinny pedestrian-only roads are super charming and not to be missed. Start by the east end of the port by the tourism office and make your way towards the citadel, weaving through the labyrinth of lanes.
Enjoy your café au lait and croissant while overlooking the luxury yachts in Vieux (old) Port. A lovely place with an outdoor terrace to do just that is Sénéquier, which is practically a landmark in this area. (Quai Jean Jaurès)
Sunbathe like a celebrity at Le Club 55 on famous Plage de Pampelonne. The place to see and be seen. Celebs have been known to visit so keep your eyes peeled. Lunch at the restaurant is a hotspot and a must. Reservations needed for both lunch and to rent lounge chairs on the beach. NOTE: lounge rentals do not include towels so bring your own. (43 Boulevard Patch, Ramatuelle)
Go shopping for some trendy Tropézienne footwear. This is where the espadrille was born and L'Espadrille Tropézienne is a perfect spot to pick up a pair. Also a good choice are the custom-made leather sandals from Rondini. (15 Rue des Commerçants & 18 Rue Georges Clemenceau)
Start (or end) your night with a cocktail at sleek bar Café de Paris. Located harborside, this casual place by day turns into a scene at night but is one of the few places in Europe I've found that knows how to mix up a proper martini. (25 Quai Suffren)
Do some people watching in the quaint, main square Place des Lices. There are plenty of cafés to choose from as you watch the locals play pétanque as the day goes by.
Try the pastry of Saint-Tropez at La Tarte Tropézienne. Known as la tarte de Saint-Tropez, these pastries typically consist of brioche filled with custard and topped with pearl sugar although the fillings can vary. If you're concerned about fitting into that bikini don't worry--they come in miniature sizes as well. (Traverse des Lices)
Hike the scenic seaside path known as the Sentier du Littoral. It is a lengthy trail (16km and about 5 hours) but you can tailor your route to a shorter one if you'd like. The tourist office (8 Quai Jean Jaurès) has maps and can help you and I also found this website informative.
Fill your bellies with yummy French food. Of course. Some of my favorite spots include the charming little Restaurant l'Olive (9 Rue Aire du Chemin), wine bar and restaurant Le Dit Vin (7 Rue de la Citadelle), and sophisticated restaurant The Strand (2 Rue du Petit Bal) with its lovely outdoor patio.
WHERE TO STAY
It is important to note that accommodations in St-Trop are not cheap, especially in July and August which is considered high season. To catch a little bit of a break, consider staying in June or September which still have warm temps but are not as expensive.
Hôtel Pan Deï Palais or Hôtel Byblos for a splurge. These exclusive, 5-star hotels are some of the most luxurious in town. And the latter used to be frequented by stars like Brigitte Bardot and Mick Jagger.
Kube Hotel or Pastis Hotel for luxury and style with a (slightly) cheaper price tag. The latter is the smaller of the two with a more boutique feel. Both are located slightly outside of town but are a short walk or taxi ride away and the Kube offers a free hotel shuttle.
La Résidence de la Pinède for a 5-star, luxurious hotel with private beach. This one is also located slightly outside of town but the infinity pool overlooking the turquoise sea is worth the walk to town. Be prepared to splurge on this one though.
If you're on more of a budget, do not fret. The 3-star Hôtel des Lices in town is a lot more affordable. Or you could go with a lovely, tasteful B&B slightly outside of town like Villa La Begude or Villa Casabianca. And don't worry, all of these options have a pool for cooling off!
GETTING HERE AND AROUND
The closest airport is Toulon-Hyères Airport, which is about an hour away. It is a small airport and there are not a whole lot of airlines that fly here so visitors can opt to fly into Nice, which is a larger airport with more airlines about 1.5 hours away. The closest train stations are Hyères and Saint-Raphaël and from there, a bus or boat can bring you to Saint-Tropez. Or there is ferry service from Nice. A car is definitely the most convenient but...
A few words to the wise:
- Traffic in and out of town can be brutal during rush hour. Try to avoid traveling at those times if at all possible. Or travel à pied!
- A resort town like this is unfortunately expensive, especially during July and August which is their high season.
- And lastly, this town is not necessarily known for its cuisine although that is starting to change. Food is pretty average overall although it is possible to find some good spots if you're willing to put in the effort.
So there you have it, folks. Get Saint-Tropez on your bucket list if it isn't there already and you won't be disappointed. But once you go you will be spoiled forever. Don't say I didn't warn you...