An Introduction & guide to Saint Tropez
Saint Tropez has been synonymous with glamour since sex siren Brigitte Bardot cavorted on its beach in a skimpy bikini, although this pretty fishing village had been luring artists with its pastel coloured buildings and mythical light long before that.
Every summer images of movie-stars, oligarchs and models enjoying champagne on yachts and dancing in nightclubs adorn the pages of celebrity magazines, all with the same caption “…spotted in St Tropez”. It is easy to see the attraction of this once-tiny fishing village: beautiful beaches, luxury yachts, expensive boutiques, cafes, bars and night clubs-all the trappings of a millionaire lifestyle with a twist of French Riviera chic. Yet it still has its quiet charm in its narrow streets and traditional restaurants shaded by grape vines, and the pretty harbour lined with wooden masts. Spectacular white sand beaches line the Gulf de Saint Tropez, while the Provencal countryside rises up behind the town with medieval villages, vineyards and lavender fields sweeping over the rolling countryside.
Saint Tropez has managed to retain it's old fashioned charm thanks to it's position on an inaccessible headland on the French Riviera. This meant that early development from the 60's & 70's largely passed it by, and so today you will see very few, if any, high-rises in the area. There are no main roads going through the village, no train station, no big resort hotels, no 'English Breakfasts'. Instead, you find a very pretty Provencal village, with an immaculate maze of cobbled lanes filled with boutiques, lovely cottages with painted shutters and flowering balconies, and a wonderful shady square where a most excellent market is held twice a week. La Place des Lices is in the heart of the old town and is also the favourite hang out for 'boules' players in the afternoon. The Provencal market is held here every Tuesday and Saturday mornings. In addition to the market style shopping, St Tropez has its fair share of designer brands and labels, plus a very unique and traditional Tropezien style. The old town is also home to some important historical monuments and museums.
Of course, St Tropez stands firmly on the world map as a destination for the rich and famous. The international jet set are attracted to the designer boutiques, glitzy art galleries, world renowned beach clubs and exclusive nightclubs. Much of the buzz is centred around the marina. This is the place for people-watching in one of the many smart cafes and restaurants that surround the harbour with it's magnificent yachts.
However, the draw of Saint Tropez isn't just superficial. you can choose to engage with swanky playboy lifestyle, or take a more relaxed path, by visiting some of the beautiful surrounding villages with their vineyards, or exploring the Natural Park of the Massif des Maures, famous for it's chestnut & cork trees.
This once tiny fishing village certainly has it all; beautiful beaches, luxury yachts, expensive boutiques, cafes, bars and night clubs, all the trappings of a millionaire lifestyle with French Riviera chic.
Beaches in Saint-Tropez
St Tropez is rightly known for it's beach and beach clubs, but you should be aware that this beach - Pampelonne - is actually around six kilometres to the south of St Tropez. It is one of the most famous beaches on earth, and it is easy to see why. It is a five kilometre stretch of white sand, in a protected bay. There are around 30 beach clubs dotted up the beach where you can hire sun beds & parasols, and more importantly, wine and dine with the rich and famous. If you prefer your own space away from the in-crowd, there are plenty of public areas for you to stake a claim to - note that there are also nudist areas along the beach. In addition, there are water sports companies all along the beach where you can hire pedalos, kayaks, paddle boards and jet skis.
Within St Tropez itself, you have the option of a couple of urban beaches. Close to the marina is La Ponche, made up of two small beaches on the headland. Just before you arrive in St Tropez from the east is La Bouillabaisse beach, and on the other side of town is Graniers Beach. The further west you go from St Tropez, the rockier the coastline becomes, and there are plenty of coves to discover.
The Ministry of Health in France provides up-to-date information regarding the cleanliness of beaches. The interactive map (which is available in English) allows you to zoom in on the beaches of interest and to review recent test results. The beaches and rivers are ranked from excellent (blue) to prohibited (pink), meaning that entering the water is strictly prohibited. The monthly testing and monitoring makes it possible to assess the effects of wastewater sanitation and dirty rainwater runoff into swimming sites.
Also see: Beaches in Saint-Tropez
Where is Saint-Tropez?
Saint Tropez is a coastal town on the French Riviera, in Var department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. Saint Tropez and the surrounding villages are in the Golfe de Saint Tropez, a large east-facing bay. Urban development surrounds the coastal road, from Sainte-Maxime in the north, to Saint Tropez in the south. Beyond the bay, the forested hills are gently undulating, hiding hilltop villages such as Grimaud and Gassin.
Also see: Towns & Villages in Saint-Tropez
Events in Saint-Tropez
St Tropez of course has it's annual sailing regattas, includng the Giraglia Rolex Cup (June) and the Voiles de Saint Tropez (September). But there are some wonderful, more traditional festivals that you can attend. The Bravades de St Tropez celebrates victory over pirates in days gone by with parades and parties every May. The Bravades des Espagnols in June is commemoration of victory over the Spanish in 1637, you can expect to see the locals in traditional costume and much rejoicing.
Musical events include Les Nuits Classique (July), a series of classical music concerts held in an outdoor amphitheatre, and Les Nuits du Chateau de la Moutte (August) which features classical and jazz concerts. The nearby village of Ramatuelle holds an annual jazz festival in August.
St Tropez hosts a wonderful market every Tuesday and Saturday mornings, where you can browse for local produce, arts & crafts and all sorts of nic-nacs and trinkets. Well worth a visit!
Sights & Attractions in Saint-Tropez
Head up the steep hill to the 17th century La Citadel, where there's a museum and beautiful views over the sea. (This is a lovely place for a picnic and enjoying the afternoon breeze). There's also the House of Butterflies with thousands of butterflies on display, and the Annonciade Museum, one of the longest established modern art galleries in France - you can see works here by Matisse, Bonnard and Signac among others. The famous yellow and red church tower seen in all the photographs of St Tropez is the Eglise Notre Dame de l'Assomption, an Italian baroque style church from the 18th century.
The area surrounding St Tropez has plenty to explore too. The land has been cultivated by wine growers for centuries and the vineyards produce red, white and rose wines of excellent quality. Tours can be arranged in advance, or simply visit one of the vineyard caves to sample and to buy. The Domaine du Rayol is a wonderful botanical gardens on the coast to the west of St Tropez. Many of the surrounding hilltop villages have ruined castles or forts you can explore, and if you go further afield to Frejus, there are some amazing Roman ruins.
Things to Do in Saint-Tropez
Sailing is of course a big thing in St Tropez. You can charter a yacht and explore the coastline and beaches from the sea. Or you can take a shared boat trip organised by one of the local companies and visit Cannes or the island of Saint Marguerite for the day. Other boat trips include water-taxi services to villages around the bay, and a sunset cruise.
If you fancy some designer shopping, Saint Tropez has some seriously exclusive boutiques- or you can visit the lovely central square of Place des Lices and its charming market for a more low-key spend. Walk up to the church for some of the best sunset views or just pass the time in a cafe watching the locals play petanque in the square under the plane trees.
For the more active, you can hire bicycles and explore the bay using the dedicated cycle lanes. A more challenging bike ride can be had by heading into the hills of the Massif des Maurres. This Natural park also has plenty of hiking trails through the forests. Coastal paths also ring the bay, making for very pleasant and more accessible walks. There are a number of horse riding centres and the St Tropez Polo Club (on the way to Port Cogolin) hosts tournaments throughout the summer.
Kids will adore the Azur Park at nearby Port Cogolin, with a fun fair, ferris wheel and crazy golf (opens late afternoon), and just on the other side of Sainte Maxime there is a Aqualand waterpark. Finally, water-sports enthusiast will find a second home on Pampelonne Beach- as well as those who like to make themselves comfortable on a sun loungers with a magnum of champagne...
Restaurants in Saint-Tropez
The food on offer in Saint Tropez ranges from the truly spectacular, to the spectacularly over-priced. But there are some wonderful restaurants to be found for all budgets, from the stratospheric but magnificent 3-Michelin starred Vague d'Or, to the local's favourite and good value Le Bistro Pastis We've gone into detail about our favourite restaurants in our Where to Eat guide.
Also see: Where to Eat in Saint-Tropez
Nightlife in Saint-Tropez
There is a tremendous choice of nightlife in St Tropez. The beach clubs at Pampelonne beach stay open for party nights and are an easy option if you are at the beach already. Remember to book a taxi back at night, it's a long walk otherwise! In town, most people tend to head to the marina for drinks and dinner, the sight of the superyachts lit up at night is truly beautiful. The further into town you go from the marina, the more laid back the bars and restaurants.
There are some of the finest night clubs on earth in Saint Tropez. When it’s time to get your dancing shoes on, there are three main options, all fairly guaranteed to provide a glimpse of celebrities, if you like that kind of thing. Caves du Roy has been considered the most prestigious club on the Cote d’Azur (and therefore the world) for over 40 years, while the VIP room is another notorious favourite with the jet set. La Bodega de Papagayo is the most lively and the easiest to gain entry to - although its clientèle is still the young, the rich and the beautiful. There are also some great bars for people watching, as well as a low-key Irish pub- for full details see our St Tropez nightlife guide.
Where to Stay in Saint-Tropez
There is a wonderful selection of top end hotels in St Tropez, you are spoilt for choice if your wallet is deep. Those hotels further out of town may offer shuttle services to St Tropez and the beach and are definitely worth exploring for a more relaxed stay. Towards Ramatuelle and La Croix Valmer there are a number of small hotels and guest houses where you are more likely to have views of the sea. If you are coming in July or August, book as far in advance as possible to secure your accommodation.
Also see: Where to Stay in Saint-Tropez
History & Culture in Saint-Tropez
St Tropez is named after martyr called Caius Silvius Torpetius (Saint Torpes), who was born in Pisa, Italy. He was condemned to death after converting to Christianity and his body was placed in a boat with a cockerel and a dog. The boat was set adrift and landed on the shores of St Tropez on May 17th 68 AD.
The town was founded probably around the 10th century and was subject to pirate attacks and Arab occupation. The towers you can see at Grand Mole and Ponche were built as defensive towers in the 15th century.
It wasn't until the 1920's that St Tropez began to attract fashion icons and their entourages. Brigitte Bardot came later in the 1950's.
Also see: History of Saint-Tropez