Most people have heard of the Saint-Tropez tan, and this little town on the beach in the south of France lives up to its name. With public and private beaches both nude and otherwise, Saint-Tropez is a relaxation paradise.
The history of Saint-Tropez
It wasn’t always this kind of place. For many centuries, the coast near Saint-Tropez was uninhabitable, not because the climate was different, but because Saint-Tropezz suffered from corsair raids out of North Africa until Charles X captured Algiers in 1830. The few natives who chose to live here cowered in scattered walled villages like Grimaud and Bormes, built high on hills safely away from the sea where the view of the coast and watch-towers gave adequate warning to bring in families and cattle to safety. Saint-Tropez itself was destroyed by the Moorish corsairs multiple times from 739 AD onward.
Today, those in Saint-Tropez want to be on the once-shunned coast. Saint-Tropez lies at the end of a road, out on the end of a peninsula, and has been frequented by literary and visual arts greats like Guy de Maupassant, Matisse, and Bonnard. Some of the finest works of these visitors may be found at L’Annonciade, a deconsecrated chapel converted into first a home, and now among the very best twentieth-century French art galleries in the country. Among the works to be found there are Matisse’s Corsican Landscape and Vuillard’s Two Women by Lamplight.
Saint-Tropez has an unconventional atmosphere, largely due to these visitors. Just after the first world war, it was discovered and adopted by Bohemians, attracting the most unconventional and unique people of France and beyond. Thousands of campers take spaces along the bay of Saint-Tropez each year, and the population here swells in the summer to as many as ten times the number of regular inhabitants of the town. In the 1950s, Saint-Tropez acquired real glamour when Brigit Bardot and many of her friends made it their favorite summer home.
When to visit
If you go to Saint-Tropez, go in the summer; during winter, the weather here can be miserable. Saint-Tropez has the misfortune of facing north, and picks up the cold weather of the mistral, the north wind, when it blows in the winter.
During the summer, however, unbeatable nightlife can be found around the Quai Jean Jaures, and the old town can be found further inland. If you speak French and love red wine, stop by Bertoncini’s wineshop on the Rue de la Citadelle; you’ll find no tourists and a warm welcome. After your wine, look uphill for the old citadel, walled in twice with a moat between the walls. On the first floor is an excellent maritime museum, and from the upper floors you’ll have a breathtaking view of the entire peninsula, the gulf, and the Alps on the far horizon.
Along the Route des Plages (beaches) you’ll find most of the best beaches. The best way to get there is by bicycle (you’ll find rentals in many places), not car or foot; it’s a long walk, especially if you visit more than one beach.
Festivals in Saint-Tropez
The bravade is a popular festival every May 16 celebrating Saint-Tropez, for whom Saint-Tropez is rather dyslexically named. Torpes was martyred at Pisa in 68 AD, and his decapitated body washed onshore here, where it was decently buried hundreds of miles from his venerated head in Pisa. During the bravade, the bust of the saint is paraded through the streets of Saint-Tropez by men in old-fashoned military garb. It’s been described as a war movie blended with Laurel and Hardy, but don’t tell the marchers that; the locals take it deadly seriously. On June 15, another bravade is held, this one celebrating the victory of the local count over a large Spanish invading fleet in 1637. Don’t expect to get much sleep during these festivals; one of the most outstanding qualities of them is the habit of bravadeurs for firing their blunderbusses into the air quite late into the night.
The Rue Sibilli is filled with trendy boutiques and unique items. If you’re more interested in the gastronomic delights of France, try the place de Lices, where you can find produce and regional foods as well as clothes and collectibles.
Les Caves du Roy in the Byblos Hotel is the most exclusive nightspot in Saint-Tropez, but you can find everything from Le Papagayo, a young adult and older teen spot, to the summer classical music concerts in the gardens of Chateau de la Moutte. Saint-Tropez is very quiet during its cold winters, but in the summer, you will rarely see things winding down until dawn.