Insight Guides: Explore Nice & the French Riviera (Insight Explore Guides) (2015)
The legendary Riviera resort of St-Tropez is a bewitching mix of Provençal fishing village and jet-setters’ hotspot, with a handful of interesting museums and historical sights.
DISTANCE: 2.25km (1.5 miles)
TIME: Two or three hours
START/END: Vieux Port
POINTS TO NOTE: The biggest problem with St-Tropez is the enormous summer traffic jams. If you do not have your own yacht for swanning into the Vieux Port or dropping anchor off the beach, use the ferry service from Ste-Maxime with Les Bâteaux Verts (www.bateauxverts.com), which runs several boats an hour in peak season. By car, try to use the back roads from Ramatuelle rather than the road from Ste-Maxime, and avoid aperitif hour and Tuesday and Saturday morning market days. The large car park along the Nouveau Port is just a short stroll from the Vieux Port.
ST-TROP ON SCREEN
Roger Vadim’s 1956 film Et Dieu créa la femme created both St-Trop’s beach image and Brigitte Bardot, while in 1968, Alain Delon, Romy Schneider and a young Jane Birkin lazed around a pool in La Piscine. But for many French people St-Trop on film is inseparably associated with the elastic face of Louis de Funès in the series of cult comedies begun by Les gendarmes à Saint-Tropez (1964).
St-Tropez continues to draw the international jet-set, combining, as it does, glamorous resort and authentic Provençal village. For all its showbiz flavour, de-luxe hotels, legendary nightlife, ostentatious yachts and sometimes outright vulgarity of the m’as-tu vu (see and be seen) scene, ‘St-Trop’ still has a surprising charm and even a certain democracy: anyone can dress up and parade along the quays, and those with the right look will be able to make it past the rigorous physionomistes (bouncers) of Les Caves du Roy.
St Tropez Walk
Yachts in the Vieux Port
Wadey James/Apa Publications
From early Roman martyr Torpes, who gave the town its name, via neo-Impressionist Paul Signac to today’s party people, visitors have always arrived at St-Tropez by boat. The pretty Vieux Port 1 [map](Old Port) is still the town’s animated heart, lined with tall, colourful houses that were faithfully restored after World War II damage, and busy quayside bars and brasseries.
Musée de l’Annonciade
Beside the port on place Grammont, the Musée de l’Annonciade 2 [map] (tel: 04 94 17 84 10; Wed-Mon 10am-noon and 2-6pm, closed Nov; charge) is one of the region’s best museums, with a collection of post-Impressionist and modern art focused on St-Tropez and the Riviera. Among the highlights are pointilliste views of St-Tropez by Signac, Nabis paintings by Vuillard and early Fauve works by Derain, Matisse and Braque.
Wadey James/Apa Publications
Maison des Papillons
Cut through to rue Allard, with its boutiques and arcades, and detour up narrow rue Etienne Berny for another surprising museum, the Maison des Papillons 3 [map] (tel: 04 94 97 63 45; Wed, Thu, Sat 10am-12.30pm and 2-6pm, Fri 2-6pm, Sun 10am-12.30pm and 2-5pm; charge), where over 4,000 species of butterfly collected by painter Dany Lartigue are displayed around a small fisherman’s house. The painter was the son of famous 1920s society photographer J.H. Lartigue, some of whose photos can be seen in the kitchen.
Return to the port, where quai Suffren is the place in St-Tropez to people-watch. Luxury yachts moor sternside to the quay, allowing promenaders to gawp at uniformed flunkeys and on-board cocktail parties, while others try to look nonchalant from the row of portside bars, such as Bar du Port, see 1, and neo-Baroque Café de Paris.
Halfway along, in front of the Hôtel Sube, with its own discreetly fashionable bar on the first floor, is a statue of Bailli de Suffren 4 [map] (1729-88), erected in 1866 using bronze from melted-down arms captured from the Royal Navy. One of St-Tropez’s most illustrious adopted citizens, Pierre-André de Suffren’s nautical career culminated with a successful Indian campaign and the command of the French navy.
Further along, Le Gorille, see 2, dispenses drinks and brasserie standards day and night. Opposite, next to the Tourist Office (for more information, click here), a small arch leads to place aux Herbes, where there is a small fish market every morning.
A bigger attraction is the red chairs of Senequier, for more information, click here, on quai Jean Jaurès, perfect for people-watching at aperitif hour, and the elegant terraces of Le Quai, for more information, click here, and sister fish restaurant, Escale, a few doors up.
On quai Frédéric Mistral is a memorial to the navies of France, America and Britain and the Liberation of Provence; Allied forces landed on the Var coast on 15 August 1944.
Walk between the squat round Tour du Portalet and restaurant opposite, where the beginning of the coast footpath leads over the rocks to La Glaye 5 [map], a small cove surrounded by pastel-coloured fishermen’s houses.
Spice stall at the place des Lices market
AROUND THE HÔTEL DE VILLE
From the beach, take the first of the covered archways into rue Sous de la Glaye, which comes out on place de l’Hôtel de Ville, where the Hôtel de Ville faces a fine mansion with a carved wooden doorway brought back from Zanzibar in the 1800s by a Tropezian navigator.
At the lower end of the square, the Château de Suffren 6 [map], though now named after the naval hero, is a remnant of the square tower built by Guillaume, 1st Count of Provence, in 980. It was built to protect the Gulf of St-Tropez’s settlements from North African Barbary pirates, whose raids plagued the region until the 15th century.
Take rue Sibille, then turn left up rue de l’Église to Église Paroissiale 7 [map] (open morning only), St-Tropez’s parish church, which contains a carved bust of St Torpes. Take rue du Clocher up the side of the church through place de l’Ormeau and rue de l’Ormeau into rue de la Citadelle, where the triangular rough stone Tour Jarlier is a remaining corner of the town ramparts. Le Dit Vin3 is a good place for lunch or dinner.
At the top of rue de la Citadelle, steps lead across the Pré des Pecheurs to the Citadelle 8 [map] (www.saint-tropez.fr; Apr-Sept daily 10am-6.30pm, Oct-Mar daily 10am-12.30pm and 1.30-5.30pm; charge), built in the early 17th century for King Henri IV. Although it was the principal coastal defence between Antibes and Toulon, the fortress was nonetheless attacked by Spanish troops in 1637. In 1652 its garrison joined La Fronde rebellion against the king, and the townspeople, aided by royal troops from Toulon, besieged the castle. The Naval Museum, housed in the dungeon, reopened in 2013 following total renovation; ramparts lined with cannons and the roof terrace of the keep provide fine views over the town and bay.
Spot the rich and beautiful along quai de Suffren
Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications
AROUND PLACE DES LICES
Return to rue de la Citadelle, and at place Forbin turn left along rue du Petit Bal and descend rue de la Miséricorde, marked by the tiled dome of the Chapelle de la Miséricorde, into rue Gambetta. Here, elegant 18th-century doorways of shipowners’ and merchants’ houses punctuate upmarket shops, such as Villebrequin (nos 24 and 28), homegrown seller of men’s swimming trunks.
Continue to place des Lices 9 [map]. The big square is where St-Tropez millionaires play at being Provençal villagers, renting boules from the Café des Lices, see 4, for a game of pétanque under the plane trees and congregating at the très chic food and general market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.
Return to the Vieux Port along rue Georges Clémenceau, source of St-Trop’s classic strappy centurion sandals from Atelier Rondini (no.16) and cream-filled cakes at La Tarte Tropézienne (no.36).
Food and Drink
1 BAR DU PORT
7 quai Suffren; tel: 04 94 97 00 54
A sleek, portside vantage point where a designer-clad crowd lounges in white and chrome sofas surveying the passers-by.
2 LE GORILLE
1 quai Suffren; 04 94 97 03 93; www.legorille.com; July and Aug daily 24 hours, Sept-June daily 8am-1am; €
Compared with its designer neighbours, the open-all-hours Gorilla is a refreshingly down-to-earth place serving coffees, steak tartare and salade niçoise all day, and sustenance for après-clubbers all night long.
3 LE DIT VIN
7 rue de la Citadelle; tel: 04 94 97 10 11; daily L and D; €€
Lively restaurant and tapas bar in an attractive old village house with a roof that opens up in summer. Dishes have a Mediterranean accent such as mussels and fries or pasta with truffles; and the wine list is reasonable for these parts. Great service too.
4 CAFÉ DES LICES
Place des Lices; 04 94 97 44 69; www.lecafe.fr; daily L and D; €€
A classic café, serving up grilled steaks and Provençal specialities to generations of celebs. Sit on the terrace or in the vintage interior or rent a set of boules for a game of pétanque on the square.