No surprise that St.Tropez (pop. 5.600) is such a tourist magnet, its location and Mediterranean flair make it irresistible. But the heydays when artists and intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir congregated here are over. Nowadays Saint Tropez attracts the rich, the socialites and paparazzi, the like of Naomi Campbell, Bruce Willis, Ivana Trump and Paris Hilton. And of course all of those who try to catch a glimpse of them. It's a yearly ritual as certain as the mating of the birds. Population swells ten-fold during the summer season. There is a reason the French now call it Saint Trop - trop means "too much" in French. Too much in terms of cars, prices and congestion. But its all done in relatively good taste with plenty of nice cafés, restaurants, bars and expensive shops. During the shoulder seasons, when the flow of visitors is at more normal levels, Saint Tropez reveals itself to be an attractive place with lots of picturesque corners.
You will find many guidebooks and websites which are a bit condescending when it comes to Saint Tropez. But let's assume you have found your hideaway lodgings somewhere in the countryside, perhaps in the Massif des Maures or the Central and Haut Var, a day trip to Saint Tropez might be a nice change of pace. If you have a chance avoid the school vacations in summer and spring - the main access road to Saint Tropez is a parking lot then. It can take you 1 - 2 hours for the 16 km (10 miles) from Sainte Maxime. The large parking space at the end of Avenue Général Leclerc near the port fills up quickly and is expensive. You might be better of taking the shuttle ferry from Sainte Maxime, Port Grimaud or Saint Raphaël run by Bateaux Verts. In case you want to visit the Pampelonne beaches and you are coming over the mountains on Route D558 via Grimaud, make sure you turn right below Grimaud to Cogolin staying on D558. From the Cogolin roundabout take the narrow Chemin de Gassin until you reach D559, turn right to Croix Valmer, from there Route D93, the Route des Plages, to Pampelonne Beach and if you like further on to Saint Tropez.
The first settlers were probably Phoenicians. Later Greek settlers called it Heraclea Caccabaris. In the 11th century the village was named Sancti Torpetis after a certain Torpes, who was one of Nero's centurians. Legend has it that Torpes was beheaded in Pisa for not forsaking his Christian faith. His head (or was it his body?) was placed in a boat along with a dog and a cock and was set adrift. The dog and cock were intended to eat Torpes' remains as a final humiliation. Miraculously his remains were still intact when the boat drifted ashore here. More serious research about Torpes reveals the following:"Martyred in the persecutions of Nero. Nothing else is known".
In the 11th century Saint Tropez with its miraculous saint story was part of the priory of Saint Victoire. From the 12th century onwards the town was ruled by various noble families, like the Castellanes and the Suffrens. Like other coastal towns it suffered from Saracen raids. In the late 14th century the war between Louis II d'Anjou and Charles of Durazzo resulted in the total destruction of Saint Tropez. It was rebuilt by Genovese families and became a republic, governed by a captain elected by the town's monied class. Favorable taxation made it a popular seaport for shipbuilding, trading, fishing and the occasional corsair. The town continued to suffer from periodic raids by the Saracens and the Spanish. In the 17th century Louis XIV reasserted French control over the town. It was governed by nobles, amongst them the de Suffren family until the French Revolution.
In the 1880's the writer Guy de Maupassant steered his sailboat in what was at that time an isolated fishing community. He was enchanted and noted in his 1888 memoir "Sur l'Eau" (On the Water), that Saint Tropez was like a "seashell wet by the salt water and nourished by fish and sea air". Matisse visited here and then Paul Signac, who liked Saint Tropez so much that he built a villa and stayed. The word spread and soon artists like Derain, Braque, Marquet, Bonnard, Duly and many others fell under the town's spell and immortalized Saint Tropez in paint or as did Colette in literature. It embodied the laid back Bohemian lifestyle on the Mediterranean coast. On August 15, 1944 Allied troops landed in Saint Tropez, one of the sites for Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France. But Saint Tropez's rise to fame began in 1956 when Brigitte Bardot - then aged 22 - rollicked in the sand of Pampelonne beach in a bikini, while her husband Roger Vadim - aged 28 - filmed her for a scene in "Et Dieu créa la femme" And God Created a Woman". She not only established her own popularity, but also that of the bikini and of Saint Tropez. The bikini was actually invented in 1946 by Louis Réard, a trained engineer in Paris who ran his mother's lingerie store. It was named after the Bikini atoll in the Pacific where the Americans conducted atom tests that same year. More than 60 years have passed since then, but Saint Tropez remains the spiritual home of the bikini.
The nice aspect about Saint Tropez is the homogeneous Mediterranean architecture of the old town near the port, the narrow streets with impeccably restored houses especially the Maison du Corsaire near the church, the Maison des Maures on Rue du Général Allard and the Hôtel de Ville (town hall). For many visitors promenading along the quays with the multi-million dollar yachts owned by jet-setting playboys and billionaires is the highlight. On Quai Suffren is a statue of Bailli de Suffren (1729 -1788), the admiral who harassed the English fleet in the West Indies. The family's home, Château Suffren, is located near the town hall. From the 15th century Tour du Portalet at the port you can walk the Sentier du Litoral to the Citadelle (1583-1607), the old fort on the hill, which houses the Musée de la Marine. You have sweeping views over the Golf de Saint Tropez with its luxury yachts. Back in town the Place des Lices behind the Quai Jean Jaures is the town center with market stalls selling vegetables, fruits and flowers, with boule players and young mothers pushing baby strollers - a nice touch of day-to-day life amidst exclusive boutiques and art galleries. The Place de l'Ormeau with its 18th century church and the yellow/ochre bell tower is one of the most widely photographed sites in Saint Tropez.
The Musée de l'Annonciade is worth a visit whilst you are in town. It is located on Place Georges Grammont, named after the benefactor who set up the museum in 1937 donating his collection of around 100 paintings. They show works of French painters from 1890-1940 amongst them Signac, Seurat, Cross, Matisse, Braque and Roussel as well as sculptures from Maillol, Despiau et Wlerick.
But coming back to poor Saint Torpes: He is commemorated once a year with a procession between the 16th and 18th of May, one of the two so called Bravades, which means the defiant ones. The gilded bust of Saint Torpes is carried through the town followed by a corps of 100 bravadeurs dressed in elegant 18th century costumes. Traditional marches are played, blank cartridges are fired, the noise is incredible. On the last day the procession ends at the 16th century Chapelle Sainte Anne just south of the town. The second bravade takes place on June 15. This is the Fête des Espagnols and honours the fight against a Spanish fleet in 1637 during the Thirty Years War. There are other festivities such as the Fête de Saint Pierre, patron saint of the fishermen, on June 15 and the Fête des Vendanges at the beginning of September. During July and August there are the "Nuits Musicales" with classical music and jazz in the theater of the Citadelle. Last week in September is sailing week, the Voiles de St.Tropez. A total of 3,500 sailors in 304 modern and classic yachts took part in the 9th edition of les Voiles in 2007.
There are no beaches to speak of in town. If you don't mind walking a bit you can try the Plage des Graniers to the west and the Plage des Cannebiers to the east. The Plage de la Moutte and Plage des Salins are further away on the east cape. The most frequented beaches are along the Baie de Pampelonne, a 5km (3 miles) stretch of sand south of Saint Tropez and east of Ramatuelle. Take Route D93, after about 3km various access roads on the left take you to the parking places and - no surprise - they charge you for parking. This Pampelonne beach is divided into over 20 private beaches, which alternate with a number of public beaches. Most of them are textile (as little textile as possible), including a number of famous establishments like le Plage de Tahiti, le Voile Rouge, Coco Beach and Moorea Plage. The country club like Le Club 55 was created in 1955 to provide refreshments to Roger Vadim's cast and crew when he was filming "Et Dieu créa la femme" with Brigitte Bardot. Nikki Beach is a good place to watch the "bold and the beautiful". The private beaches have open air restaurants with bistro type food at prices commensurate with the setting. If you want to use the beach you have to rent a beach mattress and umbrella. All have changing cabins, showers and bathrooms for their clients, there are none of those on the public beaches. There is one public and two private naturist beaches, Neptune and Liberty.
If you want to stay close to Saint Tropez but avoid its tourist crowds try the villages of Cogolin, Gassin, Ramatuelle and Croix Valmer west and south of Saint Tropez.
A fairly busy and fast growing village (pop. 8.000) where a lot of the people who work in Saint Tropez live. The place to do your shopping or eat in one of the many restaurants. It is authentic, vibrant and unabashedly commercial. The town center is Place de la République with the Hôtel de Ville (town hall) and the Saturday market. Walking up the hill you find the Vieux Village (old town) with narrow streets, the Tour de 'Horloge and the cemetery. The name Cogolin goes back to the poor Saint Torpes again. The cock on the boat allegedly flew away when the boat landed and settled on flax fields where today's Cogolin lies. The village name means "coq au lin", rooster by the flax. So that leaves only the dog on Saint Torpes boat. It is said he wandered to Grimaud. Cogolin is known for its artisans, whose workshops can be visited: rug weaving (there is even one in the White House and in Versailles), reeds for wind instruments and the oldest smoking pipe factory in the world. The Musé Espace Raimu shows memorabilia of the comedy actor Jules Auguste César Muraire (1883-1946) whose stage name was Raimu. He is well known in France from Marcel Pagnol films. Port Cogolin's marina is one of the largest in the area, over 1.600 pleasure boats can berth here.
A relatively new village (pop. 3.200) situated on a hill about 2km from the coast in the middle of vineyards. The place to do your shopping if you stay in one of the many vacation homes on the Saint Tropez Peninsula. But it best known for its fine beaches, especially the exceptional Plage de Gigaro, voted one of the best 10 beaches in France. From there a coastal footpath can be followed to the nature reserves of Cap Camarat and Cap Lardier. For more information about this interesting walk click here.
The village (pop. 2.800) is situated high up on a rock about 4km from the coast is just a stone's throw away from Saint Tropez. Without doubt one of the oldest settlements on the Golfe du Saint Tropez. It was a Saracen stronghold in the 8th century and 1oth century Knights Templar settlement. A tower built in the 11th century with the name of Gardia Sinus or Garcin then became Gassin. The village has kept most of its medieval charm with torturous lanes and flower decked houses. Its geographical situation is rather exceptional. It dominates a landscape dotted with vineyards and the azur Mediterranean. Splendid views from the old ramparts extend from the Iles d'Hyères to the snow capped summits of the Alpes over the Massif des Maures. Many visitors are attracted to Gassin because the pace of life is more sedated but nevertheless chic.
Tucked away on a hillside Ramatuelle (pop.2.200) still feels like a fortified village in the Saracene days. But the invaders are long gone and the village is now a quiet holiday location, away from the crowds of Saint Tropez. Stone houses are covered with colorful Bougainville and water fountains still gush water like in the old times. Strolling around the village's little streets and passageways, which run from the Place d' Ormeau to the Porte Saracen to the steep Rue Rompe Cu (bottom breaker street) are a pleasure in itself. There is a pretty village church, the 17th century Église Notre Dame and the 16th century Chapelle Sainte Anne. Ramatuelle has unparallelled views over the Baie du Pampelonne. During the summer the village is host to numerous theatre and music festivals. There are two theories as to the origin of the name Ramatuelle. Some believe that the name comes from the Arab Rahmatu'llah meaning divine providence or blessed by god. Others invoke the name from the Celto-Ligurian settlement Camatullici which means near the Gapeau river.