St. Tropez Travel Guide
St. Tropez is one of the French Riviera’s top destinations for the jet-set crowd. Highly-fashionable trustfunders flock (by yacht or by helicopter) to this tiny resort town every summer, and have been since the 1950s.
Yet despite its well-earned hedonistic reputation, St. Tropez possesses a certain mystique that has lingered here since long before a pouty young ingénue named Brigitte Bardot came along in the mid-1950s and splashed the whole town with limelight. Scrape away the gilded patina of new money (and avoid the nearly 100,000 visitors who rumble in each summer) and the once-humble fishing port, military stronghold and artist enclave still shimmers beneath the plane trees on the Place des Lices, in the cannonball-marred walls of the fortified Citadel, and along the narrow cobbled streets that have bewitched visitors for centuries.
Saint-Tropez was once simply a picturesque French fishing village. Then Coco Chanel and her fashionable friends started coming, and it became the setting of the movie And God Created Woman featuring Brigitte Bardot, the era’s famous sex symbol. Since then, the previously almost unmapped town in French Riviera became an international tourist hotspot. It is now known as a top destination for the wealthy and famous. The Hamptons of Europe.
Other than partying and shopping, people-watching and celebrity-spotting is the main pastime in Saint-Tropez. In St Tropez, the motto is: see and be seen. In St Tropez, it is easy to party and spend like a celebrity. Let us acquaint ourselves with this tiny but illustrious town…
Basic Information About St. Tropez
|Saint-Tropez is 100 kilometers west of Nice in southern France. The locals call themselves Tropeziéns. It has a population of less than 5,000. French is its official language, though many speak English because of its international status in tourism.|
The peak season for tourists is around May to August in the summertime, and it completely shuts down (stores empty out and restaurants close) in the off-season from October to April.
It shares the perfect Mediterranean climate as the rest of the French Riviera.
The Origin of the Town’s Name
Saint-Tropez got its name from an early Christian martyr, Saint Torpes. Legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero ordered his execution. Saint Paul converted Torpes, he then professed his faith to Nero during a pagan ceremony. Nero asked him to renounce his faith, not wanting to kill him. Nero ordered to decapitate him after he refused to do so.
Saint Torpes’ head was tossed into the Arno, a river in Tuscany, Italy. The body was placed in a rotten boat with a rooster and a dog. The boat floated to Liguria. A holy woman dreamt of the body’s arrival. It reached the location of the present town, and not far from the sailors’ cemetery.
The body was supposed to nourish the rooster and the dog, but it remained untouched. The locals named their village in his honor. Saint Torpes became the patron saint of sailors. Two festivals parade his bust to venerate him: Les Bravades in mid-May, which commemorates the time of the creation of the army and its achievements, and another in mid-June to commemorate the victory of the Tropezian militia over the Spaniards in 1673.
If you arrive in mid-May and hear gunfire, don’t head for the hills. Les Bravades dates to the 15th century and is a traditional (and loud) Provencal religious and military celebration held over three days each May that gives grown men a good excuse to don old military uniforms and fire muskets. Backed by a drum corps, parades and jubilant onlookers, this celebration is a beloved St-Tropez event, honoring military history as well as the town’s patron saint, Saint Torpes, whose bust is marched through the narrow lanes.
A Bit More History…
St Tropez is, quite simply, the most famous resort in Europe – and it was attracting the artistic and dissolute long before Brigitte Bardot’s time. The pointillist Paul Signac led them in from the late 19th century and, by the Forties and Fifties, the village was a summertime extension of the Parisian Left Bank: Juliette Greco, Boris Vian, Sartre and Picasso. Then Bardot appeared in ‘And God Created Woman’, transforming localized hedonism into a worldwide reputation for illicit pleasures. The place never looked back.
St-Tropez occupied a strategic military position long before it was a jet-setter’s oasis. Built between 1590-1607 to defend the coastline against pirates and other invaders, the Citadel still keeps watch over villagers and the sea, though only a few roaming peacocks and some defunct cannons stand guard these days. Predating the Citadel are three medieval towers guarding the port – Portalet, Jarlier, and Suffren, the oldest building in St-Tropez. Here’s more about the history of St Tropez, including its history of dealing with pirates who sold Tropezians into the slave trade.
Hire a taxi or scooter and head to the simple Provençal-style Chapelle Ste-Anne located atop a hill in a residential area above the Place des Lices. Built in 1618, the chapel made pop culture history in 1971 when Mick Jagger married Bianca (here’s the crazy story behind their chaotic wedding) here after a civil ceremony at the St-Tropez town hall.
An A-Lister Paradise
St. Tropez swells in the summer months as yachts creep into port, but a quick stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Old Town reveals what attracted celebrities to this former fishing village in the first place.
Haute couture designer Coco Chanel visited throughout the 1920s. So did Elsa Shiaparelli. In the 1950s Brigitte Bardot starred in the film And God Created Woman set in the town. This was the turning point of the town, from a boat-making and fishing village to a playground of stars. Even today, there are photos of Bardot all over town. Here’s the story of the scandal Bardot created.
The writer and poet Françoise Sagan also visited in 1955, and her book Bonjour Tristesse brought St. Tropez even more into the spotlight. Pink Floyd wrote a song entitled San Tropez. Many rappers include it in their song lyrics stating it to be their favorite vacation spot. It’s where Leonardo DiCaprio held his charity gala for wildlife and ocean conservation. Today, it still attracts the crème de la crème of the show business and modeling industry.
Artists in Saint-Tropez
Before the celebrities, the uber-rich, and their super-yachts came, the artists had already fallen in love with this town. The works of the painters put the town on the artistic map. Most illustrate the simple yet charming life typical of St Tropez.
Paul Signac (1863-1935) He was born in Paris. He trained as an architect before becoming an artist. Impressionists’ works like that of Monet inspired him. He combined his love of painting and sailing. He rented a small cottage and worked on the quaysides. His move to a large villa in St-Tropez called La Hune marked a very important year in the modern art scene.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) He is a son of a store-keeper and was born in northern France. He studied law but quit because of illness. His pastime, drawing, became his career. His mentors in his artistic studies made him inquisitive about the nature of colors. After discovering his own style experimenting with pure colors, he created a distinct art of his own.
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) He was born a wealthy Parisian. He studied law and pursue a career as a barrister before being an artist. In 1910, he moved to French Riviera where he found the inspiration for his art. He used notes, sketches, and even photographs as reference materials. He reflected on his subject, and as he said, dreamt of it,
Experience St. Tropez
Start your morning at La Tarte Tropézienne with an espresso and a slice of the patisserie’s namesake cream-filled brioche. As its name suggests, tarte tropézienne has its origins in St. Tropez but was in fact given its name by none other than the then relatively unknown Brigitte Bardot when she was in the city for the film ‘And God Created Woman’, which was largely responsible for bringing her into the public spotlight. As it’s name doesn’t suggest, it is more of a cake than a tart; it was invented by Alexandre Micka, a Polish pastry chef in St. Tropez, and consists of a round brioche with pearl sugar and a sort of pastry cream and buttercream filling, with a delicate flavor of orange blossom water.
Take your petit-déjeuner pastry across the square to the Place des Lices and stroll through the stands of cheese and flowers at the open-air Provencal market, held every Tuesday and Saturday morning. After gathering a basket-full of picnic fixings, head over to the 15th-century stone Portalet Tower and work off those breakfast calories during an easy and picturesque coastal hike along the peninsula’s best beaches, which are otherwise accessed only by boat.
At the most famous beaches along Plage de Pampelonne, you’ll find the swankiest of Saint-Tropez’s beach clubs, whose anything-goes spirit and lavish costume parties are known to draw celebrities. (Check out our guide to St. Tropez Beach Clubs).
Head over to Le Club 55 , which Brigitte Bardot made famous in the 1950s and is still the best place to spot celebrities. Lush, green landscapes frame the wooden pathways to and from entrances and exits. Inside the restaurant, the atmosphere resembles the beach: the dining area has no walls in order to open up the space for natural breezes and all tables and chairs are placed on the sand underneath the rustic sunshade ceiling. Amidst a backdrop of blue table linens, a delicious array of classic French cuisine is on the menu with their famous le paniers de crudités (“fresh vegetable platter”). The wait staff commonly serve orders of la piscine (“rosé over ice”) as a refreshing drink on hot summer days.
For something more low-key, trek down to the tucked-away cove of L’Escalet Beach , where you can spread out on a shore sans tourists. Back in town, pause on the port for a coffee and prime people watching until dinner, then dance the evening away at one of St. Tropez’s legendary nightclubs.
The Sights of Saint-Tropez
People-watching is the main pastime in St Tropez. The great, the rich and the A-listers still tack in by the yachtful, as do any amount of flotsam and jetsam, whose obsession with air-headed extravagance can get on the nerves. But this is vital to keeping St Tropez in the planetary spotlight. The surroundings help, too. The wooded, rocky St Tropez peninsula is spectacular, the views across the sea to the Maures mountains are outstanding. It is, though, only the sheen. It disguises a multilayered life, from villa evenings with moguls through to locals going to the market with baskets to do their daily shopping.
Here are the places where you can experience the St Tropez lifestyle:
The Beach Clubs
St. Tropez’s beach is one of the most famous in the world, and certainly the most posh beach party scene on the French Riviera. St. Tropez’s dreamy coastline is filled with so many stunning beaches that choosing which one to visit can be a tricky affair.
Located a 15-minute drive outside of the village of Saint-Tropez, Plage Pampelonne is the stretch of beach that has some public space and a lot of private beach clubs / restaurants. Knowing which beach club is the trendiest this year, getting reservations for the right table, and how to dress for them, is a major preoccupation for many jet-set.
There’s so much to say that we created an entire guide just about St. Tropez’s Beach Clubs, which is updated each season.
A handful of streets lead off from Place des Lices, the main square which houses a street market on Tuesdays and Saturdays: this is where you’ll want to go shopping. Rue Gambetta, Place de la Garonne, Rue Francois Sibilli, Rue Georges Clemenceau and Rue General Allard are lined with designer boutiques such as Dior, Hermès, Céline, Alaìa, Chloè, Rykiel, Dolce&Gabbana, Gucci, Valentino Bulgari, and many more. Not big boutiques, but offering very carefully selected items and a lot of deluxe limited-edition pieces.
Don’t miss these local brands: the basic Kiwi, offering a very colorful collection of everything you need on the beach; and Vilebrequin, a high-end beachwear brand established in 1971 by Fred Prysquel in Saint Tropez, known all over the world for its first and most famous print, turtles. A mix of hippy and BCBG style, the long Lulù and So.To dresses, to be strictly worn with leather tropeziennes sandals or suede-fringed boots. More sophisticated and understated are the beautiful Bla Bla kaftans. If you’re looking for something more subdued, head to Since 1903. Don’t forget to buy a hat before leaving: Victor has some beautiful panama hats.
Check out our guide to what to wear in St Tropez (for women).
Places des Lices: Saint-Tropez’s Town Square
On Tuesday and Saturday mornings, this square opens as a lively market. It has a large area with white sandy ground. Around it is trees aging up to a hundred years. At times there are people who play the traditional ball game in French Riviera, called petanque or Boules. There are also lots of bars, cafés, and restaurants that add to the cheerfulness of the place.
Vieux Port: Saint-Tropez’s Old Port
The yachts and the picturesque harbor are a main attractions in Saint Tropez. Pastel-colored buildings, typical of French Riviera, with main-floor boutiques, tourist shops, cafés, and restaurants, line the promenade. Pick up a watercolor painting from a street vendor and enjoy the views.
St. Tropez’s Towers
As a result of being a coastal town and needing to protect itself from attack, St Tropez became well fortified early on in its history. Four towers were built to protect the coast and the port. Today only three of them remain. Two of these towers date from the 15th Century. The last tower, and the most central one, dates from the 16th Century. It confers a tranquility and charm upon a street which is of considerable architectural interest.
The St. Tropez Citadelle is a historic 17th-century fortress. Surrounding it is an impressive set of ramparts and bastions. The roof terrace gives a scenic view. On its dungeon is the Museé de l’Histoire Maritime Tropeziéne that exhibits the town’s maritime history.
Museé d l’Annonciade
This is one of the best art museums in the region . The collection includes work of post-impressionism and modern art periods. The theme of the artwork is about Saint-Tropez. The exhibits highlight the works of Signac, Matisse, Bonnard, and other Tropezienne artists. See our guide to this art museum.
Maison de Papilions
The Nearby Towns
The area around St. Tropez has a lot to see. There are many vineyards and other cute towns within a 20 minute drive. Here are the ones we recommend:
Often referred to as “Little Venice”, the relaxed town of Port Grimaud sits on the doorstep of buzzing St Tropez, superbly combining glorious Riviera beauty with the provincial charm found in Venice. This picturesque mini port offers diverse eateries serving high-quality cuisine to tantalize the taste-buds in a scenic setting. Head inland to the medieval city of Grimaud itself, where thriving galleries and studios have arisen in this charming location filled with motivation for painters, sculptors and writers.
Perched on a hilltop 10 minutes from St. Tropez, medieval village Ramatuelle is a picturesque labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys overgrown with lush vegetation and fragrant flowers. The narrow alleys are boasting with small boutiques and work shops by artisans, painters, and jewelry makers. Small courtyards draw you in to explore more. Pickup souvenirs in the small shops with baskets, Provençal soaps and olive oils. There are also many adorable restaurants with an outside terrace where you can enjoy the spectacular panoramic view while indulging in traditional French cuisine.
The Esterel Area
40 kilometers north-east of St. Tropez is Saint-Raphaël. A novel way to visit the famous red-rocks of the Esterel region is to take a boat trip from St Tropez to Quai Amiral Nomy with Les Bateaux de Saint-Raphaël. Their trips take about an hour each way and provide fabulous views of the coastline en route. They only operate from April to early November, and once in the Esterel area you can take another, shorter trip along the coast to see the fjord-like calanques of the Esterel coast.
When to (and When Not to) Visit Saint Tropez
In high season (June to August), 60,000 visitors a day clog the beaches, cafés, and 15th-century alleys of this old fishing village. But July and August, when the crowds descend, can be an enjoyable spectacle—especially at the beach clubs on Pampelonne, where anyone who’s anyone has lunch.
There is no point in visiting in the off-season (November to mid-April), as almost all of the hotels, shops, and restaurants close up.
We recommend visiting in late April, May, June, September or early October to avoid the crowds but still enjoy the beautiful Mediterranean weather.
From the end of September through the beginning of October, some of the world’s most beautiful yachts descend on Saint Tropez for the annual Voiles de St Tropez, whilst the Antipodes Film Festival at the Cinema la Renaissance, in the central Place des Lices, will open from October 13-19.
But without doubt one of our favorite events at this time of the year is the Grande Braderie, which will bring Saint-Tropez to a standstill from 24-27 October when the town is flooded with bargain-hunters snapping up designer duds for a fraction of regular price.
How to Get to Saint-Tropez
There are no train stations or airports near Saint-Tropez, and the surrounding area is full of wineries and things to do, so a rental car is recommended. If you rent a car, it’s easier to get to the famed stretch of sand and the beach clubs on Pampelonne, six miles outside town. If you do take public transportation, here are your options:
By bus: There is a bus station in Saint-Tropez called the Gare routière de Saint–Tropez located in Place Blanqui. It is operated by department transport division Varlib, which employs other companies to operate routes. Bus #7601 serve Saint-Tropez from behind Saint-Raphaël’s train station via Sainte-Maxime to the east (almost hourly, 1.5 hours to Saint-Raphaël, 30 minutes to Sainte-Maxime). Bus #7801 and #7802 run from Toulon’s train station to the wet (6/day, 2 hours)
By boat: Boats make the one-hour trip between Saint-Tropez and Sainte-Maxine run about every hour. There are also ferry services connecting to Nice or Cannes. This can actually be the fastest way to arrive (aside from helicopter), given the traffic jams that occur in the summer. A novel way to visit is to take a boat trip from Quai Amiral Nomy in the Esterel with Les Bateaux de Saint-Raphaël. Their trips (which run between April and November) take about an hour each way and provide fabulous views of the coastline en route.
More options: Options include mini-buses, scooters, cars, bicycles, taxi, and helicopter services. Also, walking is an obvious choice due to traffic and because of the short distances of the destinations.
Video Tour of Saint-Tropez
Whether you’re a celebrity or just the usual traveler, the one of a kind experience you can have by visiting Saint-Tropez in southern France is unforgettable.