Travel Guide to the A-List Haven of Saint-Tropez
St. Tropez is one of the world’s top destinations for the jet-set crowd, with a well-earned hedonistic reputation. Highly-fashionable trust funders and celebrities flock (by yacht or by helicopter) to this tiny resort town every summer. Saint-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.
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 its glamorous visitors for the past century.
Saint-Tropez is, quite simply, the most famous resort in Europe, but it 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, 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 live (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 famous St. Tropez beach clubs are actually not in St. Tropez, but in the bordering Ramatuelle, on Pampelonne beach (which is about a 15 minute drive, and father than most people would want to walk).
A Brief History
In the year 68, Saint-Tropez and the towns of Grimaud and Cogolin all got their name from a crazy incident involving a headless man, a rooster, and a dog. You can read the amazing story here.
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 crazy history of St Tropez, including its history of dealing with pirates who sold Tropezians into the slave trade.
Artists in Saint-Tropez
Saint-Tropez was attracting the artistic and dissolute long before Brigitte Bardot’s time. 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 illustrated the simple yet charming life typical of St Tropez.
An A-Lister Paradise
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 a lasting limelight.
Artist Paul Signac led his artist friends in from the late 19th century; fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli made it popular throughout the 1920s. By the Forties and Fifties, the village was a summertime extension of the Parisian Left Bank: Juliette Greco, Boris Vian, Sartre and Picasso.
The writer and poet Françoise Sagan also visited frequently, and her 1954 book Bonjour Tristesse, an ‘amoral’ story of a teenage girl’s summer romance in St-Tropez, was a worldwide sensation that scandalized French society and garnered fame for both its 18-year-old author and the story’s location.
Then, in 1956, Bardot appeared in And God Created Woman, transforming localized hedonism into a worldwide reputation for illicit pleasures. 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.
Pink Floyd’s 1971 song, San Tropez, was inspired by their previous summer, when they rented a house in Saint-Tropez…. “As I reach for a peach, Slide a ride down behind a chauffeur in San Tropez, Breakin’ a stick with a brick on the sand, Ridin’ a wave…”. Saint-Tropez held a special place in the hearts of the band members, as they played (for spare change) at the cafes in the 1960s, before they were calling themselves ‘Pink Floyd’. Syd Barrett and David Gilmour had performed at lunchtimes together with guitars and harmonicas, and later hitch-hiked and busked their way around the French Riviera. In 1970, they played at the nightclub Les Caves du Roy , which is still popular today. Richard Wright later bought a house in Le Rouret , which he called Maison d’Harmonie. Wright found the house in 1978, when Pink Floyd were on the French Riviera recording The Wall, and spent most of his spare time there until he died.
Built in 1618, Chapelle Ste-Anne 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.
Ever popular with rock stars, in the 1990s, the band U2 filmed a music video and recorded songs at Bono’s house on the beach in Eze. More recently, many rappers have included St. Tropez in their song lyrics, claiming it to be their favorite vacation spot, and A-listers like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez regularly visit.
Today, it still attracts the crème de la crème of the show business, fashion and modeling industries. It’s one of Ralph Lauren and Toomy Hilfiger’s favorite vacation spots, and it’s here that Leonardo DiCaprio held his charity gala for wildlife and ocean conservation. Every summer there’s a parade of supermodels, actors, influencers, and those who want to be seen.
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 serves 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 St Tropez (6 times per day, 2 hour ride time).
By boat: Boats make the one-hour trip between Saint-Tropez and Sainte-Maxine run about every hour. There are also ferry services from 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.
More options: Options include mini-buses, scooters, cars, bicycles, taxi, and helicopter services.
Along the Drive to St. Tropez
Most of the drive from the French Riviera is absolutely stunning — especially the coastal part through the Esterel area. However, there are also plenty of low-budget areas that create eyesores along the one-and-only road connecting St. Tropez to Sainte-Maxime and on to the rest of the French Riviera.
The seaside in the Grimaud and Gassin areas are filled with ultra-low-budget ‘camping’ sites (basically a for-rent trailer parks), ‘Mobil Home’ parks (also similar to what Americans think of as a trailer park), trashy American-style ‘Monster Truck’ shows, mini-golf, budget shopping, caravan / camper / ‘RV’ vans on the beach, and run-down amusement parks.
When you hit Port Grimaud and start seeing the Monster Truck ads posted every few meters along the road, you’ll know you’re entering a typically congested stretch of road and are between 10 and 50 minutes from St. Tropez, based on how crazy the traffic is. And no, there’s no ‘back-road’ to escape to.
Video Tours 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.
The area around St. Tropez also has a lot to see. There are many vineyards and other cute towns within a 20 minute drive. Check out our guide to things to do and sights to see in St. Tropez and the nearby towns to visit. If you want more history, read about the pirates and painters that made St-Tropez.