St Tropez is perhaps the strangest shopping spot in France. Certainly, it is one of the rare ones where you may exit the “Eight Till Late” grocery store laden with jam and leeks – and walk straight into the Dior boutique across the street.
In other words, the resort has all the shops which villagers require – butchers, bakers, newsagents – but with the world’s leading designer outlets grafted on. The likes of Yves St Laurent, D&G, Cartier and the rest (the rich are nothing if not predictable in their needs) cram into narrow streets and shopping passages, or onto the broader Place de la Garonne.
Thus, in the triangle between the Place des Lices, Rue Gambetta and Rue Allard you will find exactly the same retail opportunities as in the posher parts of Paris, London or Rome. In St Tropez, though, they are attended by seaside insouciance.
The Brazilian billionaire popping in to spend a few thousand euros on his wife will likely as not be wearing a t-shirt, ill-advised shorts and a smile which says he could never do this at home. There, he’d need bodyguards and an armour-plated car. Here, he’s indistinguishable from day-trippers strolling past with ice-creams. It’s an intriguing spectacle.
A few things you might like to look out for:
Alongside all the international designer names, St Tropez also has its own, long-established fashion item – the Tropézien sandal, as worn by Bardot and every other beautiful woman who ever ambled these streets. The Rondini family has been making them behind the shop at 16 Rue Clemenceau since 1927 (+33 494 971955; www.rondini.fr). They start at around 120 euros a pair.
The K. Jacques family – refugees from Armenia – started production five years later. They charge a little more (from around 155 euros) for sandals they call “spartiates”. Why? Because basic models resemble footwear the Spartans might have worn. They’re at 25 Rue Allard and 16 Rue Seillon. (0033 494 974150; www.lestropeziennes.com).
The main shopping event in St Tropez has, though, nothing to do with platinum card excesses. It is the morning market on the Place des Lices every Tuesday and Saturday. This is essentially a vast and jolly larder of foodstuffs from Provence and beyond. But it also deals in just about everything else. You can pick up a shirt or handbag here for 15 euros or less – while others are paying a hundred times more for similar items in the nearby fashion boutiques. And I, for one, will never know the difference.
Wine has always been a pillar of the local economy and, though now out-punched by tourism, remains an important feature of both the real and also the economic landscapes. You’ll see the vines all round the village and its peninsular. The resultant wines are getting better and better. They are mainly rosés, but reds and whites are also worth investigating. Many of the vineyards welcome you to visit and taste – get details from the Tourist Office on Quai Jean-Jaurès.
However, for easiness’ sake, try La Cave de St Tropez on Avenue Paul Roussel in the village. This is the outlet for the local wine co-operative and has some interesting selections (0033 494 970160; www.cave-saint-tropez.fr). ‘Cave’, incidentally, means ‘cellar’, not ‘cave’.
Or you might nip just out of town to La Foux on the neighbouring commune of Gassin. There, the Caveau des Maîtres Vignerons de la Presqu’ile de St Tropez has wines which are much easier on the tongue than is the name itself. (0033 494 563204; www.mavigne.com).
Finally, the biggest dates in the St Tropez shopping calendar – bigger even than the weekly markets – come at the end of October. Over a long weekend, La Grande Braderie sees even the fanciest stores discounting their clothes in a mega-annual sale. Shops spill out onto trestle tables in the street, prices tumble and folk flock in for what is a carnival of commerce and the resort’s major October event. In 2011, it’s from October 21-24.