The world centre of frisky summer fun & frolics.
This is the beach of all St Tropez’s summer-time excesses, the one where the resort’s reputation – at once glamorous, libertine, sophisticated, air-headed and ridiculous – has been created.
No matter that it’s four miles from the village, and not actually in St Tropez at all. (It belongs to the neighbouring commune of Ramatuelle.)
Such details are of little importance when you’re looking from Paris, Hollywood, London, Moscow – or through champagne goggles. The three-mile strip of sand is absolutely where-it’s-at for the big names of showbiz, finance, business and politics – and the very rich of all stripes.
Here, in many of the 27 private beach clubs and restaurants, they may slip the leash in entirely predictable ways. If you haven’t seen the photos of wealthy young men spraying bubbly – at hundreds of quid a bottle – over young ladies wearing little, then you’ve been reading the wrong publications.
Pampelonne has, in fact, an honourable history. It was one of the key sites of the August 1944 Provençal landings, when the Allies launched the re-conquest of southern France.
Its subsequent peace was disrupted from the 1950s, when St Tropez’s localised fame for libertinage went global – and the beach bars started crowding in to take advantage.
Of course, you don’t have to go to any of the beach bars, clubs or restaurants to visit Pampelonne. Many of the daily visitors (and there can be 30,000 in high summer) are perfectly happy in the public – ie, free – spaces on the sands.
Certainly, I would never pay €30 or more a day for the use of a lounger. But you should perhaps have a drink or a snack at one of the 27, if only to be able to say that you’ve done so.
It won’t be cheap. Few of these places serve full lunches under €50. But you might get a glimpse of someone very famous, and that makes everything alright. Doesn’t it?
In case you’re tempted, the more prominent beach bar/restaurants include:
• Club 55. The ‘55’ refers to 1955. That was the year when the makers of And God Created Woman – the movie in which Bardot brought global notoriety to St Tropez – adopted what was a beach shack as their refreshments HQ. It has since evolved into perhaps the most exclusive gathering spot of the world’s powerful, the more discreetly rich and the beautiful. If you want a lunch table in summer, book well ahead and be prepared to wait - and then part company with plenty of euros. (0033 494 555555, www.leclub55.com)
• Voile Rouge. Opened in 1967, the Voile’s reputation is somewhat friskier … champagne spraying, babes, that sort of thing. All with a veneer of moneyed class, mind. (0033 494 798534, www.plagelavoilerouge.com)
• Tahiti Beach. Right at the northern end of Pampelonne beach – look out for the orange parasols – Tahiti fronts the hotel of the same name. Born in 1946, it’s the senior beach club / bar on the shore and, fittingly, appeals to slightly more mature sorts of sybarite. (0033 494 971802, www.tahiti-beach.com.)
• Les Jumeaux. An arty establishment – and, unusually, open year-round for lunch. Also one of the best for families with kids. It has a playground, games and a satisfactory children’s menu for €11. (0033 494 552180, www.plagedesjumeaux.com)
• Nioulargo – Kai Largo. Exotic surroundings for not one but two distinct and decent restaurants – one favouring Med cooking, the second majoring in dishes from Indochina. Venue for sophisticated partying by night, too. (0033 498126312. www.nioulargo.com)
• Moorea. Long-established and high-coloured spot which disarms by taking itself less seriously than many of its rivals. Charges lower prices, too. It’s still popular with the famous, but also accessible to the rest of us. (0033 494 978158, www.moorea-plage-st-tropez.com)
• Aqua club. A relaxed spot which appeals pretty much across the board – French government figures, business people local and national, gays, families, the lot – with a lack of pretension and good, simple food. (0033 494 798435, www.aqua-club-plage.fr)