Fancy joining the jetset in St Tropez? Here's the lowdown on the best places to stay and where to play. Just be prepared to pay...
Roman Abramovich has just been revealed as the owner of a new 557ft yacht, named Eclipse. This Bond-
villainesque vessel comes with its own submarine, two helicopter landing pads and a missile blocking system. When Eclipse sails into the bay by St Tropez’s Pampelonne beach, flanked by choppers and being tailed by a couple of exocets, it might just about impress in a port where owners of 100ft gin palaces are treated like pedalo pushers.
St Tropez is the Dolce & Gabbana of Eden where God Created Woman (in the shape of Brigitte Bardot) and forbidden fruit is everything. If money is the root of all evil then St Tropez is the bank of the devil. It certainly would be easier for this camel to squidge through the eye of a needle than for a pauper to survive a weekend in St Tropez.
“All Drinks - €29,” says the sign on the wall outside Les Caves du Roy, the port’s notorious nightclub. This is St Tropez, where €29 will buy you a Coke or a glass of water, perhaps a beer. A bottle of house champagne will set you back €690.
Unless you fancy playing sardines, it's best to avoid July and August. The drive from the A8 will take around 30 minutes for 10 months of the year. During the peak season it can take several hours.
Ideally, charter a yacht and moor it along the port for a couple of weeks in August. Each evening, sit on deck, with a bottle of Bolly, and act like it’s the most natural thing in the world to have hundreds of people gawp at you.
Alternatively book a hotel suite (much better to say you’re staying in a suite than a room). Probably the best hotel in the area is Villa Marie, which sits in the hills, very conveniently positioned to enable you to move painlessly between hotel, beach and town at any time of the day or night. Villa Marie is elegant, and tranquil – an oasis, a haven from the decadent throngs.
Other luxury hotels in this vicinity include La Bastide de St Tropez, which is close enough to town to walk, and ideally positioned to drive back from the beach without getting caught in the early evening exodus.
Another option is the pink Château de la Messardiere, with its Disneyesque turrets, sitting high on the hill overlooking Pampelonne. Should you elect to helicopter in from Nice, la Messardiere is your automatic choice, as it is the only hotel with a helipad.
On the edge of town, just beyond the turning to Les Plages, there is the obscenely over-priced Hotel Residence De La Pinede. Packed with poseurs, La Pinede oozes vulgarity. Instead, check into Hotel Pastis, a chic boutique across the road, with only nine rooms and Hockney art. Pastis is very much a place to rest your head. It has no restaurant (serving only breakfast), no laundry facilities and a small bar for an early evening rosé or a late night digestif.
Pamplelonne beach is the epicentre of St Tropez daytime frolicking. The small house on the beach where Roger Vadim, Brigitte Bardot and the crew of And God Created Woman dined, went on to become the world-famous Club 55, otherwise known as ‘The Ivy by Sea’. The people-watching is the best anywhere and booking in advance is absolutely essential. Book for 1pm. If you book a later table, a long wait is almost guaranteed and where you are seated is a lottery.
Club 55 is owned and managed by Patrice de Colmont, whose father was the original owner. It is the perfect place to while away your days. Arrive by boat and be brought to shore by the Club 55 tender, or entrust your car to the valets, who are as at ease with a Bugatti Veyron as they are with a hired Renault Clio. There’s a boutique to blow any euros that escape the grasp of the beach boys and Thierry, the amusingly arsy bar manager. The beach café is a good option for the kids whilst you dine and knock back endless bottles of the house Ribena (local rosé wine).
There are many restaurants lined along the beach, all fronted by loungers and masses of frazzled human flesh. The beach includes several areas where even the most miniscule thong can be discarded.
Moving along the shore, away from St Tropez, look for large white flags set back from the beach. This is Nikki Beach and is located behind La Plage des Jumeaux. This nightclub in the sun has a reputation for excess and doesn’t really get going until about 4pm.
Further along is Les Palmiers. Good luck getting in there. Last summer this Camel was hoofed out, as was the manager of one of the world’s biggest music superstars, looking for a venue for his artist’s party. Maybe this year, they will realise that foolhardy guest selection creates an empty restaurant and delights the competition.
Despite the claims, you will not find top quality cuisine in St Tropez. The only ‘name’ chef with a presence is Alain Ducasse, who has licensed his brand ‘Spoon’ to Byblos hotel. Our food was mediocre and expensive. Typically in July and August, if you haven’t pre-booked a restaurant table for an evening meal, you will most likely look slimmer in your bikini or speedos the next day.
Over the last few years, a small, tubby, local entrepreneur has opened three restaurants and a bar, all modestly named Joseph. The best are La Tour Joseph, a reincarnation of the former Michelin-starred Les Mouscardins, and Le Quai, his bar on the port, which attracts locals, tourists, and ageing Farah Fawcett look-alikes.
Another bar not to miss is the one at Maison Blanche on Place des Lices, which is next door to a designer boutique called Lily. Gentlemen, it’s perhaps a good idea to have a cocktail with your credit card whilst the lady in your life is bombarded by Prada, Marni, Gucci, etc.
Pan Dei is the most interesting hotel in town. Opened in 2007, it has sumptuous Indian décor and a restaurant that serves excellent dim sum. Other options include Salama, a Moroccan restaurant serving lumps of animal to satisfy a caveman appetite, and Bahn Hoi, a Thai street diner in a movie studio setting.
When you visit St Tropez depends upon what you are looking for. Personally, I prefer June or September when the weather is hot and the place has a buzz, but is not overrun with a swarm.