Summer: fat wallet and good looks
Go in summer and St Tropez is at full throttle. If you arrive by car, it will take you hours to get in and hours to get out again (there’s only one main access road).
But the reward is the sensation of being at the centre of European summer affairs. Beaches and streets are thronged. The friskier beach bars on Pampelonne Beach pump up the beat from midday onwards. Restaurants are humming.
Bars and clubs – whether on the beach or back in the village – gather in the gorgeous and the wannabes and rock them through to dawn. Sleep is a movable feast, often moving into the unforeseeable future. (“I went to a lunch party in a villa above St Tropez,” a friend once told me. “It lasted a week.”)
And everyone is there, from Russian billionaires (and their lady-friends) through the showbiz elite to more discreet elements from the worlds of finance, politics and the Mid-East. You’ll need a fat wallet and/or good looks to keep up. This is unfair but, if life were fair, we’d have heard about it by now.
And the less fortunate can still bathe in the spin-off glitz for the (hefty) price of a beer by the port.
Autumn: no crush
If, nevertheless, that all sounds a bit hectic for your tastes, you might try the autumn. Then the place is gently winding down. Though the weather remains hot, it is shorn of its high-summer bite. Most bars and restaurants remain open, though relieved of the extreme crush of high summer.
And, if fashion shopping is your thing, then be advised that October is the month of the great sale weekend, La Grande Braderie (see my Shopping in St-Tropez page).
Muskets in spring
Spring is pretty good, too, as warmth creeps back into the St Tropez climate and the place wakes up. It is also the time of the high-spot of the Tropeziens’ own calendar – Les Bravades.
From May 16-18 each year, locals spend three days celebrating their past, both military and religious. Thus do they re-establish a historical identity occasionally overwhelmed by the international hedonism which laps round their village. It’s a matter of parades, period costume and the firing off of muskets.
And it is not, locals will tell you, to be confused with folklore. Les Bravades have been going on for 400 years. As someone told me, “they represent a bonding of past and present in peoples’ hearts.” Colourful, then, but serious – and too serious for applause. It is absolutely infra dig to clap the parades or ceremonies, any more than you would applaud The Last Post.
Winter: no Bono
So that’s summer, autumn and spring taken care of – but I must say that I also like visiting in winter. In truth, I almost prefer it. The weather can be iffy, and much is closed but there are sufficient bars, restaurants and hotels still operating.
And there’s a lovely feeling of being backstage after the show is over. The place is reduced to its proper population and original concerns. Almost everyone on the streets is a local. Café-owners and shopkeepers have more time. The natural beauty is in no way lessened by slightly more irascible elements.
And – icing on the cake – there’s almost no chance of bumping into Bono.