Why You Should Go to St. Tropez This Summer

With new beach clubs on the sands of Pampelonne, a cornucopia of summery restaurants, posh new hotels, and some impressive art and entertainment events on the docket, this jet-set haven on the French Riviera has never been hotter.

Why You Should Go to St. Tropez This Summer

Find a table at La Réserve, order a glass of rosé, and watch the sun go down, St. Tropez-style.

Courtesy La Réserve

The instant that ingénue Brigitte Bardot frolicked on Ramatuelle Beach in the 1956 film And God Created Woman, the quiet fishing village of St. Tropez was transformed into the see-and-be-seen spot on the French Riviera for celebrities, the wealthy, and the yachting crowd. This summer, there’s even more reason to dust off the diamonds and head to the sherbet-colored port town on France’s fabled stretch of the Mediterranean. From posh new beach clubs and gourmet restaurants to à la mode hotels, art exhibitions, music festivals, and an endless supply of fun fueled by local rosé, St. Tropez sizzles this season. Plan to go in style on all-business-class airline La Compagnie, which has begun shuttling passengers between Newark and Nice for the season.

A new chef is making the iconic view of Byblos Beach even tastier.

A new chef is making the iconic view of Byblos Beach even tastier.

Photo by J.F. Romero

Beach it Speculation about the fate of celebrated Pampelonne Beach has simmered since St. Tropez’s neighboring village Ramatuelle passed environmental protection regulations that reduce the number of beach clubs from 27 to 23, effective this summer. Some favorites said au revoir but, thankfully, plenty remain including Le Club 55, Nikki Beach, and Club Les Palmiers. The three-mile stretch of Pampelonne sand welcomes some first-timers, too: Byblos Beach Club, the seaside refuge of Saint Tropez’s iconic Byblos Hotel brings its good-time-vibe to Pampelonne with 100 sun beds for hire line up on the edge of the Med. The beach club’s breezy seaside restaurant, Byblos St-Tropez—led by new executive chef Rocco Seminara—serves ceviche, fresh fish, and Provençal specialties such as zucchini blossom fritters. Hôtel Byblos’s Les Caves du Roy, a disco that’s been a jet-set hub for more than 50 years, was rejuvenated by designer Francois Frossard to create a vibe of relaxed elegance.

Saunter along the sand and get your tan on at La Réserve Ramatuelle Hotel and Spa’s Philippe Starck–designed beach club, La Réserve à la Plage. Arrive hungry! The open-air restaurant at La Reserveà la Plage has a wood-fired grill as well as an extensive raw bar with a bounty of fish (oysters, tuna tartare, sea bream, ceviche), as well as red meat (like veal tartare and beef carpaccio). The kitchen’s Michelin–starred chef Eric Canino brings serious culinary savoir faire to the local produce and seafood, making this alfresco meal one to remember.

An old favorite hotel has been transformed into the latest member of the luxurious Cheval Blanc family.

An old favorite hotel has been transformed into the latest member of the luxurious Cheval Blanc family.

Courtesy of Cheval Blanc Saint Tropez

Sleep in style Since its acquisition by LVMH Hotel Management in 2016, the former La Résidence de la Pinède has undergone a transformation in design, service, and name, reopening as Cheval Blanc Saint Tropez in May 2019. It’s the fourth maison in Cheval Blanc’s elite collection, with sibling properties in St. Bart’s; Courchevel, France; and the Maldives. The new retreat has 30 rooms, down from 36, with personal butlers, known as majordomes, who work white-glove magic. A spa by Guerlain is another indulgent addition. Only the menu at the hotel’s three-Michelin-starred La Vague d’Or escaped remodeling, but chef Arnaud Donckele’s Provençal cuisine seems to soar even higher in the new surroundings. Thanks to St. Tropez architect François Vieillecroze and designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the restaurant’s refreshed interiors are luminous in natural wood complemented by a palette of nautical white and blue.

For visitors seeking a more tranquil side of the glamorous life, Lily of the Valley is the destination. A petite hotel of 44 rooms and suites opens in La Croix-Valmer in late June—15 minutes by car from the buzz of St. Tropez if you can tear yourself away from your room. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Provence- and California-style villas were inspiration for designer Philippe Starck who created this elevated pied-à-terre on a hillside above Gigaro Beach. The 21,000-square-foot wellness center boasts a gym, fitness classes, lap pool, and spa. The hotel’s two restaurants are overseen by chef Vincent Maillard who has worked at Hôtel Byblos and at Alain Ducasse’s Michelin-starred country inn, La Bastide de Moustier in Provence.

Partake in the local fare

Dinner reservations are as hot as the summer sun in St. Tropez, especially for a table under the twinkling lights and plane trees at Alain Ducasse’s convivial Italian trattoria Cucina, which opened in April at Hôtel Byblos, the slightly more formal sibling to the beachside restaurant above. Go for the homemade pasta or a pizza fired in a custom-made wood-burning oven. The picturesque vertical garden on the terrace provides aromatic herbs and cherry tomatoes for many of the fresh tastes on the plate.

Two local brothers opened Doon’s, an épicierie or grocery, in mid-May in a space near the port that once held their grandmother’s grocery store. The shop’s stock includes local charcuterie and cheese, as well as wine, eggs, chocolate, and spices.

St. Tropez’s port is people-watching heaven, and grabbing a quai-side table puts you in the front row for the show. La Guérite—a St. Tropez sibling to sister seafood restaurants on St. Bart’s and on the island of Sainte-Marguerite, off the coast of Cannes—has opened at a central spot once occupied by Café de Paris. Directly overhead, the balcony tables at the Hôtel Sube are the best (and most coveted) place to enjoy sundowner apéros, or evening snacks. Dishes of Mediterranean food pair with the thumping sounds from the in-house deejay that get progressively more seductive as the sun goes down. Don’t be surprised if dancing on the tables breaks out in the wee hours.

For a taste of something a little different near the port, look to a new spot Koh Pétrie (19 rue de la Citadelle) for contemporary Thai cuisine. And, after a two-season hiatus, the sublime Le Salama returns with Moroccan tagines, couscous dishes, and flickering lanterns in the garden of the former Villa Romana, a legendary over-the-top dinner venue near Place des Lices.

June 28 brings International Rosé Day, and St. Tropez’s 17th-century Citadel celebrates the French Riviera’s favorite pink drink at a ticketed event with more than dozen regional wineries represented, including nearby Domaine de la Croix and Château Saint Maur.

With fine art, music, and regattas on the calendar, you may actually be tempted to do something besides sunbathe.

With fine art, music, and regattas on the calendar, you may actually be tempted to do something besides sunbathe.

Photo by Kurt Arrigo; courtesy of Rolex Giraglia

Get a cultural fix
At a certain point during almost every visit to St. Tropez, as you tip yet another glass of rosé to your lips or shift position on your beach lounger, you think, “Maybe I’ll do something. Tomorrow.” Here are some bonnes idées:

  • Duck into the Musée de l’Annonciade, a 16th-century chapel on the port that has been restored as a museum. Inside, a permanent collection of early 20th-century paintings includes works by Georges Seurat, Henri Matisse, and Paul Signac, among others. A Picasso retrospective wraps up here on June 15, and it will be followed by an exhibit entitled Delacroix—Signac: the Color of Neo-Impressionism from July 13 to October 13.
  • During the prestigious annual Rolex Giraglia Cup, June 9–11, enjoy an up-close look at some of the world’s sleekest sailing yachts as they carve the waters off the port.
  • Beginning June 21 and extending through the summer, the streets of St. Tropez will host several whimsical sculptures by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon.
  • Modern art fans should go to the Place des Lices and to see the collection at the Linda and Guy Pieters Foundation, which opened in July 2018, with a collection that includes works of Jim Dine, Alexander Calder, and Niki de Saint-Phalle.
  • A former police station reopened in 2016 at the Musée de la Gendarmerie et du Cinéma to showcase both film and local police history. On the film side, a year-long exhibition focused on the life of French musician and actor Johnny Hallyday—and his connection to St. Tropez—opened in June.
  • Every August, music lovers descend on the Château de la Moutte, an 1856 manor house, to spend balmy evenings beneath the palm trees listening to jazz, piano, flamenco, and more. This year, Les Nuits de Chateau de la Moutte runs from August 3–19.

While you’ll probably see most of St. Tropez’s stereotypical signifiers when you visit—celebrities, sugar daddies, bikinis, and convertibles—you’ll also be caught off-guard by its natural summertime beauty. Even if you’ve visited a dozen times, nothing really prepares you for the color of the water, the taste of just-caught seafood, or the golden shimmer of the evening air as the sun goes down. There’s magic in this region and summertime is when it’s strongest. À votre santé.

>>Next: Plan Your Visit With the AFAR Guide to the French Riviera

Kimberly Lovato is a freelance writer, author, traveler, Francophile, and champagne lover with a peripatetic soul. Look for her books Unique Eats & Eateries: San Francisco and 100 Things to Do in San Francisco Before You Die (Reedy Press).
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