Saint-TropezAn enduring legend
One last bend in the road and the violet-pink village appears, floating weightlessly on a petrol-blue sea seemingly born up by the morning mist. The magic and fascination with this legendary village has not gone away. And as spring approaches, the soul of Saint-Tropez, village of art, culture and traditions reveals a lighter side.
A prestigious destination
Like the celebrities who flock here in summer, drawn to this idyllic isle on a beautiful peninsula, Saint-Tropez is a star which in season unveils a host of sumptuous yachts, prestigious brands, luxury hotels, glamorous boutiques and fabulous cars. All compete for the attention of visitors marvelling at a surreal yet friendly merry-go-round. This authentic village will captivate those who love the sea or are history buffs or fans of culture and the Provencal lifestyle, many of whom prefer to come out of season. It is this ambivalence that lies behind the charm and special nature of Saint-Tropez, a leading light on the international tourist scene.
An exceptional heritage
Nature and history are part of the village’s key attractions. From the Citadelle - home to the maritime history museum - you discover a sweeping panorama from Canebiers bay to Graniers beach and Salins, as far as Bouillabaisse. Then there is the emblematic purple and gold clock tower; the domes of the Miséricorde and convent chapels; fortification towers; and the elusive lighthouse flashes at sunset, over a bay that disappears into the open sea against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks in the Southern Alps. What a pleasure it is to walk the streets and squares, to be part of this convivial ambiance and be steeped in the fragrance of a Provencal market, before arriving at the legendary harbour and its mermaids via La Ponche.
Artists of light
When he anchored here, Signac was instantly overwhelmed by the light: “I am not stopping over, I’m staying!” That was in 1892. He went on to preside over the fair for independent artists (Salon des Indépendants) that everyone dreamed of exhibiting in; young unknowns like Matisse, Marquet, Derain and Bonnard, all captivated by the light. Today the Annonciade Museum puts on superb exhibitions of their work. They would be joined later by esteemed writers like Maupassant, Colette, Eluard and Sagan. More unusual, the Maison des Papillons (butterfly museum) is also worth a detour. Another window opening onto this village that generates legends is the cinema: among others we need look no further than the saga of the gendarmes embodied by the inimitable Louis de Funes and Michel Galabru, and of course the icon among icons, Brigitte Bardot, sublime in Et dieu créa la femme.
The sea is at the heart of it all: from Les Voiles Latines to the Giraglia Rolex Cup, the Dragons to the Trophée du Bailli, the harbour and its bay are the scene of top level events like the flagship Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, the largest gathering of classic boats and modern racing yachts in the Mediterranean. The village also hosts many other wonderful festivals (piano, the Antipodes film festival, Château de la Moutte music festival), fairs (antiques, contemporary artists, chocolate), the Paradis Porsche, the Mystères debates, Christmas festivities and the upmarket braderie clearance sale, not forgetting the traditional Bravade when Tropezians pay homage to their patron saint. How fortunate are those who were born into this earthly Paradise !
A little history
Born in Pisa, Torpes was an army officer under Nero who converted to Christianity and refused to renounce his new faith. Under the emperor’s orders he was decapitated, his body put in a boat with a dog and cockerel and abandoned at the mouth of the Arno. Legend has it that the Ligurian current carried the boat to the shores of the Gulf town of Heraclea, which took the name Saint-Tropez. In 1558, to defend the village against repeated attacks by Barbary pirates, the council formed a local militia led by a Town Captain, a decision ratified by the Kings of France. Agriculture, fishing, coastal then ocean-going shipping and naval shipyards would occupy most of the men in the area. It was not until the 19th and particularly the 20th century that artists, writers and filmmakers marked the beginning of a golden era heralding the town’s burgeoning popularity as a tourist destination.
The harbour very early in the morning; the parish church with bust of the patron saint and the organ, concerts on the last Sunday of the month; Annonciade Museum, Maison des Papillons (butterfly museum); Château Suffren and Guillaume tower; the Lavoir Vasserot; and the Citadelle (maritime history museum); the mariners’ cemetery (view over Canebiers bay); Château de la Moutte; the old gendarmerie; the markets on Place des Lices, and the daily fish market; several chapels (Convent, Sainte-Anne, Saint-Elme, Saint-Antoine, la Miséricorde…); the Jean Réveille jetty extended by the Red Lighthouse; streets, tiny squares and andrones (very narrow alleyways); and old La Ponche port.
From the Sainte-Anne chapel, a sweeping view of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez as far as the Southern Alps and Ramatuelle bay; Jean Réveille jetty, ideal place from which to watch regattas; foot of the Citadelle’s ramparts, superb panorama of Saint-Tropez bay (favourite spot for watching the sunset). From the coastal path (rocky coast from Tour du Portalet to Cap du Pinet with some historic ruins)
A stroll in the village
From Quai Jean Jaurès, arrive at the fish market (entrance to old village) then Rue des Commerçants, Rue du Clocher and Place de l'Hôtel de Ville; descend via Quai Mistral and Place Garezzio (Château Suffren and Tour Guillaume); on the right, the Jean Réveille jetty and Tour du Portalet (16th century), one of four towers enclosing the town with the ramparts. Arrive at Tour Vieille then under the archway of La Ponche, former entrance to the town; Place des Remparts, Rue d'Aumale, Place de l'Ormeau, Rue Jarlier and the tower of the same name. Then Rue de la Citadelle, Rue du Portail Neuf, Rue de la Miséricorde, Rue Gambetta and Place des Lices, famous for its pétanque players and Provencal market (Tuesday and Saturday mornings)