A holiday in the French Riviera town offers a glamorous lifestyle and idyllic simplicity.
My kind of place: Saint-Tropez
When Brigitte Bardot and her film crew arrived in the 1950s, this once small fishing village was transformed into a star-studded, jet-set magnet, and every year a shiny new coterie of A-listers hop off their yachts for some light shopping, poolside lounging and fine dining. From the glamorous yachties gracing the decks of their glistening white cruisers in colourful Port Suffren to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis circling the harbour's glitzy designer boutiques, Saint-Tropez is undoubtedly the most dazzling jewel in the French Riviera's crown. But it's not all glitz and glitter. An underlying simplicity remains in its warm colours and cobbled streets, and Pampellone's beaches, edged by pine forests in Saint-Tropez's Ramatuelle district, offer simple fish suppers on white sand beaches: an idyllic escape from the chaos of everyday life.
A comfortable bed
High-tech jet-setters will love the latest luxury boutique hotel, La Muse in Ramatuelle (www.muse-hotels.com; 00 33 494 430440) where guests are given iPads and iPods for use during their stay. This stylish, new 15-suite gem, located in the vineyards between Pampellone's beaches and the centre ville, offers the epitome of five-star service with a "sun butler" to supply lotions for tanning by the pool and a silver vintage Bentley to shuttle you to the beach. Suites cost from €350 (Dh1,776) per night, including breakfast and taxes.
Mick Jagger, Beyoncé and Naomi Campbell, former regulars at the classic Hotel Byblos (www.byblos.com; 00 33 494 56 68 00; open from May to October), have enjoyed the hotel's Provence-meets-Moorish style and spot-on service, as well as automatic entrance to the exclusive Les Caves du Roy club. Classic double rooms cost from €410 (Dh2,074) per night, including taxes.
For thinner wallets, the Hotel Lou Cagnard (www.hotel-lou-cagnard.com; 00 33 494 970424) is one of the few bargains you'll find in Saint-Tropez. Breakfasting amid sunny gardens and Provençal decor makes this a treat for those on a budget. From €58 (Dh294) per night, including taxes.
Find your feet
Decide what type of holiday you want before you book your hotel. If you plan to amble around designer boutiques, ogle the owners of the mega-yachts in the harbour and wander aimlessly while occasionally stopping by a patisserie, stick to Saint-Tropez's centre-ville - eminently walkable, it is filled with shopping and hosts a twice-weekly market (Tuesday and Saturday) in Place des Lices. For sun worshippers, Pampellone's beaches are closer to the chic rural retreats of Ramatuelle's beach roads, where you're more likely to need a car to get around, although themore expensive hotels provide shuttle services and taxis are readily available.
While the cash-rich can choose to hire a yacht to flit between town and beach, mere mortals can hop aboard the Brigantin II (www.lebrigantin.com) at Vieux Port, for a €9 (Dh46) one-hour boat tour of the villas of Saint-Tropez's celebrity residents. Stop for maps at the Saint-Tropez tourist office, which has English-speaking staff, on Quai Jean Jaurès by the port.
Meet the locals
Steep yourself in tradition on May 17 and watch villagers turn out in full costume at Les Bravades for a procession through the streets of Saint-Tropez to pay homage to Saint Torpes, the beheaded Christian centurion after whom Saint-Tropez was named. Big-name bargain hunters will enjoy battling with the locals on the first weekend in October at La Grande Braderie, when a massive end-of- season sale is held. The rest of the year, meet them buying and selling the day's catch in the market at Place des Herbes.
Book a table
The arrival of its very own "super chef" has finally put Saint-Tropez on the serious gourmet's map. Last summer Pierre Gagnaire (his Parisien restaurant boasts three Michelin stars) launched Restaurant Colette (www.hotelsezz-sainttropez.com; 00 33 494 445311) at the Hotel Sezz on Chemin des Salins. Gagnaire focuses on Mediterranean cuisine using the freshest locally produced ingredients to create dishes such as delicate lobster fricassée; sublime beef tenderloin with red onion petals and divinely fruity desserts (a three-course meal costs approximately €90 [Dh462] per person). For beachfront dining, Club Cinquante-Cinq (www.club55.fr; 00 33 494 555 555) or "55" at Pampellone beach is the place to see and be seen.
For fashionable dining and modern French-North African fusion cuisine in town, head to Avenue du Maréchal Foch and the Saint-Tropez outpost of Alain Ducasse's concept restaurant Spoon (at the Byblos; 00 33 494 566 820). Here, the cool decor, all candlelight and hanging Moroccan lamps, encourages reclining on over-sized chairs while feasting on dishes such as tuna à la plancha and chicken tagine with olives and lemon, brought to the table by friendly staff. The "spoon experience" menu, a set of dishes suggested by the chef, costs €86 (Dh442) per person.
Like its clientele, the shops in Saint-Tropez are more designer boutique than department store. French designer clothes shops surround the Place des Lices, selling everything from classic linens and Jimmy Choos to the more glitzy lamé and sequins from the likes of Le Dressing and Lily.
Between the streets of Rue Gambetta, François Sibilli and Georges Clemenceau you'll find small boutiques among classier options like Tod's, Armani and Louis Vuitton. For traditional Provençal footwear, visit K Jacques on Rue du Genéral Allard, who've been making Tropezienne sandals since 1933, before crossing to Rue Jean Mermoz for some fashionably loud Vilebrequin mens trunks, perfect for Pampellone beach.
What to avoid
The hordes of summer tourists and the hellish traffic on the single road to Saint-Tropez in July and August. Unless you have a yacht, high season can involve thronging masses, steaming radiators and a three-hour snail's-pace drive that, during the rest of the year, takes about 30 minutes.
Matisse, Dufy, Seurat and Paul Signac, just a handful of major artists whose works can be found at the Musée de l'Annonciade (www.saint-tropez.tv/html/annonciade) in Place Gramont, an exquisite collection of 20th-century Fauvists, Cubists, Expressionists and Pointillists exhibited in a former 16th-century chapel. Entrance is €6 (Dh31).