The name St. Tropez, the famous “it” destination in the French Riviera, evokes myriad images. Sun kissed beaches. A pulsating nightlife. Luxury shopping. Sunbathing and 50 shades of tan. Plunging necklines and bronze kissed shapely legs. Gel doused hair and lots of bling on both genders. And finally, the very famous scene from the 1960s movie “And God Created Woman” where French actress Brigitte Bardot is dancing away without a care. A movie which placed this town firmly on the world map and made it the mecca for French glitterati to escape to and party. A movie that inspired me to pick St. Tropez as our destination only to realize that this was not our happy place after all. Being neither a beach bum or party animal, St Tropez was quite not my scene. Yet I still managed to somehow enjoy my time here by discovering my favorite parts of the town beyond the neon haze of the mammoth luxury party yachts. So if you are very much like me, part wanderer and part foodie with a splash of artsy, here is my take on 5 offbeat things to do beyond St Tropez nightlife. For more on other parts of southern France, read this French Riviera guide to Nice, another charming city with lots of cheap and free things to do in Nice!
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Beyond St Tropez Nightlife activity#1 Exploring Old Town
St. Tropez’s old town is a treasure trove of pastel buildings with colorful doors and windows and narrow cobbled lanes that are a delight to explore. Early morning is a great time to walk around with barely any soul in sight (thanks to late night partying) and the fresh morning air has a balmy, quiet feel to it. Walk in the shadows of the old bell tower atop the Eglise Notre Dame de l’assumption or peep into the several art galleries all around (they stay open very late by the way for the nocturnal crowd). Pass Tour Portalet, the 15th century stone defense tower, and walk along the narrow strip of Môle ‘Estienne d’Orves to get to the cute as a button lighthouse Phare de Saint Tropez. You can climb up the stairs to take in the windswept scenery of boats, ferries and yachts sailing on the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean.
We stayed at the beautiful Hotel La Bastide du Port which boasts of a fabulous location, beautifully decorated Mediterranean-chic rooms and drum rolls please, for FREE PARKING (cause it can get tricky to find one in this touristy town. Side note: parking raked up quite a pretty penny for us in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, our previous destinations). True to the aesthetics of the French Riviera, our room was decorated in blue and white and we lucked out in getting a sea facing room. Located on the busy and popular Port du Pilon with beaches a stone’s throw away, we got a marvelous view of the sea and the twinkling lights in the evening. Old town was a brisk 20 min walk and we were pretty close to several popular restaurants, including the one-Michelin star Les Viviers du Pilon, where we dined one night. Highly recommend this hotel for it’s reasonable price, location, cleanliness and parking, parking and parking!
Beyond St Tropez Nightlife activity#2 Visiting Gendarmerie Nationale
If curiosity gets the better of you and you dare peek into any souvenir or art store, you are bound to see photos and replicas of a certain building, which also happens to be the pride of St. Tropez. This building is non other than Gendarmerie Nationale, which used to the erstwhile station of the “Gendarmes” or the lawkeepers/armed police officers of this city. Turns out that the St. Tropez Gendarmes were quite famous, having had their own movies and TV shows that yet again shed more spot light on this French Riviera town. This building, once a police station, has now been converted to a movie museum, showcasing St. Tropez’s role in French and world cinema.
We were lucky to catch a special exhibit based on the life and times of Brigitte Bardot, the famous actress and the darling of this town who made St. Tropez her home and continues to live here. She also started her animal charity work and office from this place and is an icon of St. Tropez, thanks to her first feature “And God Created Woman” that released in 1956 that made it’s setting (i.e. St. Tropez) famous. The exhibits included lots of photographs from the 60s and 70s when she rose to fame and her time in St. Tropez after 1973 when she quit cinema. I loved seeing the human persona of this famous celebrity and was humbled to see her passion for animal rights and her activism. The museum is truly a visual delight for all cinephiles!
Beyond St Tropez Nightlife activity#3 Getting a panoramic view
Don’t think twice about climbing up those endless flight of stairs to Citadel de Saint Tropez, which was completed in 1620 to defend coastal France against Spain. In 2013, a maritime museum was inaugurated in it’s dungeons to celebrate the life and times of the brave St. Tropez fishermen and sea farers. For some reason, we found the citadel closed at the time of our visit, but were happy to get some breathtaking views of St. Tropez from way up. That panorama alone is totally worth those achy feet.
Beyond St Tropez Nightlife activity#4 Eating your heart out
This is a no brainer, cause when in France, you kind of have to stuff yourself till you go comatose. The French Riviera boasts of some excellent Mediterranean cuisine and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fabulous meals we had in St. Tropez. From snagging a last minute lunch reservation at the 3 Michelin starred La Terrace (chef Arnoud Dockele, the youngest chef to be awarded three stars, at the helm of affairs) in the posh hotel La Résidence de la Pinede with a beautiful view of the sea from the lawn where we dined, to tasty bites at the Saturday Provencal farmers’ market at the main square Place des Lices, from breakfast tarts at the famous Tarte Tropezienne (Brigitte Bardot’s favorite bakery and which literally means “Tart from St. Tropez”) to dinner and a sunset to match at the 1 Michelin starred Les Viviers du Pilon, we ate our way through St. Tropez. For more ideas, see this list of 10 must visit restaurants in the French Riviera.
Beyond St Tropez Nightlife activity#5 Fabulous day trips
St. Tropez will much more enjoyable once you realize that there are some fantastic tiny Provencal villages near it that are simply begging for a day trip. So why not oblige them a little bit? Most people rush to the more popular Grimaud, which true to the tradition of Provencal villages, looks straight out of a postcard. Plus, Grimaud has several beautiful local boutiques that are just as chic as those in St. Tropez but come minus the hefty price tag. The other two hidden gems in this area, thanks to recommendation by our friendly hotel staff, are Le Lavandou and Bormes-les-Mimosas. While Le Lavandou has a beautiful marina and beach, Bormes has a spectacular view of yellow-orange tiled roofed houses from an elevated area near it’s parking lot. The pint sized commune also boasts of two popular restaurants: Le Jardin (1 Michelin star) and Crepe du Village, both of which were sadly closed by the time we arrived.
Beyond St Tropez Nightlife activity#6 Enjoy a Mediterranean sunset
When all is said and done, do take some time to enjoy a spectacular Mediterranean sunset from one of the several beaches at St. Tropez, ours being right from the sandy patch near Les Viviers du Pilon post dinner. There is also a nice, quiet beach across from La Bastide du Port (were we stayed), far away from the frenzied partying crowd.
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