The Mediterranean ’s most exclusive retreat has a reputation for beach clubs, superyachts, Michelin-starred cuisine and rose-soaked lunches that linger into the night. Grab your best white linens and join the beautiful people at the sexiest escape on the Cote d’Azur
Ever since Brigitte Bardot emerged from the Mediterranean glistening in a two-piece swimsuit in the 1956 film …And God Created Woman, the French Riviera town of Saint-Tropez has never lacked for a certain kind of beauty-and all those who would bask in its reflected glow. This is a town where people watching is a competitive sport and the chairs at waterfront cafes rotate to face the line-up of megayachts that flank the docks like jewellery; where gorgeous women teeter in six-inch stilettos along cobblestone streets with well-fed men in tow and regulars like Kate Moss and Bono blow air-kisses to each other across the room; and where getting into the right beach club requires an inside connection or a serious tip. Pulling up in a Maserati doesn’t hurt either, but you might have a hard time finding it in the sea of exotic sports cars that pack all the lots.
For many reasons-that inimitable light, the authentically decadent scene-the sun-kissed former fishing village has been a playground for the international elite since at least the 1920s, when Coco Chanel and her fashion nemesis Elsa Schiaparelli retreated here to work on their tans. Artists soon followed: Picasso, Matisse and their friends fell in love with the setting on the lush Cap Saint-Pierre peninsula, where the sun fracturing on Canoubiers Bay and the Massif des Maures provided infinite inspiration. As the French novelist Colette once put it, “No road goes through Saint-Tropez. There is only one that takes you there and goes no further. If you want to leave, you must turn back. But will you leave?”
Few ever turn back, and it’s still a very hard place to leave. Since those nascent early years, Saint-Tropez has enjoyed a prolonged golden era, rich with the kinds of stories you just can’t make up: Puff Daddy jet-skiing in a terry bathrobe; Mick Jagger accidentally getting locked out of the church at his own wedding (the priest was attempting to thwart paparazzi; Jagger got lost in the crowd). Glamour summered here-Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, among other royalty, Hollywood and genuine, made it their warm-weather home for four decades. And though they might not have had jeroboams of Champagne at Nikki Beach back then, the same joie de vivre still courses through its narrow streets. It’s a sybaritic kind of indulgence that can’t be re-created in the nearby towns of Cannes or Nice, though they may try.
So get a good seat at Senequier on the Quai Jean Jaures and watch the good life parade by in all its splendour as the sun sets into the sea. The real Saint-Tropez, both old and new, still thrives.
The grande dame of Pampelonne beach started out as a family home that fed the cast and crew of …And God Created Woman during filming in 1955 and has drawn power players from across the globe ever since. The elite arrive by yacht and switch to a pontoon, then mingle along the catwalk leading to the beach. On any given day, Jack Nicholson, Uma Thurman, Beyonce or Cindy Crawford might swing by to sit under the shade of the tamarisk trees alongside titans like Francois Pinault, Bernard Arnault or Larry Ellison.
Political powerhouses like the Clintons and Vladimir Putin have been spotted here, too, blending in with the rest of the clientele-all of whom adhere to the unofficial dress code of white cotton and linen. The grilled catch of the day and organic paniers de crudites, freshly harvested from owner Patrice de Colmont’s farms, are displayed on signature azure napkins, and the house rose – “La Belle Vendange” from the Domaine des Bouis-flows freely.