In 1892, Saint-Tropez first caught the attention of the world when artists of the post-Impressionist movement marveled at the quality of its light. A lot more people has come to town since then, but time hasn’t dulled the authentic beauty that inspired those artists to pick up their brushes. Come and see for yourself. Here’s our quick guide to the best things to do in Saint-Tropez.
A simplified story of Saint-Tropez sounds a lot like a Disney movie plot. Originally a quiet fishing village on the southeastern side of France, this town in the French Riviera rose to prominence and distinction after Neo and Post Impressionist artists realized its exquisite quality of light. This very unique discovery by the eyes of connoisseurs of beauty catapulted this old town into a seaside resort that gradually transformed its quaint old St. Tropez villas into rentals and shops. Today, it’s a global tourist destination that attracts tourists seeking the small-town authenticity of the old world.
Saint-Tropez is located 100 km west of Nice in the Var department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. The town thrived as a fishing village principally. It became a military stronghold at the start of the last century and was the first town to be liberated during the First World War.
Today, Saint-Tropez retains its rustic European village appeal, which is the very thing that most tourists look for when they come to town. The more populated town center is dominated by buildings and structures in stone that have survived for hundreds of years. Clean streets and alleyways wind through the village, taking you to surprising spots that offer stunning sea views and pleasing sites to relax.
Since Saint-Tropez’s typical crowd are tourists, many of the businesses have shifted their styles and strategies to accommodate the need of these visitors. You can conveniently find charming shops and cafes with outside seating in every square and the bars and beaches are full of vacationers all year round.
If you’re thinking about spending a holiday or two in this beautiful remainder of the old world, we recommend the following trips and activities so you can have the full Saint-Tropez experience.
Since art became the shining light that illuminated Saint-Tropez for the world to see, it is only fitting that your first trip consists of going to the museum.
It was in 1892 that pointillist artist Paul Signac was gripped by awe upon realizing that Saint-Tropez was a haven of good light, something that is very specifically useful to his art that he invited his other artist friends (to the likes of Matisse, Derain, Cross and Marquet) to join him.
The group formed the core of the most notable artists of the early modern art movements and you can see their best works hung in the museum of L’Annonciade.
What is now an art museum was originally a chapel built in the 16th century. Its candid facade is fronted by huge planters and ornate flora.
Inside, you’ll find the wide repertoire of works of Signac, Delaunay, Bonnard, and Braque, among others. There are six proud displays of Henri Matisse’s pieces.
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The natural orange hues of the bay that left painters of the past centuries at loss for words still wow modern day artists. At dusk (or even midday), you will find these artists seeking good vantage points, occasionally peeking at the vista before dipping on oil and stroking brushes on canvas in an attempt to capture the beauty, as many have done so before.
This scene is a magical moment at the harbor, along with the reflections of the sun rays as it hits the water and the moored yachts, moved only to motion by the gentle passing of the crowd.
The aesthetics is of course, not the only good thing here. If you’re too spent on expensive restaurants and fancy shops, the harbor is the best place to still find good local food and quality merchandise that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
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Perhaps a visit to the Mediterranean will never be complete without the Mediterranean beach experience. Get on that beachwear and drive to the Plage de l’Escalet, a majestic stretch of fine Mediterranean sand and blue sea located in a recess between Cap Camarat and Cap Taillat.
In the summer, the place quickly gets filled with beach goers but you can walk around the bay and find a less crowded area to chill in.
This nice little beach is actually composed of three beaches, one separated from the next by huge rounded rocks. The scenery is stunning and the waters are crystal clear. It’s perfect for long walks in the coast, snorkeling, and sunbathing. You can rent a sea kayak and go all around the Cap Talliat to the beach on the other side and there is a campsite just 10 minutes away (Pleins Air).
You have to bring your own food and drinks, however. So stock up first before you hit the road.
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Although you can definitely walk the velvet fine sands at lage de l’Escalet, the coastal route of le Sentier du Littoral offers a longer, more diversified challenge. The track runs along the Pampelonne beaches giving you an unhindered pathway filled with scenic ocean views and occasionally interesting coastal curiosities. It’s a 7-mile walk if you’re looking for such kind of challenge. At a normal pace, you can complete the route in 3 to 4 hours.
You can find a brochure of le Sentier du Littoral at the tourism office at Quai Jean-Jaurès. Before you start, you might want to secure some refreshments or perhaps a bottle of water to stay dehydrated throughout your journey. Bring along your camera or phone to keep pieces of beautiful, fleeting memories along the way.
The city’s central square is one of the focal points of life at Saint-Tropez. Locals usually go either here or to the harbor to spend their leisure time. In the square, the crowd of tourists and locals co-mingle in a unified goal to relax, perhaps take a break from the heat, or simply observe the commotions of life go by.
The space is largely occupied by trees that provide adequate cool and shade. Benches are placed all around so you comfortably settle in and enjoy a good afternoon.
Like this painting? You can buy it here.
The market, one of the primary reasons why people visit the square, opens every Tuesday and Saturday morning until 1:30 pm. Various merchandise are sold including the fantastic variety of fresh food and dishes made by the locals, clothes, souvenirs, and antics, among others.
If you specifically want to shop, you might want to head there early, especially if you’re going by car because parking spaces are limited and are easily filled up. If you go there just a couple of hours before the market closes, it can get pretty manic as the merchandisers will already be starting to prepare for closing so you might get pressured to do everything in a hurry.
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Saint-Tropez’s old streets are still filled with relics and remnants of the old world. Aside from the vintage houses, the alleyways have born witness to the birth and death of ideals and customs that passed through the region since antiquity.
Today, here, you can find designer brands opposite quaint local coffee shops. Life proceeds at a leisurely pace and the unfolding of local life in this once quiet fishing village offers a relaxing backdrop that grounds you into the lovely reality of the place.
Image source: Nice Tourism
Sitting atop a wooded hill on the village is the Citadelle de Saint-Tropez. It's a fortified structure built in the 16th century that gives visitors a sweeping 360-degree view of the whole city and the gulf of Saint-Tropez. Originally, its purpose is to survey the coast for incoming assaults, or to watch over the presumably seditious Tropezians.
Opened in 2013, the interior of the citadel is now transformed into a gallant museum dedicated to the city's rich maritime history. Here, you can see how the sailors lived in their ships, including when a storm breaks. You can also find curious artifacts from sunken ships.
If you want to visit the citadel at its most peaceful, go there early in the morning to avoid the touring crowds.
Image copyright of Gilles Martin Raget
Reminiscent of the grand regattas of Cannes and the picturesque harbors of Saint Barth, Saint-Tropez is another French favorite for nautical adventure and sports. In fact, every end of September, during the Violes de Saint-Tropez, you will witness grand boat shows featuring the best private and commercial yacht charters.
If you have the budget, you can definitely rent one and have your own fun. Sail through the bay or tack the local beaches whenever you like. It’s a great way to experience the Mediterranean blue up close!
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If you haven’t had enough of the vintage reflections of rustic Europe at the turn of the past century in the old part of Saint-Tropez, you can find more at Port Grimaud, an urban development that started in the 60s located at the Gulf of Saint-Tropez.
What makes this “little town” special is that it was built to look like a version of Venice where tangles of waterways are embedded between rows of buildings. In this way, it resembles the original houses of the fishermen that originally occupied the old town. At the mini-ports attached to the front of each building, you can occasionally find moored yachts, barely concealing the wealth that dominates the area.
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A trademark creation of Polish chef Alexandre Micka, this delectable dessert recipe is made with brioche, whipped cream and crème pâtissière. It tastes great with local rose wine.
You can find the signature dessert at La Tarte Tropezienne, 420, Avenue des Narcisses, 83310.
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