The best things to see, do and eat in Saint-Tropez

CNN  — 

From parties to the plages, there’s no better metaphor for sun-kissed fun than Saint-Tropez.

Call it the Brigitte Bardot effect. A barely-on-the-map fishing village makes a leap to stardom after the movie “And God Created Woman” (1956), starring a sexy, insouciant “BB.” A symbol of a new era, the actress – often barefoot in the film – ushered in a liberated style.

Saint-Tropez morphed into a vacation hot spot (and not just for BB fans).

Today, Saint-Tropez rules the Riviera. Whether by yacht, helicopter, or Maserati, the beau monde descend on this Mediterranean peninsula in the summer months for Champagne-infused soirées and luxury shopping.

But there’s also a quieter side to Saint-Tropez, steeped in culture and history. Locals still gather for games of Pétanque on the Place des Lices, the central square that hosts a lively market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Perched high above the town, the 400-year-old citadel is home to a maritime history museum that tells the tale of tropezian sailors on the high seas. Annual events like Les Bravades, the patron saint festival, reveal a rich cultural tradition.

Whether you’re looking for a culture fix or fun in the sun, Saint-Tropez fits the bill. And when it’s rosé-o’clock, snag a seat at a portside café for people-watching as the sunset glints on the colorful facades …

Here’s our guide to la belle vie in Saint Tropez.

Where to eat and drink

It’s possible to dine on Michelin three-starred cuisine, refuel at a casual café, or retreat to a quiet farm for a traditional Provençal meal. The spectrum pleases both serious food pilgrims and those diet-conscious diners who prefer a healthy side of people-watching.

Let’s not forget the seasonal pop-ups; Pamela Anderson even opened a vegan pop-up restaurant for 50 fleeting days in summer 2017.

The best table in town can be found at la Pinède, the five-star hotel recently acquired by LVMH with plans to convert this long-time institution into an ultra-luxury Cheval Blanc Hotel.

Here, chef Arnaud Donckele reigns over La Vague d’Or, arguably the finest resto on the Côte d’Azur. He’s the youngest chef in France to have three Michelin stars, and he sends out works of art from the kitchen: signature Zitone pasta stuffed with foie gras and truffles; yellowtail and spider crab marinated in lemon zest.

Rivea by Alain Ducasse celebrates the local bounty of Provence and the Mediterranean coast. Situated inside the legendary Byblos hotel, the restaurant has a fabulous tree-dotted terrace decorated with a “living wall.”

To fete the hotel’s big 5-0 this year, chef Vincent Maillard dreamt up a special anniversary dish that makes a statement. Locally caught fish and eggplant cultivated by the maraîcher Yann Ménard, marinated in a custom blend of olive oil, is presented on a hand-crafted wood plate, a hefty oeuvre created by the artisans Dubosq et Fils.

It’s always a see-and-be-seen scene at celebrity magnet L’Opéra (watch exuberant entertainment as you eat), while Le Dit Vin offers tasty delights in a convivial, open-air space.

Both Hôtel de Paris and Hôtel Ermitage offer rooftop roosts for sky-high drinks.

Au Caprice des Deux offers superb seasonal cuisine by a chef awarded as the regional “maître restaurateur” champion (2016).

Fish fiends can order up fresh seafood at Les Viviers du Pilon, while landlubbers will appreciate the countryside ambience at La Ferme Ladouceur. On the road to the local airport, Auberge de la Môle is a destination for rustic traditional fare.

For goûter, or the French 4 p.m. snack, try the artisanal ice cream at Barbarac, or sink your teeth into a slice of the legendary tarte tropezienne, a round brioche studded with pearl sugar and filled with a buttercream filling. (The recipe is a closely guarded secret.)

The legend began in 1955 when Alexandre Micka opened a pastry shop, where the crew from “And God Created Woman” would snack between takes. Legend has it that Brigitte Bardot gave the pastry its name, and today La Tarte Tropezienne is a registered trademark with boutiques all over France.

Note that you can also find versions of the tart at Aux Deux Frères boulangerie and the épicerie outpost of the cinema-red Café Sénéquier.

La Vague d’Or, Plage de Bouillabaisse, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0)4 94 55 91 00

Rivea by Alain Ducasse. 27 Avenue Foch, 83990 Saint-Tropez. +33 (0) 4 94 56 68 20

L’Opéra, Résidence du Port, 83990 Saint-Tropez. +33 (0)4 94 49 51 31

Le Dit Vin, 7 Rue de la Citadelle, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0)4 94 97 10 11

Les Viviers du Pilon, Quartier du Pilon, 2 Avenue Gén de Gaulle, 83990 Saint-Tropez. +33 (0)7 69 82 75 62