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

La Ferme Ladouceur, 1734 route de la Rouillère, 83350 Ramatuelle, +33 (0)4 94 79 24 95

Au Caprice des Deux, 40, rue du Portail Neuf , 83990 Saint Tropez. +33 (0)4 94 97 76 78

Auberge de la Môle, Place de l’Église, 83310 La Mole, +33 (0)4 94 49 57 01

Barbarac, 2 Rue Général Allard, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0) 4 94 97 67 83

La Tarte Tropezienne, Places des Lices, 83990 Saint-Tropez. +33 (0)4 94 97 94 25

Where to sleep

The airy, elegant Muse Hotel

The population of Saint Tropez swells from 5,000 in the winter months to 60,000 in the summer. Needless to say, in a town dependent on tourism, the hotel offerings are expansive.

Many of these properties offer small room inventories. For example, the Pan Deï Palais – a Relais & Chateaux hotel housed in a famous 19th-century general’s residence with a pool and gourmet restaurant – only has 12 rooms.

If only the walls could talk at La Ponche, an 18-room hotel perched right on the sea. Formerly a tavern, this family-owned five-star hotel takes its name from the district where it’s located: a fishermen’s quarter before Brigitte Bardot partied here.

This is the oldest neighborhood in town, and it retains an authentic atmosphere with narrow lanes lined with ochre-colored houses and a crescent beach. “From here it’s possible to walk 40 kilometers along the sea,” local guide Françoise Le Berre explains about the string of coastal paths.

The Byblos is a legendary address, originally constructed “for” Bardot by Lebanese billionaire Prosper Gay-Para. Designed to resemble the ancient Lebanese port of Byblos, the palace hotel was built into a hillside with a cascade of stairs connecting buildings.

Today the Byblos boasts a Sisley spa and a sparkling pool flanked by palms. The B. poolside lounge hosts live music at night, while the Riviera’s most famous nightclub, Les Caves du Roy, has seen its share of rowdy celebrities (Bianca and Mick Jagger got married here).

For its 50th birthday in 2017, the Byblos pulled out all the stops: Rosita Missoni decorated a suite, and a collection of exclusive luxury goods was created in partnership with brands like Goyard, Rolls-Royce and Dom Pérignon.

Hotel de Paris is one of the few places open year-round. Situated on the Place de la Gendarmerie, the five-star hotel was decorated in a sleek contemporary style by in-demand designer Sybille de Margerie. Facilities include a Clarins spa and a rooftop pool and lounge.

Between the town and the beach, The Muse Saint Tropez is a soul-restoring retreat surrounded by fragrant Mediterranean gardens. Here, lovely, long-time staff like Paolo Falduzzi charm guests, many of whom are repeat clients.

There’s an enticing cabana-lined pool and a terrace restaurant offering tasty dishes from the terre et mer. (Don’t miss the red mullet with chorizo risotto.) The Muse is owned by Malaysia-based YTL Hotels, a luxury hospitality company renowned for its “Spa Village” concept, and the spa treatments are sublime. Essential oil blends and garden-fresh herbs are customized for each treatment.

For the 2018 season, The Muse plans to move the spa to a garden courtyard under a billowing white tent.

Pan Deï Palais, 52 Rue Gambetta, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0) 4 94 17 71 71

La Residence de la Pinède, Plage de Bouillabaisse, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0)4 94 55 91 00

La Ponche, 5 rue des Remparts, 83990 Saint-Tropez. Tel: +33 (0)4 94 97 02 53

Hotel Byblos, 20 Avenue Paul Signac, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0)4 94 56 68 00

Hotel de Paris, 1 Traverse de la Gendarmerie, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0) 4 83 09 60 00

The Muse Saint Tropez, 364 Chemin de Val de Rian, 83350 Ramatuelle, +33 (0)4 94 43 04 40

Play on the plages, unwind at wineries

Nearby Gassin is renowned for its wineries.

Everyone who jets to Saint-Tropez goes to the beach. One look at the Plage de Pampelonne – a long stretch of white sand beneath the protected green hills of Ramatuelle – and you’ll see why.

What this means is inevitable traffic jams getting to the beach in the summer – unless you’re a guest on one of the superyachts anchored offshore. (Boat taxis also bypass the traffic.)

The Plage de Pampelonne is dotted with beach clubs, the most famous of which is Club 55. (Locals say it does the best business in Saint-Tropez, hands down.) Back when Bardot was filming “And God Created Woman” on the beach, the crew would eat lunch here. Named for the year the movie was filmed, the Club 55 hosts nearly 900 guests a day for long lingering meals with live music.

Today there’s a beach club to fit every personality. Maison Bianca is all about chic, understated luxury, while hard-to-book Bagatelle has been the club du jour for the last two years. Note that the future of these clubs is in question because of a law prohibiting commercial structures on the beach.

The route de Pampelonne is cloaked in vineyards, as is the greater Saint Tropez Peninsula. Many of these wineries welcome visitors. The family-owned Chateau des Marres is housed in a traditional Provençal building surrounded by olive and cypress trees.

Jean-Etienne and François Matton open the doors to Chateau Minuty all year long. Founded in 1900, the Domaine de la Rouillère is situated in Gassin, classified as one of the “most beautiful villages in France.”

Chateau des Marres, Route des Plages, 83350 Ramatuelle. Tel: +33 (0)4 94 97 22 61

Chateau Minuty, 2491 route de la Berle, 83580 Gassin. Tel: +33 (0)4 94 56 12 09

Domaine de la Rouillère, Route de Ramatuelle, RD 61, 83580 Gassin. Tel: +33 (0)4 9455 72 60

Get a culture fix

The Citadelle is the most-Instagrammed building in town.

Before the celebrities, trailed by the inevitable paparazzi, Saint-Tropez attracted avant-garde artists like Paul Signac.

The Musée de l’Annonciade has a fine collection of works by the likes of Matisse, Vuillard and local artist Auguste Pégurier.

L’Annonciade is one of Saint-Tropez’s quartet of museums, also including La Citadelle (maritime museum), la Maison des Papillons (the Butterfly House), and the Gendarmerie and Cinema Museum.

The most photographed building in Saint-Tropez, the Gendarmerie was transformed into a museum in 2016, showcasing the town’s historic connection to film.

From polo to pétanque competitions, St-Tropez has a jam-packed calendar of events, peppered with traditional festivals.

In mid-May, the annual Les Bravades has been honoring the village’s patron saint – Saint Torpes was martyred in AD 68 – for more than 450 years. This is followed by Les Voiles Latines, when for four days in late May, all the yachts in the port are displaced by the classic wood sailboats of yesteryear. It’s a festive event with water jousting and concerts.

The Citadel hosts summer concerts headlined by major pop stars, like Sting, Benjamin Biolay and IAM in 2017.

There’s even a Porsche parade in October. Not to mention Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, a major regatta which convenes 4,000 sailors for a one-week sporting event in October.

Keen to take home an authentic piece of Saint-Tropez? The town is known for its strappy leather sandals called “spartiate tropeziennes.” Rondi has been hand-crafting these shoes in its artisanal workshop since 1927, and K.Jacques – a celebrity favorite – has been awarded a “living heritage” label.

Musée de l’Annonciade, 2 Rue de l’Annonciade, Place Georges Grammont, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0)4 94 17 84 10.

Musée de la Gendarmerie et du Cinéma, Place Blanqui, 83990 Saint-Tropez, + 33 (0)4 94 55 90 20.

Musée d’histoire maritime de Saint-Tropez, Montée de la Citadelle, 83990 Saint-Tropez, +33 (0)4 94 97 59 43

Mary Winston Nicklin is a writer based in Paris. Her website is and her Twitter handle is @MaryWNicklin.