St Tropez: glitz, glamour and a little genuine beauty

IT HAS become a cliche to mourn the death of the once unspoiled fishing “village” that was St Tropez – the days when Brigitte Bardot walked barefoot along the Quai de L’Epi and you could barter over a freshly caught sea bass at the pier. Or even the days when you could still get a parking space. Yet it is still makes for a rollicking good long weekend — or longer — and you can also still find its old fashioned charm, if you scratch far enough beneath the surface.

The town, situated 100km from Nice airport, may have its naysayers, who talk of its vulgar, perma-tanned clientele and gold-plated Bugattis. Yet this is where Kate Moss and her pals still come ever year to feast on Club 55’s unmissable anchoiade over long boozy lunches; it is where Elton John rocks the scene with his entourage of hunks; and it is still the place to go if you want to see most of Europe’s go-faster crowd party like it is going out of fashion.

The trick is to go when it is a little quieter — and also live like the locals. If you can go early or late summer, and avoid the mega hoards of July and August, then you will still get the glitz without the grind. Those completely in the know head there for the yacht week in early October — Le Voile de St Tropez — when out go the racy Herve Leger crowd and in come the Loro Piano clad yachting lot who are far more understated. Resident locals such as Tara Getty hold all night bashes on their yachts and it is possible to get into the remaining open nightclubs without having to bribe the door-staff. This is off duty St Trop — and the weather is still glorious.

Base yourself at the legendary Byblos (open between April 17 and October 27) — the hotel that still rocks the scene. Its restaurant, the B, serves an excellent local version of tapas — Byni’z – and its nightclub Caves du Roy is really (apart from private yacht parties), the place you want to be seen post 11pm. Bear in mind, though, that it is social death to get there too early, or, indeed, when the lights come up at 6am — the carpets are not a pretty sight after a particularly raucous night. The hotel’s Sisley spa is the ticket for a mid-trip cleanse — try the radiance treatment with ginseng for a pre-party facial pep-up. There are some great deals early and late season, when prices are slashed by up to 50 per cent, which, with the sometimes whacking prices around the town, is appreciated. Rooms are spacious — choose one with a balcony and view of the poolside action.

Lunch at Club 55 on the beach is a must, where rose is drunk by the magnum and chargrilled fish and steak tartare keep the tables heaving all day (and don’t miss their to die for raspberry tart). Granted, there are still the obligatory sugar daddies doling out Cartier Love bracelets to their young floozies over pink fizz – but this is half the fun and it makes for some good rubber necking if nothing else.

Warning: take lots of cash to St Tropez, and if you are smart you’ll do a pre-tox too to cleanse the liver. Lunch at Club 55 can seamlessly slip into afternoon drinks at Nikki Beach (RIP Le Voile Rouge — once the spot for some outre afternoon fun, but closed by the mayor in 2011), followed by table-top dancing at Le Cave du Roi or VIP club. Then wake up and repeat the next day.

However, bling aside, if you scratch beneath the surface you can find some of the town’s old charm. Gawping at the mega yachts and manicured Chihuahuas (yes, for real) on the jetty from the balcony of the hotel Sube has to be done once — and watch in amazement as the clientele of the yachts emerge. However, it is also wonderful to head around the corner into the Places des Lices and watch the games of petanques. Bars such as Le Cafe are reasonably priced and serve a delicious Kir.

Another way of seeing a different side of the city is to head to the food market which is held twice a week. Here, bright eyed marlin lie alongside wriggling lobster, and around the corner an abundance of fruit and veg is piled high, and being scooped up by local inhabitants (they do exist). Take a walk to the 17th century citadel, situated a little way out of the town on a hill and admire the views of the harbour below.

However, if it is solace you seek — hire a bike through the Byblos, and head into the hills, stopping off at some of the many vineyards along the way — far less crowded than during the height of the summer. The concierge at the hotel will organise entry to the vineyards. For keen walkers, the St Tropez peninsular can be explored along coastal paths, with magnificent views across the waters. The 12km hike takes you from Pampelonne beach to the Portalet Tower, taking in the vistas of Tahiti beach and Cap de St. Tropez along the way. Riders can take polo lessons in the nearby St Tropez polo club or watch a tournament — the season kicks off again on 6 April.

If this all seems too much like hard work, you can of course just sit back by the hotel pool or the comfortable loungers at Club 55 and take a well-deserved disco nap.

Fly to Nice with BA: (ba.com)

Byblos, St Tropez (+33 4 94 56 68 00, byblos.com) offers classic rooms from €424* per room per night.