The hedonistic party town may be showing her age, but there’s life in old St Tropez yet, writes Judith Baker
STROLLING through St Tropez’s Place des Lices, side stepping the silver balls that glide by during a game of petanque, I could be in any friendly old French town, with its sidewalk cafes and a little art deco cinema.
But this is St Tropez, where small dogs are spoon fed ice cream and carried around in baskets. Women of indeterminable age are equally pampered and stretch idly on beaches and pool terraces.
However, “The village” (as it is known) is far from sleepy, with more mega yachts in the harbour than ever, and more bling per square foot than the Room of Luxury at Harrods.
Some claim St Tropez’s charm is as skin deep as the fake tan of the same name. Perhaps, but the sybaritic lifestyle is mesmerising. Despite 40 years of over indulgence, I find the town is wearing well – given a nip and tuck here and there. Plus, the outlying countryside with its vineyards and Provencal villages is as irresistible today as it has been for centuries.
The second best way to approach St Tropez is from Nice airport by helicopter (the first being by your own private yacht). The journey over the much eulogised French Cote d’Azur takes about 20 minutes and pops you down near the Polo Club from where the village is a brief drive
The harbour is not much bigger than that of an English seaside town. The difference is dozens of dazzling white mega yachts bobbing there, watched by beautiful people craning their necks to see who is on board. Those sipping cocktails from the terrace of La Sube and Le Quai include Ivana Trump and other regulars from the pages of Hello! magazine.
There are chic inns on every corner, but I chose to stay at the Pan Dei Palais, a boutique hotel in a quiet corner of town. The street entrance is unassuming, but behind the heavy wooden door is a three-storey Indian palace with an Arabian Nights feel. The French love a love story, and the Pan Dei’s romantic past has captivated them. Waterloo veteran General Jean-François Allard returned to India in 1822 where he fell in love with a beautiful Hindu princess, Bannu Pan Dei. He married her and brought her back to his St Tropez home where he built the Provencal building that is now the Pan Dei Palais. Newly revamped, the hotel is furnished in ochres and reds with Indian antiques and oriental objets d’art. A Relais & Chateau property, the hotel also has its own yacht moored in St Tropez harbour with several cabins and a la carte hotel services – for the select few who want to drink in the whole St Tropez experience.
The menu reflects both Asian influences and classic French cuisine. The swimming pool – entirely surrounded by palm trees – is covered over at night, creating a dance floor out of nothing.
When daylight breaks, bleary-eyed excess continues at the world famous Le Club 55 on La Plage Pampellone. In the 1950s it was the setting for the filming of “And God Created Woman” starring a young Brigitte Bardot and it’s been synonymous with beauty and glamour ever since.
Owner Patrice Colmont is always on hand to tend to the needs of his tanned guests, ranging from international A-listers to French families singing happy birthday.
You have to book to secure a place on the beach, and bank on spending about €150 for the day for lunch and drinks.
Between beach time and bar time comes boutique time, and I find myself irresistibly drawn to a pair of K Jacques sandals, the footwear of choice for the well-heeled St Tropizienne. A masterpiece of strappy perfection, K Jacques have been lovingly hand made in St Tropez for forty years and still cut a dash on the yacht decks and the boulevards.
Wearing my new sandals, I journey back to Pan Dei Palais for cocktails by the pool and to top up my tan.
Over the Trop? Pas moi.
NEED TO KNOW
Pan Dei Palais
52 Rue Gambetta
83 990 Saint-Tropez
Tel: +33 494 17 71 71
Rooms from €650 Euro per night in high season (June to September)
Le Club 55
43 Boulevard Patch 83350 Ramatuelle, France
+33 (0)4 94 55 55 55
Easyjet flies to Nice from London Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. Prices start form £33.99 each way per person.
Helicopter from Nice to Saint-Tropez. The price for a one way helicopter transfer on an AS350 (SIX seats) is €1,400. This includes a limo transfer at both ends.