I t took a 22-year-old actress to transform St Tropez from a tranquil Mediterranean fishing village into the epicentre of European chic. When Brigitte Bardot shot the 1957 film And God Created Woman in the French resort, she made it the world’s most in demand destination overnight, attracting the wealthy, famous and glamorous to the picturesque peninsula.
Yet St Tropez’s pretty pastel houses, hillside citadel and bustling harbour have enticed artists including Paul Signac, Matisse and Picasso since the late 19th century. All were charmed by the resort’s sun-dappled wooded coastline, mountain views and cobbled old town, first named after Roman officer Torpes, who was killed by Emperor Nero after converting to Christianity.
Now, elegant hotels, fashionable beach clubs, stylish night clubs (such as the legendary Les Caves du Roy) and upmarket shops sit alongside shaded squares, renowned galleries and a yacht-lined port, drawing regular visitors including Beyonce, Elton John, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mick Jagger, who married first wife Bianca in St Tropez in 1971. Whether you prefer cake or culture, Michelin stars or museums, these are the places you should not miss in this stylish seaside destination.
Artists have long been inspired by St Tropez’s bright Provençal colours and romantic sea views, so art lovers will find a surprising number of galleries and art shops in this tiny town. The Musée de l’Annonciade is the best known. Based in a 16th century chapel, it is the oldest modern art museum in France and features work from many of the artists who have painted in St Tropez including Matisse, Signac and Dufy.
Contemporary artists continue the resort’s legacy. Hungarian artist and St Tropez resident Ivan Hor showcases his three-dimensional works and famous origami boats at his gallery on Rue des Remparts, while acclaimed sculptor and painter Gérard Le Roux exhibits his work on Pl. de l’Hôtel de Ville. Henri Sié has a permanent exhibition of his landscape art in a bright turquoise building on Rue du Clocher, while the Galerie Mason Noirez offers personalized home art consultations alongside work from multidisciplinary artist Paul Richard Mason.
Head to the port to dine overlooking super-yachts. Café Sénéquier with its brick-red terrace has been serving the stars since 1930, and is ideal for people-watching over coffee and cocktails. Be sure to order the town’s famous, feather-light Tarte Tropézienne stuffed with cream.
Seafood lovers should wander the cobblestoned backstreets to La Ponche where everyone from Jack Nicholson to Bardot herself have dined on lobster linguine and fresh oysters to the sound of the sea lapping just steps away.
The area is not short on Michelin stars either. La Vague d’Or at Cheval Blanc has three and serves curated seasonal menus inspired by rustic Mediterranean dishes from chef Arnaud Donckele. A little further away in Ramatuelle, La Voile at La Réserve is led by two Michelin-starred chef Eric Canino and offers healthy fine-dining without the usual cream and butter. Choose the garden menu and every course from starter to dessert will be based entirely on freshly-picked vegetables from the kitchen's garden.
In 2022, Louis Vuitton opened its first stand-alone restaurant, Mory Sacko at Louis Vuitton, on the terrace of the White 1921 Hotel, featuring a menu that blends African, Japanese, and French influences. The restaurant's cool, elegant setting is augmented with pieces from Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades collection (such as Zanellato/Bortotto's hanging leather lanterns) and there are even iconic Vuitton fleur de lis designs worked into the decorative topiary, for maximum panache.
A-listers and locals alike browse the stalls at the market on Place des Lices, held every Tuesday and Saturday morning. Sample Provençal olives and gourmet chocolate, stock up on bath oils and soap made with local lavender and buy paintings, antiques, wicker baskets and handcrafted jewellery, sold by the artisans themselves.
The big-name designers including Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Dior all have flagship stores around Rue Gambetta and Rue Sibilli, but it’s worth strolling the old town’s narrow streets to explore independent boutiques. Browse scents from historic perfumer Fragonard at their Croix de Fer shop, or have a pair of the famous Tropezienne leather sandals custom-made to your specific design at K Jacques.
To bring home a bottle (or three) of the region’s ubiquitous rosé, visit Château Barbeyrolles which overlooks St Tropez in the village of Gassin. The very first clear rosé was made here in 1985, pioneering the pale pink wine that Provence is renowned for today.
The sweeping views from the Citadel are well worth the climb up the hill to get there. First built to protect St Tropez from invaders, the 17th century fortress is also home to the excellent Museum of Maritime History which offers a fascinating insight into the region’s seafaring past.
For something a little quirkier, try the Musée de la Gendarmerie et du Cinéma. Housed in the town’s former police station, the museum showcases the town’s relationship to French cinema, particularly focusing on its cult slapstick films, Gendarmes de St Tropez. Don’t miss the bronze statue of Brigitte Bardot opposite too.
Summer visitors should book tickets to Les Nuits du Château de la Moutte for atmospheric opera, jazz and classical concerts held in the grounds of a 19th century castle. The amphitheatre in Ramatuelle also hosts festivals devoted to classical music, theatre and jazz in July and August.