The little ferryboat slowly makes its way across the glittering bay toward the historic Saint Tropez, from Port Grimaud where I’m staying. It’s my favourite way to arrive. Past all manner of sleek motor boats, one aptly named ‘one more toy’… Say’s it all really about this place… doesn’t it? Glitzy, cool, super-glossy, iconic, brash, myth of stars and glamour. Saint Tropez still has the cache…….the Brigette Bardot film legends are long gone but the money remains seducing celebrities from all over the world..
The whirr of helicopters drown out the sound of my little ferryboat – the rich and the not so rich mingling together to enjoy this most amazing spot. Perched towards the end of the bay against a backdrop of hills covered in vines and domaines, it is home to timeless villages like Gassin and Ramatuelle which leave you breathless! But I’m looking for another side to this place…. something more historic, simple, traditional, proud of its heritage. It is there, just hidden a little behind it’s oh so glossy exterior.
The excitement builds on arrival at the port……. The port has obvious magnet appeal…a melange of gigantic boats from all over the world almost overwhelming this little town. Local painters show their talents on the quayside as swarms of tourists march past blinking at this amazing show……
A walk down the first street showcases Hermes, Dior and many other famous luxury brands leading to a charming open square filled with local men playing petanque. Different worlds sitting side by side in harmony. It’s all rather surreal! I’m not here though to spend, or to play petanque for that matter. I haven’t got the cash and I’m rubbish at petanque. It doesn’t matter… I settle down in a little creperie beside a glamorous, members only club restaurant to watch. The kids are certainly amazed by this….. ‘can you put my iPod in your bag mum?’ , ‘I need to look around this place -‘ it’s interesting’ said my eldest daughter . There is plenty of space for everyone here and we can all have a slice. It’s a state of mind….. if you let the wealth faze you… it will.
I meander down through a maze of little back streets housing boutiques, galleries and eateries mostly individual and all sprinkled with the Saint Tropez gold-dust. I love it! It’s unique!. There’s more character and heart here than I expected and many friendly faces. The reality is so much more than the legend.
Arriving in rue de La Ponche at the heart of the old town, we stop to eat Tarte Tropizienne (yummy custard filled cake made famous by Brigette Bardot). The kids devour it! Then past the stylish hotel La Ponche I ate in many years ago, before children, to a little beach with old houses almost falling into the sea. Charming! Young and old scattered around the little stony stretch as we dive into the warm, June waters of the med.
There is a beautiful old Citadel (built 1590) to defend against invaders to see and Le Musee Annonciade is a gem. It houses old and new art all infused with the legendary Cote d’azur light. The market comes to town on Tuesday’s and Saturday’s although I didn’t see that and there is a superb daily fish market. What do the locals say. ‘stay away in July and August’. They are lucky as they have it the rest of the year. It’s a shame about the traffic in the summer but that’s the way it is….. May and June are best, if you can make it then. Otherwise a great way to see it is to stay in the centre or come over from the two best coastal resorts of St Maxime or Port Grimaud by boat. Of course there is always the motorbike hire option too!
Wandering back to my little ferry boat I marvel at this place. It’s seduced me……. We stop for an ice cream. 2.50 euros, very reasonable and the best I have tasted in a while. You could certainly loose all your money here quickly… it’s so tempting to indulge in much more than the ice-cream. Me, I lost my heart to it………. I’ll be back, next time by night… for the party? – I suspect my eldest daughter may want to join me too!