Sun, Sea And Saint Tropez: What’s New In France’s Glitziest Beach Town?

As with every year, 80,000 sunseekers and jet-setters flock to Saint Tropez every day in peak summer months, to revel in the glamour of the storied French seaside town. And now with a new direct business class flight from from Newark to Nice from airline La Compagnie, it’s never been easier to get to the Côte d’Azur.

Originally a sleepy fishing village that drew artists for years before it was destined for stardom, St Tropez jolts to life from mid-April, throwing the promise of champagne-fuelled parties at beach bars lined up on the sands of the Pampelonne bay, creamy Tropézienne tarte had on the terrace of Sénequier in town, and splashy parties unfurling behind high walls of swanky villas.

However, only once the Chanel boutique has opened its doors, the gleaming white mega-yachts in the port are lined up for yachting season, and the Festival des Chefs sets up on the Place des Lices for the first weekend of May, is the season officially declared open. As with every year, St Tropez’s hotels reopen ready to step into the season and new restaurants emerge from old and new shells. Here’s a rundown of what to have on your radar this season.

Celebrating the women who put St Tropez on the map in the 1956 film And God created woman and The Swimming Pool released in 1969, a photography exhibition of Brigitte “B.B.” Bardot and Romy Schneider will open this August. Curated with archive photography, it will remind us of the town’s pre-jet set era days when its bohemian vibe drew artists like Paul Signac and Henri Matisse to its shores to paint the sailing boats gliding in the magical light of the midi seen from nearby Pampelonne Beach.

St Tropez was also popular with the French literati and places like La Ponche, one of the few hotels at the water’s edge, opened its doors to figures like Françoise Sagan, Boris Vian, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir for raucous nights of live music and vermouth cocktails had late into the night. Entirely refurbished last year by interior designer Fabrizio Casiraghi the hotel’s 21 rooms emerged brand new, its speakeasy spirit intact. This year, it started off the season with the inaugural edition of a literary prize and yoga retreats with French institution Le Tigre.

Glitzy by name but relaxed by nature, La Réserve Ramatuelle, one of the most exclusive properties in the area is located 20 minutes’ drive from St Tropez. Overhanging a jungly cliff on a quiet residential hill that looks out onto the Mediterranean, it sits in place of a former private club built into the rock face with raunchy goings-on. But since it was snapped up by La Réserve headman Michel Reybier, it’s been a little slice of heaven with big sea views for guests looking for respite from the St Tropez frenzy. Last year, the atmosphere was taken up a notch thanks to Jacques Garcia’s renovation of the all-white Michelin-star restaurant helmed by Eric Canino. While the hotel has 28 rooms in the main building, guests also come for the ultra-private 14 villas that are now open all year around. La Réserve beach club laid out on Pampelonne Beach is also worth stopping at for a taste of proper Riviera chic.

On par with La Réserve and a little out of the way at the exit of St Tropez proper right on the seafront, the Cheval Blanc is a hotel of high points but with a relaxed atmosphere that’s popular with families looking for some downtime at the town’s only hotel with a beach. The seafront pool and makeshift beach along the water is plenty to keep kids entertained, while La Vague d’Or, headed up by chef Arnaud Donckele who was awarded three stars last March, is the perfect reason for parents to take a night off. Take the afternoon too for a little pre-dinner pampering at the Cheval Blanc’s Guerlain spa with a pilates facial or a micro peel teamed to get your skin ready for a summer of sun, sea and sand.

In the town center, St Tropez’s historic Pan Deï Palais built in 1835, was recently taken over by the fast-expanding Airelles group behind the legendary Les Airelles palace hotel in Courchevel, French Alps. This season, the group is launching a special road trip itinerary for travelers keen to explore France in all its glory going from Paris to the Mediterranean. Just outside of St Tropez, the Château de la Messardière has got a complete makeover and is expanding its Airelles Summer Camp for children to a 500m2 villa on the grounds as well as launching new rooms, a new restaurant overseen by Marco Garfagnini and two pools. In town, the legendary Byblos hotel’s cut back on the number of rooms to make room for six recently renovated roomy suites and the restaurants will have a heavier focus on the divine produce grown in the kitchen garden steps from the hotel.

St Tropez, like many southern destinations in France, spends the year gearing up for the summer season from April to September. Last year, there was a mind-boggling number of new dining spots in and around town. This season is no different with restaurateurs opening offshoots of their Paris, Courchevel and St Barts joints either in town, in the quieter nearby village of Ramatuelle or on Pampelonne Beach, known for its wooden deck beach clubs.

Starting in town, France’s beloved chef with a penchant for pastry and chocolate, Cyril Lignac is opening a boulangerie, while at the seventies-tinged Le Tigrr Saint-Tropez restaurant, you can now also swing your mallet on its new croquet ground. Also in town, Homer Lobster is back for a second season serving its succulent signature lobster rolls in soft yet crispy brioche bread. Another restaurant getting a makeover is L’Italien on the port where the consulting chef is three-star Eric Frechon who’s putting Italian cuisine starring seafood from your nonna’s recipe book on the menu.

Things are also heating up in Ramatuelle, where the music-loving label owners and restaurateurs at Indie Group have taken over and revamped local institution Café de L’Ormeau, keeping its original spirit alive including the mini library where punters will be able to flick through some of the clan’s favorite literary works. Due to reopen next month, the café joins their growing empire, which includes jungly La Sauvageonne that opened last year, Indie Beach, Playamigos, and Pablõ.

Also in Ramatuelle, for a new kind of experience, an offshoot of the Parisian restaurant Gigi opened last year in a gorgeous tranquil pine forest setting and comes with a restaurant, Bellini bar, pool and even a full-on spa.

Other newcomers to the St Tropez beach scene, is the newly refurbished La Petite Plage, starring Eric Frechon (again) who’ll be bringing an elegant beach style cuisine infused with plenty of festive Mediterranean spirit. Further along the beach, exclusive beach club Les Palmiers has also got a refresh and now boasts a relaxed all-white-and-wood décor for afternoons spent lounging by the water.

Following suit, there are also offshoots of Parisian institutions like Noto, Manko cabaret-restaurant, Café Lapérouse, as well as a Cipriani and Casa Amor, which locals or regular visitors to the French capital will already be well acquainted with.

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