In orthodox tourism terms – museums, monuments and such like – there’s not an awful lot to do in St Tropez. The point of the place is simply to be there. Wander around, if only to appreciate how jet-settery has slotted into the venera
Quai Jean Jaurès
Begin at the port, by the Tourism Office (1). On the land side are the chic, eye-wateringly expensive restaurants and bar terraces, the most celebrated being the first one along, Sénéquier, with its red film-directors’ chairs and triangular tables. Jacques Chirac has been spotted here, generally sipping pina colada. So has everyone else you have ever heard of. Sénéquier has retained its cachet despite its recent sale (for a reported €16 million) out of the family which had owned it for four generations. On the harbour side are, of course, the yachts – the size of Salisbury Plain and as sleek as suppositories. Here, daily mooring fees can hit €1,400 a day. Owners and guests take drinks on deck, both ignoring and fully aware of the fact that they are being gawped at by hundreds of passers-by.
La Glaye beach
Venture down the Quai Mistral to the Portalet tower and dodge through to La Glaye beach (2). Hemmed by buildings from the oldest part of the village, it is compact but perfectly formed. It is also the first of a succession of three progressively smaller beaches – the only ones in St Tropez village itself.
The old village
These ochre streets (3) may be the only ones in the world where designer fashion shops stand opposite grocery stores. Pop into the parish church where, to the left of the altar, there is a bust of St Tropez himself. Yes, there really was a chap called Tropez (or “Torpes”, or Torpetius in the original Latin).
A Roman soldier, he was beheaded for embracing Christianity. His head remained in Italy (it’s in a chapel in Pisa); his body was placed in a boat and pushed out to sea. The boat and its unlikely crew of Torpetius, a cockerel and a dog apparently landed at what is now St Tropez on May 17 AD68.
At the top of the village, climb the green and wooded hill to the 16th-century Citadel (4). It’s impressively fortified, built both to defend the coast and survey the Tropeziens who, in the view of the French authorities, were a truculent and seditious lot. From outside, the views across the village and out to sea are sumptuous. The interior has been transformed into a museum of St Tropez’s (surprisingly gallant) maritime history. It opened finally in summer 2013.
Place des Lices
This fine central square (5) is a couple of times too big for a village the size of St Tropez. Underneath the plane trees, old guys play boules . Their HQ is the appealingly ordinary Café des Arts on the corner of the square. Boules aside, the Place is the second focal point of St Tropez life, after the port.
In summer, it’s hard to get across the street against a steady flow of Ferraris, Mercedes and Bentleys. And you had better believe that St Tropez council treats these motors with due respect. Every year, the height of the speed bumps is adjusted to the clearance levels of the latest models.
Musée de l’Annonciade
One of the longest-established modern art galleries in France, this 16th-century former chapel in Place Grammont (6) contains some dross but also cracking stuff from artists connected with Provence in general and St Tropez in particular. Look out for Matisse, Utrillo, Seurat and Dufy. You should also have a look at the pointillist works of Signac, the first artist into St Tropez in the late 19th century. But be warned: all those dots gave me a headache. There's currently an intriguing exhibition dedicated to the 'Fauves In Provence through to March 16, 2015. From March, the museum begins to celebrate its 60th birthday - first with a tribute to collectors who contributed to the Annonciade's art treasures then, from June 12-October 17, a retrospective covering the past of what it claims to be the Finest Little Museum in France. Through July and August, they'll also be screening films from 1955 - the year of the museum's launch - at an open-air cinema.
A splendid alternative to sitting around doing nothing is the seven-mile walk round the headlands to the Pampelonne beaches. The track – called “le Sentier du Littoral” (7) – is quite wild in places, but well maintained and clearly signposted. At reasonable walking speed, it will take about three and a half hours, depending how far along Pampelonne beach you want to end up.
En route, you’ll have stirring scenery, interesting coastal flora and the maritime cemetery where the film director Roger Vadim now rests. Brigitte Bardot’s modest place is also nearby, as are charming little beaches such as Plage Graniers, Plage des Canebiers, Plage de la Moutte and Plage des Salins, where the likes of Bruce Willis and Naomi Campbell will never make an appearance.
Pick up the “Sentier du Littoral” brochure from the tourist office on Quai Jean-Jaurès, equip yourself with a bottle of water and a mobile phone and set off from La Ponche – once the fishermen’s quarter. The tight scrum of old buildings and the views make it St Tropez’s loveliest, most atmospheric mini-district.