Weekend Escape to Saint-Tropez

Sep 19, 2014

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Summer is swamped with tourists in the South of France, but the shoulder season months are the perfect time to visit jetset destinations like Saint-Tropez. Nice-based contributing writer Lane Nieset takes us on a weekend getaway to this seaside village that is so much more than swanky nightclubs and megayachts. 

The village of Saint-Tropez (Image courtesy of Atout France/Michel Angot)

The quiet fishing town of Saint-Tropez has long since transformed into an international playground for the rich and famous thanks in part to French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot and her films, as well as its secluded seaside location and stretch of beautiful sandy beaches.

While megayachts flock in July, travelers can avoid the crowds—and high-season hotel rates—by visiting in the shoulder seasons of late-September and October or early spring. If your travel plans take you to Paris or nearby Nice, tack on a quick weekend jaunt to Saint-Tropez for the beaches, superb dining and bohemian vibes radiating throughout this Provençal town. 

Best Beach Bars

If you’re after the glamourous side of Saint-Tropez, Pampelonne beach in Ramatuelle, is one of Europe’s most well-known beaches and just a quick 15-minute drive from the city center.  It’s home to a number of hot spots when it comes to chic beach bars and restaurants, including Le Club 55 and Nikki Beach.

Coastal Hikes & Beach Activities

For a day on the water stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking, Pep’s Spirit has a watersports outpost on the Gulf of St-Tropez by the small l’Escalet port on Pampelonne beach.

Sentier du Littoral
Walk along the coastline on the Sentier du Littoral

For a quieter walk around the Saint-Tropez peninsula, the Sentier du Littoral path takes you around the coast by the beaches leading up to Cavalaire-sur-Mer. You can opt for different distances, but one of the longer stretches, the 7-mile trip to Plage de Tahiti, takes about 3.5 hours to walk.

Buy Local

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the center square, Place des Lices, is packed with vendors during the weekly market (from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.), selling everything from local produce to prepared items, lavender soap and other souvenirs. On other days, you’ll find the square on the quiet side, with locals playing the ball game pétanque and the cafes drawing travelers for a coffee or wine.

Where to Eat and Drink

Cavalli Caffe
Cavalli Caffè

After a day strolling around the boutiques and art galleries in the Old Town, swing by the Cavalli Caffè, just next to the Roberto Cavalli boutique, for an aperitif and live music in the evenings on the terrace in Place de la Garonne.

One of the top spots to sample the region’s namesake pastry, La Tarte Tropézienne, is at Senequier, a brasserie set on the port dating back to 1887, and a calmer spot in the area for late-night cocktails. Next door, you’ll find a livelier spot for dinner and dancing at the more trendy lounge, Le Quai, filled with music and singers.

Across from the Place des Lices, the former Maison Blanche, White 1921, is a bar and lounge with a Champagne cellar located in the courtyard in front of the white mansion that serves as a hotel. The all-white setting is equal parts trendy and sophisticated and the perfect place for pre- or post-dinner cocktails.

Rivea at Byblos
Rivea at Byblos (Image courtesy of Rivea)

Salama, a Morrocan restaurant in an alley in the Old Town, is a romantic dinner spot with dark interiors lit by hanging lanterns, while Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant Rivea at Byblos serves up a taste of Riviera cuisine with gourmet spins on regional specialties like the lobster “pan bagnat” and Provençal beef stew.

Where to Stay

Pool at the Byblos
Pool at the Byblos

The luxe five-star hotel Byblos, set off of the Place des Lices and within walking distance of the Old Town and port, features a design influenced by villages in Provence and Byblos in Beirut, with Lebanese tiles and artifacts spread throughout the hotel.

Attracting celebrities like Mick and Bianca Jagger who spent their honeymoon at the hotel, this spot still draws a fashionable crowd with its private club Les Caves du Roy and new Alain Ducasse restaurant Rivea (rates start at 340 Euro or $447 for a single and 1,820 Euro or $2,392 for a deluxe suite).

Further uphill lies another five-star sanctuary, the Saint Amour La Tartane hotel with 28 tucked-away rooms with rustic-yet-chic décor and views of the village. Another perk is that in case you came to Saint-Tropez sans yacht, both hotels have their own and can arrange a private cruise.

Unlike some of the hotels in town, Hôtel de Paris Saint-Tropez, part of the Preferred Hotel Group, is open year-round. Located on Place de la Gendarmerie near the bus station and port, the high-end hotel has everything you need for a luxurious weekend getaway, from a Clarins spa to Le Suffren Café by George, a restaurant by the three-Michelin starred French chef Georges Blanc.

The rooftop bar is another must-visit during a stay at the hotel and rooms have a 60’s vibe with pops of color and views of the village (rates start at $577 and gold or platinum iPrefer members get a complimentary bottle of wine).

For a more budget-friendly spot that is still in a perfect location, the cozy 23-room Hotel Sube on the port exudes old-world charm with a nautical theme and balcony views over the superyachts on the harbor (doubles from 160 Euro or $210).

Keep in mind that the season in Saint-Tropez lasts from April to October, so prices tend to be sky high during summer months, while in March or October, you are more likely to snag a deal.

Hotel La Canberra in Cannes
Hotel La Canberra in Cannes

If You’re Staying in Cannes: Cannes is just an hour and a half by car from Saint-Tropez and has a similar feel, since it’s also known as a glamorous town on the Riviera with ritzy beach clubs and high-end restaurants.

Stay in the heart of everything in a hotel on the famous Croisette overlooking the sea, such as the glamorous Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez (rates start at around $363 during summer or 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night in the fall). A popular spot for stars and parties during the Cannes Film Festival, the hotel also has a private beach and 2-star Michelin restaurant, La Palme d’Or.

Another five-star hotel along the Croisette is the JW Marriott Cannes (rates start at 183 Euro or $237 per night) that has an onsite casino and panorama rooftop pool and bar, where you can take in the view of the bay below, the Lerins Islands, and Esterel Mountains. The hotel is a Category 9 property requiring 45,000 hotel reward points or 40,000 PointSavers for a one-night stay.

TPG Creative Director Adam Daniel Weiss recently stayed at Le Canberra just off the Croisette. You can read his review of the hotel here.

The beautiful plate in Nice.
The beautiful plate in Nice.

If You’re Staying in Nice: Nice is about two hours from Saint-Tropez, depending on traffic, and is a popular place to start or end a trip to the Riviera, since the airport is located here.

Hotels range from charming B&B’s to five-star luxury hotels, but you can score a room with points along the Promenade des Anglais at Le Méridien, an SPG Category 5 hotel with fall rates starting around 259 Euro or $335 per night or 12,000 to 16,000 Starpoints. The hotel is across from Ruhl Private Beach and is just a short walk to the Old Town’s restaurants and bars.

Further down the Promenade des Anglais, the modern AC Hotel Nice is a four-star hotel with a rooftop bar and sea view suites. The hotel is a Category 7 and requires 35,000 reward points or 30,000 PointSavers per night, and nightly rates start around 229 Euro ($297).

Tip: To save money while traveling abroad, use a card with no foreign transaction fee, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.

Getting There:

If you are staying staying in Nice or Cannes and want to take a day trip to Saint-Tropez, there are day cruises that leave in the morning and return in the evening. The cruise from Cannes is 46 Euro ($60) roundtrip for adults and takes about an hour and 15 minutes to reach Saint-Tropez; the cruise from Nice takes about two and a half hours and is 63 Euro ($82) for adults roundtrip.

To reach Saint-Tropez by plane, fly into the International Airport Toulon-Hyères, located about 32 miles from Saint-Tropez near Hyères, with direct flights from Brussels, London, Paris and Rotterdam, or fly into the International Airport Nice-Côte d’Azur, located about 66 miles away, which has direct flights from New York (JFK).

Varlib regional buses (3 Euro or $4 each way) head to the Saint-Tropez gare routière (bus station) seven days a week from nearby towns such as Saint-Raphaël (bus 7601), which takes about two hours and stops in Frejus and Sainte Maxime along the way. Bus 7801 goes from Saint-Tropez to the gare routière in Toulon, taking just over two hours. Another way to reach the town from Saint-Raphaël is by ferry, which takes under an hour and costs 15 Euro ($20) one way.

Travelers heading from Monaco, Nice, Antibes and Cannes can take the TER train to the Saint-Raphaël-Valescure station and from there connect by bus or walk across to the port and hop on the ferry. The train ride from Nice to Saint-Raphaël-Valescure takes about an hour and costs roughly 12 Euro ($16) one way.

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Have you visited Saint-Tropez? What are your top hotel and restaurant picks?

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