No other place conjures up sun, sea and hot Mediterranean holidays than St Tropez.
If you are driving into St. Tropez during July and August then you must arm yourself with the utmost patience as roads are chock-a-block and cars literally bumper-to-bumper. So my advice to you is, if at all possible, try to avoid those two months and you’ll reap the rewards of discovering a truly magical place – despite its ‘bling’ label. Parking at the Nouveau Port is the best place because, as its name implies, it is located by the port and just a short walk into town.
Despite its busyness, glitzy and expensive reputation, out of season St Tropez reverts to its humble beginnings as a charming fishing village. Those months are a joy as they allow you to meander leisurely along the narrow streets to view fashionable designer boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, attractive cafés and enticing restaurants.
By the time I’d parked the car a gentle breeze had picked up and I could hear the slap of the tie-ropes against the masts of the numerous yachts and small boats moored in the port; a few seagulls squawked overhead.
Unable to resist, I strolled along the quay admiring these beautiful machines; some quite spectacular but all in immaculate condition. There’s something rather inspiring about white yachts, sparkling chrome and colourful flags set against a deep blue sky.
My walk took me past the 17th century chapel of Our Lady of Annonciade (now a museum of modern art) along the Vieux Port and Quai Jean Jaures; a noticeable stillness was in the air. With the tourists gone, and many shop closed for their annual holiday, the town seemed to have regained a dignity totally hidden from me before.
I decided to head for Place des Lices where I knew the market would be in full swing. Set among the hundred year old plane trees I found an assortment of colourful stalls displaying an abundance of locally grown produce and wines, original crafts, Provençal pottery, gorgeous lambswool jumpers, a selection of paintings depicting St Tropez, and huge bunches of freshly cut flowers for sale.
This was my type of “Bain de Foule” where you could rub shoulders with the locals and catch fragments of their conversations. Having toured the very charming market, I decided to meander through the labyrinth of cobble-stoned streets; the sun warm on my back and with a sense of time slowing down.
Now, free from the throngs of jostling tourists, incessant traffic and mindless scooters, I could stop and take a step back to admire its architecture and linger in its leafy squares.
Different views opened up to me, views never noticed before: appealing town houses and villas painted in soft faded colours, indicating the Genoese origins of the town and gardens overflowing with exotic plants, succulents and trees. Further charm was added as I discovered citrus trees still in fruit and Bougainvillea, smothered in tiny purple flowers, scrambling up walls and window ledges.
As I approached the grassy hillock to the 16th century Citadel, beautiful Cyprus trees, umbrella pines, enormous oak and majestic palm trees adorned the surrounding countryside. Nestled amongst them were a few flowering rosemary bushes, agaves and wild daisies.
Suddenly, as I followed the sandy and slightly stony path leading round the old citadel with its adjoining dry moat, I felt an enormous sense of well being.
There before me lay the most stunning panorama; the beautiful Golfe de St Tropez, sparkling in the sunshine as it stretched across to Grimaud and St Maxime. The Esterel and Maures Massif hugged the skyline giving shelter to surrounding towns and smaller villages, while the Alps stood proud in the far distance. Against the bluest of skies, the scene was one of total beauty.
Incapable of moving, I remained rooted to the spot for several minutes mesmerized by this amazing sight. The scent of rosemary, pine and sea air drifted gently around me. Incredibly, apart from a few screeching seagulls and the rustling of umbrella pines, nothing disturbed my peace.
Afterwards I continued along the top of the hillock and spied a small naval cemetery down by the edge of the water; its rows of white headstones outlined against the blue of the sea. Amongst the graves could be seen splashes of colours – bouquets of flowers left by loved ones.
Further along I glimpsed the plage des Graniers with its pretty rocky inlet. It was tempting to walk down and take a moment to paddle in the Mediterranean Sea – but the view from where I stood held me fully captivated.
It’s doubtful I would have ventured out as far as the Citadel as the surge of tourists and day-trippers would have stopped me from adventuring further afield during the early days of spring. Equally, heat haze produced by hot summer days would have prevented me seeing such an astonishing and far-reaching sight.
I ambled slowly down the hillock, lingering a moment or two to turn back and catch another glimpse of this unforgettable view. Entering the narrow streets once more I walked past the tourist office, onto the old port and back to the car, admiring again the gleaming yachts and majestic views across the marina.
But the spell had been broken – and like a child without its favourite toy, I felt a deep sense of loss.