When planning your next vacation, consider a trip to the French Riviera. Although it’s famous for being a playground for the jet set, its miles of white sandy beaches, and gourmet food that is as much of a treat for the eyes as it is for the palette, the French Riviera has much more to offer.
Take St. Tropez for example. Known as one of the “jewels of the French Riviera”, St. Tropez is a beautiful and busy seaside village that grew up in the 50s and 60s after being discovered by Hollywood. (Roger Vadim’s “And God Created Woman” was responsible for launching both Brigit Bardot’s acting career and St. Tropez into a mecca for the rich and famous).
But long before St. Tropez was discovered by Hollywood, it was also a favorite place to live and work for some of the world’s best known artists and sculptors. There is just something about the light here that makes it different from everywhere else along the Mediterranean Sea – it shimmers like a pearl that’s been dipped in gold.
You’ll feel like you’ve walked into a picture postcard when you take a walk along the the pier and watch the sun sinking into the azure blue waters of the Med. It paints the sky with the colors of ripe apricots, old gold and ruby red. A playful breeze pulls at the jewel-colored awnings above the sidewalk cafes, and the evening air is fragrant with jasmine and mimosa. And when you see the pastel colored houses with the red-tiled roofs, colorful flowers spilling out of window boxes and balconies, and the trim wooden sailing boats with their tall masts bobbing gently next to sleek, black and white yachts, don’t be surprised if your “inner artist” wants to come out and do a little painting too.
St. Tropez is still one of the favorite vacation spots of the “tres chic.” Walk through the open-air market in the Place des Lices (it’s open on Tuesday and Saturday mornings), and you’ll hear accents from all over the world. International stars of stage and screen come to see and be seen, and you never know who you’ll catch sight of while enjoying a cup of coffee or glass of wine at one of the many outdoor cafes. In fact, people watching is one of the favorite pastimes here, especially during the spring and summer months, when the sidewalks and narrow winding roads are crowded with tourists and sun worshippers.
The beaches of St. Tropez are almost as famous as the village itself. Arguably the most famous is the “Plage de Pampelonne” which offers almost 5 km of glaring white sand, exotic boutiques, tiny sidewalk cafes and elegant restaurants. If you want to rub elbows with the “beautiful people,” stop in at Club 55 after dark for a drink and a little dancing.
At the north end of St. Tropez, you’ll find the “Plage de Tahiti” which is another well-known haunt of famous – and infamous – celebrities. It’s always crowded, so go early if you want to find a place to stake a claim and lay your towel for the day.
Other beaches that offer breathtaking views, and great places to cool off in the Med are the Bouillabaisse, Baneliers and Salins beaches. Or head south past the Plage de Pampelonne to Cap Camart, and just beyond it – a little less accessible but much less crowded because of it – are the “Plage de l’Escalet” and the “Plage de la Briande.” And if you’re feeling adventurous and really want to get away from the crowds, go a little further south until you reach “Gigaro” – a truly beautiful beach and the village of La Croix Valmer.
All together, there are over 40 beaches in this area of the French Riviera alone, so if you want to lay in the sun, soaking up the rays during your vacation, you won’t have to visit the same beach twice. But if your taste runs to the more adventurous or active, then you’ve still come to the right place for your French Riviera vacation! You’ll can find all of these activities (and more) here: Amusement parks, biking, boating, golf, hiking, tennis, raquetball, several fitness centers, fishing, horseback riding, miniature golf, surfing, swimming, snorkleing/scuba diving, windsurfing, para-sailing, jet-skiing, sailing, etc. And hang onto your credit cards, because the shopping here is out-of-this-world! You can find a little bit of everything from the very inexpensive to the very, very expensive and luxurious.
And if you enjoy a good meal, then dining on the French Riviera is an experience to be savored. From the tiny sidewalk cafes, where the owner is just as likely to be your chef, to the fabulous three and four – star restaurants, eating has been raised to an art form. You’ll find the food is always fresh, using the finest ingredients of the season, and presented so that it looks as beautiful as it tastes. (And don’t even think about rushing through a meal. Here food is savored and enjoyed, and your waiter will never try to rush you.)
When you’re tired of soaking up the sun, move inside and soak up a little culture instead. St. Tropez is home to some unique museums, avant guard art galleries and there are special concerts, exhibits and special events scheduled year round.
A few places that should not be missed include:
The “Musee de l’Annoncaide” (Place Georges Grammont, near the harbor). The museum is housed in the former chapel of the Annonciade. It opened in 1995 and now contains one of the best modern art collections in the entire Riviera. Many of the paintings on permanent exhibt are of St. Tropez itself, but there are also paintings by artists such as Seurat and Matisse that make it well worth the visit. Other artists who are spotlighted include Bonnard, Braque, Dufy, Utrillo, Derain and Maillol.
The Open Air Market (Place de Lices) Open on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, the open-air market is a fun and interesting way to spend a few hours. You’ll want to sample some of the amazing fresh fruits and vegetables, haggle with the street venders and maybe pick up a souvenir or two. Bring your camera, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for celebrities!
Le Quartier de la Ponche is the old part of the city. It’s easy to get lost wandering around the narrow twisted streets and back alleys, although if you do, just stop and ask for directions – even people who don’t speak a word of English understand the word “harbor” and will be happy to explain how you get back.) And you’ll enjoy exploring the shops and houses that are solid reminders of the days before St. Tropez became “hip.”
Musee Naval (Rue de la Citadelle) is a memorial to the days when St. Tropez meant more to sea captains and admirals than to the sun worshippers of today. There are scale models of cannons and ships, old photos of the town, and a wide variety of interesting little oddities. The museum is a part of the Citadel, a structure dating back to the 1500s. (And if you get hungry during your visit, the Citadelle is a great place to take a break and have a light picnic lunch as well!)
La Maison de Papillons (Rue Etienne Berry) Papillon is the French word for butterfly. The “House of Butterflies” is one of the most incredible places to visit in St. Tropez. It houses over 4,500 different species of butterflies, including some that are almost extinct.
When you’re wandering around St. Tropez, don’t forget the nearby hills and mountains. Two of the small medieval villages that are worth exploring are Eze and St. Paul de Vence, now populated by artisans and crafts people. Or if you prefer, plan a trip to nearby Roquebune, with its castle that goes back to the days of Charlemagne. La Turbee offersvistors a look at Roman ruins and monuments – and is a vibrant testimony to the strength and power of the Roman Empire of the past.
No matter how long you choose to stay, you’ll find it difficult to tear yourself away from the beauty and excitement of St. Tropez. Even before you leave, don’t be surprised if you’re already planning to come back.
Cheryl Antier, an American writer living in the French Riviera invites you to learn all about the best places to go and things to do if you’re planning a vacation here! Why settle for an ordinary vacation, when you can make it an extraordinary one? French Riviera Vacation Guide [http://www.frenchrivieralife.com]
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