BY CORDELIA MESEROW
From the Cap d’Antibes, my journey along the Côte d’Azur continued southward to St. Tropez. Chanel designer, and frequent St. Tropez visitor, Karl Lagerfeld once said, rather incredulously, “You were never told, that St. Tropez is paradise?” Well, no, Monsieur Karl, I was not! Heretofore, I was unaware of the paradise that the town of St. Tropez would hold prior to my arrival. But I was certainly excited to find out.
Traveling to St. Tropez is challenging. The town has no train station, and it is over 60 miles away from the Nice airport. After doing a bit of research, I found the easiest way to get to St. Tropez was either by car or by boat. Choosing the latter, I set off from Juan les Pins on a morning trip operated by Riviera Lines, where for 45 euro, one can take an hour or so ride to the new port of St. Tropez. Many passengers with whom I traveled were using the boat for a day trip as Riviera Lines operates both aller simple (one-way) and aller retour (round trip), options. I, however, chose to disembark and stay in St. Tropez longer than an afternoon.
Upon my arrival, my friend with whom I was traveling and I had made lunch reservations at Le Club 55, located on the beaches of Le Pampelonne. Le Pampelonne is approximately three miles away from the new port, and one must drive there. There is no Uber and obtaining a taxi is near impossible – I recommend having one’s hotel arrange transportation if coming from town, which is what I chose to do.
Along Le Pampelonne, there are a variety of beach clubs, including outposts of Bagatelle and the Nikki Beach franchise, both of which are very popular. While places like Bagatelle and Nikki Beach offer a more nightclub-like atmosphere, Club 55 is pleasantly low-key and revels in its longstanding history of being an emblem of the “old” St. Tropez.
Club 55, named for the year in which it was founded (1955), began when film director Roger Vadim was shooting the Brigitte Bardot film …And God Created Woman. The Colomont family, descendants of whom still own the restaurant and beach club, owned a cabana on the beaches of Pampelonne, and when Vadim and Bardot and other members of the cast were shooting the film, they mistook the Colomont cabana for a restaurant. The casting director of the movie asked the Colomonts if they would cook for the film crew, and the Colomonts obliged. With that, Club 55 was born. As the years went on, Club 55 evolved into an invitation only beach club and restaurant for friends of the Colomonts into the bustling operation of today. One enters the Club through a narrow, bamboo-covered walkway and finds the restaurant portion of “Cinquante-Cinq,” as it is often referred. I happened to go to Club 55 on the 4th of July and was delighted and surprised to discover that the restaurant had been fully outfitted in American flags in celebration of the holiday.
Following lunch, one can venture southward toward the beach club portion of Le Club 55. Similar to the beach clubs at Cap d’Antibes, you can reserve a chair and umbrella and also order snacks and drinks to your chair. Club 55 also has beautiful wooden cabanas along the beach, which are ideal for larger groups and families looking for some shade from the Riviera sun. Should you arrive to Club 55 by boat, the club offers pickups and drop-offs in a small raft that one can board at the delightfully rustic pier in the Mediterranean. There is also a chic shop on the beach with beautiful scarves, blankets, bathing suits, and tunics, good for some momentary shade and retail therapy.
St. Tropez embraces its glamorous reputation. The anchored yachts along the new port are so stunning, they are impossible to ignore. Along the port near the various “quais” on which the yachts are docked, are a variety of fun restaurants for lunch and dinner. For lunch, Le Sénéquier is a fantastic option right on the water, with a chic daytime crowd. Sitting on a table facing the port is best. At dinner, there are two restaurants that offer lively cabaret shows and combination indoor/outdoor seating: Le Quai, which is just adjacent to Le Sénéquier, and L’Opéra-St. Tropez, which is about a block away. In the high season in St. Tropez, it is imperative to make reservations for dinner, as the nightlife scene can be very crowded.
While Le Quai and L’Opéra are certainly entertainment-focused restaurants, do not mistake them for the entire nightlife scene of St. Tropez. In St. Tropez, a must-go is the nightclub, Les Caves du Roy. After a late hour dinner, stroll north up one of the winding cobblestone roads to the Hôtel Byblos. Walk through the cavernous Grecian themed lobby and outside, near the pool, is a set of stairs leading down to “Les Caves.” The club is lively every night but does not get going until around 1 or 2 AM and stays open until the wee hours. Before the club starts to pick up, it is nice to sit in the outdoor lounge of the Byblos and enjoy a cocktail by the pool before descending into the nightclub.
After a night out at Les Caves, a late morning stroll and breakfast can be a delightful treat. St. Tropez has great shopping with outposts of all the major labels from Chanel, Hermes, Fendi, Gucci, and, notably, Dior. The Dior store in St. Tropez just a couple blocks north of the new port has a beautiful outdoor garden and café and is lovely for a late morning brunch. Walking around the store following a breakfast at Dior is also a must. Get your wallet ready!
Before leaving St. Tropez, you must not forget to try the local delicacy: a Tarte Tropézienne. A Tarte Tropézienne is a cake-like pastry with a custard crème in between a brioche with crystalized sugar on top. The “Tarte” was created in 1955 by pâtissier Alexandre Micka, who had been hired to cater for the Brigitte Bardot film …And God Created Woman. It was Bardot’s idea to name the pastry after the town of St. Tropez, and the dessert has been a longstanding favorite of the actress – I can certainly see why!
Après La Tarte, it was time to say au revoir to St. Tropez. I again boarded a Riviera Lines boat at the new port, which would bring me back northward to Nice. From Nice, I was headed to the petite medieval village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the final stop on my grand tour of La Côte d’Azur. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is approximately a half-hour drive north from the port of Nice. One can take a bus very inexpensively from Nice to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, but with luggage, that can be rather taxing. My friend and I instead chose to just take an Uber, which arrived quickly and took us directly to our hotel, Hôtel Le Saint Paul, a stunning Relais & Chateau property, right in the town’s center.
At Le Saint Paul, the staff is warm and the most “amicable” you could imagine. Immediately upon arrival, the manager greeted my friend and myself and anticipated our need for a restaurant for dinner, as well as the kind of restaurant we would like, without my even asking for “une récommendation!” The hotel’s building dates back to the 1500s but has been modernized with all of the necessary amenities (Wi-Fi, AC etc.). The lobby is adorably cozy and always has Pellegrino and cold lemon-water on offer, a necessity in the Riviera heat. I could not say enough good things about Hôtel Le Saint Paul and my stay there; the manager and I made a sincere promise that I must return aussitôt que possible!
The village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is perched on top of a beautiful hill, directly north of the Mediterranean. The town’s medieval roots are wholly evident upon arrival – from the cobblestone streets, to the ancient architecture, and the narrow winding roads. The town is incredibly small, but do not mistake size for lack of culture. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is steeped in history, most notably for its reputation as being a center of modern and contemporary art. Galleries line the village streets, and in the windows one can glimpse anything from Impressionist-inspired oil paintings to Jeff Koonsian cartoon sculptures.
I have a deep love and appreciation for fashion, and Chanel is my favorite “marque” of all. Imagine my surprise and delight then, to wander into Atelier Galerie Morin in Saint-Paul-de-Vence where I discovered repurposed objects ranging from pill capsules to gasoline tanks with designer logos and emblems, Chanel chief amongst them. Incroyable!
When visiting Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the Fondation Maeght is a must-see. Similar to other “fondations” in the United States such as the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the Frick Collection in New York, or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Fondation Maeght was endowed by and houses works from the collection of its original owners: Marguerite and Aimé Maeght. Aimé Maeght was an art dealer and gallerist in the mid-20th century and was close friends with artists such as Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Pierre Bonnard, among many others. The foundation opened in 1964, and its building is a stunning example of period architecture. With its half cylindrical structures and consistent use of white, it almost looks something out of the Jetsons television show.
The Fondation Maeght houses more than 12,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art, ranging from large-scale Bonnard paintings on the first floor, to the stunning Miró sculpture gardens outside. There is space on the first floor of the galleries for rotating exhibitions, which can range from the traditional to the bizarre. The exhibit on when I arrived was by an artist who had used sculptures of the human brain and juxtaposed them with different objects. The sculptures varied in scale and were both inside in the gallery as well as outside on the terrace. The Fondation Maeght continues to operate without any public funding and is still run by the Maeght family to this day. It also has enjoyed some recent publicity as it was the site of the Louis Vuitton 2018 Cruise Collection show by Nicolas Ghesquière this past May.
Following a morning trip to the Maeght, my friend and I headed to La Colombe d’Or for lunch. La Colombe d’Or is a famous hotel in the town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Known for its stunning art collection, the hotel’s lobby and dining room has paintings and drawings from Picasso, Bonnard, Chagall, and Miró, many of which were donated by the artists themselves; the hotel often took works of art as payment for allowing the artists to stay there free of charge. Today, the hotel’s restaurant is as busy as ever. One dines outside in a beautiful tree covered courtyard with a Miró mural on one of the walls. The menus are in loopy cursive script and strictly en Français – my friend was grateful for my translations!
On one of my final evenings in the Riviera, my friend and I had dinner on the terrace of the restaurant Le Tilleul. Le Tilleul is perched near the edge of the hill where Saint-Paul-de-Vence is located and feels like a piece of heaven. The restaurant is lively and reasonably priced, and the service is warm and friendly, just like the rest of the people in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. While dining, one can glimpse the stunning homes located on the hill below, as well as the Mediterranean.
This particular evening happened to be La Nuit Blanche, an evening in which all of the villagers close their stores early, wear white, and celebrate the local business owners with a petite “fête” in the town. The festivities, a DJ, an artist, etc, all happened to be going on next to Le Tilleul and, my friend and I both happened to be wearing white. Quelle coincidence! We could not believe our luck and joined the party.
Following the festivities, we walked back to the hotel, and, I, having worn the wrong shoes for cobblestone streets chose to walk barefoot – something I would never dream of doing anywhere else. However, there is something magical about Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The combination of the kindness of the local people, the ancient buildings, and the Riviera sunshine, are bewitching. There is no place like it.
Later that week, it was time to bid goodbye to the Riviera. While I cannot wait to go back, my first trip to the Riviera is one that has memories that I will cherish forever. And, of course, I reminded myself of the promise I had made to the manager at Le Saint Paul – I would return. So it was not adieu – it was simply au revoir.