Photo: Flickr/Michael Gwyther-Jones
SAINT-TROPEZ, France (MainStreet) — Like a jet-set version of the hajj, July is the beginning of a Saint-Tropez pilgrimage uniting aristocrats and luminaries along the French Riviera. Every year, the French seaside city becomes the epicentre of celebrities and a CEO elite that hole up for multiweek stays at area hotels or private villas or simply dock at the city’s glittery port.The European debt crisis has done little to dissipate the high-season fervor of rich and super-rich that populate Pampelonne Beach for afternoon champagne showers and $5,000 jetpack rides over the sea. But in a notably lazy season compared with hotel and restaurant openings in previous years, Saint-Tropez regulars won’t have to search for the latest it-spot. Not much has changed in the past year.
With no new nightclubs or hotels to speak of, it’s a few much-anticipated arrivals among glossy retail stores making headlines. In the centre of town a Louis Vuitton resort flagship of the Paris-based retailer is set to open, with expanded collections of logo-emblazoned leather goods as well as men and women’s apparel. It joins fellow Parisian boutiques such as the newly remodeled Dior and outpost of Chanel (recently blessed by Karl Lagerfeld personally).
While fancier types such as Jay-Z and Sting come by yacht, everyone else makes the grand attempt to score a room at the city’s better hotels, whether they reflect high-end luxury or edgy design. In July, it’s not about where you want to stay but more about what hotel you can afford to get into with as few restrictions as possible. Byblos continues to be the city’s hottest property, and is essentially sold out for July and August. Its Sisley-branded spa is one of the best in the South of France, and its poolside scene is epic and soundtracked with lounge anthems that get you just drunk enough to see the value in a $17,000 jeroboam of Cristal.
Hotel Sezz is the newest hotel in town, a seaside spinoff of the much-loved Paris property that still has that “new hotel smell” as well as an eatery by Pierre Gagnaire and Dom Perignon-branded pool bar, more than making up for being a bit removed from town. Closer to the action of the port, Hotel Ermitage draws the boho and thespian-artiste crowd that prefers to party on premises than be seen at any beach or nightclub. Rooms are comfy chic with a good dose of rustic glamour that’s the antithesis of newer, glossy design properties such as the KUBE Hotel or Muse.
At the beach, lunch crowds bicker year after year about which club is the hottest. Usually the competition comes down to a few usual suspects, including La Voile Rouge with its elevated white terrace, red umbrellas and hip collection of fashionable lunchers. The menu is seafood perfection — usually over heaping of fresh salad or delicious pastas. Given the $1,445 price tag on a casual wine-fuelled lunch for three, it’s a blessing the restaurant recently started accepting credit cards.
Farther down the sand is Le 55, with its pedigree crowd and even tougher lunch reservations. Those that can’t get a table should rent a lounger on the beach and make good use of the staff, which brings beachside lunches directly to your chair. Afterward, everyone unites at Nikki Beach with its landlocked pool party and tabletop dance scene — now celebrating its 10th anniversary at Pampelonne Beach and better than ever from 6 p.m. until sunset.
After sunset the beach clubs come to an abrupt halt and there’s an exodus back into town. For dinner, Cristina’s continues to be the town’s top reservation, with one of the city’s star chefs creating a dazzling Saint-Tropez menu of locally sourced seafood and vegetables. New this year is Strand, the second instalment of a supper club eatery that began in St. Bart’s and continues its it-spot status in the centre of Saint-Tropez. Part serious dining room and part late-night lounge scene, the chef does fancy French cuisine with a beach twist and DJ backbeat.
By night, local hot spots such as Bar du Port lure lounge lovers for early evening cocktails as DJs turn up the volume portside with views of the pedestrian action and dining yachters. Le Quai has a fancier following, people who aren’t shy about sharing their magnums of Dom with lounge guests sprawling out on the sandy-floored front terrace. Two nightclubs rule the city, though, including the perennial Les Caves du Roy and VIP Room by Jean-Roch. The Paris-based VIP Room club brand offers an incredible summer lineup of celebrity hosts that this year includes P. Diddy and members of the Black Eyed Peas.
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