As the summer playground of Europe’s youthful rich, St-Tropez is among the most overhyped – and in July and August overcrowded – spots in the Mediterranean. It remains undeniably glamorous, its vast yachts and infamous champagne “spray” parties creating an air of hedonistic excess in high summer. Alas, partaking of its designer charms can seriously dent your budget at any time of the year.
The origins of St-Tropez are unremarkable: a fishing village that grew up around a port founded by Marseille’s Greeks, destroyed by Saracens in 739 and finally fortified in the late Middle Ages. Its sole distinction was its inaccessibility: stuck on a small peninsula that never warranted proper roads, reached only by boat till the end of the nineteenth century.
Soon after, bad weather forced the painter Paul Signac to moor in St-Tropez. He promptly decided to build a house there, to which he invited his friends. Matisse was one of the first to accept, with Bonnard, Marquet, Dufy, Dérain, Vlaminck, Seurat and Van Dongen following suit, and by World War I St-Tropez was an established bohemian hangout. The 1930s saw a new influx, of writers as much as painters: Cocteau, Colette and Anaïs Nin, whose journal records “girls riding bare-breasted in the back of open cars”. In 1956, Roger Vadim filmed Brigitte Bardot here in Et Dieu … Créa la Femme; the cult of Tropezian sun, sex and celebrities promptly took off and the place has been groaning under the weight of visitors ever since.