Somewhere for the Weekend: St-Tropez

The beautiful people have shipped out, but this weekend the yachties drop anchor for a week of serious racing and relaxation

WHY GO NOW?

In summer, St-Tropez is full of yachts belonging to the super-rich. However, the real sailing fraternity waits until late September before floating into town for Les Voiles de St-Tropez. The annual nautical festival (this year from 28 September until 6 October) consists of a series of regattas and races, with crews competing from all over the world. Spectators crowd into St-Tropez to watch the races, which start either from the Tour du Portalet or Les Salins beach, south-west of the town. There are also land-based events, including a parade and a boules competition. Les Voiles is organised by the Société Nautique (00 33 4 94 97 08 76; www.snst.org).

DOWN PAYMENT

The nearest international airport is Toulon, 40 miles from St-Tropez. Buzz (0870 240 7070; www.buzzaway.com) flies to Toulon from Stansted, and a return fare this weekend will cost you £143.30. An alternative is to fly to Nice, 60 miles to the east. There are direct flights with a number of airlines: British Airways (0845 77 333 77; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham; Air France (0845 0845 111; www.airfrance.co.uk) from Heathrow and Birmingham; easyJet (0870 6000 0000; www.easyJet.com) from Luton and Liverpool; BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com) from Heathrow; and bmibaby (0870 264 2229; www.flybmi.com/bmibaby) from the East Midlands. A return flight with easyJet from Gatwick this weekend will cost £154.85. The road trip from Nice to St-Tropez takes about 90 minutes and a taxi costs around €150 (£95).

INSTANT BRIEFING

St-Tropez is on the southern side of the gulf of the same name, opposite Sainte-Maxime and just along the coast from Port Grimaud. Both can be reached by regular ferry services (00 33 4 94 49 29 39 or 00 33 4 94 96 51 00) from the old port. The town's position on the end of a peninsula can make it tricky to get in and out, sometimes causing spectacular traffic jams at the height of the season. The main tourist office (00 33 4 94 97 45 21; www.saint-tropez.st) is on the harbour, at the point where Quai Jean Jaurès meets rue Laugier. It is open daily from 9.30am-12.30pm, and 2-7pm. Anyone planning to sightsee should consider investing in a Museums Pass, €8 (£5) from any of the museums. The best way to get a feel for the area is to take a walk. The Sentier du Littoral, or coastal footpath, is a well-marked trail, which starts at the Tour du Portalet on the old harbour, and continues for just over six miles as far as Tahiti beach at the northern end of Pampelonne bay.

REST ASSURED

The Hôtel Sube on Quai Suffren (00 33 4 94 97 30 04), offers rooms with a harbour view from €250 (£157); garden rooms are much cheaper, starting at €90 (£57). The best hotel in town is generally acknowledged to be the Byblos, on Avenue Paul Signac in the old town (00 33 4 94 56 68 00; www.byblos.com). Double rooms at this time of year start at €430 (£270). There are surprisingly few hotels in the old town, but an increasingly popular one is the stylish Yaca on Boulevard d'Aumale (00 33 4 94 55 81 00), where rooms start at €300 (£189). Nearby is La Ponche, at 3 rue des Remparts (00 33 4 94 97 02 53; www.laponche.com) perched above a patch of beach, with rooms from €140 (£88).

For something cheaper, try the Hôtel Le Baron, on rue de l'Aïoli (00 33 4 94 97 06 57; www.hotel-le-baron.com), which has rooms from €53 (£33). The Byblos, Yaca and La Ponche close for the winter, but the others remain open all year.

MUST SEE

The most popular sights in St-Tropez are the celebrities who haunt the place during the summer months. Of a less seasonal nature is browsing around the old quarter. Since most people spend their time in or around the harbour, this is often deserted except over lunchtime, when the crowds descend on the restaurants. This area is charming, full of small squares such as the Place aux Herbes, with its daily fish market, and the Place de l'Ormeau, recognisable by a huge elm tree in the middle which shades most of the square. The most interesting museum in St-Tropez is the Musée de l'Annonciade, a 16th-century chapel-turned-art gallery that houses works by many of the artists who used to paint here, Matisse, Signac, Dufy and Bonnard among them. The Citadel, on a hill on the eastern side of town, contains the naval museum; it's interesting, but the main reason for a visit to this old fortress is the view it offers out over the bay. For a different perspective, take one of the many boat trips on offer at the harbour. An hour-long trip costs around €8 (£5). You can charter your own boat, although you may need to opt for more than an afternoon's excursion. Luxury Sunseeker yachts can be chartered from Jacaranda Travel (020-8979 0401, www.jacarandatravel.co.uk); expect to pay £2,200 upwards for a night, including all meals and drinks.

MUST BUY

St-Tropez is an excellent place to buy all those things for which Provence is famous such as herbs, olive oil and soap. There's a colourful, twice-weekly market held on Tuesday and Saturday mornings on the Place des Lices. The streets in the old town are also worth exploring, particularly rue Clémenceau. Here, Au Ribier is an excellent place for herbs and spices, and Olivier and Co has a wide selection of olive oils. The best designer-clothes shops are along rue Gambetta and rue Sibilli.

MUST EAT

Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of excellent restaurants. The most famous chef in St-Tropez is Christophe Leroy, whose main restaurant, at Les Moulins de Ramatuelle, is gaining an enviable reputation, and who owns two other restaurants in town. His Table du Marché, 38 rue Georges Clémençeau (00 33 4 94 97 85 20), is a bistro offering light meals made from local ingredients. Upstairs is the Sushi Bar, open in the evenings from mid-April until mid-October, serving a selection of Asian food. For food that is more typical of the region, try Leï Mouscardins at the Tour du Portalet on the old port (00 33 4 94 97 29 00; closed Tuesday and Wednesday), which is famous for its bourride and bouillabaisse.

INTO THE NIGHT

Most of St-Tropez's nocturnal activity takes place in the various bars around the harbour, the most stylish of which is Sénéquier (00 33 4 94 97 00 90), on Quai Jean Jaurès. For clubbing, the most popular spot is currently Papagayo (00 33 4 94 97 07 56) at the Résidence du Port. It has been a St-Tropez landmark since the 1960s. A trendy alternative is Les Caves du Roy (00 33 4 94 97 16 02), the nightclub at the Byblos hotel, which is open every Friday and Saturday throughout the year, and every night during July and August.

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