The personality and fame of Saint-Tropez are far bigger than the place itself.
It’s not unkind to say that the resort isn’t more than a village, and so isn’t jam-packed with things to do.
In the end though, the allure of Saint-Tropez rests is its glamour, undimmed since its star first rose more than 60 years ago.
It’s all about being here, and being seen to be here, and being able to tell everyone that you’ve been here.
And if you are seduced by the decadence then feel free to splurge on designer clothing and dine at unapologetically expensive restaurants.
Or maybe remind yourself that the best things in life are free when you feel the rush of the Mistral or you see that unique light that spurred the post-impressionists to pick up their brushes.
Lets explore the best things to do in Saint-Tropez:
If you need proof that Saint-Tropez was at the vanguard of art at the turn of the 20th century you’ll find it in this converted 16th-century chapel, away from the chaos of the port.
We start with Paul Signac, the pointillist artist who was enchanted by the light in Saint-Tropez in 1892 and invited friends like Matisse, Derain, Cross and Marquet to join him.
Several works by Signac are on show, as are six by Henri Matisse and many more by the likes of Braque, Vallotton, Delaunay and Bonnard.
The collection concentrates on the early-modern movements from the 1890s onwards, like pointillism, fauvism and Les Nabis.
2. Citadelle de Saint-Tropez
East of Saint-Tropez and rising above Pointe de Cimetière is an early-17th-century fortress.
With moats and counterscarps on a hexagonal plan it was established after the French Wars of Religion as a key defence between Toulon and Antibes, guarding what was then a frontier.
The fortress was called into action pretty quickly, withstanding an attack by 21 Spanish galleons in 1637. The maze-like interiors are the evocative setting for a Maritime Museum, which has been refurbished in the last few years and has antique globes, model ships, maps, canons and firsthand accounts from 17th-century officers and sailors.
3. Saint-Tropez Harbour
If you’re put off by the overpriced bars, restaurants and posh fashion houses, at least you won’t have to pay to soak up Saint-Tropez’ opulent ambience.
A couple of streets in from the water are unpretentious joints selling crêpes and soft drinks, which definitely beats €10 for a pastis on the quay! Take a stroll along the Jean Réveille jetty that keeps the Mediterranean out, look back awestruck at the yachts and bask in the light and ochre hues that wowed the early-modern painters more than a century ago.
The quayside is full of painters trying to capture this beauty, and you might like to browse their work for a souvenir.
4. Plage de l’Escalet
Safe in a recess between Cap Camarat and Cap Taillat, Plage de l’Escalet is in fact a chain of three beaches with a blend of sand and pebbles, each separated from the next by rounded rocks.
The beach closest to the car park fills up quickly in the summer, but if you’re patient enough to walk around the bay the crowd starts to thin a little.
Thanks to the headlands these shimmering turquoise waters are unaffected by the Mistral or sea currents, and so are unbeatable for snorkelling and bathing.
5. Musée de la Gendarmerie et du Cinéma
If the name of this attraction sounds oddly specific, it’s because the facade of Saint-Tropez’ police station has starred in numerous films.
It was used many times as an establishing shot by the director Jean Girault for his Gendarme films, starting with the classic comedy Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez with Louis de Funès . Obviously this single reference might be a bit tenuous, so the museum also aims to tap into Saint-Tropez’ silver screen allure with interactive exhibits and movie memorabilia.
The film that started it all was And God Created Woman in 1956, starring Brigitte Bardot.
6. Plage de Pampelonne
Five kilometres of fine white sand and warm waters, Plage de Pampelonne is easily the longest beach near Saint-Tropez and has more than a sprinkle of stardust.
The beach has been an institution since 1955 and is just another of those things you have to do, to get the photos and be able to tell your friends where you’ve been.
There are beach clubs all along the shore, where you’ll need to reserve a sun lounger, and a shuttle bus will deliver you here from the centre resort.
That’s unless you’ve got a private yacht, chauffeur or helicopter as many of your fellow bathers will!
7. Marché de Saint-Tropez
On Tuesday and Saturday mornings in summer as many as 120 stallholders set up shop in the shade of the plane trees on Place des Lices, a few steps from the harbour.
Come for pastries, fresh fruit and vegetables, charcuterie, fish, seafood, artisanal products, flowers, clothes, Provençal herbs, kitchen utensils, vintage posters and much more besides.
As with the best French markets rotisserie chicken and other freshly-made fare will be sure to whet your appetite.
In winter there’s still a market here on Place des Lices, only it’s a little smaller outside the tourist season.
8. Chapelle Sainte-Anne
Completed in 1618, Chapelle Saint-Anne hides in a conifer grove on Mont Pécoulet, a hill behind Saint-Tropez.
In the 19th century long-distance sailors would ride up to this spot to seek protection from St.
Anne before departing.
The chapel is in a very pretty spot, blessed with vistas of the resort and the azure sea, but also appears in the annals of pop culture.
Mick and Bianca Jagger were married here in 1971, and guests included Paul and Linda McCartney, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr.
9. Maison des Papillons
This museum has been set up by Dany Lartigue, the grandson of André Messager, who managed the French Opera and counted cultural giants like Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy as his friends.
Lartigue has spent a lifetime gathering 35,000 butterfly specimens, which are presented to the public in the family home in the centre of Saint-Tropez.
In these rooms you can see every single French butterfly species, as well as exotic specimens from the Amazon and the Solomon Islands.
There’s a two-pronged appeal about the museum; in its entomological value, but also the artful way that the butterflies are arranged.
10. Sentier du Littoral
It’s reassuring how, despite what must have been a great temptation to allow a free-for-all, so much of the coastline around Saint-Tropez remains undeveloped.
You’ll see for yourself on the Sentier du Littoral, a trail granting you access to more than 40 kilometres of coastline all the way from Saint Tropez to Cap Taillat.
As you push on next to the sea, you’ll journey over high cliffs and climb pine and juniper-flecked limestone outcrops with steps grooved into the rock.
And if you remember to bring your swim stuff you won’t be short of opportunities for dips in transparent rock pools.
11. Nautical Sport
On the little knot of streets of Saint-Tropez you’ll encounter not only refined restaurants, high-end fashion emporia, eye-wateringly expensive real estate agents but also yacht charter companies.
If you have a few thousand Euros burning a hole in your pocket you can hire a crewed or bareboat yacht for a week and live in the lap of luxury, tacking to the local beaches as you please.
There’s sailing of a different kind during the Violes de Saint-Tropez, one of the preeminent regattas on the French Riviera, unfolding over a week at the end of September.
12. Port Grimaud
At the deepest nook of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez is an enchanting urban development begun in the early 60s and the brainchild of architect and urban planner François Spoerry.
Port Grimaud is a tangle of waterways between rows of buildings designed to look like the old fisherman’s houses in the old quarter of Saint-Tropez.
Each of these homes is directly next to the water and has a berth for a boat, usually filled by a sleek-looking yacht as this “Little Venice” is home for some very wealthy individuals.
Minutes into the hinterland of Saint-Tropez is this village perched 200 metres above the sea.
Gassin has a slender, elliptical street -plan as it nestles on a narrow ridge that offered protection during raids by Barbary pirates, which were frequent in the Early Modern Age.
The village is a lot of fun to explore, with two historic churches, passages and winding stairways.
Best of all is the Table d’Orientation on Place du Portail Neuf, where you can meditate over a heart-stopping panorama of the Gulf of Saint Tropez and out to the dark green peaks of the Esterel Massif.
With Les Bateaux Verts ferries you can hop from Saint-Tropez to Port Grimaud, and also across to the charming resort of Sainte-Maxime on the other side of the gulf.
After landing you could have a wander around the harbour and old quarter, which are refreshingly down-to-earth: There are French local shops and a large community that lives here all-year-round, not just in high season.
Then see what you can find along 10 kilometres of coastline.
Plage de la Nartelle is the pick of the beaches, with golden sands and clear waters but none of the crowds you’ll be accustomed to at Saint-Tropez.
15. Food and Drink
Just as Brigitte Bardot was putting Saint-Tropez on the map, the resort also gained a trademark dessert pastry.
In fact Tarte Tropézienne, the creation of Polish-born chef Alexandre Micka is said to have been named by Bardot while she was filming And God Created Woman.
Tarte Tropézienne is compose of brioche, whipped cream and crème pâtissière, and pairs well with local rosé wines.
On the subject of wine, there are three caves in the resort but you’re also within striking distance of a host of châteaux for tours.
Rosé makes up 80% of all the wines produced in the surrounding Côtes-de-Provence region.