Lay of the Land
About halfway between Nice and Marseille on France's Mediterranean coast, St. Tropez is located on a fat peninsula that was traditionally secluded because its access was cut off by mountains. The village itself is quite small; in fact, it's almost the same size as the enormous parking lot built on the western edge of town to accommodate high-season visitors. The harbor, one of the best along this coast, was once filled with fishing boats; today it's crowded with yachts, and the waterfront is the town's de facto main street. Neighboring Ramatuelle has the peninsula's best beaches—three long miles of scalloped white sand fronted by the Baie de Pampelonne.
WHEN TO GO
The season begins in mid-April, a lovely time of the year when the mimosas—the feathery yellow flowers emblematic to the South of France—are in bloom. The beach clubs open in May, and the sea is comfortable to swim in by late May or early June. While many old St. Tropez hands consider April and May to be among the most delicious months on the coast, connoisseurs prefer mid-September through October, when the summer crowds are gone and the Med is toasty. Les Voiles de St. Tropez, the late September/early October sailboat regatta that's the gala end-of-season event, pulls a desperately chic international crowd. June is busy but bearable and July is ever more crowded, but August makes the little fishing port a no-go zone. Why? Bumper-to-bumper traffic, outrageous price hikes, and wannabes who outnumber movie stars and millionaires by an enormous ratio. Tip: If you want a Mediterranean holiday in August, do as the locals do and make for the Îles d'Hyères, the gorgeous islands 50 miles west of St. Tropez. They are peaceful even at the height of the season.
HOW TO GET THERE
St. Tropez hasn't been marred by mass tourism like the villages around Nice, partly because there is no airport or train station in the immediate vicinity. Toulon, some 50 minutes away, has direct flights from Paris and Brest, as well as London, Rotterdam, and Brussels. The closest train stations are in Toulon and St. Raphael; direct trains to both cities from Paris take around four hours (www.sncf-voyages.com). Traffic is better from St. Raphael than Toulon. Hyères, the gateway to the Île de Porquerolles and Port Cros, is a 30-minute taxi from Toulon; ferry schedules are at www.tlv-tvm.com.
Upon arriving, you should consider renting a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle. From June to August, the traffic in town and on the surrounding roads is awful; with a two-wheeler, you'll breeze by the crowds and get to the beach before anyone else. Espace 83 rents scooters and motorcycles (2 Ave. General Leclerc, St. Tropez; 33-4-94-55-80-00; firstname.lastname@example.org), while Locations 2 Roues Mas offers bicycles, scooters and motorcycles (3 Rue Joseph Quaranta, St. Tropez; www.location-mas.com).
On Porquerolles, which is all but car-free, a bicycle rented at your hotel is the ideal transportation, while tiny Port Cros is easily managed on foot.
The St. Tropez tourist office (33-4-94-97-45-21) is located on Quai Jaurès not far from the Musée de l'Annonciade in the heart of town. The Web site (www.ot-saint-tropez.com) is available in English and offers detailed information on all aspects of planning a trip here.
For information on visiting Porquerolles, call 33-4-94-58-33-76 or visit www.porquerolles.com. Tourist information on Port Cros is available from the Office de Tourisme Hyères les Palmiers (33-4-94-01-84-50; email@example.com; www.ot-hyeres.fr).View France Factsheet