Saint Tropez, we’re told, was an early Christian martyr whose headless body–along with a rooster and a dog–washed ashore in a leaky rowboat on the beach near what would become his namesake town.
Those who arrive in St. Tropez by boat today do it in much larger and infinitely more stylish craft, with crew to tend to the dogs and helicopters that come with them.
But losing your head–in a good sense–is still the attraction of this hard-partying town in the summer.
We’re here on board the glittering new Regent Seven Seas Explorer and at 732 feet, we’re the biggest ship at anchor in the bay. But remarkably, there are some private yachts floating nearby that approach us in scale. We’ve been partying in an opulence that is arguably among the most luxurious of any cruise ship afloat and dining in restaurants that could gain Michelin stars ashore.
But as long as we’re here, let’s hop a convenient tender in to shore to peek at the competition and see what’s happening in the party capital of the French Riviera.
1) Prime time for People Watching
Our timing is right because July and August is peak season in the capital of conspicuous consumption, whose name is often aptly shortened to St. Trop (yeah, we get it, too much).
Every year, the French seaside city becomes the epicenter for would-be celebrities and offshore plutocrats who arrive with their entourages for multi-week stays at area hotels or private villas or simply dock at the city’s glittery port. That makes the summer population more than 10 times larger than it is in any other season and prices are ratcheted up accordingly. But it’s also the prime time for seriously fascinating people watching.
For the summer Tropezienne, it’s most important to be seen living large. Shops confidently call themselves “Billionaires Paradise” or “F*** You, I’m a Star.” Price tags in art galleries may start at six figures and grocery stores stock $400 bottles of Cristal champagne in the cooler alongside the milk.
2) Window shopping: Is this me?
But don’t be intimidated by the showoffs in their designer sunglasses and cunningly cutoff culottes. Many of the “fashion” stores are selling the same looks in ripped blue jeans and t-shirts you’ll find anywhere else. You’ll just pay a lot more for them here.
In one shop, some unremarkable screen printed t-shirts reading “Bad Girl” were selling for $50 each. On the next counter, identical ones that read “Good Girl” were on sale for $10 less. Could there be a message in that?
3) Making a scene in restaurants
The rule here is to indulge. There’s little in the way of fast food and you are here for the show after all. You want atmosphere and a view with your dinner, so prepare to ante up for the privilege.
You can tell which places are the haunts of the over-the-top set by the cars parked on the streets nearby. Bentleys and Lambos are so last year. This year, you need a Morgan or vintage Shelby Cobra to really stand out.
At quayside restaurant L’Opera, the terrace gives an excellent view of the parties happening on the decks of mega-yachts from all over the world.
But there’s a show going on all around in the restaurant as well. Dancers and acrobats perform on tables or do gyrating sets on gymnastic bars in the glitzy dining areas that are trimmed in gold.
Entrees at restaurants might include pizza with truffles or steak and fois gras. They’re inventive, but prepare to plunk down up to 50 Euros a plate for each experience and a lot more for a choice from the carte of premium wines.
4) The skinny about the beaches
If you’re set on a day on one of the infamous plages, you’ll have to rent a car or arrange a driver because there’s only tiny, rocky Port des Pecheurs beach in the town itself.
Caravans of camper vans arriving from Germany and Britain clog the roads for the “thrill” of going topless (or less) on beaches called Tahiti and Pampelonne, 10 miles south of St. Tropez. Be warned, though, this coast tends to attract more sunbathers than there are available patches of sand.
In reality, the best stretches of the often rocky beaches are private concessions with a shack that’s only in name a club house and food that can set you back 100 Euros with drinks for a rather mediocre lunch. You want shade with that? You’ll need to rent an umbrella for another 25 Euros.
The sunbathers in the all-together aren’t all that inspirational, either. Many are lessons in the effects of gravity on leathered sun addicts who should know better than to show off what they’ve lost through the years. And there are also a lot of folks who stay dressed and are just there for a view. But chacun a son goût.
5) A reassurance about security
The July 14 attack in Nice hit close to home for the guests of Regent Seven Seas Explorer’s inaugural cruise that departed the ship in Monte Carlo and flew out of Nice Airport just two days before the tragedy. When asked for reassurance on cruise travel and safety ashore, Regent and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio had reassuring advice in a press conference.
“Security issues are first and foremost on our minds,” Del Rio said. Ships are self-contained worlds and “we are operating at the highest levels of security, and the ports are operating at the highest level of security.”
He added there are precautions that guests can’t see. While he couldn’t go into all details in a press conference, Del Rio said that divers check beneath ships before they leave ports and that the line takes great precautions when taking on provisions. Dogs are being used to enhance security.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings also subscribes to various safety security services, as well as receiving current information from the U.S. State Department.
Passengers sometimes get upset when a port call is canceled or changed even though itineraries are planned years ahead, Del Rio said. “Sometimes, people think it was done to save money. That’s not the case. Sometimes, we may get news it might not be a good idea to go to that port at that time.”
What’s going on in the world is scary, Del Rio acknowledged, “but we also have to recognize that if it can happen in San Bernardino or in the land of the mouse, it can happen anywhere. It’s important not to give in. Besides, (travel) being our livelihood, it’s our responsibility to thwart this behavior. We can’t let them win, and we’re not going to let them win.”