Frédéric Fekkai’s essential guide to St Tropez
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I was born in Aix-en-Provence, which is just over an hour from St Tropez by car. When I was a child my parents preferred quieter places, so I first came to St Tropez when I was 17 with friends and now I tend to visit every summer. I love the fact that there are no high-rises and all the villas are set into the hills. When I arrive at the port by boat, it really feels like magic.
Though everybody talks about St Tropez, the place that people actually love to stay in is Ramatuelle, which is the neighbouring town. There is such an amazing mix of landscape there, from small creeks and bays to vineyards and forest. Its beach, Pampelonne, is beautiful and it has a legendary restaurant called Club 55 that’s been open since 1955. It’s simple and rustic, with teak benches and tables shaded by sea pine trees, and the food is simple too, but delicious: crudités such as artichokes, carrots and celery with a vinaigrette or aioli and freshly grilled fish. It’s almost impossible to get a table and there’s always a great crowd. A bit further down, there is another great restaurant on the beach called Chez Camille that does the best fish soup and bouillabaisse.
If you are looking to stay somewhere very grand, there’s Le Cheval Blanc, which is Bernard Arnault’s hotel, or La Réserve Ramatuelle which is beautiful. But for me, the chicest of the chic, and where I am currently staying, is Épi 1959. It’s a beach club tucked behind the dunes of Pampelonne beach that has 10 bungalows. It originally opened in 1959 during the heyday of St Tropez, when stars like Brigitte Bardot, Gunter Sachs and Roger Vadim would come here and live large. If I’m going on a beach holiday, I don’t want to see an elevator or a lobby; I want to feel like I’m going to a friend’s house, so I love that you can step out of your bungalow right to the pool and then walk straight to the beach. I also have a satellite, one-chair salon there and a wonderful stylist who manages it throughout the season – though when I am visiting, I like to do hair for friends or VIP clients.
In the morning, I like to take my bike and cycle into town to have a coffee with a pain au beurre at Sénéquier. It’s a café on the harbour with bright red awnings and chairs and it does the best croissants. As I’ve lived in the US for the past 41 years, having a French breakfast is something I really enjoy when I’m back. It’s a great spot for an aperitif too; they do these club sandwiches that are absolutely delicious.
Growing up nearby, I was always fascinated by two great French sculptors – César and Arman – and I love the sculptures by them that are dotted around St Tropez such as César’s famous “Le Pouce” in Port de St Tropez. If you want to see some art, the Musée de l’Annonciade puts on great exhibitions. One thing that everybody in St Tropez does though is go to the local markets. One of the biggest is the Marché de St Tropez: it has everything from summery clothes to souvenirs, but it’s really about the food. You can find everything from the best cheeses and charcuterie to anchoïade and tapenade – all the things that are made from the terroir. There is always a story behind how the thing is grown or how it’s protected. I find it fascinating to see how passionate they are about their food.
Rosé is a big thing here and there are so many great vineyards around. One of my favourite things to do is to visit for some tastings. There’s Château Léoube, which is owned by Lord and Lady Bamford and is spectacular, and there’s also Château Minuty, the Commanderie de Peyrassol and the famous Château d’Esclans, which is home to Whispering Angel. The particularity of rosé here, and why it’s so much better than anywhere else, is because of the mineral-rich soil and the salt, from the sea. The rosé here is such a beautiful, pale pink that it’s almost deceiving because we forget it’s not water and drink it a lot. If you are from Provence, summer without rosé is not possible.
My favourite time to visit is in June or early July, and then again in September when it’s quiet. There is an amazing shift that happens after the 10th of July. St Tropez turns into a zoo – it’s just so busy. I would recommend anyone coming here to try and see Les Voiles de St Tropez – it’s a regatta that takes place from late September to early October and in my opinion, it’s the best week of the year. The light in September is also a whole different colour – it’s spectacular.
A misconception about St Tropez is that it’s all parties and flashy logos. Between mid-July and mid-August, it’s true that some of that is unavoidable, but what I love about it here is the passion that people have for their food and wine and how they really take the time to savour life, to treat the day like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a celebration of living.