I hadn’t seen my house for eighteen months. On the first day the restrictions were lifted, May 17th 2021, at 5 am I packed my bag and drove down to the South of France. Having bought a Covid test at inflated price, I was disappointed that neither the English, nor the French customs officers asked to see proof of it. So much for security checks!
After an overnight stay in Burgundy, I reach my house in Grimaud. I was very nervous about what was awaiting my arrival. During the past year, in my absence, the house had been extended and completely renovated. Originally, I had planned to visit the site regularly to check on the progress, but Covid 19 put a stop to that. I only made one visit. Therefore, decisions had to be taken over the phone, looking at plans and photographs … Not easy to pick the colour of the shatters on Zoom. I was lucky to have to work with a good architect who understood my style and my requirements.
As I walk nervously up the drive way, I discovered a brand “new” house. And what a relief to find out what I had planned and worked on over 18 months was now a reality, and as perfect as I visualised it.
Then came the fun part – positioning the furniture, ordering a few new pieces, hanging the pictures. A designer’s dream! After a month of hard but enjoyable work I was ready to welcome friends and family, and to show off the new surroundings. Applauds all round, but of course they are my supporters!
Having guests is a good reason to re visit all the surrounding sites. I have been coming to Provence since I was a teenager and I never stop loving it.
My village is situated on a high hill peak, dominating the Gulf of St Tropez, and surrounded by stunning scenery. It has retained all its authentic character – a castle, a windmill, cobbled streets, vaulted arches, and stone houses, with flowers covering every walls.
In 1962 An architect from the Alsace region discovered a swamp land where the insufficient depth of the water did not allow for safe navigation. After 4 years of administrative procedures and numerous technical difficulties, the foundations were laid, bridges build, canal escalated, and the sea flowed in to give Port Grimaud its character.
Not one of the houses is the same. Each colour, each facade, each shutter is catalogued to allow the original scheme to be totally respected. In 2002 Port Grimaud was classified has a historical monument of the 20th century. It became the template for a multitude of marinas and floating villages worldwide.
Most of the restaurants there are tourists traps, but “ La Table du Mareyeur “ has been run for many years by an English couple, and serves delicious fish and sea foods. And as the sun sets over the canal one watches the boats pass by.
Its where I do my food shopping, go to the bank … have a coffee and watch the world pass by. It doesn’t have the charm of Grimaud or Ramatuelle, but I always enjoy wandering around the old village and its medieval streets.
Perched high up on a rock, it had be nominated “Plus beaux village de France “ Its location is quite exceptional, overlooking vineyards, woods and the Gulf of St Tropez. It has kept its old winding streets and ancient houses. Restaurants abounds on the main esplanade. On a hot evening one comes up to enjoy the scenery and the cool air.
It was built on a hill to defend itself against enemies. Therefore, the different views across the vineyards and the Bay of St Tropez are truly spectacular.
Located on the municipality of Ramatuelle it remains at the origin of the “Tropezian myth”. Its beach establishments have seen all the showbiz celebrities and jet-set parade for half a century.
From Errold Flynn to Jane Fonda, Sylvester Stallone, Elton John, Bono, Johny Hallyday, and recently Paris Hilton …to name but a few , and of course Brigitte Bardot, who in 1955 while filming “ And God created Woman “ turned a simple staff cantine into the most celebrated restaurant ” Le CLUB 55 ” , and made Pampelonne Beach one of the most famous spot on the planet.
Today, Pampelonne Beach looks totally different, after its redevelopment a couple of years ago, and the creation of a dune to protect the coast line.
It was a shock when I first discovered the transformation – I spent every summer there since I was eighteen . But I understand it was vital for the preservation of the coast line. And, in future, the new vegetation will recreate the wild side of Pampelonne, reminiscent of the1950s. The perfect way to reconnect with the ambiance of the place.
Along miles of sandy beach, numerous restaurants compete for the international clientele : “La Cabane Bambou” , “La reserve à la Plage” , “Verde Beach”, “Byblos Beach” etc …
The legendary “Epi Plage” was born in 1959, as an echo of the Saint Germain des Prés Club. It has been recently transformed into a 10 bungalows hotel with bohemian charm, where luxury equal simplicity.
Le Puingoin Bleu
Over the summer I tasted them all. But, my constant favourite is not situated on Pampelonne beach, but in Grimaud. “Le Puingoin Bleu” is a family run restaurant on a small beach. One sits under the trees, water lapping over the feet, for either lunch or dinner, watching the sun set over St Tropez. The food is very simple. The owner cooks the perfect sardines on a large open barbecue. A glass of local Rosé in hand and the memories linger for months after.
LA CROIX VALMER
La Croix Valmer – Lily of the Valley
Situated a few kilometres from St Tropez , at the foot of the Massif des Maures and on the Gigaro beach, its long promenade is a popular spot. For a special treat I enjoy driving guests up the hill above, to The hotel ” Lily of the Valley”. No one is ever distracted by the Philippe Starck interiors, the star there is the spectacular view.
It used to be an ordinary family resort. Recently it had a face lift, and has become an attractive and fun place to spend an evening.
“ La Maison Bleue” serves traditional provencal cooking. A couple of years ago a new owner took charge. All the regulars, myself included, begged him not to change anything. It has remain one of my favourite diner spots.
No reason to go there other than visit L’ Auberge de la Mole. This place has been in the same family for over 50 years. It used to be a caff on the back of a petrol station. Today it’s still a caff, albeit a posher one.
The petrol station is still there, so are the plastic chairs. But the rustic fare is the best of traditional French food. I have been coming back time and time again. It is one of Delia Smith’s favourite restaurants. What better recommendation!
St Tropez Market
Despite the aura surrounding it and its world famous reputation, St Tropez is only a village. Its life began in 1892 when the painter Paul Signac discovered this small fishing village and its exceptional light. His friends and the most important artists of the time – Bonnard, Matisse, Camion, Derain… followed him. Today the lure has not waned, and artists continue to visit the area in search of the ideal landscape.
Yes, in August there are those “gin palaces” in the harbour, music blasting out, crowds “looking at me looking at you” and long queues bumper to bumper on the only road which leads to St Tropez. But, as the writer Colette who lived there most of her life said
“The problem with St Tropez is there is only one road to get there, and the same road to get out. But, who wants to get out?”
I avoid going there during the busy month, but none of my guests can resist the appeal. So, we go there, sometimes by boat from Port Grimaud, to the quaint flea market on the Place des Lices, renowned for its artisanal produce ( lavender, cheeses , smoked garlic ] …and fashion – all displayed together , followed by breakfast at “Senequier”.
We wander around the old village and along the “Sentier du Littoral” up to “La Plage des Graniers”.
The art lovers I take to “L’Annonciade Museum” . The collection on display is astonishing, a testimony to the role played by Saint Tropez in the Avant Garde art of the XX th Century.
La Citadelle Museum
This summer, La Citadelle, the old fort who dominates the town, had a wonderful exhibition of Keith Haring colourful sculptures. Strategically place, one could admire them, as well as the stunning scenery.
By the end of a busy morning my guests appreciate that there is much more to St Tropez than the overcrowded harbour seen in millions of pictures .
I will be back soon …