It's the playground of the rich and famous, but away from the glitz of its best-known stretch of sand are more low-key delights, writes Anthony Peregrine
Summer in St Tropez is an event in itself - the cocktails, the Ferraris, the barely clad girls doused in Krug. This is when the great, the rich and the famous tack in by the yachtful, filling up the swankiest hotels and hidden villas. St Tropez is a cross between a quaint village and a world capital, its little streets studded with the premises of yacht charter firms, top-end estate agencies, ferociously expensive restaurants and big-ticket designer boutiques. The wooded, rocky peninsula location is spectacular, with outstanding views across the sea to the Maures mountains.
Though Pampelonne is the longest, most famous and most popular beach, there are others worth seeking out, precisely because they are less famous and less popular. These beaches are also closer to the village, with most within walking distance.
This is the beach that has fuelled St Tropez's fame since the Fifties. In high summer, it might welcome some 30,000 people a day. The three-mile stretch first came to 20th-century prominence as a key site of the Allied landings in August 1944. Subsequent landings by the great, the rich, the debauched and simply anonymous sun-seekers have been scarcely less hectic.
The starring role has, of course, been taken by the 27 private beach clubs that share the 50-acre space with public stretches of sand. These bar-restaurants please international billionaires, Middle Eastern potentates and showbiz headliners, along with the sort of high-spirited wealthy folk who think it fun to spray hundreds of pounds' worth of champagne over ladies wearing hardly anything at all.
To familiarise yourself with these clubs, you will need a healthy credit card. Daily charges for the hiring of sun loungers, mattresses and parasols start at euros 30 ($A36). And you will rarely get change from euros 50 ($A60) for lunch. It is best to book, or you could be waiting ages for a table.
Club 55 (+33 494 555555; leclub55.fr) is probably the classiest and most discreet beach club, with the choicest clientele. The simplest possible cabin in the early Fifties, Club 55 was adopted as their canteen by the people making And God Created Woman - the Bardot film that put St Tropez on the world stage. To have any chance of a summer table, you must book early.
Tahiti Beach (494 971802; tahiti-beach.com) is the oldest beach club, established in 1946. It fronts a hotel of the same name and appeals to more mature types, in an exclusive sort of way. It's right at the northern end of Pampelonne.
Les Jumeaux (608 078638; plagedesjumeaux.com) is a good choice for children, not least because it has a playground with games available, and a decent children's lunch menu.
Nioulargo (498 126312; nioulargo.fr) is notable for two particularly good restaurants - one serving Italian-Mediterranean fare, the other Indo-Chinese dishes. The surroundings are exotically sophisticated, favouring night-time fiestas.
Moorea (494 978158; moorea-plage-st-tropez.com) is a jolly, lively spot. High (almost kitschily) coloured, it's been in the business of providing good times - at the lower end of the Pampelonne price spectrum - for years.
Aqua Club (494 798435; aqua-club-plage.fr) is a happy-go-lucky establishment where gay and family clienteles mix with government figures, business people and well-heeled foreign contingents who have been regulars for years.
La Cabane Bambou (494 798413; cabanebambouplage.com) is down at the more casual southern end of the beach, and exudes the air of a desert island corrected for the comfort-seeking classes. The huts are fun, the welcome friendly and the Thai cuisine ace.
Venture down the Quai Mistral to the Portalet tower and dodge through to La Glaye beach. Hemmed by buildings from the oldest part of the village, it is compact but perfectly formed. La Glaye is also the first of a succession of three progressively smaller beaches - the other two being La Ponche and de la Fontenette. These are tiny but the only ones in St Tropez village itself. For a dip and an hour or two's relaxation, they're delightful.
Plage de la Bouillabaisse
This is not a beach of enormous beauty, but it is easy to get to, on the road out of the village, beyond the port and car park. The views across the bay to the Maures mountains are splendid and there's generally less of a scrum here. Plus there is a handful of good restaurants.
Plage des Graniers
A short walk out of the village along the Sentier du Littoral takes you to this stretch of sand. Enfolded in wooded hills, the beach is charming, free and has a decent little restaurant - La Plage des Graniers - for a grilled fish lunch (494 973850).
Plage des Salins
This is the last beach before Pampelonne. Indeed, some people erroneously include it as part of Pampelonne. It isn't. It is a wilder and more tranquil creek, accessible by the Sentier du Littoral, if you can manage a walk of something over two hours. The alternative is to go by road, along the Route des Salins from the village. The restaurant here - La Plage des Salins - is a belter: its feet in the water, its mind on fish and other Provencal dishes (494 971566; lessalins.com).
- The Telegraph, London