I set off armed with both a full battery and an empty SD card in my camera and a fully charged phone aiming for a photographic tour of St Tropez in perfect spring conditions. Leaving home at 7.30 in the morning the day looked promising and the drive was sunny. I hadn’t been to the mythic, hedonistic town of St Tropez for 12 years I worked out, which was a bit of a shocker as I felt like I’d been fairly recently.
There was a time when JF and I went regularly, most summers, but I realised it was before we moved to the south, when son N° 1 was still a toddler and N° 2 wasn’t even born. How time flies! All the more reason to look forward to a day wandering around with my camera.
But as we got closer the clouds covered over and by the time we arrived it was overcast, flat, grey, dull and cold. What a disappointment after several weeks of perfect blue skies! Bam went the plan for a photographic blog post on the pretty Provençal town.
So having grabbed a coffee on the (empty) Place des Lices I headed up the hill to the Citadel, a 17th century fortress overlooking the town. On my way up I passed plenty of gardeners busily mowing, strimming and preparing the park for spring, but no visitors.
This was a bit of a precursor to the rest of the day although I didn’t know it yet. I didn’t see a single other soul (apart from the cashier in the ticket office) in the fort though I got to share it with a magnificent peacock who obligingly opened his tail just for me.
From its dominant position the Citadel offers the best views over the town and across the bay to Grimaud and Ste Maxime and for a minute or two the clouds parted. I was able to take a couple of photos with some light definition, but the sun didn’t last and it was quickly back to grey.
All alone I felt a little spooked in this ancient historical monument and didn’t stay too long though I’m sure my boys would have enjoyed the canons, drawbridge, turrets and arrow holes.
Having left the Citadel I wandered through the old town, randomly turning here and there as I fancied. I had no plans, no agenda. Occasionally the sun came out brightening up the dusky pink alleyways but every time I thought I’d take a photo there was a bloody white van in the way, or a wheelbarrow, or some messy scaffolding covered in flapping plastic, or a stepladder, or a pile of building rubbish…you get the idea. It didn’t look pretty!
And then I noticed the only people around were builders and painter/decorators. So much for glamorous St Tropez! The more I explored the more I realised absolutely every single shop, café, bar, apartment and house was under renovation. Shutters were closed, windows were papered over, dust was streaming out of vents, the air was perfumed with fresh paint and instead of cicadas or seagulls all I could hear were sanders, saws, drills and hammers.
I began to feel like I’d wandered on to a film set being built; everyone was manically preparing for a grand opening, for the beginning of “the season”, it really felt quite surreal.
If you look beyond all these works, and give it another couple of weeks, you’ll find St Tropez is a lovely town. Its facades are rendered in subtle pale pinks, oranges, yellows and ochres. Almost the only brightly coloured building is the yellow and red church tower that pops out of the middle of the old town.
The port, however, was one place not en travaux and with a distinct lack of mega yachts docked along Quai Suffren, and the few restaurants that were open being utterly devoid of customers, I could almost imagine how the pretty harbour might have looked before St Tropez became the international jetsets resort of choice. When it was just a sleepy fishing village. Before it became a magnet for artists, musicians and film-makers. Before Brigitte Bardot and topless sunbathing brought it notoriety. Before it became the famous party town centred around the mythic Hotel Byblos. A long time ago.
If you want to see St Tropez in action don’t go in March! But don’t go in March expecting quiet either, (although after the builders have stopped for the evening I imagine it’s very quiet). I didn’t expect the renovation mania that I stumbled upon at all but if you look beyond that, it’s possible to spend a lovely day enjoying St Tropez out of season.
Very few restaurants were open but La Tarte Tropeziénne Boulangerie/Salon du Thé, home of the eponymous Tarte Tropézienne, was open for business as usual. It is located on the central square, Place des Lices, normally buzzing with the clink of boules as one of France’s most renowned pétanque pitches though, you guessed it…it was strangely empty in March!
I met JF at La Tarte Tropézienne and after a delicious lunch consisting of a warm goat’s cheese in filo salad followed by a generous café gourmand (which considering its fame and position right on the square was very reasonably priced) we headed back home.
Have you ever been somewhere that was completely closed up? Somewhere that took you by surprise? I’d love to hear from you.
Street art and charm in Le Panier Marseille
An evening walk in St Paul de Vence
Secret Riviera: La Colle sur Loup
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This made me laugh! Top tip not to go in March and I especially like the picture of the peacock’s bottom
Great post, there must’ve been such a sense of anticipation! I visited in late September when St Tropez was just closing down, it was pretty calm compared to how hectic the peak of summer must be!
St Tropez in your pictures looks so quiet and peaceful. I think travelers have to find some balance of finding the place empty or being full of tourists. Not easy task sometimes. Thanks for sharing.
We adored St Tropez and the surrounding area. It’s not all the glitz and glamour people make it out to be. The old town is just amazing.
haven’t been yet – on or off-season. But I always like seeing touristy places without the tourists – to see what they are really like. I imagine St Tropez must’ve been a lovely, quaint fishing village before it became “famous”. Your photos are great, and how lovely – the peacock opening his feathers just for you ;).
Lovely photos. Haven’t had St Tropez on my list–not much of a French Riviera person but you might make me change my mind.
I’d love to change your mind Sue, there’s so much more to the French Riviera than its glitz and glamour reputation. You just need to get away from the main coastal areas and you’ll find ancient unspoilt villages, magnificent Alpine scenery, olive groves etc.
I love going places offseason! You have shown so many different sides to St. Tropez and it is so clear that there is much more than glamour and glitz!
Yes even St Tropez can be surprising!
I love going to places like this off season. The less crowded the better! Thanks for sharing your experience in St. Tropez.
Totally, the less crowded the better, one of the joys of living here we can go off season.
I enjoy traveling out of season and hope to have the opportunity to do more of it in the future. St. Tropez looks lovely even while being renovated!
Off season is nearly always better, unfortunately for lots of travel we don’t have a choice with school holidays etc. I hope you are able to do more soon.
You have about the same amount of luck with scaffolding as I do! I even started a special folder for all my sodding scaffold pictures!!! I hope you’ve had the opportunity to go back since on a sunny day
What a wonderful time to experience a very different side to the city. I sometimes rather enjoy seeing things out of season to get a little different perspective. I also loved your comment about thinking you had been there just recently, I am forever thinking the same thing and realising it was 20 years ago! Thanks for linking to #TravelAtHome
stunning photos despite the disappointment of the weather, I love the ones of the peacock and the men outside the interior design shop
Yes – we went to the Danish summer town of Ebeltoft in February last year. Everything was closed and shuttered and quiet. Sometimes it is fun to have a place to yourself. St. Tropez still looks amazing off-season. Thanks for sharing
I guess so Emma!
It is very pretty – when you look past the white vans, scaffolding and piles of builders’ rubble!!
Thanks Swags, I really hope you get to Lou Messugo one day, even in March (other places are open!)
Thanks Vlad, the little breaks in the cloud every now and then helped create better lighting for photos.
You managed to get some nice pictures, despite being cloudy 🙂 I had a similar experience in The Hague when I went out in the evening and wandered on some streets where all the restaurants and shops were closed. Until I reached a square with a few restaurants open that was packed with people, haha 🙂
You still managed to get some great pictures Phoebe – even if they were of white vans and boarded up shops. I particularly like the photos of the peacock! I’m really surprised it was all so quiet and shut up but sometimes it is really lovely to see a town when it is completely out of season like that…we’ve had it in the Alps in between the ski and biking season – it’s bizarrely quiet. I’ve never been to St Tropez – need to pay it a visit (although perhaps not in March). Thanks for linking to #citytripping
LOL, nothing like visiting a city when it’s taking its own break! I’m sure we’ll get to your Lou Messugo gite someday, I just don’t know when yet! Hopefully, it won’t be during the month of March. 😀 I’m glad you posted the white van and wheelbarrow photos, anyway. Inspires me for the next time I end up in a town totally closed on a Sunday or Monday! 🙂
Oh it really does look like a stage set, doesn’t it? I love visiting places out of season though. I don’t think I’d like St-Tropez all that much in the middle of the summer but I’ve visited in March and April and just loved it – the quietness of the Place des Lices, the fishing boats, sitting at a cafe beside the harbour. It’s such a pretty place!
Thanks Cathy, it’s such a photogenic place that even in bad light it’s still pretty, and even with building works too!
But you got to see another side of it that most people don’t I suppose! 😀
What a strange experience that must have been, almost like wandering around a ghost town (one inhabited only by workmen at least ). Lovely photos despite the lack of blue skies too. #citytripping
I’m surprised you haven’t seen any blogs about St Tropez, it’s a hugely popular place, but then come to think of it I’m not sure I have either Mary!! I love off season too but the building works really weren’t attractive.
I was so pleased that the peacock opened his tail for me, I certainly was in the right place at the right time.
Beautiful pictures even with overcast skies. I don’t think I’ve seen a blog post on St Tropez before. I like going to places in the off season when there’s hardly anyone around. I’d take that any day over summer crowds. It looks like a great way to spend the day.
Love the photos especially the ones of the peacocks! That sucks about everything being closed! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler again. Hope to see you next week!
Driving to get coffee, help! You really are a city girl!! Hopefully your local café will be open soon SJ now that it’s April.
That was one of the things that struck me, there were very few residents around, just builders! Wierd place to live I reckon.
Cannes out of season is full of ladies of a certain age in fur coats! Being a bigger place than St Tropez and being a conference town its low season isn’t as long and doesn’t involve redecorating the whole place but I imagine you must have been pretty disappointed with your visit. Come back in May if you want the full force of its glamour.
It certainly is Lauren, thanks for stopping by.
Um, yes… Croatia. So much of it is closed until April – even the cafe bars in my street. I have to DRIVE to get coffee. So nice to people without people, but that is a whole new level of quiet . Thanks for coming back to #SundayTraveler
What a completely different experience from what I had in my mind. It’s unfortunately everything was shut up while you were there. I guess they don’t really expect many out of season travelers. I wonder what life is like living there. Thanks for linking up to #SundayTraveler!
Despite never having been to St Tropez, I had a similar experience when I visited Cannes. It was out of season, and the only thing really happening was a big trash ‘n treasure market right outside the main train station. Not exactly the glitz and glamour I had imagined!
It looks like a beautiful place and I wouldn’t mind being there while no other tourists were around. Mind you, it would be best to visit when all of the shops were open and everything was fully operational. But it is an interesting perspective to see a place gearing up for tourist season!
Oh nooooooooo Frank that is so sad! I keep saying it, you’ll just have to come back! (And stay at Lou Messugo of course). Actually I had a similar tragic experience with photos of a once-in-a-lifetime safari in Kenya. We’d bought a new camera for the trip (first time digital, it was a while ago) and erased ALL our photos of the safari by mistake…I feel your pain. 🙁
Don’t you just hate when the skies turn grey and all you want is to take some great photos?! The only worse scenario is when you visit Antibes on a perfect sunny day, take tons of lovely photos, and then mistakenly erase them all. Yeap, happened to me. Glad to hear that even the famed St. Tropez is so sleepy during the winter. Makes me feel better about our little seaside town here in Croatia 🙂
Thanks for your enthusiastic response to my photos Lisa!!
That’d be lovely, I like that very much! In general we’re pretty spoilt was sunshine here – 300 days a year! 🙂
Yes, the “behind-the-scenes” view was revealing in itself. What a shame to be in Vail the only time the gondola wasn’t working! 🙁
Closed shutters have a lovely charm about them it’s true!
Yes I agree with you Nancie, though wherever the building works were goin gon it was far from calm!
Real life absolutely, but still integrally linked with the glitz and glamour as no place needs to renovate quite as manically each year. Not great from an environmental point of view!
How lovely Rosie; I guess the village was having a lie-in that day!
When there weren’t any ugly white vans blocking the streets I agree it was far nicer than in high season.
Deserted is good. Tons of building rubble and general squalor isn’t. But yes, having the Citadel all to myself was quite something.
You said it Bronwyn, the renovation wasn’t appealing!
I was surprised by the amount of building works, not the lack of visitors! I love places out of season but honestly the amount of renovation, dust, and general grot form the building sites wasn’t very pleasant. I agree that St Trop is over-rated in high season but mid seasons can be lovely.
Phoebe I’m surprised you were surprised. Out of the season St Tropez is just a little ghostly fishing village. But actually like to visit out of the season, in season it is overrated! 😉
I don’t mind places out of season – the staff are always looking a little less harried, and if it’s before the main season they’re usually pleased to see the customers start trickling in – although the renovation sounds less appealing, I must admit!
Thanks for the photo tour!
What a very different perspective you have now after visiting when it was “closed”. I certainly hope you go back! I love, love, love looking at your pictures! The peacock is beautiful!
Lovely post, even if the weather didn’t play ball, happens all the time here! I would love to visit you when I’m down there next, it would be lovely to meet for coffee in the sunshine (I will order some in advance!)
This reminds me of the time that we went to Vail, Colorado in the summer the week that the gondala up the mountain is always closed for maintenance. The whole village was on prep mode. At least you got a “behind-the-scenes” view of St. Tropez and had a good meal at that restaurant. I think my kids would enjoy the Citadel.
It looks such an exotic town and I think I like it better closed than full of tourists.
I love seeing this in the off season. Somehow, it makes the town seem more real. I often go to places in the off season…Thai islands during the rainy season, Chiang Mai in July. Without the tourists, these places are calm, and to me, inviting. Thanks for linking up this week!
I really love the different sides of St Tropez you have shown here lovely. It just proves that there is real life there and not just the glitz and glamour we are usually shown. Fantastic. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo again 🙂 x
When travelling with friends many years ago we headed up to a little village in the Pyrenees. We took the only bus up and arrived at around 9 am to find the place completely dead. Not even a workman or white van for company. Shutters shut, no-one to be seen. We eventually found a bar and went in wondering what we should do until the only bus that could take us home arrived later that afternoon. However we came out a short while later to find that the village had come alive in the time it took to eat a croissant and drink a coffee – shutters were open and the streets were bustling. It was a complete and very pleasant metamorphosis!
I actually think I’d like Saint Tropez better all closed up rather than crowded in summer. Those pictures are somewhat surreal, as we are so used to see many people walking te streets of Saint Tropez.
Seriously I would prefer it deserted like this instead of being packed and having to elbow your way around all the tourists, nice to get all the vistas to yourself.
Thanks Christine, where are you and your weather?
Love it! Yes I really did catch this gamourpuss with its pants down!! I also loved the peacock’s backside; one you don’t normally get to see! Thanks for commenting Jan
These towns do have a real charm out of season, just this time there really were toooo many building sites!
Amazing isn’t it Catherine! 🙂
Love this. I needed this today, especially with the weather we’ve been having.
This pictures were gorgeous too. Great photography. Take me with you next time!
So you discovered a different side of St. Tropez – caught them with the pants down so to speak 🙂 Love the white fluffy under tail feathers of the Peacock.
I’ve never been to St Tropez – and I think I’d prefer it off season! I love seeing places when they look a bit rough and ready, and without the crowds. I found the same thing (although not so many builders) with Cannes when I visited at the beginning of the month. It was totally different!
Who would have believed that St Trop could look like this?
I hope you enjoy the Pompidou Metz. And thanks for popping back here!
It is real life for spring but this crazy renovation fever wouldn’t be happening in mid winter I’m sure. Kind of wierd real life though as none of the property owners seemed to be around, just workers.
Venice in the rain would at least make some of the crowds take cover. Perhaps you got moody misty shots? But the TM in the rain I must admit does sound disappointing. 🙁
Thanks for commenting Remy 🙂
This is an interesting photo essay on another aspect of St Tropez. Maybe ‘real life’? I once had the opportunity to see a ‘dancing peacock’ and it was a fabulous sight!
I’ve been to both Venice (in August) and the Taj Mahal (in February) in allegedly “unseasonal” rain. I’m a past master/mistress at not getting the photos I expected!
Thanks for stopping by my post “Where I’m Traveling in 2014” and thanks for the suggestion of going to the Pompidou center. I’m going in two weeks and will def hit this up!
These Pictures are beautiful! And the place look stunning. 🙂