We sailed in last night near Saint-Tropez which is in the Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur region of the French Riviera. Our trip into the city, though, was a lesson in what not to do. Fortunately, we still saw lots of beautiful scenery and architecture.
Chuck and I decided not to do a cruise line excursion today but instead to explore the city of Saint-Tropez on our own. We made two different mistakes, though that would negatively affect our overall experience.
We woke up late, had a relaxing breakfast in the main dining room, and then finally made our way down to the tender by about 10 AM. There is not a dock here so the ship had to anchor offshore again.
It was a short ten-minute ride, and we came ashore at the edge of town across from a large boat basin. Their harbor is enclosed by a city wall with a lighthouse at the end of the wall. The harbor is called Vieux Port.
Tip #1 – Buy Your Map Before Leaving the US
So Chuck and I took a nice long walk all the way around the harbor/basin, walking past all the street shops. There are lots of very expensive yachts here and sailboats as well. In between are small fishing boats also docked in the harbor.
Surrounding the harbor, are pastel-colored buildings and cafés with outdoor terraces. At one place on the wide sidewalk at the water’s edge, local artists sold their colorful artwork depicting scenes of Saint-Tropez and the area.
It was at this point that we realized that our map was bad. We could not find the first real intersection we approached. We spent a good ten to fifteen minutes sitting on a stone block trying to figure out where we were in comparison to where we wanted to go.
So here’s a word about the maps. They quickly hand you one as soon as you get off the boat. They’re free for a reason, though. They’re designed to direct you to the business that provided them. This map was useless for anything except finding that business.
Saint-Tropez is larger than some of the ones we had been to earlier. Its population is about 5,500, and it is a more upscale city.
They told us that the city was really founded by the outside world when Bridget Bardot did the movie ‘And God Created Woman.’ Chuck remembered this movie well. He said he was a pre-teen when it came out and that all the boys in Fort Lauderdale were talking about it. He said though that he knew better than to ask his parents if he could go see it. Rumor was that she was nude in the first scene—and this was 1956.
So Chuck never saw the movie until a few weeks before we went on the cruise. We ordered it from Netflix, and he finally got to see after all these years what all the talk was about. She was nude all right but you couldn’t see much at all. It was a classic Beat generation movie.
The movie was made in Saint-Tropez; and before the movie, Saint-Tropez was just a little fishing village. After the movie, it exploded into a favorite destination for the jet-setters. It was also the first town on this coast to be liberated during World War II.
Still confused as to how to get where we wanted to go, we decided instead to make our way around the Vieux Port and walk out on the MoleJean-Reveille, the wall enclosing the harbor to the north. The weather was beautiful today. Warm and breezy. The wall gave us great views of the sea and the harbor. Unfortunately, I realized that I lost my cell phone so we had to circle back to the town for it.
Tip #2–Keep up With Your Belongings
We felt certain I lost it when we were struggling to read the map near the harbor. I was lucky though because two young men from Germany found the phone and got it back to me.
David and Jon are my heroes. Somehow they used a text stream on my phone to contact one of the texters, my niece in North Carolina. She sent a text to Chuck and was the liaison between the boys and us. It was about 4 or 5 am in the states and she happened to be up with one of her small children. It’s a miracle we got that phone back.
Afterwards, Chuck and I rambled around the La Ponche which is the old city. This part of the town is between the Vieux Port and the citadel. It is a pedestrian zone of narrow alleyways and quiet cobblestone lanes with small shops, upscale boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.
There were small little squares throughout La Ponche and each seemed to have a large olive tree in it. There were still olives on some of the trees. I picked one and tasted it. There’s a reason no one wanted those olives.
In La Ponche we found the 18th century Eglise de Notre-Dame de l’Assomption with its beautiful Italian Baroque belltower, but we were unable to enter the church. It was closed.
We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch and then we hiked up to the citadel and looked for the Sentier du Littoral, a coastal path for hiking by the sea. We only had two hours before we had to get back to the ship.
Unfortunately, we still had the bad map. We walked for a good 45 minutes looking for the trail until we were finally successful.
But just as we found it we realized that Chuck forgot his backpack. So we backtracked to La Ponche where the restaurant was holding it for us, and then we were out of time. We gave up and went home, back to the ship.
We walked a long way today. Unfortunately, most of our time in Saint-Tropez was spent studying a map and trying to find our stuff. Chuck said several years ago that he was worried that the two of us would someday need a handler, someone to follow us around picking up the junk we left behind. That day may have already arrived.