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How Did Saint-Tropez Become so Ridiculously Chic? It’s All Due to One Actress

PHOTO: Courtesy of Hotel Byblos

What started as a humble village transformed into a star-studded paradise.

Like much of the Côte d’Azur, Saint-Tropez’s origins can be linked back to its Italian neighbors. Named after Roman officer Torpes, whose boat landed on the shores of a then-unknown port village, the red and white colors of Saint-Tropez flags reflect its rich Genovese history. In 1470, it was 21 families from Genoa that rebuilt the fortifications and secured the village, honoring their patron saint Torpes every year on May 16, 17, and 18. In addition to possessing a deep connection with the sea, Tropezians are known for their strength of character. This is evident in Saint-Tropez’s motto “Ad Usque Fidelis” (faithful till the end).

But following its humble Genovese beginnings, how did Saint-Tropez become such a well-known enclave for the French elite? This glamorous chapter began when artists, intellectuals, and–soon afterward–celebrities discovered this pastel-hued fishing village following the 1957 release of Roger Vadim’s film And God Created Woman. Set in Saint-Tropez, it was the film’s star, 23-year-old actress Brigitte Bardot, who brought attention to the village, making it her home for over twenty years. It’s also this Mediterranean backdrop upon which Bardot built her sultry laid-back image. At the height of Bardot’s fame, billionaire Lebanese hotelier Jean-Prosper Gay-Para was so smitten with the starlet that he decided to “build a hotel in Saint-Tropez worthy of Bardot.” This is how Hotel Byblos, which opened in 1967 and named for the Lebanese port city, was born in the center of Saint-Tropez, cementing the village’s ultra-chic status.

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_Main entrance at Hotel Byblos Saint-Tropez1 HD©Alexandre
_Spa at Hotel Byblos Saint-Tropez Patio relaxing area HD©Alexandre Chaplier
1. The main entrance at Hotel ByblosCourtesy of Hotel Byblos 2. The Hotel Byblos’ spa

To dive deeper into the origins of how Saint-Tropez grew to become a seasonal playground for the French elite, Hotel Byblos’s General Manager Christophe Chauvin, a native of the village, sheds some light. “Saint-Tropez has been a secret spot since the ‘50s and ‘60s when French authors started to travel here on retreats to find inspiration. Françoise Sagan was one of the pioneers that discovered the village and introduced it to famous friends including filmmakers and actors,” shared Chauvin. A literary prodigy, Sagan spoke poetically of Saint-Tropez, calling it “a seaside town of indestructible beauty. A communion between the human soul and the countryside.” Chauvin continued, “Since that time, the peninsula’s success has continued to grow, and has kept its magnificence by protecting its surroundings and the unique architecture of the village.”

“[Saint-Tropez is] a seaside town of indestructible beauty. A communion between the human soul and the countryside.”

While the scene has become one of modern luxury, very little has changed in Saint-Tropez when it comes to its age-old architecture. The narrow streets of the alluring old town remain lined with tall houses in shades of ochre, yellow, and orange dating back to the 15th century. Fifteen Provencal-style chapels, noteworthy museums, and a citadel dot this multi-colored maze, each one intimately connected to the village’s history. Celebrity haunts along the coastline bordering Ramatuelle including iconic Le Club 55, Nikki Beach, and Épi 1959 are set in soft tones to blend in with the setting. Every ambient detail speaks to the casually refined mood of this village that comes alive beneath the summer sun.

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1. Poolside at the Hotel BylbosCourtesy of Hotel Byblos 2. & 3. Details of the landmark property

More than any other address in Saint-Tropez, it’s the Hotel Byblos that is linked to the star-studded history that took root in the 1960s. This mythical, 91-room hotel with its on-site nightclub, Les Caves du Roy, is where celebrities and personalities including Grace Kelly, Prince Charles, Romy Schneider, Lauren Bacall, Paloma Picasso, George Clooney, Beyoncé, Leonardo DiCaprio, Patrick Demarchelier, Naomi Campbell, and Mick Jagger spent many a memorable sojourn. No party was too extravagant for these A-listers. Strategically set in the heart of the village, Chauvin confirmed, “This is where everybody can enjoy their favorite lifestyle—it doesn’t matter if you want a quiet break or if you want to be a little wild.”

Les Caves du Roy Courtesy of Hotel Byblos

There’s no question that Saint-Tropez shines as brightly today as when it first took the spotlight so many decades ago, for both the French elite and global jet-setters flocking to this choice riviera paradise. From celebrity-spotting along the sandy stretch of Pampelonne Beach to dancing late into the night at Les Caves du Roy, come summer, this once sleepy fishing village takes only disco naps.

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1. The private patio of the Suite Missoni ByblosCourtesy of Hotel Byblos 2. Hotel Byblos Spa

For those who haven’t yet experienced the appeal of Saint-Tropez, on or off-season, and might not understand its lure, allow Chauvin to clarify. “For me, a lot of people have conflicting views regarding Saint-Tropez, some find it too extravagant, others overrated, but I believe that you must be well informed and introduced by a local if you want to discover the real Saint-Tropez, explore its secret spots, and its hidden treasures…after all, you might be surprised, as it is all made of natural simplicity.”

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