France Day 5 – St. Tropez

Popularized by Brigitte Bardot in the 1970s, St. Tropez, a beautiful seaside town along France’s southern coast, has the reputation of being the hottest party destination for the world’s rich and famous. Part of its attraction lies in its difficulty of access – St. Tropez is not reachable by train, unlike much of the South of France, and driving is slow moving through the winding country roads. For those who can afford it, the most convenient way to arrive is by sailing into St. Tropez’ extraordinarily large natural harbor, which can accommodate private yachts of all sizes. Although I am not much of a party gal, I was still intrigued by the mystique of St. Tropez, so AK allocated a full day for us to visit.

Our ferry ride was scheduled for 9:00 a.m., but we woke up extra early to check out a well-rated bakery, Le Four a Bois, before our day trip. Unfortunately, other than a quiche, all of the other pastry items were unmarkable. It was definitely not worth getting up at 7:00 a.m.!

After that disappointing experience (though at least we ate breakfast), we arrived promptly at the old port in Nice to board the ferry. Our boat even resembles a small yacht, haha! Of course, the inside is another matter – definitely basic and no frills, though I appreciated the tables, which allowed me to nap for the entire 2 1/2 hour journey. Though long and tedious, the ride offered beautiful views of the Mediterranean. Once we landed, of course, there was once again tons of yachts docked at the harbor.

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After we disembarked, I was struck by how quiet and sleepy the town was. Where are the parties where $1,500 bottle champagnes were both drunk and sprayed into the crowd? (Truthfully, those types of excess are slightly off-putting, especially given the current state of the world economy.) We wandered around the streets, checking out the various shops. Unlike Cannes, whose streets were lined with high-end designer shops, St. Tropez is much more understated. Shops are tastefully decorated and, other than the shocking price tags (e.g., $100 for a beach towel), do not immediately strike one as expensive.

It soon came time for lunch, and we had our heart set on a restaurant off the main square, named simply “Le Bistro.” When we arrived around noon, there was no one at the restaurant, which for me is usually a bad sign. We also looked at the chalkboard that showed the daily lunch special, but the descriptions were very uninspired (“salad with goat cheese,” “salmon with vegetables,” “leg of lamb,” etc.). Obviously these people need some lessons in marketing, since we saw many walkers-by bypass the restaurant. We decided to stay, however, deciding to trust the positive critical reviews.

AK and I both ordered the 20 euro set menu, but my combination is appetizer (confusingly called “entree” in France) + main course, and AK’s is main course + dessert. The appetizer immediately grabbed our attention! It was a light arugula and tomato salad (my favorite!), mixed with balsamic vinegar dressing and some other yummy green sauce, topped with warm grilled bread and melted goat cheese drizzled with a bit of honey. The portion size was also huge – the hunk of goat cheese alone was enough to sell as a stand-alone unit at a retail store! Even sharing between the two of us, we were semi-full by the time we finished.

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Next came the main courses. AK had ordered the lamb chop, which was super tasty! It was grilled to perfection, and every bite was juicy and flavorful. Even the side of French fries was well-executed, with a lightly salted crispy skin that crunches as you bite into the pillowy potato inside. Yum!

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My main course was a salmon with wok-fried vegetables. Again, the grilling was executed perfectly! The fish skin was slightly crunchy with a concentration of fish oil, but the inside of the salmon was extremely tender. It was a most delicious piece of fish! The vegetables were wok-fried Chinese style and were a great complement to the richness of the salmon.

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The only let-down of our meal was the “flan patissier” – I thought this was going to be similar to Spanish-style flan, typically served warm in a caramel sauce (which I also grew up with in Taiwan since my mom and aunts loved making them), but this was closer to a cold custard. Though the dessert looked pretty, we did not even come close to finishing it.

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Despite the lackluster dessert, Le Bistro was a fabulous find and one of the best meals we had in South of France!

I had a chance to see the interior of the restaurant while visiting the ladies’ room before leaving (we had sat outside to blend in with the Europeans). It is very cozy, and you can definitely see the restaurant transforming into a see-and-be-seen type of atmosphere at night!

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We had read that St. Tropez is also know for a local pastry called the “Tropezienne.” Seeking this out, we visited a local bakery, La Tarte Tropezienne, and bought a “Mini Trop” (the regular-sized ones are equivalent to large pie slices). Sadly, it was nothing special – I liken the taste to two pieces of slightly stale macarons with some fresh cream in the middle.

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It took us a while to understand why the bakery is nicknamed the “beehive” – the entire store is swarming with honeybees! The bees freely roam from tarte to tarte, pastry to pastry. It was the most bizarre thing. I’m sure there is an explanation for this phenomenon, but we were not able to decipher the mystery. Look closely at the photo below – you’ll see many bees buzzing along happily!

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The afternoon sun had been blazing, so logically our next stop was a trip to the town’s well-known ice cream shop, “Barbarac” (meaning “ice cream” in Armenian), to cool off. It would appear that we are eating continuously, but that is not true! We just didn’t want to miss out on any local specialties. The ice cream was creamy and delicious, and definitely hit the spot.

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On the way back to the port to make our ferry back to Nice, we stopped outside of a famous night club called “The VIP Room,” where there was a huge wall showing all the celebrities who have partied there. It is definitely a who’s who of the entertainment world!

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After a whirlwind tour of St. Tropez, it was time to head back. Although it was beautiful town with gorgeous scenery, St. Tropez was not so extraordinary as to warrant such a long journey (and for those keeping track of the long-standing competition, San Sebastian in Spain definitely wins by a large margin). At least I can now cross it off my list of places to visit!

Bistro Restaurant
3 Place des Lices
83990 Saint-Tropez, France
04 94 97 11 33
www.bistrot-saint-tropez.com

La Tarte Tropezienne
36 Rue Georges Clemenceau
83990 Saint-Tropez, France
04 94 97 19 77
www.tarte-tropezienne.com

Barbarac
2 Rue Gen Allard
83990 Saint-Tropez, France
04 94 97 67 83
www.barbaric.fr/glacier-saint-tropez

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