Let's travel: Enjoy a beautiful vacation in the coastal city of St. Tropez.
By MARILYN ROBITAILLE
Let me set the scene.
The sky is a deep blue rivaled only by that pristine Texas blue that we’ve all come to take for granted. A gentle wind blows, almost silently, and just enough to provide the gentle movement of the waves that lap at your feet. You feel the fine sand, glistening white, and notice an array of little, white shells scattered far and wide.
Beach sounds? Ah, yes. A murmur of conversations wafting in the wind. Your ear picks up their rhythm and cadence, but unless you speak fluent French, the meanings will be lost on you.
You return to your beach chaise, noting the vibrance of the blue and white canvas of the umbrella above it. You need protection from the sun. It can be white hot here on the southern coast of France. You’re on the beach in St. Tropez.
This is not just any beach. It’s a famous beach. Try to blend in without gawking. You’ll be surrounded by an array of both beautiful people and families, and yes, some of the women will be topless (never bottomless).
Age doesn’t determine the boundaries of this brand of sunbathing. Grandmère may be enjoying the rays right there along with her model-like waif of a granddaughter.
This beautiful coastal city has it all – one of the best beaches the Mediterranean has to offer, an array of fantastic restaurants, shopping galore, and people-watching like no other place on earth.
St. Tropez has long been a playground mythologized and made famous by the rich, but it’s a city friendly to tourists. As long as you try to speak a little French, you’ll be met with a modicum of kindness from clerks and beach staff.
What won’t be tolerated is behavior typified as “ugly.” I’ve seen unpleasantness occur on several occasions when a tourist enters a shop demanding something and asking questions in English. They were summarily looked upon with disdain and not helped, or worse yet, simply ignored.
This same clerk, who had helped me only moments before a gentleman arrived to insist on renting a beach chair, demonstrated a perfect command of English. You must enter the store and begin with pleasantries in French. A brisk “Bonjour, Madame” the second you make eye contact helps. Then in the best French you can muster, ask whether or not the attendant speaks English.
It’s at this moment that you’ll be subjected to an air of superiority and the deliberate answer, “Of course, I speak English.”
Just overlook feeling slighted because from that point on, all your business can be conducted in English. It’s a small price to pay to get what you want. This technique works all over France as far as I have tested it.
Book your ticket through Nice, rent a car, and enjoy the majestic drive to St. Tropez. Follow the smaller beach-side road instead of the highway. You’ll see villas perched on the ramparts where Napoléon set up camp, acres of bougainvillea in vibrant colors of lavender, pink, and orange, and views of the Mediterranean that will leave you breathless.
All that, plus the landscape changes from pine-covered hills to red rocks and canyon, expanses, giving you a sense of other-worldliness as you drive.
Take it all in, and then pinch yourself. You’re not dreaming. This is the reality of the French Riviera.