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St.-Tropez: Hot Again

Club 55 and La Voile Rouge aren't the only institutions holding their own against the changing tides. "The classics stay the classics," Le Quellec says. So, just like the beach clubs, the best portside cafés of 15 years ago—Sénéquier and Le Gorille—are still the most popular today. And while designer labels come and go, K. Jacques, the quintessential sandal shop, remains an eye of style at the center of the town's fashion storm.

St.-Tropez strikes its bargain with novelty in its hotels and restaurants. New ones have sprung up, and older ones have been refreshed and refined. Hotel Byblos, for example. With its hillside location and monied clientele, it remains the hostelry of choice for the fabulous set, as it has been since 1967. It got a stem-to-stern spruce-up a year ago (rather like some of the enhanced denizens of St.-Tropez) that included a redesigned lobby, bigger suites, and a restaurant from Alain Ducasse. His Spoon Byblos is a Mediterranean version of the Paris original.

Those who prefer the action of St.-Tropez on their doorsteps can choose between the Starckish chic of the new Maison Blanche, the quiet charm of Le Yaca, or the old-school style of La Ponche, which began as a fishermen's pub and whose regulars—Charlotte Rampling, Bianca Jagger, Hubert de Givenchy—return year after year. The allure of the in-town hotels is their access to the real village hiding within the tourist town. Sitting over a morning pastry at Sénéquier, you can watch Tropezians heading for the open fish market; ships' stewards rushing to the Librairie du Port to buy newspapers for the passengers on the yachts; elegant shopgirls in rubber gloves washing down windows; and scooters, piled high with crates of produce, swerving to avoid the last disco stragglers ending their night and the parents and kids starting their day. Sénéquier is a short walk from the market in the Place des Lices. On Tuesday and Saturday mornings, food, antiques, and everything in between is sold in the square; in the evening, the traditional bowling game pétanque is played here amid pigeons that scatter at the clack of the metal balls.

Just outside the town center are the hotels La Bastide Rouge, a design statement favored by the fashion set; Château de la Messardière, a fantasyland of extravagant gardens and poolside Persian rugs in a 19th-century castle; and Villa Belrose, a hillside Florentine-style palace. Farther afield there are country inns like the Ferme d'Hermès, whose proprietor, Madame Verrier, has spent years perfecting her farmhouse haven in the midst of vineyards. Because Ferme d'Hermès is on the far side of Pampelonne, guests can get to the sand in moments. In season, at least, the drive from town to the beach is often hot and long.

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