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St.-Tropez: Hot Again

Things are calmer in Ramatuelle. Kai Largo, part of the Nioulargo beach club complex, is an Indochinese pavilion with delectable Asian food; it's one of the few restaurants serving dinner just steps from the water. On a lane nearby, there's the Auberge de l'Oumede, with a romantic view over rolling fields. And for beauty, there's Les Moulins de Ramatuelle, an old farmhouse on the Route des Plages with landscaped lawns, a mimosa grove, and a vine-covered courtyard dining area that clearly hopes to become one of St.-Tropez's abiding favorites. Those hallowed fixtures include the dining room at La Ponche, famous for its soupe de poisson, Chez Fuchs, a Provençal bistro, and Maison Lei Mouscardins, a gourmand's paradise in an old port tower.

After-dinner entertainment is as accessible as a walk along the port, where you might find a Ferrari 550 Barchetta Pininfarina—one of only 448 in the world—parked illegally next to a Mercedes carrying the Ferrari's bodyguards. Ferrari types like nightclubs. The town's oldest established disco, Les Caves du Roy, beneath the Byblos, has retro-seventies Oriental décor (so out it's in), $21 drinks, and $18,000 Methuselahs of Cristal champagne.

Just as amusing is the intricate ballet of the yachts as they maneuver into slips in the village harbor that are even harder to come by than Sunday lunch reservations at 55. Crowds gather at all hours to watch The Queen M do a three-point turn, ready to replace the Aviva, with its helicopter on the deck, or the Infatuation out of London, a $10 million computerized sailboat, or the Griff, out of Bermuda, with a rope across its gangplank and a sign that reads PRIVATE YACHT—NO BOARDING.

"It's a very special cohabitation," observes Gerald Hardy, manager of Château de la Messardière. "People on the boats are eating caviar, and two meters away are people eating ice cream, looking at them like they're in a circus cage."

Hervé Le Fauconnier, the director of the Port de St.-Tropez, says that in summer about 600 of the world's 4,000 super-yachts (boats longer than 79 feet) can be found on the Côte d'Azur. There are officially 31 berths on the old port, facing the famous harbor cafés. Because St.-Tropez's harbor is in the center of the village and faces north, passengers have the world's best view of the town's exquisite sunset colors, the soft glowing oranges, yellows, and ochers that illuminate the pastel portside buildings. "I manage rarity," Fauconnier says. "Our customers are fishermen with boats of twenty-six feet, as well as millionaires. That's the magic of St.-Tropez." Then there are the numbered, 18-karat white-gold, diamond-studded VIP cards that supposedly give holders priority status in the harbor. But anyone can buy one for $1,750 a year. That, too, is the magic of St.-Tropez.


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