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St.-Tropez: Hot Again

Rich and not-so, they all mix together on the beach and in the beach clubs that bring people back here year after year, fashionable after unfashionable season. A new mayor has made conciliatory gestures toward the clubs, but environmentalists are appealing the ruling that kept La Voile Rouge open, so the clubs are not entirely secure. "These beaches are part of the soul of St.-Tropez," Hardy says. "If we don't have these beaches . . ." He can't bring himself to finish the thought.

With an eclectic mix of frolicking children, cigar-chomping moguls, designer-clad women, topless girls, and tattooed boys, the beach clubs seem intent on proving that you can never be too rich, too chic, too tan, too lifted, too bejeweled, or too old a man with too young a girl. It's all a bit too-too.

If it's too much for you, there are public beaches just near the swells, where you don't have to lay out $30 to go in and rent a mattress and an umbrella. You should splurge at least once, for the complete St.-Tropez experience, but plan ahead. Even at these prices, it's impossible to get one of 55's paillotes (a straw-topped sunshade) or even a matelas—a sun-bleached foam mattress—without a reservation. Unless, of course, the beachboys decide you are sympathique, in which case one may become available after all.

Then you might be lucky enough to be told you have to lunch on the late side, when Tropezians like Eddie Barclay, a former record company owner and legendary rascal, tend to dine. If you see an octogenarian at Club 55, at a table with two or three beauties whose ages combined do not equal his, it may be Barclay. At last count eight times married, he is a symbol of St.-Tropez. For its story is one of persistence that outlives excess, and endurance that trumps the inevitability of obsolescence.

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