After our long weekend in Paris, we ventured south to the French Riviera. Rather than fly from Paris to Nice, we took the high speed train to Aix-en-Provence. It was relaxing, scenic and very convenient. Our hotel in Saint Tropez arranged transportation to their property from the train station (an hour plus drive) making the entire mode of travel seamless.
We split six nights between Saint Tropez and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and wish we had more. Both are uniquely beautiful and offer different vibes. With a long list of places to go and where to dine, there was no shortage of options, just not enough time to do it all. Highlights included chartering a boat for the day (I could have done this twice!) and a day on Pampellone Beach where lunch at Le Club 55 merged into an impromptu Apéro with music and dinner on the beach at our hotel.
I did a lot of research on the French Riviera and had a nice collection of recommendations from friends. I’m sharing where we went plus an edit of places I’d try next time.
Saint Tropez Restaurants:
La Petite Plage: Dinner at La Petite Plage on our first night in Saint Tropez set the tone for the week – great food, warm ambience, and energetic music. We enjoyed a delicious meal served under a weave of pink bougainvillea and dimly lit wicker lanterns which was quite atmospheric. White table-clothed tables contrasted nicely with sand covered floors creating a relaxed mood while the thump of music kept the vibe upbeat.
Jardin Tropezina: Affiliated with our hotel, Chateau de la Messardiere, we loved having access to this gem on Pampelonne Beach. Both a beach club and restaurant, we took breaks from lounging on the sunbeds to meander a few steps off the sand for lunch in the garden themed restaurant. Lovely, relaxed and One late afternoon, after our lunch at Le Club 55, we stopped at Jardin Tropezina for a cocktail, which turned into the apero hour, which led to music and an impromptu dinner on the sand. Pasta, truffle pizza, lots of wine…a special evening made even more stunning with the “Strawberry Moon”.
L’Opera: We were a bit indecisive about L’Opera but so glad we decided to go. We reserved the later seating at 10pm which allows the restaurant to turn into a club by the end of the night. L’Opera is an experience. Dinner was delicious but secondary to the parade of dancers providing non-stop entertainment. I felt like a guest having the best time at someone’s elaborate, outrageous party. Once dinner was finished, the tables were cleared and became podiums for dancing into the wee hours. L’Opera was pure fun and a memorable night from the trip.
Le Club 55: On everyone’s list as a must visit when in Saint Tropez, Le Club 55 has been an institution on Pampellone Beach since 1955. The restaurant attracts a crowd drawn to the relaxed atmosphere steps from the beach to gather for food, wine and music. On the day we had lunch at Le Club 55, the bustling ambience felt authentically French with friends and families lingering over a leisurely meal. On other days, it can be the opposite, with the party vibe typical of many beach clubs along the French Riviera. We had a memorable lunch under the shade of a raffia roof and wide branched trees while listening to a trio of roving musicians. Le Club 55 is iconic, classic and keeps the spirit of Saint Tropez alive.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (area) Restaurants:
Paloma Beach: Nestled on one of the most beautiful beaches on the Cap-Ferrat peninsula, Paloma Beach offers a unique setting with fabulous food – grilled fresh fish is the highlight. Down a long flight of stairs to access the small cove, you’re rewarded with an intimate restaurant on the sand with gorgeous views of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Cap d’Ail. As a beach club during the day, sunbeds are available to rent. Paloma Beach feels old school Riviera chic (since 1948) and the setting is superb.
Le Plongoier (Nice): The iconic location of Le Plongeoir perched on top of a small rock would be reason enough to go, but combine that with excellent food, drinks and service, and the restaurant becomes a must. The vibe is relaxed, comfortable and chic. There’s a lounge on the lower deck which would be a great spot to start or end the evening with drinks, music and nibbles. The interesting history of the location goes back to the end of the nineteenth century when a fishing boat secured on top of the rock served as a place to gather for food and drink. (see here).
Mayssa: In the charming fishing village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Mayssa is scenically located near the medieval citadel with an extensive view over the bay. The menu of French and Mediterranean cuisines was extensive and gave us plenty of options along with fresh fish. The atmosphere was lively with music streaming from the adjacent bar. We walked to Mayssa from our hotel along the boardwalk of Villefranche-sur-Mer where the beach was lively well past sunset.
La Guerite: Nestled on a rocky cove of Île Sainte Marguerite, we stopped at La Guerite for lunch the same day we chartered a boat. One thing we quickly discovered about the numerous beach clubs throughout the Riviera is that they can be a hit or a miss depending on the day you visit and the atmosphere you’re looking for. Lunch at 3pm on a Friday, showed us the party side of a beach club (opposite our experience at Le Club 55). The setting can’t be beat. Access is by water taxi shuttling guests from their boats anchored close by to the small island. We took a break from fresh fish and enjoyed excellent pasta while watching the dancing and celebrations to non-stop music.
Other beach clubs to consider include La Reserve de la Mala, Plage Keller, and La Tonelle. And finally, two highly recommended restaurants we did not have time for – La Veranda at the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat and La Mere Germaine.
Chateau de la Messardiere: I can’t say enough about the hospitality and beauty of this hotel. Secluded on a hilltop behind gates, sweeping views of the Bay of Pampelonne to the west and the Gulf of St. Tropez to the east add to the magic of the setting. The landscaping was breath taking with impeccably maintained gardens and winding pathways throughout the property. We didn’t want to leave.
We spent time relaxing under the shade of olive and pine trees by the pool on a grass terrace listening to the gentle chirping of birds (the property is within a preserved bird habitat). When we wanted to go to the beach, a mini Moke or Rolls Royce Cullinan transported us to Tropezina Beach Club (see above under restaurants) where sunbeds are complimentary to guests. Transportation was also provided to town around the clock. An outdoor gym, yoga pavilion, and grass tennis courts provide fitness activities which could be followed with a pampering treatment at the spa.
An extensive breakfast and lunch buffet was by far the most elaborate I’ve ever seen with everything from unique charcuterie to caviar and fresh lobster. We needed more time to try several of the highly rated restaurants at the Chateau for dinner.
The staff was gracious and friendly providing an excellent level of service. The concierge team advised and secured sought after tables throughout our stay. From the day we checked in to the afternoon of our parting, we were beyond impressed with every detail and hope to return soon.
Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
Royal Riviera: Built in 1904, the Royal Riviera hotel exudes old world European charm. Situated on a sheltered bay bordering Saint Jean and Beaulieu, the location is ideal for walking the promenade on Cap Ferrat or to nearby towns for lunch or dinner. One of the few hotels with a beach (partially shared with a public beach), lounge chairs, umbrellas and beach services are reserved for guests. The best rooms are in the original main building with corner units facing the sea highly coveted. Our rooms were in the L’Orangerie and the decor was a bit disappointing. I prefer hotels with interiors that feel authentic to place, so the contemporary slant of the room decor was not what I had hoped for. That being said, the service and concierge team were both excellent and the beautiful location ideal for all of the activities we planned.
The Royal Riviera concierge connected us with Prestigious Yachting to charter a boat for the day. With a vast selection of sizes and accommodations to choose from, we quickly found a boat that met our needs. They gave us suggestions for an itinerary but kept it very flexible. We cruised to Mala Beach where we dropped anchor and swam to the caves followed by a leisurely stop at a cove near Criques de la Carrière. We had time to lounge, snorkel and swim between two of the Lérins Islands before heading to La Guerite for lunch. On our way back to Cap-Ferrat, we cruised close to the coastline of Antibes admiring the natural beauty of the coastline and Mediterranean Sea. Our captain was professional, friendly and accommodating to our needs. The whole chartering process with Prestigious Yachting was seamless. With more time, we would have spent another day on the water.