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The mythic Pampelonne beach is St-Tropez's crown jewel of beaches, even if the actual location is Ramatuelle. Nearly five kilometres of fine, white sand separate the Mediterranean sea from acres of scrub-covered dunes. It's a site of remarkable natural beauty that offers a rural backdrop to the world's most glamorous beach party scene. At the same time, there's a bohemian side to St-Tropez that dates back to the 1950s. Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Greco and denizens of Paris's Left Bank postwar scene turned St-Tropez beaches into their summer headquarters. Their ethic of "free love", "clothing optional" and authenticity still permeates the beach scene. No line of high-rises mars the coastline. There's no seaside promenade, no snack stands, no souvenir stalls. Dunes rise gently behind the beaches before sloping down to a strip of paved parking. Then there are acres of brush, grass and vineyards before reaching the residential/commercial zone in the interior.
The most pleasant way to access Pampelonne is via private helicopter or yacht. At the other end of the spectrum is the free shuttle bus that runs (infrequently) from central St-Tropez. See here for more info.
Most people arrive by car however and park it at one of the six access points. From north to south, access is via: route de Tahiti; chemin des Moulins; chemin de Tamaris; boulevard Patch; chemin des Barraques; route de Bonne Terrasse. Parking is between €4 and €5 per day.
A taxi from the town center to Pampelonne will cost about €30.
There's ample space to throw down your towel and enjoy Pampelonne Plage for free. The private beach restaurants only take up a portion of the beach area. Any space not already colonized by beach chairs or mattresses is yours. You may be thigh to thigh at the height of the summer season but off-season there's plenty of space.
Outdoor showers are spaced further apart than they are on other Riviera beaches. There are public WCs and showers near the access points of Tamaris, Patch and Barraques. It's usually not a problem to dash into one of the private beach clubs to use the facilities if necessary.
There are two "clothing optional" public beaches: between Tamaris and Patch entrances and at the chemin des Barraques entrance. The private beach club Neptune is also naturist. Topless sunbathing is an option everywhere.
There are three first-aid stations at the Tamaris, Patch and Bonne Terrasse entrances with lifeguards on duty from mid-June to mid-September.
With the recent closing of the celebrated (some would say infamous) Voile Rouge, there are now 26 beach- restaurants where you can contemplate the waves, dine, drink, show off or sleep from a comfortable lounge chair and/or mattress. Most of the "beach clubs" where celebrities, oligarchs, princes, presidents and models come to relax were constructed during the 50s and 60s and are still going strong. Although called "beach clubs", there's no membership required, only the price of lounge chair/umbrella rental (about €30, depending on the season).
Each establishment has its own ambiance. The queen of the clubs is undoubtedly Nikki Beach with its own pool, normally ringed by young clubbers recuperating from the night before. Technically, Nikki Beach is not a beach club as it is installed a few dozen meters away from the beach. Also well-known is Club 55 which manages to be hip, relaxed, chic and welcoming at the same time. It's a good place for celebrity-spotting. At the other end of the spectrum and at the southern end of the beach is the funky L'Esquinade beach with a low-key ambience and modest prices. Generally, the beach-restaurants at the southern end are more informal and slightly cheaper.
Here are the beach clubs arranged from north to south and grouped by entrance.
Route de Tahiti
(tel 04 94 97 36 78)
Tabou Beach Club
Bar du Soleil (tel 04 94 79 66 87)
Chemin des Moulins
Bora Bora Beach
Chemin des Tamaris
Boulevard PatchClub 55
Open for lunch March to early November, Christmas and New Year's week.
Menu: French, Mediterranean, fish
Cap 21-Les Murènes
Key West Beach
Chemin des Barraques