Lufthansa Highlights Nizza-Saint Tropez: "Love in the winter"
My love affair with Saint-Tropez has lasted for almost twenty years. In the beginning, like everyone else, I came here only in the summer. Then I received an invitation to an intimate little birthday party in mid-February and the sender had added an enticing little postscript: "The mimosa are in bloom, so don’t forget your sun cream." I couldn’t believe it, but that’s exactly how it was.
Since that trip I have packed my suitcase every year in February, when weather-related depression peaks in our more northern climes. The moment I step into my favorite bar at the Place des Lices and am greeted with a friendly "Bonjour Madame, a cup of coffee?," I enter a state of complete contentment and bliss.
The square bubbles with atmosphere, it is relaxed and beautiful in its own unspectacular way. Just a little square, of the type you find in any small town in the South of France. But in Saint-Tropez many things are just that little bit different, and that’s why I love the Place des Lices. Twice a week there’s a large marché provençal, and on other days the easy-going clack of the pétanque players reigns supreme.
There are a few very up-market shops, a small hotel, a greengrocer and a handful of ordinary cafes. I usually choose one of the five tables outside the La Tarte Tropézienne and order a frothy café-au-lait with a delectably scented, oven-fresh croissant. I bask in the delicate rays of the sun, which fall through the bare branches of the sycamore trees, forming bold stripes across the ground. Locals buzz past on their motor scooters, mothers take their children to school and sometime the person sitting at the table next to me will silently pass over their well-leafed copy of the local newspaper, Var-Martin, as they leave. I am suffused with happiness and the sensation of being a part of everyday life in Saint-Tropez, which is almost as pleasurable as the balmy temperatures of 15 degrees Celsius in the winter.
At lunchtime I eat a small snack down on the beach. There is no other option - I simply have to. Anyone familiar with Pampelonne will know what I mean. The long, sickle-shaped beach is deserted,
the numerous wooden huts which in the summer rent out loungers and sunshades are boarded up; no yachts bob on the bright blue sea. The first delicate green shoots sprout on the grapevines behind the beach and the countryside appears peaceful, pristine and natural.
"Would you like a table in the shade or would you prefer to sit in the sun?," enquires Patrice de Colmont in his gentle voice and the typical singsong intonation of the South of France. The Mediterranean winter has days when it is too hot in the sun and too cool in the shade. Which, admittedly, is a bit of a luxury problem. At least you have a choice: In the summer all you get is hot, always. And you take what you get. A table for breakfast at Café Sénéquier down by the harbor? Impossible! And if you’re hoping to have Patrice de Colmont serve you lunch, you need luck and perseverance: Club 55 is widely considered the most important lunchtime meeting place down on the Pampelonne. Some even think it’s the most important in the world.
In August tout le monde comes to Saint-Tropez, a fact that has been meticulously documented in gossip magazines around the world. In November the scant 6000 inhabitants have the town to themselves, although there are increasing numbers of true fans who come several times a year, and many like it better in the winter than in the crazy, wildly crowded summer season. There are three good reasons for this preference: sun, sun and more sun. As well as the luxury of having the enchanting little town to yourself, with its apricot and pistachio ice cream colored facades and wrought-iron balconies behind which the geraniums flower, even in January. A picturesque, perfectly shaped pier, large enough for the little fishing boats to jostle in amongst the floating mansions while their owners sit along the pier and mend their nets. Suddenly, it is no problem to get a table in the town’s stylish bars and restaurants, and the owners even have time for a little chat.
The next morning I go down to the fish market, arriving far too early. Overnight the mistral has arrived, a strong, chilly wind that blows away anything not securely battened down.
The terraces in front of the cafes are deserted; waves pelt the stone harbor wall, drenching the surroundings with two-meter plumes of spray; the air is heavy with salt and overhead scraps of cloud scurry towards the ocean.
It is cold, and raven-haired Arielle is wearing two thick wool sweaters. She is standing right at the entrance to the passageway and sells what her fisherman, Matthieu, managed to catch in the early hours of the morning: pink sea bream, a few heavy scorpion fish and live langoustines at 75 euros per kilo. Even in the winter she is down at the market every day, except on those rare occasions when Matthieu decides that the sea is too rough to go fishing. The winters in Saint-Tropez are mild and sunny, and snow and frosty temperatures are virtually unknown.
I have often toyed with the idea of moving to the South of France, just to experience days like these, days that can be so intimate and cheerful and charming. "Don’t do it," advises a nice lady I meet in the Stuart Weitzman shoe shop. "You have no idea how quiet it can get." Nonetheless, if you’ve only ever been to Saint-Tropez in high summer, you may find it difficult to imagine how idyllic it can be hors saison.
"It is quiet, almost too quiet," says Augustin Rizzo, handyman at the charming little museum L’Annonciade, which is down near the Quai de l’Epi. A few steps down the street, the shop assistants from the chic Hermès boutique stand outside smoking. Minette, a stray silver grey cat, snakes around Rizzo’s legs as if to console him. Now that the promenade is abandoned she can stretch out on the warm granite flagstones in front of the museum and bask in the sun without being disturbed. She loves it.
There’s nothing I would like to do more than lie down right next to her.
(Author: Patricia Engelhorn)