Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Sunday, October 19, 2008

St. Tropez

Last Sunday we borrowed our friend Michelle’s car (in exchange for my giving her cooking lessons), and took a little road trip west on the coast to St. Tropez. Other than our 8-hour bus trip to Monaco, and the 2-day trip Lisa and I took to Nice, we have been pretty homebound since we arrived in Fréjus. Also, in both cases we weren’t responsible for driving so it’s been awhile since I spent much time behind the wheel of a car. My parents were still here so the 5 of us were packed into this typically-European small car, but the 1-hour drive to St. Tropez followed the coast so we rarely lost sight of the Mediterranean, traffic was light, and thus it was a relaxed journey. Once in St. Tropez, finding parking was a bit of a challenge (and quite honestly is the thing I like least about driving in Europe), but we found a parking garage, and were off on foot to explore the ever-popular town.

Trying to find Old Town and the port/harbor area we immediately stumbled upon the boules courts where they were obviously having a tournament of some kind. A big trophy stood on the temporary riser which otherwise was filled with cases of champagne, of which at least half had already been consumed. Good times were being had! Stumbling through narrow streets we followed our noses (think fish and seaweed) to the Harbor where there was yet another big crowd. Turns out they were having a big Porsche rally. We grabbed ice cream cones (the ice cream in Europe is always top notch with loads of flavorful choices) and headed in the opposite direction following the waterfront. The Harbor is fairly quaint, not large, a combination of fishing boats, sailboats, and expensive yachts, and lined with restaurants, small shops and art boutiques. As one walks away from the harbor you will find old ramparts and small beaches with views across St. Tropez Bay towards St. Maxime and the coast we had driven to get here.

Lisa and I stopped here on our last trip to France in 1996, and from our memories the town has become a lot more run-down since then. For such a famous town, and one with high real estate prices, we were surprised at how many waterfront properties were in need of repairs and paint, and a couple even looked completely empty and uninhabitable. We did find the Old Town charming with it’s narrow passageways, small squares, and flower bedecked homes.
The small in-town beaches are not remarkable in any way - no soft sand, no real access for swimming, and a bit dirty. But Irie had fun playing “shipwreck” on the rocks and the water was clear enough to see some small fish and jellyfish. We noticed the old Fort up on the hill so we left my parents seaside to sit and rest while we traipsed up the hill to explore. The views were spectacular on this sunny warm day, and while we never actually went inside, the three of us had fun encircling the outside. Upon showing Irie the moat and the weapon slits we asked what she thought the slits were for and she replied: “flowers?” Oh to be a kid again!

The town’s name comes from an early, semi-legendary martyr named Saint Torpes. The legend states that he was beheaded at Pisa during the reign of Nero, and that his body was placed in a rotten boat with a rooster and a dog who would thusly consume his body to survive. The boat landed at the present-day location of the town with his body still intact. During WWII it was one of the central landing sites for the Allied invasion of southern France leading to its liberation. In the 1950’s, Brigitte Bardot made it the tourist mecca it now is with her films here.

After about 3 hours, we were ready to head back, only to inch along at a snail’s pace. Everyone else decided to leave at 5 pm also, and being only one main road east or west, there was nowhere else to go. Oh well, it’s nice not being in a hurry, and there are worse places to be stuck in traffic. The route takes us past lots of nice-looking beaches and quaint Mediterranean towns. Having also biked in the opposite direction past our neighbor-town of St. Raphael to beautiful small sand-lined bays with clear calm water I would recommend such stops over St. Tropez. But one has to go, to know, and so voilà, there it is.

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