St Tropez smartens its beach clubs to lure the big money

French resort seeks to reignite its property market

Three-bedroom house near Pampelonne beach, € 4.495m. Photograph: Financial Times

Three-bedroom house near Pampelonne beach, € 4.495m. Photograph: Financial Times

 

It is all change this summer on Pampelonne beach, the epicentre of St Tropez’s social scene. Five new beach clubs are opening, replacing eight long-running establishments. On their way out are staples of St Tropez’s cultural heritage: La Plage des Jumeaux, Eden, Key West and Tabou.

Some residents are calling it a revolution. “It’s the biggest era of change the town has ever known,” says Emilia Jedamska from the villa rental company St Tropez House — some of her listings will rent out for up to €160,000 a week this summer. Its most famous resident, Brigitte Bardot, is up in arms, describing herself as “shocked and very sad” about events in her home town.

The beach is 5km from St Tropez in neighbouring Ramatuelle, where the town hall decided to act because of environmental concerns.

There are now 23 — previously 27 — clubs on the beach, leaving 80 per cent of Pampelonne’s five-mile stretch of golden sand untouched. “The new clubs are eco-friendly flat-pack constructions that will be dismantled from November to February to let the beach and environment re-energise itself,” says Jack Harris from Knight Frank’s French team.

They are aimed firmly at the luxury market. Three of the new clubs belong to the town’s celebrated high-end hotels Byblos, Hôtel de Paris and La Réserve. Another, Loulou, is a new venture from the Parisian restaurant of the same name that attracts an A-list clientele.

Their predecessors were not just places to grab a quick steak tartare on the sand; they were institutions that had almost mythical status. “Clubs such as Les Jumeaux were family-run places that have attracted a devoted clientele for decades and it’s painful for many people to see them go,” says Jedamska. “The new, posh hotel clubs won’t be part of people’s life stories in the same way.”

Armel Aloche, owner of La Cave du Golfe wine shop in St Tropez village and a life-long Tropezian who held his wedding reception at Les Jumeaux, says the old beach clubs and restaurants were “part of the paintwork”. He adds: “Some beaches weren’t in good shape, so a clean, new look was needed. But the closure of these clubs has been hard for some loyal customers to accept.”

Not everyone is resistant to change. “Environmental change is the most important progress we have to make as a community to keep this special place,” says local estate agent Emma Horsley of Leggett Immobilier.

The promise of glamorous haunts is panacea for other regulars, including Olivia Innocenti, a London-based brand consultant who rents out her St Tropez home, Villa Armani Casa, for € 40,000 a week in summer through H Barnes & Co. “This iconic town had lost some of its spark in recent years. Regular visitors were migrating to Ibiza and Mykonos, so St Tropez really needed to reinvent itself,” says Innocenti, whose Riviera home comes with a personal trainer, bodyguard and helicopter.

While locals may lament the loss of some of the old clubs, Harris is quick to point out its original night spot, Club 55, is alive and kicking. “It’s still the go-to place to be seen. Put in a real estate perspective,” he adds, “that’s the place people want to be near.”

That said, the property market in St Tropez is pretty slow. “Unlike Paris, where there are 20 buyers for every property, St Tropez is the other way around,” says Anthony Bruni, head of Savills in St Tropez. “Buyers can expect to negotiate 10-20 per cent off the asking price.”

Prices are high. Near the Citadele of St Tropez, Savills is selling a five-bedroom house for € 20 million. The home, formerly a mill, has an outdoor pool and commanding views over the old town and the harbour. Near the Bay of Canebiers, the same agent is selling a modern two-bedroom house for € 3.5 million.

Near Pampelonne beach and 200m from Club 55, Christie’s International Real Estate is selling a contemporary three-bedroom house for €4.495m.

Many of Bruni’s international buyers are deterred by new French taxes. “There are no more Russian buyers,” says Bruni, “very few English because of Brexit, and no Arab, Chinese or Asian buyers.” That leaves mainly French buyers, many of them returning expats. St Tropez is also awash with second home-hunting Parisians. “Paris’s property market is doing very well and St Tropez is seeing the knock-on effect,” says Harris. “The market is definitely picking up.”

Aside from the new beach clubs, there are signs St Tropez is becoming even more upmarket, says Bruni. “It’s becoming more and more like Monaco in terms of luxury. It’s full of big black cars with blacked-out windows.”

As the town makes a bid for the luxury market, many visitors are going elsewhere, he says. “People are travelling more. Now everything is very expensive in St Tropez and you can spend a week in Bodrum or Ibiza for half the price.”

The summer is still lucrative for villa owners. “Our typical clients are couples with children paying € 30,000-€ 60,000 a week, which will get you a modernised but not luxurious new-build five- or six-bedroom villa with a decent view,” says Jedamska. “From € 70,000 a week, you get the classic Instagram image: the modern villa with a huge garden, helicopter on the lawn and sea views. The € 150,000 end is very subjective. Often these properties are owned by companies but they will all get rented out.”

Could the closure of those eight beach clubs dim St Tropez’s appeal? “Billionaires don’t care about sentimentality for the old beach clubs,” says Jedamska. “They appreciate the new style of luxury.” Brigitte Bardot, on the other hand, may be harder to convince.– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019

What you can buy for ...

€ 500,000: A one-bed, 45m2 apartment in St Tropez village, near the harbour

€ 5m: A five-bed apartment in the premier gated estate of Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez

€ 20m: A historic, trophy estate with large gardens overlooking the bay