Brigitte Bardot reckons St Tropez is finished, its glamour all gone. Can she be right? Anthony Peregrine went to investigate
The case of the Côte d'Azur in general, and St Tropez in particular, has been exercising some great minds recently. Only a couple of weeks ago in The Sunday Telegraph, Brigitte Bardot complained that St Trop was now overrun by hordes and irremediably naff.
Granted, she missed the irony that most of these crowds were drawn in by the racy, glam image generated by her and her skimpily clad chums in the 1960s. No matter. The point was that, for her, St Tropez as a phenomenon was finished.
She's not alone. We are constantly being told that fashionistas and other types who pepper the "people" pages have abandoned La Côte for Croatia or Mauritius. Could this be true? It seemed vital to find out. After all, it's no good folk travelling to St Tropez thinking they're cool, and then being sneered at for being hopelessly passé.
The obvious place to start inquiries was the Byblos Hotel, just off-centre in St Tropez. Prouder than any other French hotel of its celebrity past, the Byblos reckons itself "entwined in the mystique of St Tropez". For 35 years it has been at the apex of what was, at least, the planet's trendiest resort.
BB herself was a regular, Mick and Bianca got married there, Elton stayed and Bruce took off his shirt in the bar (that's Willis, not Forsyth). Its Caves-du-Roy nightclub claims to have the toughest door policy on the coast - and an unrivalled name for sophisticated excess. Here was Côte d'Azur glamour in microcosm. Or not, of course.
I approached on tenterhooks. A place with this kind of reputation had to be up itself to a critical degree. In truth, I wanted it to be vulgar and insensitive, so that I too could dismiss St Tropez and get off home.
Talk about disappointment. The bloke out front didn't seem the slightest bit fazed to be dealing with a car a quarter the size of everything else in the car park. The welcome was charming and the room - well, my wife went through various grades of euphoria from the moment we entered.
"These tiles," came a shriek from the bathroom. "I've seen similar ones in a magazine. They cost 300 quid a square metre!" I had to clamp some of the room-service nougat between her teeth just to get some peace.
Outside, things were even better - therefore worse. The Byblos is built to resemble a Provençal hamlet, a succession of ochre frontages descending the hill. "Doesn't look like a real Provençal hamlet," I said. "No butcher's shop, washing or old women in black."
"Or rubbish, bad drains or dog muck," said my wife, teeth once again unstuck. Mediterranean horticulture exploded abundantly, walkways and galleries led all over the place. They were dotted with antiques, busts and more ceramics. Lord knows, I looked for vulgarity - but found none.
After a couple of scotches in the bedroom - we take our own bottle, wary now of muggings by minibar - we dined in the hotel's brand-new, Med-themed Bayader restaurant, low-lit, by the pool.
Food and setting were splendid, but what of our fellow guests? Had we fallen in among jet-setters? Apparently not. On the next table was a heroically overweight banker-type with a well-preserved wife, over there two middle-aged English couples (GPs on a weekend break, at a guess), across the way a young French family. Not one of them looked as if they'd rate a down-page paragraph in their local paper, never mind Hello! magazine.