The Green Threat to St Tropez Hedonism
It was Brigitte Bardot in the 1956 Roger Vadim film “… And God Created Woman” who inspired champagne-drenched hedonists and global glitterati to gather at Saint-Tropez and celebrate extravagantly — a sparkle that has endured for more than half a century.
But now this 50-year run of summer stardom, power yachtsmanship, raffish, ostentatious lifestyle and high jinks at the world famous Pampelonne beach, is under threat from heavy-handed 21st century eco-warriors.
For an EU-driven green agenda, fortuitously allied to the current governing French ethos which sees a Socialist President happily waging war on the wealthy, is perversely, challenging a fabulously lucrative part of France’s tourist industry at a time when jobs are scarce, recession stalks the continent and despair dampens French joie de vivre.
As Paris Match writer Ghislaine Ribeyre reports: “While the glittering stars and wealthy beachcombing punters who flock to this 4.5 km long paradise of sand, pine trees and turquoise tinted water are not likely to notice it this summer, Pampelonne (the beach that introduced Europe to topless sunbathing in the 50’s) is at war”.
Back in 2000 over-zealous environmentalist groups — objecting to being forced to walk in the waves at Pampelonne due to restrictions on every Frenchman’s right to stroll along the state-owned coastline — took the issue to court and won two rulings to declare the beach a protected natural reserve.
However after much lobbying — not least from the nearby town of Ramatuelle which has administrative responsibility for France’s most profitable beach resort and whose budget and 5,000 local jobs depend on it — a temporary exception was granted.
“But now after a struggle that dates back to the 1990s,” Paris Match says, “the battle that has pitched beach shack owners and their businesses against local authorities bent on imposing ‘environmental protection’, appears to be reaching a climax.
“The fight has been in and out of the courts with appeals to the country’s highest instances, parliamentary lobbying and much publicity but finally appears to have run out of road. For this time, say the 27 affected beach club owners, the threat is real. The 15-year concession granted by the state to Ramatuelle to manage change at Pampelonne has expired. As a result central government has a tremendous lever to force through radical planning amendments. These include reducing from 30% to 20%, the area occupied by the private beach shack concessions on the sand. The state also wants to close down four of them entirely, demolish all existing beach restaurants and force them to rebuild further back from the waterline while ensuring that these are temporary structures that can be dismantled at the end of each season, in line with that which applies to beach concessions everywhere else in France.”
Disaster, cry the concession holders, most of whom first set up in rudimentary and unplanned fashion in the 50s and thought they had acquired de facto recognition thanks to the importance of the beach to France’s global image and to state coffers.
They have joined forces as the Pampelonne business association and at one time garnered powerful national and international support. They point out that Pampelonne beach is the largest employer in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez and express the fear that replanning will pave the way for large international hotel groups to take over running the beach concessions. This would have consequences for seasonal staff some of whom have worked there for more than 30 years.
The planning opponents say Pampelonne Beach is recognised as a top-ranked world tourism resort, drawing 30,000 visitors a day in high season. Its hugely wealthy international clientele come, they say, for the authenticity that is found on Pampelonne beach and to imbibe the myth and atmosphere of Saint-Tropez.
So as Paris Match puts it, they have taken up arms: “Battle HQ is the plage des Jumeaux beach, which attracts artists, discrete fortunes and those allergic to bling bling. The owner, Jean-Claude Moreu also chairs the Association des exploitants de la plage de Pampelonne. He has produced figures to demonstrate the significance of Saint-Tropez’s beach in the economy.
“He says, ‘during the season Pampelonne businesses generate 42 million euros in turnover, create 800 seasonal jobs, buy 6.5 million euros excluding taxes, in goods and services from local suppliers (greengrocers, vineyards …), and further boost opportunities for 50 companies in the Var region … all of this before any attempt to quantify the economic value of the tourism dream, the mythical attraction of Saint-Tropez that has been created and sustained on the back of Pampelonne. Purely and simply ‘Saint-Tropez today would not exist without Pampelonne,’ he adds.
“For while it is the jewellery-encrusted jet set that remains at the forefront of all the celebrity magazines, ‘the beach itself is a family – many of those here have been running their business for more than three decades – albeit with a lot of quarrelling and rivalry. But in adversity we have one common cause’, he says. So for now, the beach entrepreneurs are putting aside years of scrutinizing the new arrivals (on the Bagatelle beach, a trendy concept imported from the United States) or grumbling about Nikki Beach (located at the edge of the beach, and thus unaffected by the changes) and where pretty girls continue sipping Sex on the Beach and dance at the poolside. The threat has also abolished any differences with Club 55 (10 million euros turnover excluding taxes) or Neptune, the private naturist beach (400 000 euros turnover), all of whom choke in horror at the idea of having to convert into ‘a beach lounge offering plastic sun beds and cheap furniture’. The measures being taken by the local council are regarded by many owners as unreasonable and as placing the interests of local politicians above the welfare of the region at large. Removing us from the beach, says Patrice de Colmont of the world famous Le Club 55, would destroy ‘the image of France. That may sound pretentious,’ he says, ‘But Saint-Tropez is a part of the French image. Saint-Tropez is life – it is men and women and all the weaknesses that make up life. It is a strong symbol of strength as well as of youth and vitality.’ “
According to Paris Match:”Each year Pampelonne attracts more and more foreigners – up to 85% in some places – a clear success that serves to fuel the resentment of the Pampelonne beach entrepreneurs, enraged by moves to destroy their mythical Saint-Tropez. Stoutly they proclaim: ‘It’s us against them (the state, the department, the eco-warriors), us against technocracy, regionalism and Jacobinism.’
“Their gilded visitors are blithely unaware of the crisis. And therein lies the problem: the golden image of this famous bay, filled to the horizon with luxurious yachts and clogged with Ferraris in the shore-side parking lots, is at odds with France in 2013, which does not like the rich. ‘Instead of nurturing a success, France wants to demolish it’, says Jean-Claude Moreu.
Support is indeed rare notes Patrice de Colmont: ‘In the current climate, it is politically incorrect to defend Pampelonne …’ “.
Gilded indeed! For the parade of stars since the 50s includes such greats as Errol Flyn, Gérard Philippe in 1960, Brigitte Bardot with Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, Michèle Morgan in 1970 with Gilbert Becaud and producer Eddie Barclay and an endless list of movie and singing stars : Claudia Schiffer, Sylvester Stallone, Elton John and Johnny Hallyday, Romy Schneider, Juliette Greco …
The public consultations which closed on July 19 at Ramatuelle town hall were the subject of much debate and intervention by those affected, but reportedly stirred little general public interest. It is however unclear how much of their message has gotten through especially as they face increasing hostility from their opponents: “We are accused of being the ‘preserve of the wealthy’, however 70 % of the beach area at Pampelonne is open to everyone,” the concession holders complain.
The Socialist Mayor of Ramatuelle, Roland Bruno, insists that the time for talking is now over.”Physically the beach is in danger and we have no choice but to act, this debate has been going on for more than 20 years, and now we must carry out the plan”, he said.
Here are the contacts of the existing Beach clubs (for a visit before they go!:)
- Club 55 (www.leclub55.fr) in the early Fifties, Club 55 was the canteen of the stars and crew making And God Created Woman.
- Tahiti Beach (www.tahiti-beach.com) is the oldest club on the beach set up in 1946 at the northern end of Pampelonne.
- Les Jumeaux (www.plagedesjumeaux.com) is a good choice for children.
- Nioulargo (www.nioulargo.fr) is noted for two particularly fine exotic and sophisticated restaurants.
- Moorea (www.moorea-plage-st-tropez.com) is at the lower end of the Pampelonne price spectrum.
- Aqua Club (www.aqua-club-plage.fr) is a happy-go-lucky establishment.
- La Cabane Bambou (www.cabanebambouplage.com) is found at the more casual southern end of the beach.
Story: Ken Pottinger firstname.lastname@example.org
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