Saint Tropez’s famed Pampelonne beach “is losing its soul”, has warned Brigitte Bardot, the actress who put it on the map in the 1950s, amid a bitter row over the rights to cater to the rich and famous along the coveted strip.
Pampelonne, a three-mile Riviera stretch of white sand outside St Tropez, has been a sun-kissed haven for the world’s jet set ever since a bikini-clad Bardot was immortalised frolicking on its shores in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman.
Today, its beach clubs are a magnet for beautiful people, actors and billionaires, from Beyonce to Leonardo di Caprio and Naomi Campbell.
Valets at clubs like Bagatelle – owned by Russian billionaire Dmitiri Rybolovlev – park customers’ Bugattis as they dine on fish with a sea view or enjoy a massage on a private lounger with their mega-yachts moored nearby.
Last week, Donald Trump Jnr was spotted dancing under a sombrero at Nikki Beach to fete the birthday of a business associate, who is a regular. His mother, Ivana, preferred a spot of shopping nearby in one of St Tropez’s many high-end boutiques.
However, unbeknownst to the jet set, the party is over for the owners of a string of “historic” beach clubs.
This week, the local town hall of Ramatuelle, with administrative control over Pampelonne beach, cast a hotly-awaited vote on the rights to operate clubs on the strip.
It announced 30 winners for leases lasting from 2019 to 2030 under the proviso that they respect environmental norms, meaning those on the beach must be totally dismantled in the winter months to allow the sandy area to "recover" from tourist wear and tear, and then rebuild them.
In a coup de theatre, a string of luxury hotels, including Byblos, Hôtel de Paris and l’Ermitage operating in St Tropez, were granted permission to run some stretches, while other well-known beach clubs – some that have been operating for decades – were thrown out.
Reacting to the decision, Bardot said she was “scandalised and very sad”.
“They are killing the soul of Pampelonne,” she told Paris Match. “This is an era when they’re going to ruin it all. Money will kill this place, as it already has in the village of St Tropez, where I no longer go,” said the ex-sex symbol-turned animal welfare activist.
“At first, there was nothing. Then beaches appeared after the film And God Created Woman. Each was different, funny and unconventional. There was joy, it was a symbol of freedom,” she recalled.
“But with this reorganisation project, this beach will become monotone when it was so charming. It’s tragic.”
La Bagatelle, one of the clubs attracting the most A-list celebrities, has not won the right to continue operating.
In particular, Bardot was appalled that the town hall had not renewed the contract for Les Jumueaux beach club, an institution for 31 years, which lost out to the nearby luxury hotel La Réserve, where fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld is a regular.
Expressing doubts over the impartiality of the decision-making process and fury that he had found out about his eviction “in the local paper”, Jumeaux owner Jean-Claude Moreu said he would appeal the decision in the courts.
“The beach is being taken over by ‘palaces’ that will charge sky-high prices, whereas it should remain accessible to all,” he told the Telegraph, pointing out that the number sun beds for hire stood to drop from 5,200 to 3,200.
“Brigitte Bardot is right: this beach was created in the 1960s for families, each area with its own specificity. “Now each club, whether or not they win a tender to operate, will have to raze their property and rebuild it every year. The charm of the beach will be erased with a stroke of a pen.”
Ramatuelle mayor Roland Bruno said the aim was to make the beach more sustainable, accusing Mr Moreu of seeking to “obtain an advantage over rivals in unfair conditions that would breach the fair treatment of candidates".
“Like in all competitions, a majority of tenders studies cannot be accepted,” he told Le Point, advising the owner to appeal.
In all, he said the town hall had handed out 23 leases for beach club restaurants and sunbathing areas, five for marine leisure activities and two for children’s areas.
Jean-Philippe Cartier, who co-manages l’Ermitage hotel and won the right to run a 450-seat restaurant by the beach, said draconian environmental rules would be respected. The entire structure would be made of sustainable wood, use rain water and solar panels and be “reversible”. Electric boats would be used to pick up millionaires from their yachts who wish to dine to reduce the carbon footprint, he said.
“We’re very proud of our dossier and will do everything possible to be worthy of this site: the whole world comes through this beach,” he told Le Parisien.
Patrice de Colmont of Club 55, whose parents served food to Bardot during her 1950s film shoot and won the right to continue running that stretch, said he thought the town hall had “tried to decide in the interests of the local community”.
“Naturally I regret that some colleagues didn’t see their lease renewed as they are part of the history of the beach," he told the Telegraph.
"But I think that some didn’t realise that only the best were chosen. It was as simple as that.”
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