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Summer in France: rosé wine, acres of blooming lavender, the Tour de France — and endless traffic jams as the entire nation seemingly hits the road, especially come August. So where does the haute class head to get away from it all? Here, a look at a few favorite spots, and how the jet-setters avoid the crowds.
ILE DE RE
Who goes: French actors Fabrice Luchini, Vincent Lindon and Patrick Bruel, and Sonia Rykiel. Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis are said to have been spotted around the isle.
Where to go: Two miles off the western coast of France, Ile de Ré, with stretches of silver-colored salt marshes that dot the island’s coast, shimmers in the midday sun. Vacationers have succumbed to the whitewashed fishermen’s villages, fine sand beaches and cognac vineyards. For seafaring socials, head to the Bant du Boucheron, a stretch of sand that vanishes at high tide, or Trou de Chemise beach in Les Portes to soak up the sun before going to Le Chasse Marée for dinner. In the village of La Couarde, Taxi Brousse, open only in the summer, is ideal for a lazy, barefoot luncheon in the sand under graceful poplar trees. For dinner, La Salicorne serves fresh catches of the day in a quaint courtyard. After a sun-soaked day on the beach, wine is sipped while pétanque is played at the church square in Loix before dinner at La Cabane du Fier. In Ars, known for its bountiful market, Le Bistrot de Bernard is a must for lunch or dinner, and Le Chat Botté in Saint Clément boasts one of the island’s best cuisines. Bô’s trendy setting in Saint Martin is also a popular spot. After dinner, islanders file into La Baleine Bleue in Saint Martin for tipples and tunes, only to regroup later at La Pergola in La Couarde, where they kick up their heels until dawn.
What to avoid: There is only one main road running through the island’s center, so regulars avoid rush hour and zip around the island in fishing boats. — Emilie Marsh
Who goes: Bernard Arnault, François Pinault, Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Victoire de Castellane, Giorgio Armani, Harvey Weinstein
Where to go: Moguls and fashion designers gravitate to the quiet hamlet of Ramatuelle to soak up the sun behind the high walls of their maximum-security compounds. Yet, it’s reassuring to know there’s plenty of action close by. Lunch at Club 55, a private beach club known for copious platters of crudités, is a requisite destination for movers and shakers. Photographer David Hamilton sits at the same corner table almost every day, and Hollywood types talk shop over bottles of rosé. After an afternoon of loafing at the 55, Champagne-fueled partying is an option at the neighboring Voile Rouge, a self-styled cradle of hedonism. After all, the Voile claims it pioneered topless sunbathing on its beaches. For those who seek a calmer environment, the restaurant at the Villa Marie, a luxurious hotel perched on the hill above the Plages de Pampelonne, is a choice. But indefatigable revelers always end up at Saint-Tropez’s inimitable pleasure cavern, Les Caves Du Roy, where the disco dancing lasts until dawn.
What to avoid: Seasoned pros know driving into Saint-Tropez in the afternoon is a no-no. Too many tourists, too much traffic, too many paparazzi. Veterans opt for the relative calm of Ramatuelle.
Who goes: Pierre Bergé, Christian Lacroix, Ines de la Fressange, Terry de Gunzburg, Maxime de la Falaise, Jean-Jacques Picart, Jacques Grange
Where to go: Every Frenchman worth his chic knows crowded isn’t in. In Provence, that means lying low around a private pool with a book and a chilled glass of rosé. Friendly cocktail parties kick in after five in this region, where the social set lives largely behind closed doors. But one can’t live in complete isolation. Cultural activities are plentiful. In July, the opera festival in the outdoor arena at Orange is a must, as is La Roque d’Anthèron piano festival, near Aix-en-Provence. At the delectable market in the town of Velleron, local farmers unpack fresh produce every evening after six. One of the best-kept secrets is the restaurant Le Ravi Provençau in Maussane. A family bistro with a long tradition in regional cuisine, it just might serve the most incredible rabbit à la Provençale in the world.
What to avoid: Don’t hang with the hoi polloi. Stay out of sight during the high-traffic hours between 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. — you may find yourself in the midst of beautiful countryside, but you’ll be stuck in maddening gridlock. Town centers St. Rémy and Arles teem with tourists during these hours, too. Better limit your sojourns to early morning or late evening, especially for shopping.
— Robert Murphy