Visiting this hotel is like stepping back in time. The legendary hotel welcomed stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s when the French Riviera became the preferred holiday place for the rich and famous. In 2018, the hotel has reopened as “Épi 1959” after a major refurbishment. The style is “a new kind of chic” but the atmosphere still oozes of 50s coolness!
Why Saint-Tropez became so popular
It is said that Saint-Tropez practically invented the summer vacation, but the resort town started out as a military stronghold and sleepy fishing village. It was the first town on this coast to be liberated during World War II as part of Operation Dragoon. After the war, the area quickly became an internationally known seaside resort due to the influx of artists and the European and American jet set.
One of the popular hang-outs was Ramatuelle and Pampelonne beach, a three-mile-long stretch of sand west of Saint-Tropez. In 1959, the French businessman Albert Debarge and Parisian nightlife impresario Jean Castel opened a new hotel there to cater to the star guests. The original Épi consisted of just ten cabins with swimming pools, a game room, and private tennis courts tucked away behind the sand dunes. Saint-Tropez had become synonymous with a culture of beach babes, bronzed skin, boats and cocktails.
Toplessness and nudity
Tahiti Beach in Saint Tropez became popular after the film “And God Created Woman” featuring Brigitte Bardot and emerged as a clothing-optional destination. However, the mayor ordered police to ban toplessness and to watch over the beach via helicopter and the “clothing fights” between the gendarmerie and nudists become a major comedy topic. In the end, the nudist side prevailed, and topless sunbathing became the norm for both men and women at many of the beaches.
The new kind of chic
During the summer of 2018, the hotel reopened as Épi 1959 – a name that clearly states the connection to the charming 50s. Udo Sitterle, director of experience and quality at Épi 1959, explains: “Épi defines what the true Saint-Tropez was. All our work has been about preservation, history, and culture”. The international design team decided to maintain the ten original cabins and decor has been kept light and understated to fit the true Saint-Tropez beach feeling. The team referred to original photography and vintage furniture from the 50s and ‘60s as inspiration. Parts of their amazing collection of images from the golden age has also been used for advertising and creating attention on social media.
The philosophy of Épi 1959 is to be an oasis, a secret closed off from everything else. The hotel provides a relaxed and charming atmosphere contrary to the large corporate chains. “Épi was and still is, real, imperfect, human. It has a soul and a culture that makes it truly unique, thus something we can all associate with” says Udo Sitterle.