SAINT-TROPEZ, France — Facing the Mediterranean Sea, Saint-Tropez in the south of France was once a rustic fishing village. It was actress Brigitte Bardot's visit that transformed the village into “a resort town for the rich and famous,” where millionaires and celebrities spend their vacations.

At first glance, it looks like an ordinary country town in southern Europe with houses with orange roofs and winding cobblestone lanes.

However, many luxury cruisers are lined up at the port, and when I flagged down a taxi, a black hired limousine appeared.

The town's list of celebrity visitors, which includes Hollywood star Brad Pitt, French actress Catherine Deneuve, billionaire Bill Gates and Prince of Monaco Albert II, is practically enough to fill a blue book.

Bardot visited the village in 1956 to shoot the film “Et Dieu . . . crea la femme” (And God Created Woman). The village's main industry then was sardine and prawn fishing.

The film crew stayed at La Ponche, a bar and hotel. Current hotel manager Simone Duckstein, 79, remembers vividly the time the actress walked on the beach in a white cotton dress.

At a diner, she suddenly stripped naked as she changed her clothes, stunning people around her.

He said, “She was innocent like a child. She didn't hesitate at all to show off her beautiful body.”

The owner of beachfront restaurant Club 55, Patrice de Colmont, 66, said that when he was 8 he took care of her pet rabbit while she worked.

His parents delivered lunch to about 80 members of the film crew.

“There was no electricity, running water and gas. My mother asked a bakery five kilometers away to grill a hunk of meat in a stone oven,” he said. Bardot liked chopped fresh vegetables, and ate them dipped in olive oil with anchovies.

The blonde bombshell with dark, seductive eyes and physical sensuality who toyed with men in the film was nothing less than a depiction of Bardot herself.

The film made her an international star. Although she came from a wealthy family in Paris, she broke the mold of bourgeois conservatism and became a symbol of a new generation of women who enjoyed life to the limit.

She loved Saint-Tropez and purchased a house on the shore after the shoot, moving there from Paris.

Her favorite boutique at the port soon became a trendy hotspot and Club 55 turned into a social meeting place for people in show business.

However, as she became the target of paparazzi and fans, she started spending more time indoors.

She retired from the movie industry in 1973 and she has since been a devoted member of the animal rights movement. In the 1970s, Bardot started selling her own line of jewelry and devoting herself to the animal rights movement. She had high stone walls built around her house, and once she yelled at a local resident who was walking a dog, “Stop abusing dogs!”

The last time de Colmont saw her was 15 years ago. “She was tired of the world of show business,” he said, looking out at the green cape where Bardot's house is located.

“She is pure and she will never change. To us, she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Everyone in the village is proud of her,” he said.

Today she lives with dogs, cats and horses.

In the winter, the village is quiet with restaurants and hotels closed and few visitors. The ocean, which sparkles a deep shade of blue in the summer, takes on a soft, muted color, like an actress taking off her stage makeup and revealing her real face.