Nearly a century and still going strong. The South of France has been, is and will always be THE sophisticated place no one gets tired of. Perfect villages, stellar food, trendy beaches, secluded coves, pristine islands, staggering wine… a cruise along the French Riviera is one of those 10 things you need to do before you die.
A cruise must be different than journey on land, so, if we want to chose just 7 places to stop overnight, we’ll leave spots like Monte Carlo, St.Paul de Vence and Grasse to those moving on wheels.
Sail during one of the many cool vintage regattas along the Cote
Dine in a Michelin-starred restaurant
Walk at sunset, when the crowds have gone, around the monastery of St Honorat, Lerins Islands, in front of Cannes
A night out in St Tropez… Or in Cannes for the matter
Explore the Island of Port Cros
St.Jean Cap Ferrat/Villefranche
The group of bays around the spectacular Cap Ferrat and the delightful village of Villefranche are one of the top three places of the area. You might expect Cary Grant sneaking out at night to meet Grace Kelly in one of the most expensive villas of the planet, you can swim in well sheltered crystal waters, enjoy the topless girls on the beaches, share the same anchorages of the biggest superyachts around and get lost among the alleys of St.Jean and Villefranche itself. There are at least 5 anchorages, St.Jean and Villefranche being the best. Too many places to see also inland, Eze Village, 10 kilometres from St.Jean, among them. One can stay here forever, well fueled by the Bouillabaisse in villefranche. The blessed French decided that the shore around the Cape is public and built a charming walk, that also goes up the the spectacular lighthouse.
The capital of Cote D’Azur is a boasting city of nearly a million, a bit too large for our taste and more than slightly overbuilt, but it still retains a unique feeling of pure France between its fantastic square and the alleys of the old town. The old harbour is just what every harbour should be. Only too small for the request. Get lost on the Promenade des Anglais and the city centre. Eat at the oyster bars. And if you like Picasso you must drive to Saint Paul de Vence and have dinner at ‘La Colombe D’Or’. Dinner is not Michelin-marvelous, there are places where you eat better. But here most tables stand under an original drawing of Picasso, or Miro, Braque or Chagall…
The world famous posh town of Cannes, besides being blessed by a great climate, location and a blessed film festival, has the unabashed luck of having two islands floating a couple of miles out of the harbour, themselves divided by a green and sheltered channel where hundreds of boats find solace.
It will be a hard choice in the evening… to follow most yachts into labour to fully enjoy the sophistication of the local cuisine and nightlife, or to walk the peaceful paths by the St Honorat monastery under a canopy of pines and palms? Stay a couple of days!
Both the islands and the city are at their best in spring and fall, before and after the big crowds have gone. If there is one drawback in Cannes, it’s the crowds of movie-star-watchers walking around to see the rich people reading their newspapers in the cockpit of their yachts, without thinking that those yachts are all registered in tax free paradises while they – the lookers – pay every dime they must.
Things changed a lot since the days of Brigitte Bardot. The harbor is still a favorite of super yachts but what was once sail and wood now it’s power and plastic. What was once Engliand and America now is Russian and Italian. More of a place for the nouveau riches popping champagne on Eastern beauties on the Pampelonne beach. So a perfect place to go if you are young, rich and in search of pleasant girls to hang around with. For the more conservatives, the beaches are so big that you do not hear the champagne pops, and the area around St Tropez is still very charming!The town itself is still very cute and the harbour is a must see. Thank God the port authorities reserved an area for sailboats, otherwise it would be just a superyacht excess.
Considering that you’ll leave St. Tropez late and almost certainly poorer and hangover, relax till 2 pm by the beaches between La Ramatuelle and Cap Camarat than do the effort to get to Port Cros, a Marine Reserve that stands out of the Riviera like Stanley Park in Vancouver. This is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean. The shores are impressive, the water is pristine, the snorkelling rewarding. Port Man anchorage, althouggh apparently bottomless, is well sheltered and seriously beautiful. I just love Port Cros. Hike around the island. There are restaurants in the small village-ferry terminal.
Unless you arrive in late November during a foggy day, this splendid island is slightly overcrowded for our taste, but like everywhere in Europe ‘there are ways…‘. Anchor for sunset in the magnificent Langoustier Cove and go ashore for dinner in the starred restaurant with the same name. Then take a bicycle and ride to the lighthouse and get lost among the fields and vineyards of the island. If you are into native culture enjoy the nightlife around the main square where you can find girls enjoying ice cream, ladies ordering a very good Tropezienne, Parisians gorging bouillabaisse and old ladies selling crepes.
West of Toulon
The Calanques is a group of deep inlets just west of the town of Cassis, miles W of Porquerolles. People usually rent a boat in Toulon or Nice, and they rarely get this W towards Marseille. The sailor will be rewarded by the very high, uninhabited and savage cliffs of the area. All in all one would prefer to sail just E of Toulon. Another con: the foolish frogs set up a buoy field, so no more free anchorage and a wide expanse of white balls to spoil the photo shot.
Marseille: ok, we all watched ‘French Connection’ with Popeye-Gene Hackman fighting the local mafia single-handed, and losing badly. Still this big city provides a spectacular, affordable harbour, an excellent selection of restaurants by the sea and a fashionable shopping zone. I had to admit life in Marseille is not too shabby.
The point is… Cruise the French Riviera if you want a journey to remember