Viva la Riviera Francais!

I seriously  need to reconsider my definition of what big is. When a yacht is wider than the length of ours (48′), then I think that’s big. And I thought the boats in St Tropez were big. In Antibe they have helicopters landing on them in the port. But apparently they can only still cater for a maximum of 12 guests to comply with the charter rules. I enquired about getting some laundry done and knew I had the wrong number when they wanted to quote me a price per fitted sheet & pillow slip and “would I need the crew uniforms washed separately?” Seriously, I am on another planet. Notwithstanding that, the local fishermen still sell their catch from the old town wharf. We loved Antibe. Lots of interesting, winding, flowery streets. Anything you ever need to get done to your yacht, you can get done here. And it’s amazing who you run into. Had a convivial dinner with David Beck after Fitzy came across him cruising past the super yachts.

Antibe was a good base from which to explore the surrounding area. Cannes is only half an hour away. Here they fence off their beaches, whereas in Antibe they just park the super-yachts behind them. We hired a car for a couple of days so we could go inland. Headed up to the village of Mougins, a quaint hill-top town full of galleries, where Picasso lived from the early sixties until his death. Stopped for lunch at Valbonne then headed to Grasse and visited the International Museum of Perfume and one of the perfumeries, where they take you through the whole production process. I resisted the temptation to have a personalised scent made for Fitzy.

But the highlight of this excursion was the Gorges Du Verdon, sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Europe. From Castellane you can drive along one side, stay overnight in the gorgeous town of Moustiers Saint-Marie, then tootle off the next day along the southern bank. Awesome views. In the first gorge shot you’ll see some people near the top right of the image; they’re waiting for their friend climbing up from the bottom! We also managed to find a fabulous lunch spot along the way.

Apparently France has a drinking problem. They’ve gone from an average per capita guzzle of 160 litres per year down to around 30. But around these parts they are very much in the pink with the favourite tipple being a Provence rose. We’ve been sampling the local product and can report that it is very good. There’s even an Absinthe bar in Antibe, although I expect this is mainly for the tourists. Whilst in St Paul de Vence I came across a wine cave that’s been in use as a cellar since the 14 century. Could have picked up a 1986 Chateau Petrus for 2,200 euro!

We are now in Monaco. If guess if you’re selling real estate based on drone footage then it probably makes sense that the local real estate guy drives a Bentley. A two bedroom, 80 sqm apartment costs about 6.5 million euro here! At least you can get fed & watered for a reasonable price in this town. I’ve never seen so many Ferraris, Rollers, or other sleek, Italian designed sports cars in one place. Outside the Monte Carlo Casino and the Hotel de Paris it’s a crack up. It’s a bit like going to the zoo. Swarms of tourists lie in wait trying to catch a glimpse of someone famous. You can have a 7 euro coke at the Cafe de Paris. Near the fountain tourists pose like actresses having their moment in the sun. It’s all a bit of fun. The Oceanographic museum established by the current Prince’s grandfather is certainly worth a look. The building itself  is magnificent. There is an aquarium downstairs and upstairs houses many exhibits recounting the explorations of Prince Albert I.

Nice is just half an hour away on the train. I even managed to spy some Australian Murray River salt amongst some “exotic spices” at the market in Cours Saleya. We stopped off at Villefranche-sur-Mer along the way, yet another picturesque medieval hill town. It’s no wonder that artists such as Monet, Renoir, Picasso and Cocteau have all set their easels up in various places along this stretch. Artists today still try to capture their interpretation of the scene. We hired a car again in Monaco, visiting Eze and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin along the coast and Dolceaqua inland in Italy. The Ferrari was going to cost 2,640 euro a day, so we opted for the French Holden. Some of the streets in these towns are so narrow and winding they are almost cave-like and fascinating. But there are only so many quaint medieval hill towns one can visit! Backyards are non-existent in these towns so the locals create whatever gardens they can. In Monaco they get around the space problem with poo-parks for their dogs. And in the hot weather there’s always a fountain to cool pooches feet. I’ve added a few captions so click on the “i” at the top left of the image for more info. Au revoir!

Les classiques sont magnifiques!

Since you last heard from me we haven’t travelled terribly far in terms of distance, but we’ve been to some interesting places. From Les Calanques we headed to Les Porquerolles, a georgeous group of small islands just south of Toulon. The islands are a designated nature reserve, so relatively unspoilt, with lots of lovely walks and beautiful beaches. We arrived just in time for the Porquerolles Classique, a regatta where 40 classic yachts were racing, including the two Fife-designed  “Moonbeam IV” (32m) and “Mariska” (27m), plus one of the other Moonbeams. Unfortunately it was a bit of a gloomy day with not much wind, but still a spectacle none the less. Acrospire would have held her own very well amongst such esteemed company. Sorry for the excess of boat shots, but I just couldn’t help myself.

The next stop was St Tropez. Made famous in the 50’s when they shot a film there starring Bridgette Bardot, but amazingly it has still managed to maintain a lovely small-town feel. No massive high-rise developments and a sense of maritime history of which they are very proud. In many ways it’s a bit of a dichotomy. Around the corner from the superyachts was a little bay with local boats bobbing about, whilst just along the coast were the serious French villas. Apparently an Iranian buyer recently purchased one based solely on drone footage, without visiting it first. And still, a popular pastime in the local square is petanque, played daily by young and old alike. The population increases ten-fold and prices triple in the high season so we were glad to be just ahead of the curve. Notwithstanding that there were some seriously big super yachts on the town quay, but alas no Paris Hilton table-top dancing at a beach bar. It was interesting at sundown watching all the passersby (us included) gawking at the punters having drinkies on the superyachts. To give you an idea of scale the second last image for this post has 3 yachts. The tiny yacht on the right is an Oyster 57′. God only knows how big the one on the left is!

From there we headed to Ile Ste Marguerite, part of Iles de Lerins group, just south of Cannes. We anchored overnight in a bay near the fort where the mysterious “man in the iron mask” was held prisoner in the 17thC. His identity has never been revealed and theories abound as to who he was: the illegitimate son of Louis XIV, Louis’s twin brother, a black sheep of the nobility and so on. We’ve been moving along the coast so will hopefully be able to do another update before we head off to Corsica. Hoping all is good with you & yours. Please send news!













Crazy in Catalonia

Those crazy Catalonians just love having fun. Guess what they do just for kicks on a Sunday? They make human pyramids seven people high, then get a little kid to climb to the very top of the pile to give the four-fingered salute. Human towers, known as castells, are said to be as much a part of Catalan culture as the architecture of Antoni Gaudí and FC Barcelona. Apparently anyone passionate and committed can become a casteller. Profession, age, and gender are irrelevant. The clubs are said to be great equalizers. Fitzy & Alan W came across this spectacle the other day. 

 It was good to be back in Barcelona as we enjoyed our time here ten years ago. Once again we managed to get prime position at Real Club Nautico, just a skip & a hop to the club. We visited the obligatory sights like La Boqueria market, the Sagrada Familia, where you can peer into the workshop and see the craftsmen beavering away, and various other fabulous works of Gaudi. Toured around the Barri Gotic (old quarter) and played the tourist, jumping on and off the bus that tours all over the city and out to the hills. Also caught up with Robin A and some of her medico friends for a couple of lovely dinners.

 We are now in the land of the baguette, having picked our weather window for an uneventful crossing of the Golf di Lion. Our destination in France was an area known as Les Calanques, a stretch of coast near Cassis with steep-sided limestone coves, a bit like fjords. Cassis is a pretty town with a waterfront crammed with restaurants and a tiny pebble beach where you can rent your own beach bed. More tomfoolery here too – jousting sticks on water in fishing boats no less! Hope all is good with you and yours. Au revoir for now.