The amazing Thomson Dream cruise ship reached the bay of Saint-Raphael on the French Riviera this morning.
It anchored in the bay as part of its "Highlights Of The Mediterranean" itinerary with Ajaccio, Civitavecchia for Rome, Livorno for Florence and Pisa, Saint-Raphael for St Tropez and Cannes, Barcelona all included as ports of call.
The Thomson Dream vessel includes 8 bars, 6 restaurants, 3 lounges, 2 whirlpools, 2 swimming pools, 1 Nightclub, 1 Casino and a partridge in a pear tree.
We did like Thomson's description of Saint-Raphael, pulled directly from their website:
"St Raphael is the girl next door of southern France. Compared to its flashy cousins down the coast, it’s more of a shy and retiring kind of place. The town sits on the edge of 36 kilometres of unspoilt coastline, and it’s overlooked by acres of natural forest and the terracotta-coloured peaks of the Esterel Mountain range..."
Welcome to all Thomson Dreamers, from the girl next door.
Thomson Dream is planning to visit Saint-Raphael again on August 13th this year. We're also expecting MS Queen Elizabeth on August 1st, and Zuiderdam on August 10th and 16th.
Continuing our week-long focus on Saint-Raphaël on the Western side of the French Riviera, we were pleasantly surprised to see more positive changes in this seaside resort-town.
As a local girl to Southern France, I have seen Saint-Raphaël improve over the years with the beautiful seaside Promenade with its palm trees, flowers and green grassy areas in front of the eastern beaches, with the renovated old port which extends this promenade in a classy way all the way to the edge of Frejus.
Saint-Raphael embellishes each year. Some say it is morphing into a little Cannes, yet unpretentious and without the paparazzi festival fuss.
What I had rarely seen in St Raphaël is a foodie scene. Well, times may be changing...
Last night, I was invited at Elly's Restaurant downtown Saint-Raphaël, close to the town's library and cultural center. It was delightful!
Only a handful of tables were busy, but that's not surprising on a Monday night. Service was attentive, quick and full of discrete smiles, all setting the stage for what was to come.
The 35 euro menu offered a choice of 2 different entrées, 2 main dish & 2 desserts. We tried them all!
Each dish was crafted between the crispy crunch of thin root vegetables and the juicy tuna tataki seared to perfection, or the chunky gambas with Piment d'Espelette over a smooth cream of broccoli. A pleasure for all senses.
The swordfish main dish was locally fished. Elly described where it was caught in the area and by which fisherman (nice catch, Olivier!). This added to the experience. It was very tasty and complemented by the tangy taste of confits vegetables tucked away in a little zucchini flower.
Desserts were no let-down. I opted for the "Oh La La Chocolat" chocolate cake filled with raspberry coulis. Not heavy, just sweet and sinful.
I could write about it for a few more pages, but it's best to try it for yourself.
Elly's isn't exactly new in town. Chef Franck Chabod et Eléonore Marion opened the restaurant in 2011. It has since caught the attention and positive reviews of the Michelin book of fine restaurants, among others.
Rumors have reached me that St Raphael hosts a few more new little culinary treats like Elly's, besides the classics such as La Brasserie.
So yes, Saint-Raphaël may well be on its way to becoming a foodie's place.
I'll need to find new special occasions to investigate and get back to you...
The fire-fighting Canadair planes may be impressive to watch as they swooped into the Saint-Raphael and Frejus bay yesterday to scoop up water from the sea, but they unfortunately indicate the presence of fires in the local area.
A few fires broke out in the Var department yesterday. One of them began in Saint-Aygulf by the Villepey lagoon around lunch time and forced the temporary closure of the seaside road that links Frejus to St Aygulf. The fire was quickly under control and the road re-opened.
Another more serious fire started on the RD4 road between Frejus and Bagnols-en-Foret. This one burned from 2PM until around 6PM ravaging around 20 hectares of dry land. Despite very strong winds and dried vegetation, over 200 firefighters soon had the fire under control. It caused no human physical harm, but destroyed a number of mobil-homes in both Pin de la Legue and at Holiday Green.
Over 5000 holiday-makers were evacuated at Pin de la Legue and 3000 at Holiday Green. Most have now returned. No one has been harmed, though clearly some were shocked at how quickly this all happened.
According to firefighters, the vast majority of fires are man-started (cigarette butt flicked carelessly, BBQ when forbidden, etc ). The dry sunny terrain and winds quickly pick it up from there.
Take a look at our quick video of the Canadairs in action yesterday in the Saint-Raphael bay, French Riviera:
Continuing on our week-long review of the best of Saint-Raphael on the Western side of the French Riviera, we reveal another lovely little beach...
The jagged coastline between Agay and Saint-Raphael hosts a large number of small, intimate beaches where families love to go for their generally shallow waters and protected coves. When the offer the best protection against wind and rougher seas too (depending on their orientation).
We have a howling wind today. Our little gem of a beach has relatively quiet waters.
It's called La Plage du Val-Fleuri and it sits in Boulouris, to the east of Saint-Raphael.
Why we like it?
It isn't overly crowded (though I may have ruined it!). It's petite like a jewel with clear transluscent waters and with open views to the Med. It's very clean.
To the east, you can see a rocky island with its doll-sized tower plopped in its center, all adding to the mystery of the place. You can easily drift into thinking you have landed in pirate's remote paradise.
What's my favorite may not be yours... Val Fleuri has plenty of rocks, and not just sand. I highly recommend you get yourself a pair of plastic water shoes (sold at the local beach market across the street - in 2015 around 15 euros) before getting in the rocky side of the beach.
It's small, but so charming... No lifeguard is on duty.
Boulouris offers a small grocery store called Casion across the main street and a handful of shops and bakery inside the village. Plage de La Tortue beach is right next door with its restaurant on the beach. However, there's nothing on the beach itself.
Some folks prefer long wide beaches with lots of people around, a few restaurants, restrooms, that sort of thing. If this is what you are after, try Plage du Veillat in Saint-Raphael for its very central location.
Where is it?
You can easily access this beach by car from Saint-Raphael, following the coastline road heading to Agay. Look for a parking spot when you reach the stop light in Boulouris, with L'Olympe restaurant on the left-hand corner.
By bus from Saint-Raphael, look for AggloBus 5, 8 or 10 from Saint-Raphael's main "Gare Routiere" bus station and stop at the "Mairie Annexe de Boulouris" stop on Boulevard des Mimosas. You will walk up a few steps on Boulevard des Mimosas and turn right at the roundabout to Rue Valrose heading down slightly towards the sea. Cross the seaside road or Route de la Corniche and you will see a sign on a little street that points to the sea and to Plage du Val Fleuri.
Discover the Western French Riviera on foot with the best hiking guide to the area:
Les Bateaux de Saint-Rapahel, which serve a number of local ports with their ferry boats, currently recommend that travelers book their ferry tickets 48 hours in advance during this busy summer season.
If you're heading to St Tropez from the eastern side of the French Riviera (Nice, Antibes, Cannes, Agay, etc), taking the train to Saint-Raphael and then the ferry to Saint-Tropez is a great way to travel during the busy season.
Photo: Plage du Veillat, Saint-Raphael, French Riviera, France
I hesitate to place the Plage du Veillat beach on our list of Best Beaches for the French Riviera, as it is anything but secluded and I like more secluded beaches.
That's my bias, and you may not agree with me so...
Here's the scoop on the Plage du Veillat. It's sandy, fairly deep and long and smack in at the tip edge of Saint-Raphael's main high street. It is watched over by a number of lifeguards during the summer, and is large enough not to feel cramped and packed and horrible. It does get busy in the middle of summer, especially with families. Ice cream shops, restaurants, restrooms and showers are not too far away so all is convenient. There's even a swimming instructor by the beach corner - you can hire him to teach your budding swimmers that stylish front crawl motion.
What's not to like about it?
Well, if you enjoy a bit more space and if you don't necessarily want to hear about the lives of your beach-towel neighbors, you might walk on a bit further to our list of Best Beaches.
July 14th marks the anniversary of the taking of the "Bastille" prison in Paris by hungry & disillusioned parisians in 1789. They stormed the Bastille and set in motion the wheels of the French Revolution that brought down the monarchy.
Each year "Le Quatorze Juillet" or Bastille Day in English is celebrated as the country's most important national day. In Paris, the celebration center around military displays of tanks, planes, troops marching down the Champs Elysees.
How is Le Quatorze Juillet celebrated on the French Riviera?
Fireworks. Lots of fireworks or "Feux d'Artifice". Fireworks with the entire population poured onto the streets, the piers, the beachside promenade to watch.
Every single town will have its fireworks tomorrow.
Where there's the sea, they usually take place over the bay. On the French Riviera, this is the case in Nice, in Cannes, in Saint-Raphael, in Sainte-Maxime, in Saint-Tropez.
Watch out for the time.
You might expect the fireworks at midnight, but they're usually around 10PM or 10:30PM.
Before then, you might be treated to some festive music along the promenades such as in Nice.
Nice's Prom Party begins at 9:30PM on July 14th this year around the Palais de la Méditérannée. Valbonne with also host music at the Place des Arcades at 9PM. In Saint-Tropez, you will be able to dance at the local bal starting around 10:30PM while the fireworks will start at 10:45PM.
Don't let the name fool you. The Vignobles de Saint-Tropez 2014 rosé may be called "Mist", but it's actually delicious. In German, Mist means manure or crap... poor choice of name for such a delicate fragrance.
They are surely going to receive a lot of mist about it.