On the French Riviera's St Tropez this summer, large scale sculptures by Venezuelan-American artist Rafael Barrios challenge the laws of physics and our sense of perception.
Standing three meters high in bright laquered blue in front of café Senequier, blocks of hand-shaped steel hang out in space. Captured on photo, the blue structure jumps out of the picture to grab you.
At the Place de la Garonne, another grand sculpture by Rafael Barrios appears more discreet in pale grey, only to better strike from its unlikely posture.
Walk by the port to St Tropez' Annonciade Museum and an assembly of pink elements climb toward the blue of the sky. Folks sit around it as if it had always been there, but beware. It may move.
All of Barrios' large structures will disappear from St Tropez on September 15, 2014, to be beamed elsewhere.
Saint-Tropez is such as multi-faceted place. It is not what it seems to be. The town made a perfect backdrop for Rafael Barrios' wonderful trickery for the senses.
Mont Faron will be closed to cars, motorbikes, bikes from 8PM tonight to tomorrow (aug 15, 2014) 4PM. Why? The french president will be paying a visit to Faron Memorial as part of the 70th anniversary of the allied forces landing in the region.
If you're keen on joining the festivities, your only option tomorrow to go up the Mont Faron will be to hike it up or to take the bus (bus 40). Bus 40 will begin its first trip up at 9AM. Francois Hollande is expected up the mountain between 10:30AM and 11:30AM.
The New York Times has launched a new travel video series called "36 Hours". Each video highlights a city in 5 minutes, with interviews from local shop owners, artists, museum curators etc.
Some of the videos feel like adverts, but others manage to really grab at the heart of a town. The above NYT video on Nice is a bit of both, to be fair. But I enjoyed seeing Olive & Artichaud featured there.
Olive & Artichaud is a little restaurant in the old part of town on rue saint reparate, with an open kitchen and decent fresh food. Had lunch there with very tasty basil monkfish for 18 €. They have a narrow set of opening hours, probably given that they make everything from scratch with fresh food of the day - so watch for their current hours on their web site.
The jagged coast between Saint-Raphael and Agay hosts a number of coves and beaches, some of them with sand.
One I enjoy for swimming is the Plage d'Arene Grosse. Actually, it's just beyond that beach, immediately after the Port of Boulouris as you head east.
Why do I love this beach?
In general, it's far less crowded than the better-known public beaches nearby such as the beaches of Saint-Raphael, Frejus or even Agay. Few visitors know about it, unless they're staying in Boulouris right next door.
Because the beach faces the open sea rather than a sheltered cove, the water is usually very clean. You can check the current water quality status at the entrance by the port of Boulouris as water samples are taken and analysed regularly all summer long.
The other thing that may keep some beach-lovers out are the rocks. Most of the beach is sandy, but under the sand lays layers of rocks stretched flat. They create a gentle surf as the sea breaks on the rocks. While they're not sharp, you'll probably be more confortable wearing water shoes. Personally, I wear fins as I love to swim beyond the reef to the open waters.
Where is the beach?
If you don't have a car, it's a walk from St Raphael to reach it, though a very pleasant one if you decide to take the coastal path instead of the main road. That probably keeps many folks away.
Interested in local hikes on the Western side of the French Riviera from Cannes to Hyeres? Take a look at this hiking guide available on Amazon:
In July, the travel site allovoyages published a study on the most expensive resort hotels on the French coastline.
Photo: Hotel sezz, Saint-Tropez
Saint-Tropez topped the list. Monaco followed closely, then Antibes, Port Grimaud. Sainte-Maxime took sixteenth place. Top four on the French Riviera.
Photo: Hotel La Ponche, St Tropez
I wasn't surprised to read this. St Tropez has a generous offering of first-class luxury hotels such as the exclusive Chateau La Messardiere, the charming and full of history Hotel La Ponche in the old fishermen's quarters, or the modern le Sezz, all pictured above.
I was surprised not to see Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat among the top ten, for hotel palaces such as the lavish Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, or even the Voile d'Or.
Queen Victoria arrived in the French Riviera resort town of Saint-Raphael early this morning. With her black hull , red chimney and pointed nose, she seemed elegant despite her imposing figure. She's 32 metres tall, 296 metres long, and weighs... too rude to mention.
While a number of its 2,208 passengers were whisked to shore to visit Cannes or St Tropez or just to stroll around lovely St Raphael, a number of us stared at the cruise ship and wished we could visit.
She has 12 restaurants, 13 bars, 3 swimming pools, a theater, a casino.
The Thomson Dream sneaked into the bay of Saint-Raphael early this morning, early enough to surprise most beach-goers as they spread their beach towels in front of the bay and the large cruise ship that sat in the middle.
By mid-morning, local sailing schools had little sails criss-crossing in front of the 243 metres giant as it rested in Saint-Raphael, after a night sail from Livorno, Italy.
Some of the children on the windsurfers felt intimidated and dropped their sails as they approached the curious white ship with its 12 docks rising to the sky.
But the cruise ship is a friendly giant, and everyone around it soon became comfortable around it. By mid-afternoon, no one paid much attention to it anymore.
Soon, Thomson Dream will continue its journey onto Barcelona before heading back to Majorca where its journey began. Bon voyage!
Tomorrow, Queen Victoria will sail into Saint-Raphael. Stay posted for more on her visit.
Les Bateaux de Saint-Raphael is the one and only ferry boat company which operates from the French Riviera town of Saint-Raphael to Saint-Tropez, but also to Cannes, to Sainte-Marguerite (the larger of the Islands of Lérins in front of Cannes), to the coves between Saint-Raphael and Agay and now to the island of Porquerolles.
When do the ferry boats run?
It varies by time of year. The ferry boat service from Saint-Raphael to Saint-Tropez runs from mid-April to the first of November. It offers more frequent runs during the summer months. Check their web site for current schedule: http://www.bateauxsaintraphael.com/ -> Shuttles & Excursions -> Saint-Tropez -> Timetables & Tariffs
How to reserve?
Currently, you need to reserve your ferry boat ticket in person at the office. You cannot reserve online (at least, not yet), nor can you reserve by phone.
For travel during the busiest months of the year, July and August, les Bateaux de Saint-Raphael recommends you reserve your tickets 2-3 days in advance.
When does the Saint-Raphael Office Open?
In July and August, the Saint-Raphael office is open 9AM to 7PM every day + from 9PM to 10:30PM on Friday evenings. In April, May, June and September, the office is open 9AM-12PM and 2PM to 6PM - closed on Sunday mornings in April and May. In October, 9AM to 12PM and 2PM to 5PM - closed on Sundays and Monday mornings.
How long does the journey take?
The ferry from St Raphael to St Tropez takes about one hour, but weather can occasionally slow it down.
Note that horrible weather could cancel or delay a departure, for safety reasons. If the weather forecast calls for strong Mistal winds or a storm, call the ferry office for an update as to ferry operations. This is fairly rare during the summer months, but it can happen.
How much does the ferry crossing cost?
Fares are subject to change. At this instant, the adult fare from St Raphael to St Tropez is €15 one-way, and €25 round-trip. Check their web site for the current fare.
Are return trips guaranteed?
Yes. If you have purchased a round-trip ticket St Raphael-St Tropez and you return on the same day, you have a guaranteed spot on your return trip.
You can purchase a St Tropez to St Raphael one-way ticket at the St Tropez docking station, but this is provided spaces are available and it is risky in the midst of summer. Keep in mind that at the Bateaux de St Raph ferry dock in St Tropez, credit cards are not accepted so co;e prepared with cash if you decide to purchase a one-way ticket in St Tropez.
Your ticket is valid for a specific trip on a specific day. You cannot change it after the time of departure.
Taking the ferry to St Tropez adds a dash of excitement and adventure to a trip! In mid-summer, it's also a matter of keeping sane... the coastal road to St Tropez stops to a crawl from mid-July to mid-August - sailing into town makes a welcomed alternative.
Map to the Bateaux de Saint-Raphael Office & Departure Quay:
Stand up paddling may have originated in Hawaii where surfers longed to paddle further out to sea to catch the perfect wave, or possibly even earlier in Australia. One thing is for sure: over the last 3-4 years, it has taken off on the French Riviera.
The idea is simple. Take a long, stable, buoyant surf board. Take a paddle with an adjustable length. Set the paddle length to just above your shoulder height. Tie the board safety loop to your ankle. Push the board off the sand into the sea. Hop on. Hang on. Hope the sea stays calm and the legs sturdy. Paddle.
Stand up surf was listed last year as the most popular outdoors activity among first-time participants. Why would it be so popular?
For one thing, it's relatively inexpensive. Here on the French Riviera, you can rent a paddle board for an hour from anywhere between 8 and 20 euros. Yes, there's a large variation according to where you are. In most resorts, count on about 15 euros per hour.
It's accessible to anyone who can stand up. And has a reasonable sense of balance. And can swim too, preferably.
It's fun! Go with friends and family across age groups. You get to see the beach and the surrounding areas from a whole new perspective out in the bay.
Where to stand up on the sea?
Most resorts all along the French Riviera, from Nice to Hyères, will rent paddle boards.