French Riviera Amphorae Speak
Around Fréjus: The Jean Cocteau Chapel

French Riviera Cruising: Ocean Village Two

Azuralive: Ocean Village 2 in St RaphaelThis Sunday, we headed out to watch a sailboat race in the bay of Saint-Raphael on the French Riviera. We peered into the bay from the port of Santa Lucia at the eastern tip of the town of St Raphael.

In the middle of the bay sat a long, tall, cruising line boat, with orange and red circles painted on the side of its hull. The colorful rings reminded us of Olympic rings, or possibly colorful waves bouncing off the bow.

It was Ocean Village 2, the big cruise line that's "for folks who don't do cruises". The huge boat anchored in the bay for its French Riviera stop along its Villas and Vino Mediterranean cruise.

The boat has a pretty cool itinerary: Palma on the island of Majorca, Tunis in Tunisias, Naples to Florence and Pisa, St Raphael on the French Riviera, Ajaccio in Corsica and then back to Palma in 7 nights.

The Ocean Village Two is not a sedate kinda experience. Or let's say, it doesn't have to be. The cruise line offers what they call Action Ashore adventures at most ports of call. At the Saint-Raphael stop, you can head for the Var river for an organized white river rafting adventure, paddling and screaming your way down the frothing waters; you can travel 12 miles on a mountain bike and cool off at the Fréjus beach. Or you can head for a full-day (7.5 hours) guided visit of the pretty restored village of Grimaud, the waterside village of Port-Grimaud and St Tropez. The Action Ashore adventures vary by year, but they're typically pricey.

We watched the tender boats like little nut shells against the multi-storied floating hotel. They whisked passengers back and forth from boat to shore.

Many upcoming Ocean Village passengers have asked us: what should we do in St Raphael? Should we go for the organized adventures? Or is there lots to do in and around St Raphael.

Azuralive: Sailing in St RaphaelI say: spend the day in St Raphael. Your sea legs and cabin fever head will thank you.

Outside of winter or late fall and early spring, there's almost always something going on by the St Raphael beach-side promenade. Here's a sample:

  • Watch the sailboats whiz by, especially from the eastern side of town where the Nautical Center is.
  • Try une glace at an ice cream parlor (open in the summer)
  • Enjoy the Arts and Crafts displays set-up most Sundays on the seaside prom
  • Take a spin on the merry go rounds by the seaside prom
  • Take the kids to playground on solid ground; it overlooks the sea so you'll have a great view of the cruise line :). The playground is just above the underground parking in front of the Casino and the Tourism Office
  • Relax on any of the few sandy beaches including the most popular, Plage du Veillat. You'll find a couple of pebble beaches too.
  • Stroll by the port at the eastern tip of Saint-Raphael by the Santa Lucia Marina. Enjoy lunch at any of the restaurants there - most are good and reasonably priced.
  • Visit the old town, its open market in the morning at the Victor Hugo Place and Republique Place, its 12C restored church of San Rafeu in the back of the town. You'll find the Marché du Haut or Upper Open Market inland continuing on the main street by the cathedral and the Monoprix, beyond the train tracks and the Mayor's office. It's a ways away from the beach but within walking distance.

The other question you often ask: what's our favorite restaurant in town?

I'm part and partial to the Hotel L'Excelsior's restaurant, especially with a table on the terrace facing the promenade with a plat du jour (around €15 in 2008) and a crisp glass of rosé. The hotel may be exclusive and expensive, but the restaurant is very reasonable given the quality of the food. It may be exactly what you need to escape that wonderful but oh so repetitive cruise menu.

Around six o'clock, we heard the floating hotel's loud and plaintiff siren. The cruise liner had gobbled up all of its passengers back on board, or so we hope. It was time for it to travel to Ajaccio in Corsica.  We watched it point S-E into the open seas and disappear from view.

Azuralive: Ocean Village 2 in St Raphael

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