Previous month:
August 2008
Next month:
October 2008

Les Voiles de St Tropez 2008

Azuralive_voiles2008 Sunday, September 28, 2008: First day of the Voiles de St Tropez 2008!

It was off to a good start: it only took us 45 minutes to drive from Ste Maxime to St Tropez. On a Voiles de St Tropez morning (11:30AM), that's darn fast!

As usual for this race and show, gorgeous yachts lined up the quarry, all spiffed and shiny and ready for cameras. Azuralive_voiles2008_y3k

The day was overcast, but sun rays pierced through the metallic clouds to shine on the sails in the bay. And there were many. Over 300 boats are expected for the Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2008, with 4000 sailors to crew them. Along the quays and the cobbled streets of St Tropez estimates are counting on some 20,000 spectators for the event.

Azuralive: Senso One in St Tropez We watched in awe the 140 feet (42 meters) schooner Senso One glide on the water at impressive speeds. With its two 45-meter masts and its sleek long hull, it dwarfed all other boats around it then. Despite its gigantic proportions, Senso One only weighs 50 tons thanks to its light-weight carbon fiber hull and stripped insides.

Around 3PM, the whistle blew to announce the first boat to sail in from Cannes from the Coupe d'Automne Yacht Club de France cup.AzurAlive: Shamrock V, winner of the 2008 Coupe d'Automne of the YCF

J Class sloop Shamrock V won the Coupe d'Automne 2008 today. Honestly, you're there for the fantastic show of new and old sails, elegance, technology. The St Tropez regatta is to be missed if you're anywhere near.

For details on the program that lasts until Ocotber 5, 2008, check out the organizer's web site:

http://www.snst.org/

We'll be posting more pics as the Voiles days sail on by... check back with us throughout the week.


Around Fréjus: The Jean Cocteau Chapel

Azuralive, Chapelle CocteauYesterday, we visited Our Lady of Jerusalem, a tiny chapel in the northern suburbs of Fréjus on the French Riviera.

What's special about the little chapel?

It was French poet Jean Cocteau's ultimate creation before his death in 1963. Jean Cocteau was famous in France as a prolific visual artist, poet, sculptor, author (Les Enfants terribles), playwright (Les parents terribles), film director (La Belle et la Bete, 1946). He decorated many homes, offices and chapels and France.

On the French Riviera, you'll find Cocteau's pastel frescoes wrapping the interiors of the Chapelle Saint-Pierre in Villefranche-sur-Mer, at the Centre Méditerranéen d’Etudes Françaises at Cap d'Ail (not open to the public), in the Menton Registry Office in Menton, in the privately-owned Villa Santo-Sospir at Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat.

Azuralive, Chapelle CocteauFor his final masterpiece in Fréjus, Cocteau drew up the plans for a small octagonal chapel with the help of architect Jean Triquenot. By 1963, construction began in earnest and Cocteau soon breathed life to his hundreds of sketches. Unfortunately, he died in 1963 before he could complete the chapel. His close friend Edouard Dermit picked up the project and completed it using Cocteau's sketches.

Azuralive, Chapelle CocteauYou reach the little building at the top of a hill after a hike of half a kilometer in the woods, with the Esterel Mountains in the distance, the twisted trunks and branches of cork oak trees dispersed in the forest and a group of cypress trees that line up  like planted paint brushes.

By the time you enter the chapel, you're under the spell of everything around it: the forest away from the world, the building's soft green sandstone, the porch that wraps around it, the waves of its tiled roof.

Three doors invite the sunlight in through cubist-styled stained glass windows.

They transform the mood of sun and clouds into hues that bounce around the painted frescoes.

Azuralive, Chapelle CocteauThe frescoes cover the interior of the chapel with pastel colors in blues, yellows, greens. They illustrate the Christ's Passion theme (the Last Supper, the Arrest, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection).

Azuralive, Chapelle CocteauYou'll find a self-portrait among the apostles (second from the right when facing it, in blue with dark wavy hair) as well as a the recurrent presence of actor, colleague and lover Jean Marais (painted in this chapel with a generous wave of blond hair).

Azuralive, Chapelle Cocteau ceramics by Pelissier The chapel floors comes alive with deep blue ceramics that move like water! Ceramist Roger Pelissier designed these vivid tiles.

Cocteau died on October 11, 1963 of a heart attack shortly after learning of the passing of his long-time friend Edith Piaf.

On is tomb at Milly-la-Forêt, the words: "I am still with you (je reste avec vous)".

In this little chapel in the woods of Fréjus in the Var, Cocteau is alive.

Azuralive, Chapelle Cocteau Crusaders

More info: The chapel is open for visits from 9:30-12:30AM and 2-6PM daily (closes one hour earlier, at 5PM, from November to April). Closed on Mondays.

Getting there: is  surrealist experience :). It's not that bad if you plug it on a GPS or plug your route on ViaMichelin.com, for example.
It's in the Tour de Mare suburbs of Fréjus 83600, Var, on Avenue Nikolai.

Phone: 04 94 53 27 06
For more info, you can also contact the fréjus tourism office at
http://www.ville-frejus.fr/

Interested in a great half-day hike close by? Take a look at our latest hiking guide below on Amazon.com (and Amazon.co.uk too!)

 


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


French Riviera Amphorae Speak

Amphorae at St Raphael Museum The Amphora isn't just an ancient container, it's an epic tale that feeds our imagination.

Tucked in the underbellies of boats, it carried wine, oil, grain. In Xenophon's Anabasis, the ceramic urns even carried chunks of salted dolphin. It criss-crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Greece to North Africa to Italy to France and Spain, filled with precious food.

Amphora RhodesOn the French Riviera, at the site of Le Dramont, between St Raphael and Agay, divers discovered numerous ancient amphorae, hidden underwater and spattered about under the tumultuous waters around the cape.

Divers found amphorae from Rodes dating back 2BC to 1C that harbored wine and fruit. 

Even more ancient is a Massala amphora (from Marseille, France), discovered at the site of Camp Long also close to Le Dramont. It's believed to be as old as 6th C BC.

Mortars used to make garum (a fish sauce reminiscent of nuac mam) were also uncovered at le Dramont.

Looking at the pointed shape of these ceramic vats, you can't help but ask:

How did they stash these fragile and bottom-less vases in the small space of a boat?

The amphorae rarely are discovered arranged in the same way they traveled. But texts and some precious ship wreck findings point to a parallel alignment of the recipients. On smaller vessels, 100 to 500 amphorae were typically arranged in one level, tucked and secured with ropes and wood. Some of the larger boats could carry thousands of vases.

And why in the world do amphorae sport a pointed bottom rather than a flat one?

Amphora Massaliote, St Raphael MuseumThe more precious decorated amphorae were often built with a ringed base that could support them upright. These were not the ones to travel the Meditteranean Sea. The functional amphorae that carried commodities around were produced with a pointed base to ease their stacking in the boat's belly. The pointed vats were also less fragile.

Where were/are most of the amphorae found by the French Riviera?

A Few French Riviera Wreck SitesSome of the very rich underwater archeology sites include the Islands of Hyères (Port-Cros, Porquerolles,
Levant - find out more about these islands on this site!), Cap Lardier, the St Tropez Peninsula, St Rapael, Cap Dramont, Cannes, Antibes, Nice.

Where can I get more information on Underwater Diving Sites and Finds on the French Riviera?

100bellesplongesvaroisesThe best books on the subject are in French (know of a great English-language one? Drop me a line).

100 Epaves sur la Côte d'Azur by Anne Joncheray, from the St Raphael Museum of Archeology and Jean-Pierre Joncheray.

As well as 100 Belles Plongées en Côte d'Azur. This one discusses diving sites from the Esterel to Menton

While 100 belles plongées varoises talks about diving sites in the Var (west of the above), from Saint-Cyr to St Raphael.

What Museums can I visit on the French Côte d'Azur about underwater Archeology?

The St Raphael Archaeological Museum homes a number of incredible underwater archaeological finds.
It helps that one of the region's foremost diver and underwater archaeologist is also the museum's curator, Anne Joncheray.

The Musée Archéologique d'Antibes hosts a generous collection of ancient amphorae. Musee Archéologique d'Antibes: 40 boulevard Albert 1er (Bastion Saint-André), 06600 Antibes, Phone: 04.93.34.00.39.

The Musee d'Archeologie de Nice in Cimiez hosts a wonderful collection of ancient ceramics. Among its underwater objects, you'll find a few objects pulled from the 1BC fish wreck of La Fourmique pulled from the Golfe-Juan.

Interested in exploring of the French Riviera on firm land? Take a look at our latest hiking guide to the Western side of the French Riviera and discover stunning natural sites:


Maurin des Maures: A Rebel by St Tropez

Azuralive: St Tropez behind Yachts There's more to St Tropez than guzzling yachts.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon a little old book at a used bookstore in Aix-en-Provence. My edition was printed in 1953. It was "Maurin des Maures", written in 1908 by a local Provence writer from Toulon, Jean Aicard. In a few hours, I devoured the book.

Its story takes place in the brushy maquis and forests of the Maures Mountains on the French Côte d'Azur, just behind St Tropez.

The hero, Maurin des Maures, roams the Maures Mountains by Bormes-les-Mimosas, St Tropez, Sainte-Maxime and south of Gonfaron, Pignans, La Garde-Freinet. He's a free happy-go-lucky man who hunts rabbits and wild boar for sustenance, teases the gendarmes for fun and ends up falling in love with Tonia, a young woman who works as a waitress in a local tavern. The hiccup? Tonia is engaged to an up and coming gendarme, freshly assigned to the region.

MaurinmauresmapThe story charms with its description of the country side behind St Tropez in the mid 1800's. It's also alive with depictions of local personalities, their quirks, their work. Through it, you hear the steps of the wild boar foraging through the woods, you inhale the scents of the maquis. The story bounces like Maurin himself from one adventure to the next, never staying put or boring. It's a colorful, epic and fun tale, with a twist of rebelliousness and love.

Jeanaicard

Jean Aicard (1848 - 1921, born and worked in Toulon) labored for many years on Maurin des Maures.  He claimed to have written it four times over. Flammarion published its first edition in 1908, and it has seen many more editions over the next decades.

The public loved the adventure book. Aicard followed the novel with L'Illustre Maurin (1908) and then Le Rire de Maurin des Maures published in 1923, thus offering a trilogy with Maurin des Maures as the central character.

Jean Aicard also wrote poems, devoting a good number of them to the Provence and its peculiarities. He wrote poems on the Bouillabaisse fish stew (see recipe here), the Olive Tree, the Cicada. Unlike Frédéric Mistral, another Provençal poet, Aicard wrote in French and not in Provençal.

If you fancy finding out more about Jean Aicard, check out the little museum:

  • Musée Jean Aicard
    Avenue du 8 Mai 1945
    83130 - La Garde
    Phone: +33 (0)4 94 14 33 78

Opened  Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 2PM until 6PM and on the 1st and 3rd weekends of every month, except holidays. The museum is in Jean Aicard's former home "Les Lauriers Roses" in La Garde by Toulon, complete with loads of personal items on his work desk. For more info, see the La Garde city web site.

As far as I can tell, the book is out of print, but you'll find plenty of old editions available through Amazon resellers, through AbeBooks and others. You can also get your hands/mouse on a e-book version of it. In French only - a good way to brush on la langue de Molière.

For more stories on the Maures Mountains, head over to our Maures section of the Web site.
For more stories on St Tropez, head over and scroll around our St Tropez pages.


The Riviera Times: August Hiking

AzurAlive: Hyeres Giens Peninsula Coming home last week from a short break away from the Côte d'Azur, I found The Riviera Times newspaper waiting for me at the door step.

As usual, it was short on gossip and generous on tips for urban and outdoors activities for the French Côte d'Azur, Monaco and Liguria.

And as usual, the paper ran my regular monthly hiking column. Since I can't seem to get my paws off our network of Grande Randonnées (GR), Petite Randonnées (PR), Promenades de Pays and various local trails, writing about hidden Côte d'Azur treks seems natural enough.

AzurAlive: Giens Peninsula ArticleFor the August edition of the Riviera Times' hiking column, I picked a wild coastal area that isn't all that often visited. It's the Giens Peninsula and it's a dream to those of us who long for a slice of raw nature.

It's off the coast of Hyères on the Western side of the French Côte d'Azur. It's wind-swept, rugged, unkind to flip-flops and to high heels.

It runs over moody terrain that climbs until your buttocks burn then strolls by soft sea-side views. And it faces the Golden Islands of Hyères.

Some 18,000 years ago, when the Mediterranean Sea was 125 meters below its current level, you could have walked from the Giens Peninsula to the Golden Islands. Today, you can hike around the western tip of the Giens peninsula and discover cliffs that plunge precipitously into the sea, a trickle of small spiny islands and rocks that appear hand-painted as they display their geologic torments through layers and folds.

To the walker who isn't afraid to get those legs moving, this hike is one of the most rewarding short hikes this side of the French Riviera.

You begin the hike just west of the port de la Madrague and make your way along the coastal path to the Darboussières beach for a 6.5 km (4 miles) round-trip hike. You can sort of see the map from the article above. If not, drop us a line or check out our hiking guide to the western French Riviera on Amazon.

And if you decide to stay on the Giens Peninsula, consider the Hotel Lido Beach. We're not affiliated with them in any way, just fans. It has a private beach with a view over the Golden Islands or Iles d'Or (islands of Porquerolles, Port-Cros, Le Levant -- see our articles on these islands under the "By Hyères" category). Best of all, it's reasonably priced given the location.

Happy trails!


Summer Counting on the French Riviera

Not yet back to school on the French Riviera It's September.

The French Riviera is chatting about the "rentrée scolaire", the back-to-school day. Kiddies, it's tomorrow, September 2nd.

And we're beginning to hear about the Côte d'Azur's "bilan touristique." How many visitors did the region count this summer? How are the hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and snacks of the French Riviera doing? After all, the PACA (Provence Azur) region counts about 150,000 jobs during the high season that are linked to tourism.

The tone? Mild disappointment. According to Jean-Marc Coppola and Comite Regional du Tourisme PACA, 2008 was not a block-buster summer for folks in the tourism industry. But it was reasonable.

Skeptics among you will say that this is the usual tone when summer draws to an end. OK. But still, a few trends emerged for 2008 tourism on the French Côte d'Azur. More commentary will come by the end of September:

  • Number of visitors is stable as compared to last year.
  • Visitors opted for shorter stays on tighter budgets.
  • Visitors focused on urban areas as well as the coast and beach, as opposed to the mountains or back-country. Anecdotally, we noticed few hikers in the back-country but that's not a trend. It's always been that way (and we're not complaining ;-).
  • Restaurants felt most of the impact of economic worries and wallet squeezing. Folks opted for salads, sandwiches and picnics on the beach rather than outings at restaurants.
  • On the other hand, five star exclusive hotels and palaces sprinkled around the Côte d'Azur (such as those on Cap d'Antibes, St Tropez) did very well with affluent clients. If you don't care about the number of trailing zeros on the bill for that sea-view suite that wraps around the cape, be sure to reserve early.

SunonseaIncidentally, Summer is not over. September makes for one of the best months to visit. It's still warm and, after the summer crowds, the sea feels like it's yours exclusively.