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.
For a quick view of what the ferry boat looks like, take a peek at our YouTube video about getting to St Tropez by sea.
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.
Tahiti Beach is essentially the northern tip of the very long (in full, 5 km) stretch of beach on the St Tropez peninsula called Pampelonne Beach between the Cap du Pinet and Pointe de la Bonne Terrasse.
La Plage de Pampelonne is famous for its beach clubs such as Nikki Beach, Club 55, and others where plush mattresses and cool drinks line up facing the Mediterranean.
I like Tahiti Beach but it is less glam than its adjacent sister on Pampelonne Beach. Tahiti's beach restaurants are more down to earth than the bigger names further south.
Like all beaches here, Tahiti Beach offers a free section of public beach. The public beach sits between the private clubs, the larger free section being south of Tahiti Beach, the club. You can spot it on the map below. No one will offer you a beach mattress & parasol on the free section, but no one will ask you for money either.
Why? It is a pebble beach, not a sandy one. What's more, pebbles here are large rolling ones, more like rounded rocks which makes it impossible to comfortably lay down and lounge on the beach with just a towel. And getting out of the water back to the beach is a wobbling stumble upwards.
So why did the Plade du Débarquement at Le Dramont make it to our list of favorites?
Its large pebbles keep the some of the crowds at bay. This evening on July 15th, the beach felt deserted and we had no trouble finding space to spread out. Note that this is likely to change as the summer rolls foward all the way to mid-August as the beach is close to a number of campgrounds.
Its seaside promenade along the rocky shores further out towards the Poussaï port makes for a great seaside stroll or a longer exporatory hike.
It offers showers, public bathrooms and large shaded picnic area. A reasonable beach-side restaurant called Restaurant La Plage de l'Ile d'Or serves salads & burgers and a 'Plat du Jour" that will not tear your wallet to pieces (currently 10€ for a very generous daily special - children's menu available).
Next to the restaurant, a friendly outfit rents out stand-up paddles, pedal boats and kayaks for added fun. They rent plush transats with mattress and parasol too. Open in July & August.
There's plenty of FREE parking in the large open lot above the beach (when it isn't overly crowded, of course).
The water is the clearest I have seen thus far this season along the coast. Probably, once again, thanks to the pebbles. Pebbles can be nice.
Bring your water shoes as you will appreciate them for comfort getting in & out of the water.
If you have young children or generally prefer the added safety of a lifeguard, stay in the designated swimming area which is fairly narrow in the centre of the beach.
The beach can whip up waves and froth on windy days as it is open to the sea.
Where is La Plage du Débarquement?
Plage du Débarquement at Le Dramont sits between the resort towns of Saint-Raphael and Agay.
For specific location & directions, take a look at the below Google map.
London-based chef Nina Parker has just published a fabulous cookbook inspired by St Tropez.
What makes the book so special are not just the photos of the now famous little fishing village, its narrow streets and beaches, its markets, its iconic characters.
The book is infused with the taste of the summers Nina spent in St Tropez. Every recipe oozes with the warmth of summer and the abundance of seasonal fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and game in this region of Southern France.
Along the pages, you'll find a tribute to the people who have accompanied the author's summers by the Mediterranean. You'll meet Patrice de Colmont, owner of Club 55 and his famous vegetable platter. You'll taste Le Mazagran's slow-cooked ratatouille and fisherman Lucien's special sardines.
It's a colorful, personal cookbook that quickly climbed up to the top of my list of favorites. Highly recommended!