... and Cannes and Cap d'Antibes
8/11/12 - 8/12/12 92 °F
Our first stop on the French Riviera (or Cote d'Azur - "Azure Coast", named for the blue of the Med meeting the blue of the skies), was at its westernmost edge in the famous town of St. Tropez. This Riviera resort was made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the '50's, and she still hangs out in a cafe signing autographs on Thursdays from 3:00-5:30. But this was Saturday.
As we drove into town, we started seeing the first of what would become an entire navy of luxury yachts all along the Riviera. Jim being in the boating business, and both of us avid boaters, we loved seeing these boats, yachts and ships, and you will notice in our pictures and blog entries a slight obsession with them.
We walked into the surprisingly small harbor area, got a perfect marina-front seat at a sidewalk cafe, Papagaya (Parrot), and ate lunch while gazing at the several large yachts in the harbor. We were amazed at how they dock here. No finger docks or pilings. Each boat sets out to two anchors in front (for the larger yachts), or grabs an underwater mooring line (for the smaller boats), and then backs in, stern to the dock, fender squeezing fender of the boats on either side. No wonder European boats have passarelles - there is no such thing as starboard- or port-side ties here. It seems odd to us, with our obsession of bow lines, stern lines and fore and aft spring lines, how these huge yachts don't move with so few lines out and just their stern to the dock.
Lunch was delicious, washed down with a local Provençal rosé. A quick walk around the old town gave us a bit of an oversight of this rather small tourist town, and then it was back on the road. Next stop: Cannes.
It was along these Riviera roads hugging the rugged coastline that we came to understand why people say don't travel here during the month of August. Tourist traffic was everywhere clogging the roads, making progress a bit slow. But, coming from Florida, we are used to seasonal tourist traffic, and it was really no worse than Sarasota in winter (except in Sarasota it is 4 and 6 lane roads in commercial areas that are clogged, not picturesque two lane roads through woods, mountains and coastline).
I would have preferred to overnight in Antibes, but considering the time of day and the traffic, we decided to book a room in Cannes instead. Even though the guidebooks say don't overnight in Cannes, we felt we had to, for both time's sake, and well, because it's Cannes! It's famous, it's got to be worth it, right?
Cannes is a pretty big city, with a glitzy beachfront walk, a big, modern (ugly) casino/convention center on the water blocking the view, and otherwise not exactly exuding charm. But still, it was Cannes. After trying to book a few hotels via phone while driving, and finding many of them booked, or overpriced, or too far from the waterfront, we found little Hotel America (go figure), which was cute, clean and nice decor, although absolutely the smallest room you can imagine. There wasn't even enough room to change your mind. But, as I said, it was very clean and nicely done, a great location and (relatively) reasonable.. The giant grand hotel right next door was triple the price.
The evening included pizza at a pseudo-waterfront cafe (blocked by the casino), and an obligatory stop inside the casino, where Jim walked away with a few extra Euros in his pocket playing roulette and the slots, and I spent an hour or more playing blackjack, and only losing 5 Euros. Not too bad.
The next morning was spent walking the port and gawking at the mega-yachts -- at least 50 of them all sandwiched tight together, stern-in, with more moored in the cove. Then it was back on the road to Cap d'Antibes...
...or, more simply, just Antibes (ahn-teeb). Antibes is more of what we expected in the Riviera... Charming old town, with pastel colored buildings in shades of yellow, rose and rust, sidewalk cafes lining open squares, surrounding by meandering alleys. There is a little neighborhood, called "La Commune Libre du Safranier", whose residents banded together in the 1960's to preserve their neighborhood. With its tiny little cramped alleys, and beautifully tended "landscaping" (which for the most part clings to the walls and balconies), it is utterly charming - and hidden. We would never have found it without a guide book.
But the most impressive thing about Antibes, at least for us, were the yachts. We hadn't seen nothin' before this location. There were yachts in the harbor, mega-yachts moored out at sea, and the biggest yachts of all along "billionaire's row". Wait.... I have to reclassify these. These were not even yachts anymore. They were ships. Almost cruise ship size. Even after being in the boat business for 10 years, and going to world-famous boat shows in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, we had NEVER seen anything like these monsters.
We have been fortunate enough to have been inside some large yachts before -- especially Jim, as his company has sold many of these brands before: Ferreti, CRN, Riva (my favorite for <100'), Apreamare, Mangusta (my favorite for >100'), etc. So, it was fun to see so many of these brands in use. And they do use them. Usually in the States, you'll see these (usually under 150') yachts docked in a marina or behind someone's homes. Here they are moving about, going in every direction, as common as Sea Rays are back home. Yachts constantly on the move.
But the ones on billionaire's row were truly mind-boggling. We're used to seeing the 100-150 footers, but they were absolutely dwarfed by these behemoths. The "normal sized" yachts were in the harbor-proper, but beyond them was the special "billionaire's row"with these ships towering above the now, oh-so-dinky 80-120 footers. These were in the 300 to 400 foot category. Crews were cleaning them (probably non-stop), and they had to rappel down the sides with ropes to clean them. The two largest were: "Lady Moura" (385', owned by a Saudi Prince) and "Titan" (~300', owned by a Russian billionaire-tycoon). Docked next to Lady Moura was a 92' Mangusta - a large, beautiful, multi-million dollar yacht in its own right, but completely dwarfed by the giant ship next to it. Perhaps it was the Saudi's day boat? We were stunned and speechless.
The mega-yachts and the quaint old-town made Antibes our favorite destination so far. Advice: stay in Antibes, not Cannes. Next up: Nice (as in, niece, not nice).