Category Archives: Marseille, Cannes, Nice, St. Tropez and Monaco
Sure, it’s still a few months before summer kicks in but if you plan to visit La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo, you better start saving up some money now (this is no surprise, but everything in Monaco requires a few wads of cash).
Located in the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel complex, La Vigie offers exquisite Mediterranean inspired dishes in a tranquil setting. Chef Paolo Sari, an Italian who learned the trade in Italy, Switzerland and the US, specializes in seafood. We tried the buffet and grill during lunch-time and we can definitely vouch that this is one of the better places around. The meal is complemented by a grandiose view of the sea and an excellent selection of wine.
You reach La Vigie by taking a small path from the Monte-Carlo private beach, or, if you happen to arrive by yacht (damn, we are NOT jealous…okay a little bit maybe), the restaurant also has its own landing-dock where you can moor your boat. It’s a nice little amenity that is appreciated by the “floating villa owners”.
This small gem is only open two months a year (28 June – 25 August), so if you happen to be in the area on those dates, we can definitely recommend this elegant place for some great food and boat watching. La Vigie Restaurant will not let you down.
Palais de la Méditerranée is one of the more recent additions in Nice, having opened after restoration in 2004. It is located on the Promenade des Anglais, the main boardwalk, and is only an arm’s length away from the turquoise water and fantastic beaches. The location is definitely as good as it gets: close to the city center, restaurants and bars that are in abundance here.
However, although Palais de la Méditerranée describes itself as a “luxury hotel” it still has a lot of work to do to actually become one. For starters, the service is not very efficient, there are long lines during check-in and check-out and only one or two persons at the desk dealing with customers. The rooms are clean and functional but more of a 4-star level. The restaurant has breath-taking views of the sea but there the glamour ends: the food is mediocre, the service abysmally slow. Not what you would expect when sipping an over-priced glass of wine while waiting for your starter.
There is one thing that really stands out and that is the concierge service: also slow-ish but nevertheless you will get your reservation in a popular restaurant. Even if you need a vet (we did for Sam) they will go the extra mile and find one for you. But that was probably the only pleasant experience we had at Palais de la Méditerranée.
You are much better off at Hotel Le Negresco a few blocks away, where you for more or less the same money get surrounded by stylish luxury and history.
More about Nice: 24 Nice hours
Just a short boat ride from Cannes (France) one discovers the Island of Sainte-Marguerite. A few fishermen live here and there are only two restaurants. The place is frequented by tourists for its natural beauty but you find here also the historic Fort Royal. Not much, right? So why are so many writers and historians trying to digg up what actually happened on Sainte-Marguerite in the 17th century? Why the attention?
Those who read the Three Musketeers series by Alexandre Dumas know the answer. The last book of the trilogy The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later describes the twin brother of French King Louis XIV being a prisoner who was forced to wear an iron mask so that his identity could never be revealed. He spent several years behind bars on Sainte-Marguerite and his cell still exists.
However, French King Louis XIV is only one of many theories. The French poet Voltaire describe the Man in the Iron Mask as the illegitimate half-brother of Louis XIV. Other names have been mentioned, including the father of Louis XIV and the son of Oliver Cromwell. Historians continue digging, writers and movie producers continue bringing the story to a mass audience. Remember Randall Wallace’s movie The Man in the Iron Mask from 1998 where Leonardo DiCaprio plays both King Louis XIV and his identical twin brother Philippe? It was also filmed here on the island.
In reality, nobody really knows the name of the person hidden behind the mask. Was he a nobleman who went afoul of the King, a general who failed in battle?
This summer the Sam and the dunes team had a chance to visit Nice, Cote d’Azur. It was a short visit and we started to think – how much can you possibly see and do in only 24 hours? We gave it a shot and the end result you can read about in the National Geographic Traveler. We also want to share with you some pictures from our, how should we put it, frantic-fantastic trip. Voilà!
What can we say? It seems impossible to explain in a blog post all the history, glamour and numerous stories associated with one of the most recognized names in the business – Hotel Martinez on La Croisette in Cannes. Here enter the Sam and the dunes team earlier this summer with Sam embarrassingly barking his head off. Polite faces turn, forced smiles from the staff, “Welcome to Martinez!” Personally shown to the room, water bowl brought for our four-legged friend, impeccable, absolutely impeccable.
Martinez has the biggest private beach in Cannes; the fourth most expensive suite in the world; one of the best restaurants in France and if you really want to show off, book a sun-bed on the pier for a hefty 450 Euros per day. After some tough hours at the beach, get a treatment at L. Raphael Beauty Spa to tip off your afternoon before heading over to Bar L’Amiral. Jimmy McKissic no longer plays here (Alex knew him well and these days he is a classical pianist at Carnegie Hall in New York) but the crowd is as boisterous as always. Jazz and Blues rule and cocktails flow by the gallons.
The stories never end, who did what during this or that Film Festival, celebrities going crazy and the rich indulging in everything available. With Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls Royces constantly parked outside (just a reminder who tends to frequent Hotel Martinez), this place is visibly a goldmine for paparazzi and tabloids.
One thing, though, some of the rooms have not been refurbished for a long time so make sure to check if yours is of the new type (the old ones are OK, but not really up to the standards of this hotel).
Will we come back? You bet! (Not you, Sam, this was the last time you stayed in a five star hotel. Period.) Hotel Martinez is a one of a kind experience that you cannot match anywhere else.
Here are some photos of us enjoying Hotel Martinez.
Early on in his career, Alain Ducasse became chef at Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo where he developed restaurant Le Louis XV. Being awarded 3 Michelin stars, this gourmet restaurant is today considered one of the best in the world.
In 2012, Le Louis XV celebrates its 25th anniversary and the Sam and the dunes team decided to check out the nine course tasting menu specifically prepared for this occasion, accompanied by one glass of Dom Pérignon and FIVE different glasses of wine.
The chanterelle mushroom soup, the tender red mullet, the delicate lamb and the chocolate soufflé made us understand the difference between a good chef and the Master. No wonder Alain Ducasse is the only one who managed to get 19 Michelin stars during his career (so far).
We’re not going to bore you with more details about how everything was perfect that evening. We only have one question: why bring out a huge trolley loaded with wonderful cheeses just to offer us tiny pieces from three of them? Apart from this minor detail the evening was impeccable.
Le Louis XV is probably a restaurant that you visit once or perhaps twice in a lifetime; to celebrate some out of this world event (winning the Monte Carlo Rally?), a diamond anniversary, or, to write a review (as we did). To sum it up, Le Louis XV is a culinary masterpiece and Alain Ducasse never seizes to amaze.
Brigitte Bardot put it on the map; Yves Montand came here every year and played boule with the locals; gentry from all over the world docked at the port, descending from their yachts into the numerous restaurants and bars on offer. The clientele on the sun beaches was like a Who is Who of show business. Movies were made here and Louis de Funès became a household name in many European countries as the town’s gendarme battling both local nudists and visiting aliens.
Welcome to St. Tropez, a former fishing village turned playground for the rich and famous and the many wannabes. At first sight, it is not as luxurious as, for example, Monte Carlo, and does not have the required 10-star hotels. What it does have is a lot of charm, small cobblestone streets snaking through hills and cool restaurants. The port is packed with yachts of all shapes and sizes and the tourists overwhelm the streets during the peak summer months.
If you are into celebrity watching, then start your day by having a coffee at Café de Paris in the port, you may run into somebody famous (or they might run into you). Numerous sandy beaches are nearby (Nikki Beach is the famous) and you can choose between the free public ones or pay for entry and get a sun-bed with a sun-umbrella (generous, isn’t it?). Lunch is best taken at one of the beach restaurants so as not to break up the tanning routine.
The evening is made for jiving in town, have dinner at one of the restaurants piled up next to each other. We opted for Rendez-Vous and had some excellent sushi. Then off to a disco, night club or bar, depends on your preference (and age). As our readers might suspect, Hanna opted for the bar. Alex tagged along.
St. Tropez is a fun place to spend a vacation; the only drawback is that the nearest airport in Nice is almost a two-hour drive. Unless, of course, you have a yacht, then just find a place to dock and join the party!
If you are the type who ventures into the city in the middle of the day, sweating buckets, looking for that bargain hotdog stand – stop reading now! However, if your understanding of a pleasant lunch is a glass of chilled Chablis, some exquisite food, all located a few steps from your sun-bed, then go no further, here is your ultimate guide to the best beach restaurants in Cannes.
These three places have many things in common: mouth-watering food, eye-watering prices, efficient if a bit slow service (but then again, who is in a hurry). Every summer during the fireworks festival they offer additional seating so you can view the spectacular show while chewing on a shrimp.
Miramar Plage is probably the best of the lot that caters both lunch and dinner in a pleasant setting. The food is top-end gourmet including some outstanding seafood. The wine list is extensive but avoid asking the waiter for advice, he will point you to the most exuberantly over-priced bottle and if you are as polite as Alex, you will end up buying it (poor fella). Rule of thumb: for White and Rosé pick between 30 and 60 Euros, go up slightly if you choose a Red.
Zplage Beach Restaurant, Hotel Martinez
Since we stayed at this hotel, most of the time we also ate lunch here. The food at Zplage is a concoction of traditional Mediterranean and Asian (woks are prominent on the menu). The dishes are somewhat bland, so if you are into spicy, this restaurant should not be your first choice (or ask for Tabasco, as we did). One of its claims to fame is a 54 Euro (appr. 70 USD) hamburger. We thought we found the most expensive one in Hotel La Mamounia in Marrakech, but no, this one outdoes it in price (and size). Here, Hanna recommends the shrimp wok and Alex – the Black Angus filet steak.
Carlton Beach Restaurant, Carlton Hotel
Probably the most luxurious of the three where the really glitzy crowd descends in the evening. Celebrities just can’t keep their hands and stomachs away from this place. The food, as expected, is reliably good as is the service and the ambiance. Carlton Beach Restaurant is the biggest, so during fireworks season you have a better chance of getting a table here at short notice than at the other two establishments.
Psst, between us, but keep it quiet, OK? We also went to a hotdog stand a couple of times on La Croisette. Try Le 6, top of the top. The best hotdog it town!
On our way to visit Grasse, a small picturesque village in the south of France, we asked our taxi driver if he could recommend us a good lunch place. He gave us a name of one of his favorite restaurants and insisted that we can’t bypass it. “The olive oil they use is locally produced and you’ll love the food!” he told us.
Since we were not even slightly dressed up, we assumed he had recommended us a charming family owned little restaurant somewhere in the countryside at dirt cheap prices. Boy, were we wrong.
The little hole-in-the-wall-cafe we had expected ended up being a world-renowned Michelin star restaurant – La Bastide Saint-Antoine – owned by chef Jacques Chibois. And to our horror we had arrived to this top-notch gourmet restaurant, located in the middle of nowhere, with one of the nicest terraces we have ever seen, overlooking a beautiful valley – wearing flip-flops and shorts!! Trust us, we were in stark contrast to everything this place is famous for – class, taste, sophistication.
We desperately waved to the taxi driver (we have to leave now, we are NOT dressed for this!!) but it was too late, the car had already disappeared around the corner.
However, to our continued surprise, we were allowed in (note to ourselves: don’t make that mistake again, next time they might ask us to leave) and shown to a delightful table. And surprises didn’t stop here. Being aficionados of good food, we know how much it costs to eat in such a restaurant. However, the lunch menu was at a fixed and very reasonable price.
The fois gras, the shrimps (as starters) were beyond words. The sea bass (as our main choice) could hardly be more recommended. Pencil in the view and we probably found one of the most romantic and idyllic hideaways in south of France.
The restaurant is part of a boutique 5-star hotel (Relais and Chateaux group) and a weekend here is something we would whole-heartedly recommend.
There are luxury hotels, and there are LUXURY hotels. Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo definitely belongs to the second group. We have written about James Bond in a previous hotel review but here it would actually be a disservice to our readers not to mention 007. With all the glamour and flair this hotel radiates, no wonder a couple of James Bond movies were filmed on its premises. In fact, it’s not hard to picture Sean Connery elegantly entering the lobby, charmingly looking around with glitter in his eyes before he sits down for a martini at Le Bar Americain. The hotel has also been featured in two additional Hollywood blockbusters, Iron Man 2 and Madagascar 3, while plenty of other movies have been filmed in the vicinity.
To be honest, we really couldn’t find anything to fault Hotel de Paris (what were we expecting?). The service was exquisite, quick, efficient and non-intrusive. The hotel, which was established in 1864, has “chateau-like” rooms that are beautifully decorated, spacious and offer everything imaginable.
In the evening, Le Bar Americain will entertain guests with some jazzy tunes and if you are up for a game of roulette (of course you are), the Monte Carlo Casino is located just across the street.
The hotel is a regular item on the Conde Nast Traveller Gold List and to sum it up – you will not be disappointed staying at Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. All your needs will be taken care of (for a hefty price, of course).