Category Archives: On the road (2012)
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).
If you ever decide to visit Monte Carlo in Monaco, come well prepared. And we are not talking about passport, toothbrush and other obvious items. You have to be prepared money-wise. And we mean seriously well-heeled. Here is one example: breakfast at a cafe, including coffee, juice (sure, it was fresh) and croissant (not so fresh) for two persons can easily leave you 70 dollars shorter. If this doesn’t scare the h*ll out of you, go ahead and read how you can have an absolutely fabulous time in Monte Carlo.
1. Have a leisurely breakfast (until you see the bill) at Cafe de Paris. This is a trademark place for people-watching outside the casino. It is supposedly a venue where the rich and famous discuss the latest fashion trends and decide when and where to go for dinner but we call it tourist a trap.
2. Have a swim and enjoy the sunny weather at the Monte Carlo Beach. However, nothing is for free (at least not in Monte Carlo) and as the title suggests, we remind you to keep plenty of cash handy if you want refreshments, watermelon, wine and other goodies served to you. The entrance fee to the beach is 120 Euros. After a few laps in the sea, we suggest you venture off to the nearby restaurant La Vigie for a nice and relaxing buffet lunch while enjoying the view of the sea and the surrounding mountains from the terrace.
3. In the afternoon, visit the Monaco Oceanographic Museum, which, by the way, for 30 years was directed by explorer Jacques Cousteau. Enjoy the aquarium with some incredible species and take photos of the sharks (remember flash is not allowed). Sounds like only for kids? Then you should have seen us running around with big smiles on our faces (as if we just finished second grade).
4. Continue enjoying “Joix de vivre” (if you still have money left on your account) and have dinner at Louis XV – Alain Ducasse restaurant inside Hotel de Paris. A 3 star Michelin establishment that will make the most high maintenance celebrity speechless. A true delight (of course)!
5. Cap off the night by visiting the classic Monte Carlo Casino for some one-armed bandit antics, black jack or roulette. It is one of the best known casinos in the world, however, be warned. Don’t go here to try winning back all the money you spent on the beach, cafes and restaurants during the day. Decide your limit beforehand or just walk around and suck in the atmosphere. It may not look as romantic as you might have imagined (at least we didn’t see any James Bond or George Clooney look-a-likes dressed in tuxedos). The place is instead packed with tourists and the lights are on full blast. Not exactly cozy, but on the other hand, since when do high-rollers ask for cozy?
Bottom line, if you feel like partying with the rich and famous, in exchange for some serious money, don’t miss Monte Carlo – the place to see and be seen!
Where to lodge in Monte Carlo? Read our review: Hotel de Paris.
Earlier this summer part of the Sam and the dunes team went to Norway to spend a nice and relaxing weekend in the Oslo fjord region. Unfortunately, it happened to rain non-stop and the travel plan had to be revised. Read Sam and the dunes latest contribution to National Geographic and see what Norway’s beautiful capital has to offer during rainy summer days: Oslo – from under an umbrella.
We haven’t published many stories about Sam recently and there is a very good reason for that. He just had surgery on his eyes. He is fine now but unfortunately he has to walk with a terribly ugly plastic collar around his neck in 40 degrees heat (in fashionable Cannes of all the places!). No wonder he irritably wanders off as soon as we pick up the camera. But there is one thing that always puts him in a good mood again – food. And he has already found his favorite restaurant, centrally located on La Croisette in Cannes. After his daily morning walks, this is the place you can be sure to find him, washing down a Sausage a la Naturelle with a bit of still water.
Hotel Benkirai in St. Tropez is advertised on several travel websites as a five star establishment, which it is not. It is in fact a nice four star hotel to spend a few days enjoying life on the French Riviera. It’s located only a five minute drive from St. Tropez with all its beaches and jet-set life this former fishing village, turned glamour capital, has to offer. The hotel has an excellent taxi service free-of-charge until midnight, so you can easily go to town or enjoy the beach whenever you feel like it.
The hotel itself is very pleasant with a lovely restaurant/bar area, a nice pool and plenty of comfortable sun beds (in the morning you are not stressed looking for a place to put down your old bones to get some tan). The rooms are small, that is a fact, but rather well designed in light blue and white colors. You have either a nice terrace or a balcony. You may feel a bit claustrophobic, but then again, who comes to St. Tropez to hang around in the hotel room?
The restaurant serves traditional Mediterranean food in a tranquil setting and is an excellent choice if you don’t have the energy to take the taxi downtown. Being rather picky travelers, we were not able to fault the service even one small bit, everything was top notch. And most importantly, Sam (our dog) was very much welcomed. So if you are planning a visit to St. Tropez and don’t want to stay in the town itself, don’t hesitate to book Hotel Benkirai, it’s an absolutely beautiful place with plenty of charm.
Hotel Sofitel Vieux Port in Marseille is nicely located in the center, overlooking the old port. The view from the upper floors is outstanding and gives the visitor an immediate feeling of what this historical city has to offer. This hotel is definitely among the best the samandthedunes-team has ever reviewed.
Our room were tastefully and contemporarily decorated, if a bit smallish, but otherwise it provided all the amenities that one can wish for. The pool downstairs is big enough to keep guests happy and the sun-beds are plentiful. There is also a nice cafe outside the pool area where you can enjoy a gourmet lunch with some excellent wine or champagne. If it gets really hot during the day (which is often the case in the summer) try the sophisticated hotel bar inside, with a wide selection of snacks and drinks. In the evening, book a table at the hotel top floor restaurant Les Trois Forts. It is considered one of the best in the city and here you can enjoy mouthwatering dishes from the sea (the lobster was especially good) while gazing at the old port and the passing by cruise ships – an experience not to miss.
The service at Sofitel Vieux Port is beyond praise, attentive multi-lingual staff ensure that your stay is as pleasant as possible. If you are in Marseille for business, pleasure or just for a couple of days before starting off on a trip to Cote d’Azur, don’t miss this Sofitel experience. It’s a place of tranquility and luxury that will make you smile with appreciation.
Being the frequent traveller that he is, Sam has suddenly decided to start collecting souvenirs from all over the world. Although he is not earning any money (the plan to contact a circus and make him famous hasn’t worked out yet), he promised that he has a special nose for fine art and that a temporary loan would give him the chance to show off his investment skills. Anyway, after a short discussion (and lot’s of loud barking) Sam managed to assure us that this type of collection can be worth a fortune in a couple of years. Even though we were not fully convinced, we decided to lend him the money to start his unique collection of…tada…miniature dogs.