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!
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.
Hanna’s latest travel story is now published in National Geographic. Read the full blog post here: Marseille, Mon Ami
Visiting Nice for the first time we, of course, had absolutely no clue where to go for dinner. Checking at the hotel where we were staying seemed to be the best bet we could come up with and after hearing our preferences, the concierge replied:
-There is one place I would recommend to you and it’s called La Petite Maison. It’s the trendiest place in town, the food is amazing and on top of that – it is Elton Johns and many other celebrities favorite eatery.
-Great, we replied. Can you please book a table for two?
-But there is one thing you should know before you make up your mind, she said.
The woman looked at us and the tone of her voice suddenly changed. She leaned forward and whispered:
-I must warn you, the place is sort of famous for its rude service. I mean VERY rude service.
She eyed us up and down as if she was doubting we would think her recommendation sounded as such a great idea after all.
Trying to look as cool as possible we replied in one voice:
-Book us there. 9 PM. Sharp.
Later in the evening, while strolling down the street towards the restaurant, we suddenly started to question our decision. Why, in our right mind, were we voluntarily going to a place where the service is famous for its rudeness? (Read Tripadvisor and you will see that this is no joke). But there was no more time to think about our decision now. We had arrived. On wobbly and shaky legs we entered the restaurant with the same feeling most seven year old’s have during their first day at school. Pure fear.
To our surprise (and disappointment) nothing particularly scary happened during the dinner. Instead, the service was quite the opposite – very friendly. But it was still hard to stay completely relaxed, and when it was time to pay the bill, we suddenly noticed that our waiter by mistake actually had charged us for four (!!) lobster pastas (instead of two). However, after hearing the concierge’s earlier warnings about the place, that was something we never dared to question…
For reservations, please call: +33 4 92 98 77 89 (and BTW…Good Luck!)
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.