Tag Archives: French Riviera

St Tropez – so in love with itself

The French Riviera is such a playground for the English-speaking rich-erati that it even bothers to have an English-speaking radio station. The adverts on it trumpet the glories of opera evenings off St Tropez, wealth-management companies and which 180ft luxury yachts are on the market this week.

But because it’s there, we decided that we just had to visit one of the iconic villages: St Tropez. One of the ideal ways is to take a pleasure cruise from the harbour which gives you an English-language commentary as you sail past the beachside homes owned by the filthy rich and famous. So we sat with others and took our photos of the harbour, and the beautifully mismatched buildings.

We heard about the Opel car family, and the Heineken beer family, and Boris Yeltsin’s daughter who all have houses near the beach. We heard about Brigit Bardot – legendary screen siren – who owns two homes in St Tropez (although later Internet research suggests she sold at least one of them because of tourism hassle).

The boat crew told us that, in his words, “the Queen of England Elton John stayed in that house for 10 days last summer with his husband” and we sailed past the beachside villa (pictured above) where Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were photographed by paparazzi just four days before the fatal Paris accident.

As we came back into the harbour we joined a stack of yachts taking part in the Rolex world yachting championships. It’s the first time we’d ever been in a traffic jam at sea as large and smaller yachts finished their races and made their way in for the night.

As we left St Tropez there was a real sense of disappointment. Before the boat trip we’d spent time on one of the beaches and had to walk through a yard of tough seaweed to get to the sea and there was nothing that added any sense of “wow” to being there.

When you add the Riviera premium, which means even a basic cup of coffee costs more simply because you’re in St Tropez, it made us all the more determined not to go back.

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Sunday sun shrine

A Sunday on the French Riviera and what to do? Our friendly neighbours told us that there was a morning market in Port Grimaud – just a 10-minute walk from the campsite – so we headed off to take a look.

Certainly no sign of anyone heading off to church although there had been some Twitter chat about appropriate hymns for the England team’s failure to beat America in the World Cup. How about “Draw me close to you” especially after goalkeeper Robert Green’s unfortunate Hand of Clod episode – the next line is “never let me go”.

Anyway, soccer musings aside, we walked into the millionaire’s playground to see how people spent a sunny morning here. Port Grimaud is like Venice – once you get past the security barriers. In fairness they only keep out unsavoury drivers; almost anyone can walk in, including us!!

Crossing the first bridge takes you into a square which is transformed into a market, slightly upmarket as you would expect. It was the first French market I’ve ever been to, for example, without a single Morrocan selling Bob Marley towels.

The next bridge, deeper into Port Grimaud, reveals the first glimpse of the boats and yachts to come and then another square of stalls. If you look closely you can see something of the Med’s past. One or two of the stallholders have that permanently-glazed look from the flower power days, one still had her hair held in place by a bootlace-thin strand of leather; another wrapped what looked suspiciously like a kaftan round her.

On to the harbour where some of the super yachts waited at the sort of shrine that’s reserved for the very few – the very, very rich. The kind who can afford to click a couple of fingers and send someone out to buy whatever they want whenever they feel like it. As we gawped, four Dutch girls persuaded someone else to take their photo posing alongside a yacht called Chocolat registered in London. As they studied the digital image they looked at each other, shrieked something in Dutch which had one recognisable phrase: “something from Sex and the City”.

The irony was that these extraordinary displays of super-wealth, six yachts backed up against the harbour like some defensive wall of overpaid footballers anticipating a thunderous free kick from out in the bay, were no more than 10 feet from the doors of the community’s ecumenical church.

The building that represents a man who had nothing but the clothes he stood up in opens its doors in defiant welcome to the obscenely rich and the desperately poor. In that place Jesus says to them ‘however you arrived here, and however much you carried with you, makes no difference.’

At this Sunday sun shrine, where we couldn’t even have bought the inflatable boat that sat on the top of the super yacht – see Joy’s optimistic posing next to it! – there was that wonderfully disruptive invasion of the Gospel that said: ‘I’m still here and I’m not going away.’