Pretty Ports of Call
Jan. 8, 2007 09:30 AM
The near mythical French Riviera coast lures sailors from all over the world because of the killer combo of naturally gorgeous landscapes and the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea while at the same time offering trendy, star-studded or traditional Provencal entertainment in the string of hot towns that litter this beautiful coastline. Sailing in your yacht along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Riviera, between Saint Tropez and Monaco the view from the water of the cliffs and craggy coves with the immense outline of the Alps to the east or the Estérel and Maures mountains to the west is breathtaking.
The proximity of the ports to most of the town centres makes it easy to visit the main points of interest without leaving the luxury of your yacht for long. At a leisurely pace you can encompass many of the top ports such as Saint-Tropez, Antibes, Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Menton, the last port in France before venturing into Italian waters. The many inlets en route are home to quaint fishing villages, which promise a peek of traditional coastal life and the many local restaurants will have you à table for hours indulging in speciality dishes. Well into autumn the ports are a hive of activity with regattas and yacht shows and offer a relaxing, mild-weather playground in winter.
The ports of Cannes, Golfe Juan, Nice and Villefranche are all run by the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie Nice Côte d’Azur www.riviera-ports.com/ports, which means you can plan your itinerary for all four ports in one go. You can request a berth, access information and calculate the cost of your stay on their website (in English).
Port of Nice
Lat 43°41’5 N - Long 007°17’,1 E spells the historic port of Nice in yachting lingo. It is a commercial port in the heart of town with ferries docking from Corsica, huge cruise ships arriving from around the world and vessels unloading cargo. The slightly shabby veneer of the facades is a telltale sign that this is a working port. The annual number of luxury cruise passengers that passed through the port last year is impressive at 364,632 and visiting yachts spent 82,023 nights in port (210 berths are available). Venture into the old town or to nearby beaches to discover a diversified Niçois world. For regional cuisine in a cosy ambiance try the mini gastronomic La Marie Belle restaurant on the port at 3 quai des Deux-Emmanuel. The Castel Plage restaurant, offers a romantic, panoramic view as it’s the last beach on the baie des Anges before hitting the port.
Villefranche’s Port Darse
Villefranche’s Port Darse, with approximately 250 moorings is a small and intimate port but much visited. Just a few nautical miles east of Nice, this quaint village that climbs the hill is quiet compared to its big cousin. The beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay makes it one of the safest harbours and because of its depth (1,000 metres) it welcomes mega yachts and massive cruise ships that dwarf the colourful village houses in their shadow. Curious cruising passengers are shuttled to shore into the port’s myriad of Provencal restaurants. With seafood on your mind, dine at La Mère Germaine, a family run gastronomic delight since 1938, right on the edge of the water. Stylish leather armchairs and a wooden terrace with sea view await you at aperitif time at Le Beluga at 3 quai Ponchardier. Both restaurants will shuttle you to and from your yacht. Points of interest are the 16th century citadel, home to three museums and which hosts art exhibitions and cultural events all year.
Port Canto and the old port of Cannes
Port Canto and the old port of Cannes provide private accommodation for the world-weary stars that descend during the Cannes Film festival. Yachts often stay anchored and act as party havens for movie buffs. If you feel like docking and dining at a beach restaurant then La Royale Plage on the Croisette is a good bet. The private pontoon keeps your eye on the water and away from prying eyes. The Z Plage restaurant, part of the famous Hôtel Martinez is designed to impress. Of interest is a trip to the beautiful Lérins islands or a visit to the Suquet, the old town. Shopping is made easy with designer boutiques on the Croisette by the water. The Cannes Yacht show and Régates Royales take place in September. Visitor berths are available for over 300 yachts up to 85-metres in length.
Antibes’ Port Vauban
Between Nice and Cannes is Antibes’ Port Vauban, the largest yachting port in Europe. The international flags flying from the masts are testimony to the worldly visitors to this piece of paradise. Not surprising since the port is second largest in the world and able to accommodate 1,600 visiting vessels at a time. The huge presence of charter companies is proof of the big business generated. In behind the port is the old town, which is a pretty labyrinth of narrow streets full of restaurants, bars and boutiques. Further down the coast is the hip and happening La Siesta will have you home way past dawn with a casino, late night dining and very late clubbing. It tends to be a younger crowd but trendy and smart attire is a must. For gastronomic dining situated in a quiet inlet of the Cap visit Les Pêcheurs restaurant with its panoramic view of the islands, îles de Lérins and the nearby red clay Estérel mountains.
Further west Port Grimaud is an idyllic location for yacht owners who wish to own a property with their yacht in the backyard; each house has its own mooring pier. Although it is mainly a private port there are a limited number of berths available for visitors (you must stay at least a week or yachts over 16metres can be accommodated for a night). It is worth dropping in to see the picturesque, Venetian-style canals that interweave among the pretty pastel houses with terracotta tiled rooftops. One fabulous seafood restaurant, a favourite of actress Andie McDowell is La Table du Mareyeur, (10 & 11 place des Artisans). They will even deliver dinner to your yacht. A point of interest is the nearby medieval village of Grimaud.
Within a stone’s throw (7km) is the famous port of Saint-Tropez, of Brigitte Bardot fame. Its quaint fishing village ambiance is still intact while super yachts hover in the port unloading their rich and famous passengers, who enjoy a stroll through the tiny art gallery lined streets. There is a multitude of leisure activities: motor boat rentals, tennis or golf at the Country Club de Grimaud or the Beauvallon Club. A favourite of the stars is the one-Michelin star La Pinède where authentic cuisine, accompanied by fine wines is served on the sea view terrace. For paparazzi-shy diners a real gem is LeÏ Salins for Provencal specialities and fish.
Marines de Cogolin
In the bay of St Tropez is the small Marines de Cogolin, a picturesque harbour with the Maures mountain range behind. It hosts the Salon de la maquette et du modélisme maritime 30th June until 2nd July and various regattas. Indulge in gastronomic dining at L’Olivier restaurant on the quays.
Ports to the east...
Sail along the coast passing one of the jewels along the Riviera, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where the exquisite villas are set in magnificent lush gardens and hovering on the edge of the Mediterranean. Of interest is a visit to the Villa Rothschild.
Beaulieu-sur-Mer literally means ‘beautiful place’ and for this reason and its modern harbour in the Baie des Fourmis it is firmly on the yachting circuit. Not to be missed is a visit to the villa Kérylos, a Greek-style villa with a panoramic view of the yachts approaching. Mandelieu-La-Napoule marina, the biggest dry dock in Europe is a favourite for sailors who love a round of golf on nearby green golf courses, which in late winter are surrounded by bright yellow mimosa flowers.
Far to the east is Monaco, home to the late Princess Grace and her late husband Prince Rainier III and where the prestigious and fairytale Port Hercule hosts the Monaco Yacht Show, the world’s premier luxury yacht show held each September. The tiny principality of Monaco and its beautiful old town, Monte-Carlo perched high on ‘the Rock’ has traditionally drawn the jet set and cream of the mega and super yacht crop thanks to its privileged image.
After the port of Monaco, if you can draw yourself away from its magical ambiance, sailing east you are practically in Italy... but then that’s another story!