44° 21′ 14.5584” N 8° 34′ 6.5028” E
September 28, 2016
We are in Varazze. An exclusive port. The price is € 67 for one night. The harbour is surrounded by modern buildings with restaurants, shipbrokers, fashion boutiques and shops with expensive toys for saillors.
The city resembles Loano with a long beach divided into private pieces each renting sunbeds and then a very long shopping street in the next rank parallel to the beach.
The city seems worn. The port’s wifi does not work, and as a whole Varazze can not match Loano invigorating charm and immediacy. We sail on the next morning.
43° 35′ 12.462” N 7° 7′ 42.8952” E
September 12, 2016
Hold on, that is big! Absolutely incomprehensibly big.
Last time we were in Antibes – a month ago – we were fascinated by the port’s then largest yacht, “Katara”, owned by the Emir of Qatar. Hey: It was 126 meters, had a permanent crew of 60 people, helicopter on the aft deck and was lit at night as a dance temple.
Today Katara is gone, and the first berth in the so-called billionaires quay in Port Vauban has been taken over by an even larger yacht. An incomprehensible large yacht.
She is called “Dilbar”, was launched four months ago and is owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov.
Dilbar is cream colored with details highlighted in bronze. She is matchless.
Listen: She is 156 meters long (for comparison our sailing yacht, “Ronja”, is 10 meters and 65 centimeters). Dilbar has space for 80 crew members and 40 overnight guests. She has reportedly cost four billion danish kroner.
Measured by gross registered tons Dilbar is the world’s largest private yacht. In terms of length, she is the fourth largest. At the same time, she has the most powerful engine and the largest swimming pool ever seen on a private yacht. Where this pool is only known by a selected few. It is not on the top sundeck, that deck is reserved for two helicopter platforms.
Alisher Usmanov has since 2008 had another yacht named Dilbar. It is a paltry of 110 meters, is now renamed Ona and still has Usmanov as owner. His wealth comes from russian mining industry and from shares in russian internet and telecom plus Facebook, Twitter, Alibaba and a large stake in Arsenal football club.
What is it about older men and their boats? 63-year-old Usmanov built a boat that is 46 meters longer, than the one he already had. In Denmark late shipping magnate in AP Møller Mærsk, Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, in 2009 bought – when he was 95 years – a Swan yacht, that was three meters longer, than the yacht he already had. It must be called vitality. Imagine if you – at the age of 95 years – were concerned with getting a boat three meters longer, than the one you already have …
What drives these billionaires to wish for still bigger boats? Prestige? A signal of their own, their company or their nation’s role? Or simply a desire to flash a piece of equipment, that is larger than others? The ways of the super-rich are difficult to understand. I give up.
P.S: Did I mention, that I myself occasionally dream of Ronja being one meter … no, by the way let us say one and a half meter or actually rather two, longer than she is?
43° 41′ 37.2156” N 7° 17′ 17.0772” E
29. juli, 2016
Nice: Only when you are four years old as our granddaughter, Nellie, you can in Nice – two weeks after the horrific attack on July 14 – ask if this is a place, where you can buy teddy bears and flowers.
The memorial site for the 84 random people, who were mowed down by an-ISIL terrorist in a heavy truck on Bastille Day in Nice, is for us, who are older than four years, deep, deep, deep into the heart poignant and oppressive.
Flowers, teddy bears, candle lights, poems, obituaries in overwhelming amounts, the whole atmosphere around the memorial site provokes a desire to stand behind the French and tell them that their sorrow is ours, that we share with them in their showdown against terror.
“Je suis Nice“.
Nice is an enchanting city. Cosmopolitan. Rich. Varied. Energetic. Caracterized by art, culture and architecture of the time, when the European aristocracy met here with one another in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Here are many beautiful buildings, several museums, joyful playgrounds and more life in the streets than in any other town along the French Mediterranean coast.
Exactly this year, the summer of 2016, however, it is difficult to do anything other than let the pictures speech from the memorial after the fatal Bastille Day.
Facts: After having dwelt on the memory of the victims of the July 14 terror here are some factual sailing information: Nice is a relatively inexpensive port: 30 € per night. Slightly cheaper than Cannes: € 34 per night.
Our experience is, that if you are in the big cities, you should try to get into the old port – Vieux Port – then you get a price close to Nice and Cannes. The price rises when you go into smaller ports for instance Marina Baie des Anges between Nice and Antibes. Here you pay € 48 per night without ever getting more for your money.
Therefore: Go for Vieux Ports when you need to seek a harbour with shopping facilities, sanitary facilities and cultural activities beyond what you can get when you anchor for free in the bays.
Ronja eat cherries with the big ones. Note that now we park our boat, as we will. The bow in first – no matter what the French do and think
43° 35′ 2.1804” N 7° 7′ 41.7288” E
Antibes: The woman behind the counter shakes her head: “You must understand, that what you are asking can not be considered. We do not hire out berths on monthly contracts in July and August. We only hire out one day at a time, eventually two days and then you can come and ask, if you can hire one more day. Those are the rules. ”
The woman behind the counter has an expression that lets us understand, that our request takes the prize as the month most foolish.
“It’s not the port’s berths. It is the individual owners. We can not know, when the owner comes back and want to use the berth himself. ”
The woman is sitting behind the counter at the port office in Port Vauban, Antibes’ giant port, who reportedly is Europe’s largest marina with over 1700 berths, including a billionaire pier for those boat-owners, who can not settle for two or six employees but has 40 or – in one case – even 60 crew members.
We had asked the woman, if we could rent a berth for our sailing boat Ronja for a month or more, while we were back home in Denmark. Obviously we could not. There are rules. And where we were we all, if rules are not followed?
We leave the harbour office crestfallen. We think, again we have met that French arrogance, where at least some officials have a greater need to show who is the boss, than they have an interest in finding a possible solution with the customer.
Nevertheless: We MUST be in Denmark on August 2. or 3., and we CAN at the earliest be back in the south of France on September 12 . The problem has to be solved.
We take place in Café Felix, who has an acceptable wifi and a decent white wine, and we send a flurry of e-mails to ports and shipyards along the Riviera – from Cannes in the west to Menton in the east.
We would like to have Ronja to lie in the water from August 2 to September 12. But we are desperate enough to make a comprehensive agreement for the entire winter, including getting the boat taken out of the water, if the other ports also rejects having her in the water for more than a month.
We get the fastest responses from those, that we seek out personally. Three yards/boat repair shops in Antibes each have a crane large enough to lift Ronja out of the water. All three are sincerely accommodating to our problem. One says, however, straight out that he can make more money utilising his port area to prepare and repair boats than to have our Ronja standing in hibernation. Fair enough.
Another oat repair shop offers to take Ronja on land and store her in a corner of their port area until April, eight months for the price of 7.500 €. A shipyard offering to hive Ronja on land, take the mast of her and carry her into the country, where they have a storage space. Price: 8.200 €.
Thanks. But no thanks. On these terms we will not take Ronja out of the water.
So begins the answers ticking in via the mail. The most professional ports, the four ports that are part of the organisation Riviera Ports – Cannes, Nice, Golfe-Juan and Villefranche – acknowledge immediately with a standard mail, that they have received my mail, and that they will answer the question within 48 hours.
Three of them actually do this. Nice offers to cover part of the period. Cannes and Villefrance says no but they will put us on the waiting list. We do not hear from Golfe-Juan. The same applies to six or seven other marinas. No responce at all. Not a single line.
And yet. One port answers. The most surprising of them all.
We basically had received oral refusals from Port Vauban, but when we sat down and wrote mails, we also sent Port Vauban an email.
And, big surprice! Port Vauban answers yes, they have a place to Ronja from August 2 till September 12.
Hooray for Port Vauban! The port of Antibes is back in the lead. We acknowledge with a yes to the conditions and promise to be there on August 2.
And what did we just learn here? We learned that one hand in a port office do not necessarily know what the other hand is doing. A refusal from one employee can become a happy acceptance from another. Never take no for an answer – when it comes berths.
Reflection: In the four years we’ve been sailing out into the world with Ronja, many have asked whether it is not hard to set aside our boat when we are at home in Denmark and work many months. On the contrary. It has been easy. Easy in Holland. Easy in northern France. Easy west of Marseilles. The French Riviera proved to be a little more difficult and more expensive. But anyway: Again a solution could be created in a short time.
You pay for it. In our case, we pay € 1,082 for 40 days in high season. But as I said: We just had to go back to Denmark on August 2.
43° 30′ 39.3696” N 7° 2′ 50.8308” E
July 23, 2016
“Ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling …”
This sounds very much, like the van that once a week runs up and down the suburban streets back home selling ice cream from a blue van.
These same vans are hardly driving on the Mediterranean?
We have anchored in the archipelago of Iles de Lérins; two-three miles southeast of Cannes. The archipelago has two main islands, and we have cast anchor in a strait between the two islands.
On the one hand we have Île Ste-Marguerite, whose fort in the 17th century held “The Man in the Iron Mask” as a prisoner (filmed with Leonardo DeCaprio in the lead role). On the other hand, we have Île St-Honorat, the monks island, which for centuries have been the home of monks. In the seventh century there were 4000 monks, today there are only a small number of Cistercian monks back.
And the sound … ding-a-ling?
It turns out it originates from an electronic horn on a dinghy that sails around selling ice cream to the hundreds of sailing- and motor-boats at anchor between the two islands. An ice boat – complete with freezer, billboards and price list for ice cream, sandwiches, coffee, beer and soft drinks.
A little later also a pizzaboat with a pizza-banner fluttering behind it comes our way. We hail the boat and ask, if we can get one with pepperoni.
“Naturellement.” We have everything assures the girl running the boat. “Look in this brochure and call us, when you have made up your minds about the pizza.”
When we call, we are told to tell the boat’s name, colour and nationality, and tell that we are “right in front of the wall“.
The pizza is baked in a large catamaran nearby, and the sales brochure entices with more than most domestic pizzerias: Snacks, drinks, desserts, oysters, champagne, wines.
As we gain perspective on life between the islands, it turns out that the commercial fleet includes two pizza boats, three ice boats and a single boat selling seafood. We expect more or less, that the next thing that pops up, will be an African immigrant selling straw hats, sunglasses and sarong’s for protection against the sun.
Laughter, happy crying, bathing rings, snorkels, everywhere children and older people are playing in the water around their boats. Beach-trip without a beach. Playing-ground without a ground.
It’s a different lifestyle, than the one we are used to. Not that we do not anchor in a beautiful bays, enjoying the seaside life and spend the night onboard. Of course we do. But usually we have, on our sailing trips in Denmark and abroad, always been en route from A to B to C to D. A large part of our enjoyment is to wake up in the morning and think, that today we are going to a new place, where we’ve never been before.
Many french boat-owners seems to be sailing rather from A to B, then back to A. And the next day again to B.
They live in Cannes or another city, have a boat in the harbour, which they use to sail out to a beautiful anchorage, where they spend the day splashing around in the turquoise water. When evening falls, they sail back home to their regular bed. The next day they return to the anchorage again.
We guess that 400 boats or more in the daytime was anchored in the narrow strait between the two islands. As the light broke up the next morning we counted, that exactly 53 boats were back having spent the night at the anchorage. The rest went back home.
Interesting lifestyle. Just different than ours.
After a brisk morning swim in four meters of water, we expect a dinghy to show up selling fresh bread. However that developed the commercial infrastructure in the strait is not yet.
We pull up the anchor, hoist the sails and set course for the baker in Antibes.
43° 33′ 10.2492” N, 7° 1′ 2.5284” E
July 16, 2016
The air is filled with helicopters over Saint Tropez and Cannes. As industrious insects they are buzzing back and forth between the cities with occasional forays out to the large yachts, each having its own helicopter pad. It seems there is especially dense morning and after-work traffic of people going to and from the job from the villa or the yacht in Saint Tropez, Cannes or Nice.
But what do we know about it? Ronja has no helicopter platform on the aft deck. On reflection has Ronja not even an aft deck. The many helicopters give a sense of business activity, but they also underline the atmosphere of exclusivity and extravagance, we have approached as we close in to Saint Tropez and Cannes. The port of Saint Tropez gave us shelter during almost three days of summer storm with up to 8 Beaufort gusts, and now we have been three days in Cannes so far.
Of the two cities, we prefer Cannes. There are common features between the two cities. But Cannes by far wins in comparison. Why? Because there is a nicer atmosphere in Cannes. Cannes is not as outlandish as forlorn as hysterical as Saint Tropez. It is as if, Saint Tropez is nothing in itself, but is instead defines its own value in the things it pulls from the outside – the large yachts, the numerous brand stores, the famous and the rich.
It probably has been like this for many years. After World War II when people wanted to restore the war-damaged city, Saint Tropez was aimed at cultivate a special reputation as a playground for the famous. Errol Flynn came to town, Jean Cocteau, Anaïs Nin and in 1956 also Brigitte Bardot. Thus was the special image in place.
The image is still cultivated. The cruises sail round with tourists, pointing out the villas of the celebrities. The large luxury yachts gets the room innermost in the old harbor, so we all understand that this is the real attraction of Saint Tropez – a sneak peek into the incredibly rich people’s world; tourist fathers and –sons strolling also along the quay discussing how it would be just to work at one of the huge yachts.
Things are different in Cannes. Here the city is larger and can better accommodate all extremes. Here’s also luxury yachts, but they lie at the outer pier and is just one of many elements in the city’s port. Here are also tourists, but the city’s size ensures that it remains predominantly a French town. There are also international brand stores, but they do not overshadow the many local specialist shops with cheeses, pates, bread, hardware, fruit – not to mention antique markets and the daily, quite lavish, food market, Marché Forville.
Unless you just are missing a Gucci bag, shopping-conditions are also best in Cannes – among other things with a few good supermarkets close to the port. The best we saw in Saint Tropez, was a fabulously beautiful hike on a narrow cliff path around the peninsula of Saint Tropez and out to the great beaches Les Salins and Pampelonne. The trip is very long. It is possible to take small swims along the way. Take plenty of water from before going.
Fact: A port space for Ronja in Saint Tropez: 59 € per night. A space in Cannes: € 34 per night (with better facilities). A pizza calzone in Saint Tropez 18 €. A pizza calzone in Cannes: 15 €. Saint Tropez has a small but very interesting museum of modern art. It’s called l’Annonciade and admission is € 6.
43° 25′ 8.8328” N 6° 51′ 29.1552” E
15th of July
Barely have we anchored Ronja at a vacant anchor buoy in a beautiful, beautiful bay, Rade d’Agay, midway between St. Tropez and Cannes, before a dinghy comes rushing.
“It will be 19 Euro, please,” says the young guy in the boat.
“19 Euro? For what,” asks skippers wife. “What facilities do we get for the money?”
Well, answers the young guy; there’s shops ashore, toilets, and also showers ashore.
But we do not have any inflatable boat. We are not going ashore. We can not, since we are out here in the middle of the bay by a buoy.
“No problem. I’ll come and get you for 3 € per time” the port captain’s enterprising apprentice answers.
It is a wonderful bay. It was used as anchorage already when the Romans ruled the Mediterranean. And in August 1944, the Americans landed 20,000 soldiers in Agay Bay as part of the offensive to liberate France from the Germans. Today the bay is characterized by the beach and sailor life.
Later we read that it is the authorities who have established 123 mooring buoys around the bay to protect a particular species seagrass in the bay (in English called the Posidonia Grass). The grass is vital to maintain balance and animal life in the sea, and by establishing firmly anchored buoys, the authorities prevents that the sailing boats destroys with the sea floor with their anchors.
Oh well. So 19 € maybe is not that wrong.
As we get ready to depart the next morning, we hail a port guard who passes in his dinghy, waving a black garbage bag and asks if waste disposal is part of the port charges of 19 €.
He points further into the bay, where we did indeed wonder about a shapeless thing, moored, almost an oversized teacup from a Disneyland-carousel. We sail there and discover: It is a floating garbage container.
Having deposited the last days of waste and with a clear conscience in relation to the important sea grass, we find that this is what you get for 19 € in the Agay Bay.
Facts: the 123 buoys are built in three different zones in the bay. Those who are more economical than us can anchors outside the zones with their own anchor. It costs nothing. But then there’s of cause the conscience thing.
43° 0′ 3.6612” N, 6° 13′ 18.0048” E
July 8, 2016
Imagine it before you: A soft reclining chair under a huge, shady pine. A bottle of cold water within reach, a crime novel in hand. The distance between the chair and the azure waters is just ten meters of perfect sandy beach, and ten steps to the side is a small restaurant with a daily menu for lunch.
The place is Porquerolles. The largest of the four islands in the archipelago of Iles d’Hyeres, a short distance east of Toulon. Porquerolles is a mixture of a Caribbean island paradise, the Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen and a military barracks. The island offers simple vacation at sky-high prices.
Porquerolles city was built 100 years ago by the French military. Complete with fort, church, officer housing, barracks and exercise tracks. Today, all the buildings taken over by civilians – bicycle rental shops, ice cream vendors, vegetable grocers, ship wrights and restaurants for every budget. Taken together it has created a relaxed, alternative charm, which by mid-July has the additional of a week-long jazz festival.
The island’s focal point is the many beaches. Some have stone beach, others have the finest sand beaches. Everywhere has a sandy surface under the water, which by the way is nicely separate from the many sailors who are anchoring off the beaches. Tourists at foot and by bicycle walking the many kilometers on the way to and from the beaches. It can be a hot journey, but the ride is greatly mitigated by the enchanting aroma of dry pine needles and fresh saltwater.
Plage de Notre Dame is reputed to be the most beautiful of the beaches. Plage de la Courtade is closer to the city. We, however, prefer Plage d’Argent the most – for it is the only one that has its own restaurant, decent toilets and hire of sunbeds.
Facts: Porquerolles is ridiculously expensive. Supply and demand are out of balance. An overnight stay in the harbor, which has few and poor facilities cost 50 € for Ronjas 11 meters, where we are used to paying € 35 per night. A lunch menu at the restaurant cost € 24 for a single right where we are used to get both two and three lunches for € 19 in other ports. The baker is expensive. The supermarket is expensive. Everything is expensive.
A word of advice: Save the port dues and use the island’s many bays for overnight. Bring your own supplies.
43° 7′ 14.82″ N, 5° 48′ 15.79″ E
July 7, 2016
Frenchmen have difficulty with the name of our boat, “Ronja”. In Sanary-sur-mer, we have previously signed up via cell phone, but when we enter the harbour master’s office, there is no recognition, when I spell “Ronja”. The person who accepted our call on the phone, had written our name as “Oneyeah”.
Knowledge of Astrid Lindgren’s writing in general and “Ronja Røverdatter” specifically is not deep in southern France.
Sanary-sur-mer is a very fine acquaintance. It is the neighboring city to the more famous city, Bandol. But we fancy ourselves that it is a more interesting city. It’s beautiful in the Provence-way with beige, ocher, white, dusty buildings interspersed with harsh green or blue shutters on the windows. The city has fishing boats, daily fish market, beautiful scenery, very few brand-shops and an excellent beach. There is such a little “People and robbers in Cardamom Town” (norwegian story) over it. With the tower and all.
The city has soul. One senses that here is life, even when the tourists have gone home. The city has cultural, architectural, historical, commercial and landscape values, that do not cave in during periods when only the permanent residents are here.
This need – that a city should have an independent soul – is no given thing in these parts. Some days later we call Cavaliere sur-mer. Fine port, good facilities, everything is neat. But the Cavaliere-sur-mer is obviously a city, that lives and breathes with tourism and not so much else. Close to the port is build a brand new entertainment district consisting of 20-30 restaurants and nightclubs plus a single carousel. The party goes on late into the night, but it’s hard to imagine the city as more than a ghost town, when beach tourists have gone home.
Do we sound as if we are sour having moored Ronja in the middle of a flashing disco? Well, it may be right.
43 ° 12 ‘20.16 “N, 5 ° 30’ 55.01” E
July 5, 2016
Until this day we had no idea, what a calanque was. We know that now. And we are excited. A calanque is a bay or – in the most exciting form – a narrow and deep fjord that cuts into a rocky landscape, so the sides are almost vertical and can be up to 100 meters high.
When you’re inside such a calanque, it feels a bit like sailing in a cathedral. Devoutly we look up and on the steep rock faces, enjoying the scent of pine trees and listening to the cicadas anthem. We sailed into them all, right from the first appeared a few miles after Marseille.
After checking all of them, we chose to settle down in – we think – the very most charming: Calangue de Port-Miou. Some calanques are boring, not much more than a wide cove with a blunt beach at the bottom. But the closer we get to the town of Cassis, the calanques are deeper and more characterful. First Sormiou, then Morgiou and later Calanque d’En Vau and Calanque de Port Pin. They are in their own way exciting. But none can compare with Calanque de Port-Miou.
At first glance it seems, that Port-Miou is just larger than the others with more places for mooring boats – with an anchor bend at one end and a rope wrapped around a rocky outcrop or, at best, a ring at the other end. But it is only at first glance.
Pout-Miou has a kind of anteroom, where there is room for 20-30 boats, and where there is a daily cruises from major cities nearby, where guides tell tourists about the calanques. But the trick is to proceed. Even into the bottom of the front room, for here is revealed another room, much narrower, much longer, almost one kilometer long. On either side of this narrow space, there is built a “catwalk”, a slender wooden bridge, on both sides. And here hundreds of locals have their permanent mooring. As in a secret inner compartment.
When we call the harbour master on channel 09 and ask for a berth, he refers us to the anteroom. We have no desire to go there. “We can see that there are berths available along the wooden bridges,” we insist. An inflatable boat shows up and we get assigned a berth. A wonderful place.
It is a small paradise. The water in the narrow canyon’s cold and clean and perfect to cool the body under the relentless sun. It is quiet. Not a sound from the tour boats in the front room. Only the cicadas. Occasionally a few kayakers or a single French man working on his boat.
Fact: It is primitive. But Frenchmen has an understanding for the value of beauty, so the price for an overnight stay in Port-Miou is the same as in Marseille, just over 35 €. And this is without electricity, far to the water connection and a 10 minute walk to the bathroom on the other side of the divide. Shopping is a 25-minute walk from Port-Miou in the town of Cassis. However, there are both bus and mini train, for those who do not bother walking.