hikes

Seductive & Sizzling Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez. The glam destination of the jet set in the '60s. Brigitte Bardot. Need I say more?

When most visit the French Riviera they gravitate towards the area to the east known as the Alpes-Maritimes which includes Cannes, Nice, Monaco and everything in between. But there is the area to the west known as the Var that is also worth visiting. It is in the Var that you will find small but sexy Saint-Tropez which used to be just an old, sleepy fishing village until Brigitte Bardot started filming there in the 50's. Today it is a glitzy spot to see and be seen but still holds some of that old world charm from days past. That atmosphere makes it one of my favorites on the Riviera.

The beaches in this part of the French Riviera are sandy (unlike those in the Nice area) but St-Trop as it is often called, actually does not have many beaches in its town center. You must venture to the outskirts of town to find the sandy stuff. For the crème de la crème, head to Ramatuelle (about 10-15 min away) and you won't be disappointed. It's for this reason that I recommend having a car during your stay. Hitting the beach and soaking up that hot sun should definitely be on your list but here are some other suggestions as well:

Vieux Port

Vieux Port

The little streets are so quaint!

The little streets are so quaint!

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Stroll the quaint cobblestone streets of La Ponche (the old town). Lined with shops, cafés, restaurants and more these skinny pedestrian-only roads are super charming and not to be missed. Start by the east end of the port by the tourism office and make your way towards the citadel, weaving through the labyrinth of lanes.

Enjoy your café au lait and croissant while overlooking the luxury yachts in Vieux (old) Port. A lovely place with an outdoor terrace to do just that is Sénéquier, which is practically a landmark in this area. (Quai Jean Jaurès)

Sunbathe like a celebrity at Le Club 55 on famous Plage de Pampelonne. The place to see and be seen. Celebs have been known to visit so keep your eyes peeled. Lunch at the restaurant is a hotspot and a must. Reservations needed for both lunch and to rent lounge chairs on the beach. NOTE: lounge rentals do not include towels so bring your own. (43 Boulevard Patch, Ramatuelle)

Go shopping for some trendy Tropézienne footwear. This is where the espadrille was born and L'Espadrille Tropézienne is a perfect spot to pick up a pair. Also a good choice are the custom-made leather sandals from Rondini. (15 Rue des Commerçants & 18 Rue Georges Clemenceau)

Start (or end) your night with a cocktail at sleek bar Café de Paris. Located harborside, this casual place by day turns into a scene at night but is one of the few places in Europe I've found that knows how to mix up a proper martini. (25 Quai Suffren) 

Do some people watching in the quaint, main square Place des Lices. There are plenty of cafés to choose from as you watch the locals play pétanque as the day goes by.

Try the pastry of Saint-Tropez at La Tarte Tropézienne. Known as la tarte de Saint-Tropez, these pastries typically consist of brioche filled with custard and topped with pearl sugar although the fillings can vary. If you're concerned about fitting into that bikini don't worry--they come in miniature sizes as well. (Traverse des Lices)

Hike the scenic seaside path known as the Sentier du Littoral. It is a lengthy trail (16km and about 5 hours) but you can tailor your route to a shorter one if you'd like. The tourist office (8 Quai Jean Jaurès) has maps and can help you and I also found this website informative. 

Fill your bellies with yummy French food. Of course. Some of my favorite spots include the charming little Restaurant l'Olive (9 Rue Aire du Chemin), wine bar and restaurant Le Dit Vin (7 Rue de la Citadelle), and sophisticated restaurant The Strand (2 Rue du Petit Bal) with its lovely outdoor patio.

Big waves at Plage Pampelonne

Big waves at Plage Pampelonne

Narrow alleyways in La Ponche

Narrow alleyways in La Ponche

Views from under an umbrella at Le Club 55

Views from under an umbrella at Le Club 55

WHERE TO STAY

It is important to note that accommodations in St-Trop are not cheap, especially in July and August which is considered high season. To catch a little bit of a break, consider staying in June or September which still have warm temps but are not as expensive.

Hôtel Pan Deï Palais or Hôtel Byblos for a splurge. These exclusive, 5-star hotels are some of the most luxurious in town. And the latter used to be frequented by stars like Brigitte Bardot and Mick Jagger.  

Kube Hotel or Pastis Hotel for luxury and style with a (slightly) cheaper price tag. The latter is the smaller of the two with a more boutique feel. Both are located slightly outside of town but are a short walk or taxi ride away and the Kube offers a free hotel shuttle. 

La Résidence de la Pinède for a 5-star, luxurious hotel with private beach. This one is also located slightly outside of town but the infinity pool overlooking the turquoise sea is worth the walk to town. Be prepared to splurge on this one though.

If you're on more of a budget, do not fret. The 3-star Hôtel des Lices in town is a lot more affordable. Or you could go with a lovely, tasteful B&B slightly outside of town like Villa La Begude or Villa Casabianca. And don't worry, all of these options have a pool for cooling off!

GETTING HERE AND AROUND

The closest airport is Toulon-Hyères Airport, which is about an hour away. It is a small airport and there are not a whole lot of airlines that fly here so visitors can opt to fly into Nice, which is a larger airport with more airlines about 1.5 hours away. The closest train stations are Hyères and Saint-Raphaël and from there, a bus or boat can bring you to Saint-Tropez. Or there is ferry service from Nice. A car is definitely the most convenient but...

A few words to the wise:

  • Traffic in and out of town can be brutal during rush hour. Try to avoid traveling at those times if at all possible. Or travel à pied! 
  • A resort town like this is unfortunately expensive, especially during July and August which is their high season. 
  • And lastly, this town is not necessarily known for its cuisine although that is starting to change. Food is pretty average overall although it is possible to find some good spots if you're willing to put in the effort.

So there you have it, folks. Get Saint-Tropez on your bucket list if it isn't there already and you won't be disappointed. But once you go you will be spoiled forever. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Lunch at Le Club 55

Lunch at Le Club 55

Living La Dolce Vita on the Amalfi Coast (Part II)

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In my last post, I focused on the basics of the Costiera Amalfitana--how to get there, getting around once you're there, and where to stay. In this post, I will get into how to spend your time in this amazing place.

 

WHAT TO SEE & DO

I highly recommend seeing some of these places by boat if you can. Not only is it one of the best ways to get around the Amalfi Coast, it offers a perspective that makes you realize just how massive (and high up) these cliffs are. Your hotel concierge is a wonderful resource for helping you get out on the water.

Praiano - If you're staying in this quaint little town, which I highly recommend, take a few minutes to wander around pretending you're a local. There's not much--think a couple restaurants, a fruit stand, 1 or 2 coffee shops, a small market, and a pharmacy--but the duomo in Piazza San Gennaro, with its lovely colorful tiled dome, makes for a good photo as it towers above the sea below.

Il duomo di Praiano in Piazza San Gennaro 

Il duomo di Praiano in Piazza San Gennaro 

Breathtaking views from Praiano, looking towards Positano 

Breathtaking views from Praiano, looking towards Positano 

Positano - When you picture the Amalfi Coast, this is likely the town you are thinking of with its colorful buildings crawling up the cliffs. It is a busy tourist destination but is worth visiting, especially for the shopping. Stop into Artigianato Rallo for a pair of custom-made leather sandals made before your eyes, and Boutique Rino di Casola Francesco for some linen tops & bottoms and you'll have the Amalfi Coast look down pat (head-to-toe linen encouraged).

Colorful buildings along the cliffs of Positano 

Colorful buildings along the cliffs of Positano 

Ravello - Perched high up into the hills is this quaint little town worth spending an afternoon in. Take the bus from Amalfi to reach this picturesque village with lots of cute shops, gelaterias and cafes. Tour the grounds of Villa Cimbrone and make sure you see its Terrace of Infinity. Warning: if you're afraid of heights this is NOT for you. It's so high up that it gave my husband the shakes and there's nothing below you but the sea. Oh, but what a view to admire!

The Terrace of the Gods at Villa Cimbrone 

The Terrace of the Gods at Villa Cimbrone 

Pretty flowers at Villa Cimbrone 

Pretty flowers at Villa Cimbrone 

Path of the Gods (Il Sentiero degli Dei) - A great way to experience the breathtaking views while getting a bit of exercise is to hike along this trail perched high up on the cliffs. It runs from the highest neighborhood of Positano known as Nocelle to Bomerano and is accessible from multiple points along the way including Praiano. It's difficult to find despite doing the research beforehand, so I recommend asking around. And highly recommend doing it it early in the morning before it gets super hot! Don't forget water!

Amalfi - The largest town on the coast packed with tourists, this place is a hub for many of the bus lines but offers a large sandy beach and quaint streets to wander through. Take a break and enjoy a gelato or lemon granita on the steps of the grand duomo.

Capri - One of the most popular islands in this area offering natural beauty, high-end shopping and good food. I like to describe it as Italian Nantucket, because it has that upscale, exclusive flair with many tourists (although they do thin out at night) and you have to take a ferry to get there. For a memorable experience dine under the lemon trees at Da Paolino and visit the main Piazza Umberto for aperitivo. I only spent a short evening here but next time I'd like to spend a few days here to see the famous Grotta Azzurra, I Faraglioni, Via Krupp, and Monte Solaro.

Dining under the lemon trees at Da Paolino 

Dining under the lemon trees at Da Paolino 

Piazza Umberto at night 

Piazza Umberto at night 

Sorrento - Technically this town is not on the Amalfi Coast but is often associated with it. Located on the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is where limoncello comes from and is doable as a day trip. It is larger and a little more bustling than the towns on the Amalfi Coast with many narrow streets packed with shops, cafes, and gelaterie. I recommend spending time wandering the street Via San Cesareo for a taste of Sorrentine life. And holy cow, check out the size of those lemons!

Arriving by ferry to Sorrento 

Arriving by ferry to Sorrento 

Wandering the streets of Sorrento 

Wandering the streets of Sorrento 

WHERE TO EAT

Ristorante Il Pirata - This restaurant is located in the rocks of Praiano with an amazing outdoor terrace and ocean view. I highly recommend ordering a seafood dish because it is so incredibly fresh. Plucked from the sea that day! Reservations are a must. (Via Terramare, Praiano)

Ristorante Da Vincenzo - A popular pick up the hill in Positano offering local dishes. There are only a few outdoor tables, but the view is lovely if you luck out. Reservations are a must, especially if you're requesting a table outside. (Viale Pasitea, 172/178, Positano)

Ristorante Caffè Positano - Another great option for local cuisine with a view. Get the spaghetti alle vongole and you won't be disappointed. The staff was so accommodating that they gave us our own private terrace because they heard it was our honeymoon. The view was stunning especially with the strawberry moon lighting up the sky that night. Reservations recommended. (Viale Pasitea, 168-170, Positano)

Chez Black - For something a little different, opt to dine on the beach at this lively spot with a large outdoor patio. The food was outstanding and the staff so nice. Be sure to order a plate of alici (marinated white anchovies), and I promise you will overcome your fear of these delectable little fishes! Reservations recommended. (Via del Brigantino, Positano)

View from Ristorante Caffe Positano 

View from Ristorante Caffe Positano 

WHERE TO DRINK

The Marrakech Bar - Located inside the hotel Casa Angelina and perched high up on the cliffs this classy bar offers breathtaking views from its outdoor terrace and inviting, comfy, white couches inside. (Via Gennaro Capriglione, 147, Praiano)

Sibilla Cafè - A cute little banco to have your morning macchiato and pastry. There are a few tables outside for those who prefer to sit. Perfect on those mornings you don't want the expensive hotel breakfast or if you're still full from last night's dinner. (Via Gennaro Capriglione, 94, Praiano)

Africana - A swanky nightclub/lounge built into the rocks that's been around for decades. Some of its famous VIP guests include Jackie O. (Via Terramare, 2, Praiano)

Champagne & Oyster Bar at Le Sirenuse - Located in one of the most luxurious hotels on the Amalfi Coast, this is a great place to have a glass of bubbly with a view. It is the place to see and be seen. (Via Cristoforo Colombo, 30, Positano)

Music on the Rocks - As the name suggests this is a multi-level nightclub/lounge in the cliffs of Positano overlooking the beach. Great for a cocktail and some live music while the night is still young. The music shifts to a DJ and the party turns up as the night goes on, not stopping until the wee hours. (Via Grotte dell'Incanto, 51, Positano)

Enjoying a glass of bubbly on our private boat ride to Capri
Enjoying a glass of bubbly on our private boat ride to Capri

Overall, the Amalfi Coast is a beautiful place to visit and it is one of those destinations that will leave you wanting more. This list is just a taste of what you can enjoy while you're there, but there is so much more of the coastline to discover too. A reason to go back! (And trust me, you'll want to) Thanks for reading along as I got to reminisce about one of my favorite places to visit :)

Entrance to Villa Cimbrone

Entrance to Villa Cimbrone

Looking down from the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello 

Looking down from the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello 

Il duomo di Ravello 

Il duomo di Ravello 

Aboard Casa Angelina's private boat to have dinner in Capri 

Aboard Casa Angelina's private boat to have dinner in Capri 

Having a caprese salad in Capri is a must!
Having a caprese salad in Capri is a must!
Aperitivo time in Positano 

Aperitivo time in Positano 

The BVI's Part Two: Island Hopping and Painkillers

As I began to tell you in my last post, the British Virgin Islands make the picture-perfect island paradise-- crystal clear water, white-sanded beaches, palm trees galore and rum flowing like water. This area of the Caribbean is especially known for being a boater's paradise and anyone would quickly understand why. The islands are grouped pretty closely making it great for island hopping, and the trade winds and calm waters make for perfect sailing weather. Expect to see lots and lots of catamarans and monohulls sailing about as well as expensive mega-yachts practically dripping in cash floating on by. A popular way to spend your time in the BVI's is by chartering a catamaran with a skipper to take you around for the week, which will absolutely be the way I spend my next vacation in the BVI's. Most boats depart from Road Town or Sopers Hole in Tortola or from nearby St. Thomas and you can work with the skipper to customize your itinerary for the week. Some even include meals cooked by your skipper, but the best advantage is being able to wake up in a different place and explore any island, bay or cove you wish. It is important to note that while the boats are very nice, they don't offer the most spacious accommodations and lack many amenities you would get by staying on shore. Unless, of course, you're a millionaire then the boat can be as lavish as you wish.

If you prefer the comforts of being at a resort, that's totally fine, but I still encourage you to get out and explore as much as possible. Thankfully, there are many resorts and charter companies that offer daily boat rentals and there is a reliable and efficient ferry service within the islands of the BVI's and also between the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. For more information on the ferry service, including ferries that can bring you within the BVI's but also to the USVI's, as well as schedules, visit this website. This website is also helpful with FAQs regarding ferry service.

Now that we've established the basics, you're probably wondering where you should go once you hit the high seas. Well, the options are just about endless and could keep you busy for weeks. If you have only a week like I did, you will need to prioritize. I wanted to get as much out of the BVI's as I could so I decided to stick to those islands. Plus, I had been to some of the islands of the USVI's before. Here are the must-sees.

Note: if you decide to go to the USVI's don't forget your passport! You will need it going to/from the British and American territories. 

 

VIRGIN GORDA

The island where the millionaires vacation, therefore home to the most luxurious resorts in the BVI's. A quick 20-40 minute ride from the Trellis Bay ferry dock in Tortola depending on what part of the island you're going to. Includes 3 ferry stops-- Spanish Town (the main part of the island), Leverick Bay and Bitter End.

The Baths and Devil's Bay - Located a short cab ride's distance from the Spanish Town ferry dock, at the very southern tip of the island, is this national park the island is known for. The geological phenomenon consists of a collection of giant boulders left over from volcanic lava creating grottoes you can swim and walk through, as well as a white-sanded beach with some of the bluest water in the Caribbean. Note: Since it is a national park, there is a small entry fee but it includes use of facilities and a locker to store your belongings as you climb through the rocks. To access the Baths, hike downhill for about 15 minutes to the locker area where you can store your clothes and belongings. Climb through the caves, crawl between rocks and wade through water before ending at the beach. End your day after hiking back up with a refreshing drink and a snack (tostones, anyone?) at the Top of the Baths restaurant located near the taxi stand. (Virgin Gorda ferry, Spanish Town stop)

Important note: The Baths can get really crowded especially on days that cruise ships are docked in Tortola, so it's worth checking that handy schedule again to know when to go. Here is the link.

cave at the baths
cave at the baths
boulders in the baths
boulders in the baths
sailboat in devil's bay
sailboat in devil's bay
devil's bay beach
devil's bay beach

Bitter End Yacht Club - This resort offers accommodations but is better known for its sailing school and its large collection of watercrafts for rent. Learn how to sail, windsurf or hop in kayak, Hobie Cat or Boston Whaler for a few hours. The choice is yours, but whatever you do be sure to stop and marvel at the enormous sailing yachts. If you're lucky you will catch a 200+ foot sailing yacht giving birth to a couple of vintage wooden Chris Crafts out of its hull. (Virgin Gorda ferry, Bitter End stop)

Saba Rock Resort - Located on a small island just off the shore of the Bitter End Yacht Club, this resort has a fun bar and restaurant. Nothing fancy, but is a cool spot especially during happy hour. Catch the free water shuttle from Bitter End. (Virgin Gorda ferry, Bitter End stop) 

 

JOST VAN DYKE 

About a 30-minute ferry ride from West End ferry dock in Tortola, this little island is one not to be missed for its authentic, relaxing Caribbean vibe. Despite its fame to many travelers, it still remains an unspoiled oasis. The ferry lets passengers off in Great Harbour, but I recommend visiting this island by charter if you can.

Soggy Dollar Bar - Located in White Bay, this little beach shack got its name from boaters who would throw anchor offshore and from wading through the water to reach the bar their dollars would get soggy, ha-ha. Now they accept credit card and there are waterproof devices to keep dollars dry, but there is still no dock in sight making for a fun and sand-bar-like experience. Luckily, the water is as warm as bath water and you don't need much for a day on the beach here. Be sure to stop at the bar for its famous painkillers, a potent drink made with rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut and freshly grated nutmeg. The bartender is amazing to watch as he lines the bar with cups and mixes the drinks like something out of the movie Cocktail. This place, and the beach it's located on, is truly one of the best experiences in all of the BVI's. (White Bay)

white bay
white bay
soggy dollar bar
soggy dollar bar
soggy dollar painkiller
soggy dollar painkiller
white bay
white bay

Foxy's Tamarind Bar - Not far from the ferry dock is this famous beachside institution. Stop in for a house-brewed beer and a bite to eat while jamming to live calypso music. You may even catch Foxy himself, who is a celebrity around these parts, on the guitar. After the sun goes down this place turns into a big party with a mix of islanders and boaters alike. (Great Harbour)

Foxy's Taboo - On the quieter, eastern side of the island you will find the smaller of the two Foxy establishments. Located dockside in a picturesque bay, this restaurant offers up much of the same fare and brews as the original location in Great Harbour but on a more quaint and relaxing scale. (Diamond Cay)

Bubbly Pool - A natural Jacuzzi located on the Northeast part of the island, formed by waves crashing against a rock formation. When it's high tide and there are waves on the North shore of the island, the water comes rushing in and creates bubbles as if you're in a jetted tub (on calm days and low tide, not so much). From Foxy's Taboo, a 20-minute hike brings you to the swimming hole. Bring a picnic and plan to spend some time enjoying mother nature's wonders. Shoes recommended. Watch out for the poisonous trees, marked by red paint and/or a sign.

So if you're staying on land or if you're on a boat, the goal remains the same-- explore, explore, explore. I stress again that these islands are a must-see to get a feel for the BVI's. Since every island has a different vibe, it's important to see as many as you can and you will find the one that suits you best for for a future trip. Of course if you end up doing a private charter or boat rental, there are many other smaller cays to be found and bays to tuck into. You will be more nimble if you don't have to rely on ferries but ferries do a pretty good job of getting you where you need to go if you prefer to stay at a resort. And that I don't blame you sometimes, there are some very luxurious ones out there! Now, what are you waiting for? Get a move on and plan your trip to the BVI's, or have me do that for you, because Britain is calling!

Sandy Cay
Sandy Cay