You don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy the stunning sea vistas along the French Riviera. For over sixty years, the maritime transport company ‘Les Bateaux Verts’ or Green Boats has been shuttling people across the Gulf of Saint Tropez, connecting coastal towns like Sainte-Maxime, Cogolin, Port Grimaud and Les Issambres. Indeed, in the height of summer when local roads are packed with tourists, this is the best way to travel these splendid Mediterranean shores.
There are a dozen different sightseeing tours from ‘Ile Sainte-Marguerite’ off the Port of Cannes, to the islands of ‘Porquerolles’, ‘Port-Cros’ and ‘Ile du Levant’ as far south as Hyeres. Children can enjoy an underwater adventure aboard ‘Aquascope’ for a panoramic view of the marine life.
I climb aboard ‘Gypsy XXI’ all set for the cruise to ‘Les Trois Caps Sauvages’ which will take me across the Gulf past Saint Tropez to the three wild capes of ‘Camarat’, ‘Taillat’ and ‘Lardier’ that protrude off its peninsular. This marine nature reserve is a favourite playground for the rich and famous who devour the seas on board their super yachts, cramming the tiny bays. They clamour ashore to lounge on the wide golden beaches of ‘Pampelonne’ famed by local ’60’s film star, Brigitte Bardot.
We pass the impressive lighthouse ‘Phare de Camarat’ 130 meters above sea level, the second highest lighthouse in France and the Captain slows the boat for a ‘photo op’. A sudden burst of sea spray cascades over the deck, and excited tourists squeal with delight, clicking their cameras frantically trying to capture the moment. I peer down into a sea the colour of teal and imagine myself diving in, when I hear the sound of a guitar as our tour guide strikes up a song and everyone onboard starts to clap. At the sound of music, people from neighbouring boats laugh and wave and I gaze past them in awe at the ‘Baie de Briande’ with its rocks dating back to 2,000 B.C.
The further south we cruise towards the largest cape ‘Cap Lardier’, the more barren the landscape becomes and tufts of trees mark where the wild fires of 2017 devastated the land. A conservation program of natural revegetation is in force to repair the damage, as well as to preserve the beautiful beaches and dunes. Our guide informs us this is the land of ‘Bouillabaisse’ or soup made with local fish and crustaceans. (Interestingly, this dish is not fish-based in Nice, where fish is not such a staple part of the diet.)
On our return, we pass ‘La Moutte” a huge buoy marking the entrance to the Bay of St. Tropez. The annual ‘Voiles de Saint Tropez’ Regatta uses this buoy as a marker on its course. On land, heart-shaped clouds caress the hillsides, gently bouncing off the cushioned tops of the Pins Parasols. This amazing 3-hour cruise has cost me 22,40 Euros and worth every penny.
So smitten am I by the excursion, that I soon find myself in line to purchase my next ticket to ‘Les Calanques de l’Esterel’, the inlets of the Esterel region. As we depart the dock and the boat heads north from Les Issambres towards Cannes, I can imagine us cruising parallel to ‘La Grande Corniche’, one of the most famous scenic coast roads in the world. This dramatic drive skirts the sides of mountains that plunge steeply into the sea. I am now on that sea looking back at the land, marvelling once more at this new perspective. We pass Saint Aygulf with it long stretch of sandy beach and I watch the kite surfers as they catch the wind. We cruise on past Frejus to the busy seaside quay of St. Raphael with her big white ferris wheel; and on by the exclusive Hotel Restaurant of ‘La Villa Mauresque’, the luxury Esterel resort nestled among palm trees.
Inlets appear along rocky outcrops on and offshore as if marrying the land and sea, and small fishing boats bob just shy of jagged rock edges. Our guide (not the singing one from last time) announces the ‘Ile d’Or’ (Golden Island) off our starboard side, with its intriguing high tower. He tells us this is a private island and one of the most beautiful symbols of the Esterel Cote d’Azur, and indeed one of the sixty most beautiful sites of France. The island was rebaptised ‘Ile Noire’ (Black Island) by Herge, the creator of ‘Tintin’.
The Agay lighthouse appears off the bow, and as we navigate around this giant piece of rock, we arrive in a cove of deep water where several small craft mingle and people are swimming to cool off. In the distance, I can make out the ‘Ile Sainte Marguerite’ off the coast of Cannes, surely a cruise for another day. As I peer up the cliff face before me, and see hikers perched high up on its rocky tips, I am content to lie back on deck and bask in the magic.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +33 (0)18.104.22.168.39
Navettes (Shuttles): 11 months/year, 7 days/week
Port Grimaud – Capitainerie/St. Tropez (20 mins/12,90 Euros adult return)
Port Grimaud – Church/St. Tropez (30 mins/14,90 Euros adult return)
Les Issambres/St. Tropez (25 mins/15,70 Euros adult return)
Cogolin/St. Tropez (30 mins/12,90 Euros adult return)
Ste Maxime/St. Tropez (15 mins/14,10 Euros adult return)
Guichets (Ticket Booths): Open 10.00-17.00h
Port Grimaud – Quai des transporteurs
Les Issambres – Port de San Peire
Cogolin – Avenue de la Plage
Ste Maxime – 14 Quai Leon Condroyer (Marina)
St. Tropez – 7 Quai Jean Jaurès (Old Port)
Excursions: Provisional Schedule
Saint-Tropez, the Bay and the Famous Villas
The 3 Wild Capes
The Creeks of Esterel
Porquerolles or Port-Cros Islands
Cannes – Ste Marguerite Island
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez (annual Regatta in September)
N.B: Boats can be hired for private functions eg. weddings!
Lead photo credit : Les 3 Caps Sauvages