Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Chocolate Croissants on the French Riviera..... Sept 2010

Cute French village of Mons
02 - 05 September 2010

Another day, another country. As we pulled out of the marina in Monaco we lowered our well worn Indonesian Courtesy flag that had now served as our Monaco Flag (I'm sure Prince Albert would be very proud of sharing the same flag as Indonesia albeit a tad more square than the rectangular Indonesian version but once up the yard arm and flapping away, who would spot the difference !!) and hoisted the French tricolour. It was only 9 miles to our first anchorage on the French Riviera, we pulled into the deep bay of Villefranche before lunch, set our anchor in the weedy seabed and set about ensuring Balvenie was shipshape.

We were expecting my cousin Neil and his wife Barbara to join us for a couple of nights, they were our first med visitors way back in Turkey and were coming back, this time with the latest addition to their family, Sparkie their 2 year old Shetland sheepdog, our first dog onboard. They had been hiking up in the Italian Dolomites and were in desparate need of some warmth and sunshine, we were hoping the French Riviera would provide just that. After successfully finding somewhere safe and free to park their Landcruiser full of all their camping equipment, it was everyone in the dinghy and onboard, Sparkie wasn't to sure about it at first but adapted to being a boat dog in no time at all. We had done several improvements to Balvenie since their last stay and it was great to have such positive comments from them on all our new canvas work and cabin top paint job, both had been long and hard winter projects

High in the hills behind Nice

We had a great couple of nights with them onboard, we spent a whole day out touring, first heading north along the coast next along the promenade in Nice, just a few miles north of Villefranche. Then we headed inland and up into the hills, passing through some lovely little typically French villages, stopping along the way at one for our first French cafe au lait.

We kept going higher and higher, clinging to tiny roads that their Landcruiser hardly fitted on, winding down through gorges and ravines and up the other sides. Breathtaking scenery surrounded us in all directions. Eventually we stopped at the small village of Mons, we sat and watched the local men play boules in the village square while we enjoyed our picnic lunch. The vista back down towards the coast was spectacular, the village was very cute with narrow lanes, little arty shops, stone houses, flowering bourgainvillea - all very French and very beautiful.

Fattening us up in France
Back down to sealevel and Villefranche, successfully securing another free parking spot for the night. It was time for dinner out ashore, we wandered through the lanes behind the waterfront and found a great Italian (shame on us!!) restaurant and had a lovely meal under the stars. Next morning it was fresh croissants, pastries and baguette for breakfast. This was one of the bonuses of having a dog on board, it is necessary to have an early morning walk ashore that just happens to pass by the boulangarie for all those delectable goodies!! Sadly Neil and Barbara needed to start heading back to London so only stayed 2 nights but it was great to see them again, and we appreciated our touring inland with them.

It was Saturday afternoon and Marks new sunglasses were ready in San Remo so we had quite an excursion to collect them. Dinghy ashore, walk to train station, train to Monaco, change onto train to Ventimilgia, find bus to San Remo, collect glasses and then reverse all the above. Except for a 45 minute wait in Ventimilgia (long enough in Ventimilgia) on the return it all went very smoothly. Mark is now the proud owner of a new pair of presciption, polarised sunglasses at great expense, his 4th pair in 6 years of cruising - I am trying to work out how to attach them permanently to his head!!!

Mons, in the hills behind Nice

Back in Villefranche we had had Kiwi yacht Baracca arrive and anchor next to us. We last saw Maurice and Heather from Christchurch in Croatia last year so we stopped by and had a catch up with them, great to see them again. Unfortunately a swell was now creeping into the anchorage and we were lying beam on to it, it was rather an uncomfortable night and we were pleased our visitors had been lucky with flat seas.

It was time to move on again so we lifted anchor and sailed under headsail in rolly seas the 16 miles west along the coast to the headland where Antibes is situated. We had hoped to anchor on the east side of this peninsular in one of the two bays just a short walk from Antibes, but a strong seabreeze had set in from the east and they were totally unsuitable. We decided to try the marina, there was a front due to pass over in a couple of nights so we thought maybe being tied up might be a good option. I called the Antibes Marina, it has 1700 berths plus 170 visitors berths, they turned us away saying they were full.
Balvenie on the French Riviera

We carried on around the headland to the western side and anchored at Abri de L'Olivette, on Cap d'Antibes, well tucked inside the mussel farms, out of the chop from the seabreeze and with just a little. Although we didn't go ashore it looked a lovely area, with very large houses set in well wooded large sections, not a highrise block to be seen.

Next morning the weather was forecast to go around to the south for 24 hours so we motored the short distance across to Ile Ste Marguerite, and anchored on its north side. It sits just a couple of miles south of Cannes and is a peaceful heavily wooded island that is a National Park. We enjoyed a late afternoon walk ashore, all the day tripper boats had returned to Cannes and just a handful of people were left ashore. We visited the large Fort Royal, an impressive site from the anchorage, especially at night, and equaly impressive ashore. It is here that the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisioned in the late 1600's. We walked along several paths through the forest, the scent of pine in the air. We had not been for such a lovely walk in forest since staying with Neil and Barbara in Surrey back in March. This was a great anchorage and shore excursion.

Cruising info for Villefranche, Abri de L'Olivette and Ile Ste Marguerite, French Riviera:-
Anchorages -
Villefranche -  43 42.103N   07 19.103E   11.5m  weed, got rolly on last night
Abri de L'Olivette @ Cap d'Antibes -   43 33.168N   07 07.011E   8m  sand/weed, very undulating
Ile Ste Marguerite - 43 31.590N   07 02.444E   7.5m   sand/weed
Communications - Mobile phones  both GYMSIM and Vodafone Malta worked on SFR or Orange Signal.  Then there is the internet, another country to deal with!!!  Firstly connecting by dongle - a French one is an expensive option.  Need to buy a new dongle (didn't check price), apparantly not compatible with any other country, then Simcard was 69E then think it was 15E for 3 hours connection, all to hard and too expensive.  What we did was top up our NZ Vodafone dongle and used it on roaming just to download the weather and emails, it wasn't cheap either, but NZD60 (about 35E) lasted us our time in France.  However the good news is that there are unlocked sites around in France, so with our external aerial we managed to pickup (with rather alot of effort) signals in both Villefranche and Abri de L'Olivette, not great signals but enough to get weather info down.
Ashore -
Villefranche - is a cute little place (cruiseships do come in, we had two one day so it can get busy!), main shops are all up the hill inland a couple of blocks.  The train station is easy to see from the anchorage.  We tied our dinghy on the concrete wall, plenty of options.
Abri de L'Olivette - Easy walk over to Antibes, probably took around 25 minutes just kept heading in the direction we thought it should be!!  Small minimarket and excellent bakery on the road into Antibes.  Found much shorter way back headed straight along main road which brought us back to very upmarket village by the big marina just north of the anchorage.  Mainly cafes/bars and a casino in village, ATM machine but didn't see a minimarket.see next update as we returned here
Ile Ste Marguerite - A couple of small restaurants ashore maybe open daytime only.  Fort did have charge but we arrived about 5.30pm it was open with no one on door so had a look around, it is quite impressive.  Loads of lovely walking on well marked paths.  Water tap on dock, some smalls boats were filling up jerry jugs.
Formalities - didn't do any in France
Sightseeing - Many cruisers "do" Monaco from here.  Easy train trip, 5.50E return each, half hourly except on Sundays

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