Here I am in Port Grimaud, France, which some call “the boating capital of Europe.” This is one of the few remaining marinas in Europe where boaters can buy a house on a canal with a dock, providing access within minutes to the Bay of Saint-Tropez in the Mediterranean Sea.
The name Grimaud in French is the equivalent of Grimaldi in Italian, which no doubt sounds familiar as it’s the name of the royal family of Monaco. Back in 800 A.D. the family lived up the hill, in the village of Grimaud. The old castle is still there, undergoing restoration while visitors scamper through the ruins. It looks best when lit up at night.
In the 1960s the French architect FranÁois Spoerry converted the marshlands located about eight miles from Saint-Tropez, into a housing development. But this is far from an ordinary housing tract. Spoerry’s inspiration: the 15th century fishing village of Burano, an island just off the coast of Venice, Italy. So each house, as in an Italian fishing village, sits on the side of one of the many winding canals.
Within Port Grimaud there is one boatyard, and two small marinas. The whole city, with about 3,000 inhabitants, seems smaller than Marina del Rey. In many ways it’s very different from Marina del Rey.
First of all, it’s very quiet here. Cars, for the most part, are confined to landscaped parking lots around the village. There is no freeway close-by. Most of the buildings are two or three stories. Just adjacent to the village, elaborate camping facilities provide recreational activities, including beach access, and for those willing to pay more there are two small hotels, some shops, restaurants and two weekly markets in the town squares — even tour buses arrive from time to time.
It’s very seasonal, with most owners coming only for vacation several weeks per year. In the summer there is a tremendous amount of boating activity, with major sailboat races bringing competitive boaters in June and October.
In this part of the world there are marinas every few miles along the coast as well as on islands off the coast of the nearby city, such as Cannes — better known for its annual film festival — and HyËres, to name two of the more famous venues.
The island of Porquerolles attracts many, as it is particularly beautiful. The small marina and various harbors there remind me of Catalina, although this island is a bit closer to shore.
The Italian coast is not far away, and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia are within easy boating distance. We sailed to Corsica a few years ago in an overnight, 24-hour sail. The spectacular cliffs outside the fourth-century town of Bonifacio on the southern tip of Corsica greet incoming sailors with an unforgettable challenge — it’s not easy to find the entrance to the harbor.
The beaches in Southern France are very different than the one in Marina del Rey. They are much more developed than in Southern California. Attendants provide food, drinks, chairs and mattresses, and there are young women models showing the latest fashion in bathing suits.
The beaches are designed to appeal to different groups; some are for the older crowd, some for the younger group, some for gay people, some for nudists (but most have a number of women in topless bathing suits) some for people that want to eat and drink well, and some for families.
At the Table de Mareyeur in Port Grimaud one can order the seafood platter Royale, a three-tiered wonder filled with oysters, clams, sea snails, lobster tails, stuffed crab, big shrimp, little shrimp and a number of other sea creatures I never see in the United States.
Most of the restaurants feature the standard French fare — seafood soup, warm goat cheese salad, steak with frites, etc. Now that France has banned smoking in restaurants, virtually every restaurant in this area has a large terrace where smokers congregate as smoking is allowed outside, a liberal reading of the law which, although challenged in the press, is as yet untested in the French courts.
Now you can experience some of the same foods in an authentic setting in Santa Monica at the new Anisette Brasserie at 225 Santa Monica Blvd. Anisette is a dead ringer for a French brasserie, and the menu is virtually the same as in many of the fine restaurants in this area. The wine list I developed there provides a number of reasonably priced wines from both France and California. Look for me there (after July 15th) and say hello. Isn’t Southern California wonderful?