Trapsing around the Hilltops of St. Tropez

St. Tropez, France, Morning

Today we arrived in St. Tropez (say Sahn trowpay) at about 7:30 on a beautiful, warm day.  I woke up about 6:30 as we entered the bay/harbor that is what seemed to be about a mile long finger of water between two peninsulas.  St. Tropez is really a peninsula that is hard to reach by road so most people arrive by water.  It is located on the French Riviera, also called the Côte d’Azur (the azure coast) which is the Southeast corner of France and Monaco.  The area was settled by Greeks and the story was much like we have heard already heard with a couple new twists regarding muslim Saracens.  The local people are called Tropéziens and they call the area St. Trop.

Margaret started coming down with some upper respiratory ailment last night and woke up this morning with a bit of sore throat and hoarseness.  She decided that she would stay back and get some rest while I went off the ship. Nothing unusual for us on longer trips but normally not because she is sick.  I had a quick breakfast at La Veranda.  The theater was packed with people at 8 am as the first tours were departing and I turned in my tour ticket in exchange for a Number 5 plastic ticket and waited for my number to be called.  It was a tender day so it took longer than usual.

By 8:30 we were off the ship and on another very nice tour bus with our red-headed female tour guide named Pascal.  Yes, like the mathematician and formerly very popular computer programming language but she made it clear that she had nothing to do with either.  She had a fairly thick French accent and gladly accepted assistance from our group when she was stuck on translations.  Definitely added a little more local flair than our excellent tour guide from yesterday who started out as a Canadian.

Todays tour was a combination of tours really.  Titled “Peninsula of Hilltop Villages” we would visit three medieval hilltop villages.  After taking the 10 minute tender ride into the port area of St. Tropez we passed by a cute little lighthouse at the harbor opening, past many huge yachts and some ordinary pleasure boats and landed at the main walk along the waterfront.   We walked about 10 minutes along the water learning about the history of St. Tropez.

The 30 minute ride took us through the countryside along a road lined with maritime stone pines that looked like umbrellas, oaks and cypress trees.  There was a vineyard here and there and lots of olive orchards.  There were also a number of nurseries that had a wealth of mature olive and palm trees for sale in containers.  It made me wonder how they could survive with roots that seemed to be only 2 feet deep at the most.

We could see the hilltop village of Grimaud in the distance as we started the drive up the windy, steep road.  That’s the whole idea of these villages.  St. Tropez was settled by ancient greeks.  Over the following centuries forts built up on steep hills so you could see the invaders from long distances, get everyone behind the walls and hope you can hold out.  The village of Grimaud is a perched village, with historical links to the Grimaldi family. Gibelin de Grimaldi aided William the Good drive the Saracens of Fraxinet out of the area in AD 973 and was rewarded with the land. The village is dominated by its 11th-century castle that has been partially restored.  The Gulf of Saint Tropez was known as the Gulf of Grimaud until the end of the 19th century.

After spending about 45 minutes at Grimaud we were off on a 20 minute drive to Gassin.  This was a lovely town with a nice church, narrow cobblestone streets, small hotels and restaurants.  It is a very quaint town that is famous for having the narrowest street in the world.  And, it really is narrow with even pretty thin people having to squeeze through sideways.  Seemed like someone didn’t follow the building code and tried to make their house bigger than planned.  We were supposed to have time to sit down and have a lovely latte at the very nice court of restaurants at the top of the city, all lining the street with nice patio seating areas but, once again, that didn’t happen.  Before you know it we were off again on another 20 minute bus ride to our next stop, Ramatuelle.

Ramatuelle was similar to the other two cities although it seemed to have a lot more shops.  By now the city was coming alive in that just like Barcelona, things happen later in the day than the states.  You could see that even on a Friday a number of locals were showing up for their breakfast at the somewhat trendy cafes.  This time we actually got some shopping and cafe time so I took advantage of it and sat down for a Rose and tapenade special where I saw another couple from the ship sipping on their lattes.  They looked yummy but went for the Rose anyway.  It was a bit too sweet for my taste, a Vin de Pays wine that didn’t match the wonderful light pink Provence style ones we had the day before.

One thing that is surprising me is how large an area the Provence region really is.  It encompasses all the areas we have been in since arriving in France and continues to another couple spots.  We found out that 80% of the wine produced here is Rose, 15% red and 5% white.  And, on the drive back to the ship there were domaines all along the road with beautiful vineyards sprinkling the country side.

Since it was now 12:30 I went straight to the ship to check up on Margaret and hopefully have lunch with her in Compass Rose.  But, it wasn’t to be.  She was still in bed and not feeling well.  Compass Rose had just closed so she ordered from room service while I had a quick lunch at La Veranda.  Since one of us needed to explore the town for the blog I went back out on the tender and explored the town for a couple hours.  The next post will talk about that adventure.


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