On day five of this summer’s Staycation, we drove an hour and a half to the coast, to St. Raphael, to be specific. St. Raphael is a port city, and like most port cities in the French Riviera, it’s set up for tourists. This is the place to be if you want to shop, have a seafood lunch, hit the beach or pick up some souvenirs. This isn’t the high class St. Tropez shopping, though. You won’t find a classic Saint James sailor shirt, a Missoni bikini* or a pair of Chanel sunglasses here. But there are plenty of nice things to be had for very reasonable prices in St. Raphael. That said, we searched high and low, behind every beach towel display and each rack of sunglasses for a decent pair of flip-flops for Johann and managed to come up empty handed. Oh, well. You can’t have it all.
Besides, we weren’t there for the shopping. We had booked a sailboat for a sunset cruise, so along with our eight fellow passengers, we hopped on board this three-bedroom, two-bath boat and set sail. Our affable and Jeffrey Lebowski-like captain encouraged Johann and I to plant ourselves on the deck near the bow with some loungy mattresses, an invitation we didn’t hesitate to take him up on. We sailed out to what looked at first like a small peninsula, but revealed itself to be a tiny island called l’Ile d’Or, “the island of gold,” in French. Captain Dude (I didn’t catch his actual name) told us its story.
Formerly a military base, the French government sold the island to a private citizen in 1897 when they found they didn’t have much use for it anymore, obviously not foreseeing the “fool me twice” situation that would unfold with Germany in the years that would follow (the Allies landed there during WWII). The island’s owner had what could be considered a bit of a gambling problem and ended up losing it in a card game. I can’t help but wonder what was in his hand. The man he lost it to had problems of his own, though. After taking possession of the property, he commenced to build a castle-like tower on it. When construction was finished, he declared the island its own sovereign nation and proclaimed himself King August the First of the Island of Gold (population: batshit crazy). He had a flag made and even had stamps and money printed. Today, that island is known as the country of… France. Because, dude, you can’t DO that. You’re delusional.
Our boat stopped to let its passengers out for a swim and then set sail back toward St. Raphael. Captain Dude even let one of the passengers steer while he prepared a little apéritif of Champagne, rosé and tapenade on toast. Once back at the port, we bade farewell to the captain with promises to join him for the St. Tropez Regatta in October. As it wasn’t yet ten p.m., we were still able to get a table at one of the many restaurants along the port serving the traditional mussels steamed in white wine with a side of French fries. We treated ourselves to an ice cream on our way back to the car, where Johann dozed as I drove home (he’s more of a morning person). All in all, it was a wonderful day and I hope we’ll make the sailing trip a regular feature during our future Staycations. As always, wish you were here!
* Just a side note on the subject of bikinis, while we’re at it. It’s interesting that you don’t often find bikini tops and bottoms sold separately here, like you do in the States, which is convenient if your top is bigger than your bottom or vice versa. The reason it’s interesting is that French women rarely seem to ever wear the top and are forced to buy both pieces. I’m jus