30 July 2010 5:03 PM

Elton, Bono, Paris & Kate in Beach Demolition Disaster

Small-camel-rightElton John, Bono, Paris Hilton, Kate Moss, Bruce Willis, Ralph Lauren, even Saudi Princes and world statesmen – the list is endless - will all soon have to find a new summer playground if the Mayor of Ramateulle, a small district in the south of France, has his way.

Ocoa view Pampelone Beach, made famous by Bridget Bardot in the 1950s movie, 'And God Created Woman’, has been declared an environmental hazard by the local councillors who claim that the 27 beach side restaurants and bars are eroding the sand dunes, damaging plant species and are in breach of laws intended to protect coastal regions. The Mayor has decreed that all the beach shacks must be demolished and the owners must reapply for planning permission to rebuild properties which can be dismantled each winter. To make matters worse the council wants to reduce the number of establishments to 21 so 6 unlucky owners will be out on their ear.

As you might imagine the rebellion is taking on the ferocity of another French revolution. The Pampelone restaurateurs may not quite be lining the councillors up for the guillotine just yet but the cutting responses to the demolition plans are coming fast and furious.

Beach Shack On the face of it this does seem like commercial suicide for Ramateulle. Up to 30,000 people visit the 3 mile beach each day over July and August generating revenue of €40m. The beach is by far the largest employer in the region.

Will the plans go through? As a frequent visitor to Pampelone over the last ten years, I doubt it. I do agree that some of the establishments are seedy and should go but a wholesale slaughter of all the restaurants would be crazy.

Club 55 and Tahiti Beach, two of the most famous restaurants are presumably safe. Both are built on privately owned land. Club 55 is named after 1955, the year in which it was established as a beach side bistro by the father of Patrice de Colmont, the current owner.

Even if some of the changes do go ahead it is very doubtful that the international stars who come from all over the world, many by private yacht, will have to find a new playground to while away those August days.

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15 July 2010 8:37 PM

Follow the stars to the sun – where the celebs go on holiday

Small-camel-right How often do you go on holiday hoping you’ll bump into the odd celebrity? Most will be quite happy to pose for a photo and maybe, if you’re lucky, stop for a quick chat.

Sounds great but before you head for Heathrow and hop on the first plane to a sunny climate, where DO you go to hobnob? Simply hanging around any old Bali beach bar or Nice nightclub in the hope of spotting a celeb is going to leave you lonely, disappointed and looking a bit tragic.

Roger Moore & girls You need a plan and that involves some research. Scouring the pages of the tabloids and glossies is fine but by the time you’ve spotted that Madonna’s in Marbella, booked your Easy-seat and hit the sand running she’ll have skedaddled faster than a virgin from a Viagra testers’ convention.

So where are the stars partying this summer?

Eva Longoria Parker has been strutting her stuff in Croatia at the Skradinski Buk Waterfalls by day and clicking her heels by night in Hvar’s slick Carpe Diem club. Fly to Split then take a ferry or hydrofoil to the Adriatic’s Number 1 party island. Eva is most likely living it up on a posh yacht but there are plenty of boutique hotels to stay at and it’s a fair bet the desperate housewife won’t be the only celeb to spot on Hvar this summer.

More discreet is Heather Graham who is hiding from the crowds on the small Italian island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. This is probably not the hottest location for star spotting but a gentle retreat if you, like Heather, fancy a quiet time, and you never know who you might bump in to?

Sardinia is a footballer’s favourite and even a shocking showing in the World Cup hasn’t put Frank Lampard off mixing with other holidaymakers at Cala Di Volpe, one of the best hotels on the island. He is joined by Christine Bleakley, cousin Jamie Redknapp and his wife Louise.

If you want to be sure of seeing the stars at this time of year you have to head for St Tropez. Not all the rich and famous travel by private jet. David Beckham caused a stir last week when he boarded a British Airways flight to Nice.

Whilst on Le Cote D’Azur we’ve bumped into David Walliams and Lara Stone, Gordon and Tana Ramsay, Roger Moore and his Danish wife, Kiki.

“Is that George Michael and Kenny over there?”, someone whispered at La Colombe D’Or the other night.


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09 July 2010 1:28 PM

Escape the crowds - Join Wayne & Colleen in Barbados

Small-camel-right Whilst the world, it's wife and, in some cases, it's mistress are heading to the Med, some crafty holiday makers are travelling further afield and taking advantage of the cheap flights to long haul destinations.  Barbados beach

Shots of Barbados are in the papers everyday at the moment as Wayne and Colleen live it up in their new £5m palace, and the weather doesn’t look bad at all. Check out the forecast and you’ll see talk of rain but that generally means there’s just the chance of an odd short shower, and when the rain does come, it's warm. Most holidaymakers will either make for the sea or the pool for the brief duration of the drizzle, or if you’re unlucky, downpour.

You can fly to Barbados at the moment for under £500 return and there are great hotel deals along the St James coast but beware of extras. Eat and drink carefully and your hard-earned holiday money will go far but if you decide to treat yourself to lunch at posh Sandy Lane, for example, your wallet will be wiped out.

Royal Pavilion The major hotels in St James are all generally very good so I suggest you go for the best deal. However, if I were asked to pick one I’d go for the Fairmont Royal Pavilion, which very conveniently sits next door to the best restaurant on the island – Lone Star. Over the busy Christmas / New Year period a reservation at Lone Star is as difficult to secure as praise from Michael Winner, who as it happens, rates Lone Star as one of his favourite restaurants in the world. Lone Star

Head north to St Peter and the Fish Pot, another Winner favourite, which sits by the water’s edge in a tiny port.

The most over rated restaurant in Barbados is The Cliff. Hugely expensive, the food is very poor but the setting is spectacular. The Cliff is poised high above a tiny bay and at night, dinner becomes a visual feast as the bay and ocean below are lit up. Probably best to try and slip in for a quick drink, take a look at the view, then make your excuses.

So if the massively overcrowded and overpriced Mediterranean is too much for you but you fancy a beautiful sandy beach, go online today and follow the Rooneys to the Caribbean.

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30 June 2010 1:18 PM

When London’s Top Chef visited the World’s Most Successful Restaurant

Small-camel-right Was food on Gordon Ramsay’s mind earlier this week when he dined at Club 55 on St Tropez’s Pampelone beach?

On the week that he announced the closure of The Devonshire, his Chiswick gastro pub, the Hell’s Kitchen star must have gazed enviously at the packed tables and queues waiting by the bar. This was Monday lunchtime, not yet peak season, and the place was heaving.

The food at Club 55 is a far cry from Ramsay’s gourmet fare but is sold at gourmet prices.

What did he make of the Salade de Pampelone, a sliced buffalo tomato, covered with diced goat’s cheese in a mustard mayonnaise, and garnished with finely sliced mint leaves? At €18 the dish is one of 55’s more imaginative.

To follow, the chef and his wife, Tana, who is carving out her own culinary career, shared the Salad Nicoise. This would be disappointing at €8 but is weepingly so at €18. A thick bed of lettuce pads the base of a large bowl. On top is an unimaginative layer of the usual nicoise ingredients, egg, tomato, beans, anchovies and dry TINNED tuna. I’ve ordered 55’s Nicoise several times over the years and each time regretted my optimism.

Club 55 is the clincher when it comes to the long running argument of food versus ambience. You will be hard pressed to find anyone, other than a gangster fresh from clinky or a hero back from chasing men with beards who will hail the cuisine at 55. It is, at best, average pub quality, but charged at extortionately high prices. The Hamburger á Cheval (a burger with an egg on top, not a horse meat burger!) is €28, a steak is €37 and fresh fish is €47 per person for a minimum of two people.

But still they flock to Club 55 making it the most ludicrously profitable restaurant on Planet Food. During July and August, Patrice de Colmont, 55’s owner, sees 1000 people each day pass through his restaurant and it's virtually impossible to spend less than €50 per person. Many will spend much more.

Gordon settled his bill and got up to leave but an oversized oaf at a neighbouring table blocked his exit and demanded a photo. As the pair posed by the bar in full view of the hundreds of diners, the chef squirmed. What a Kitchen Nightmare!

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25 June 2010 10:09 AM

Going to Europe? Then don’t mention the w….


Small-camel-right Finding a bar in France showing the World Cup is about as unlikely as Thierry Henry having the médaille d’ honneur pinned to his chest by Carla Bruni so if you are planning to be over the Channel this weekend you’d better find something else to do at 3 o’clock on Sunday unless you lock yourself away in your hotel room. Even then, you’ll probably need an illegal satellite dish to track down the England v Germany showdown .

Nothing affects the mood of a nation like football and all over Europe misery has arrived with the summer season. As the balance of football power switches from the dinosaurs of the west to the emerging upstarts of the east, it’s not just the tourists who are feeling the heat. Who’d want to be a French, Italian or Danish footballer stepping off a plane from South Africa?

Wandering round Paris, Pisa or Copenhagen with George Cross shorts and a red and white hanky on your head is not a recommended look and if Spain falls to Chile this evening I’d avoid mentions of Torres in Torremolinos .

If you’re looking for some sun, fun and lots of football, head to Asia or that safe haven of South America. The atmosphere in bars throughout Asia yesterday was electric as Japan beat the once mighty Danes. Why? Because they see it as Asia v Europe and at the moment Asia is whipping the big boys.

Even New Zealand would be a great holiday venue. The season may be winter but the temperature is hot as the Kiwis discover something they never knew – they can play football.

California is another great option as even the USA has been gripped by soccer fever where Landon Donovan has de-throned David Beckham as God.

The best place to be has to be Brazil. The scorching sun of Copacabana and scintillating skills of dos Santos et al would seem to be the best combination. Today’s ‘derby’ with Portugal promises to be one of the hardest fought matches of the tournament, until 3pm on Sunday of course.

And so as Euro misery takes on a new meaning ,will Germany become another holiday hotspot to avoid this summer? Let’s hope so.

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18 June 2010 9:52 AM

Weather warning as ‘British Summer’ hits the Med

Small-camel-right As the people of Provence continue to come to terms with the carnage which killed 19 people earlier this week, tourists, eagerly awaiting their imminent holiday in France and indeed all over the Mediterranean are asking themselves what weather is in store for their great summer escape to the sun. Storm 2

A couple of days before the storms hit, there was no indication of anything other than scorching sunshine as I turned onto the A8 motorway at Dragunian, just a few miles from the epicenter of the floods and less than 20 miles from the beaches of St Tropez. However a few days earlier there were ominous signs on the weather front as Pampelone Beach moved into its full summer swing.

Whilst the sun shone, albeit often behind the cloud, and the temperatures remained high, the sea raged. This was much more than the usual St Tropez ‘Mistral’. Pampelone is the Med’s Billionaire Beach. Many of the largest private boats in the world moor in the bay and the tenders of ‘Le Club 55’ shuttle stars, tycoons and royalty between their floating palaces and the world’s most glamorous beachside restaurant. Regulars include Bono, Ralph Lauren and Arab Princes. But last week there were many empty tables as one by one the boats stayed away and reservations were cancelled.

Battenn down the hatches “We’ve never seen anything like this in June”, said Patrice de Colmont, the understated proprietor of ‘55’. All along the beach restaurants battened down the hatches as diners hid behind Perspex screens.

The scene was more Brighton in January than the Mediterranean in June, the sort of storm which swallows up piers and batters bleak esplanades. It lasted two days then fortunately by the weekend the wind disappeared as quickly as it struck and normality was resumed. Days later 19 people died a few miles away in flash floods.

So what weather can we expect in the Mediterranean this summer? Another local told me that weather this year has not been good. There has been more rain than usual and temperatures have often fluctuated dramatically.

Back to normal Don’t despair. It's not all doom and gloom and the sun will no doubt burn in clear blue skies most days, but don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning to a touch of British summer. 

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10 June 2010 12:10 PM

Summer Starts in St Tropez

Small-camel-right What better way to celebrate the start of the Mediterranean summer than a trip to St Tropez, the sin centre of the sunny south, where dress is optional and excess is essential ?

7.00am: Despite the strike the 9.20 BA flight to Nice has been confirmed, but the difference between the Economy fare and Club is extraordinary - £230 versus £900 return. Is it really worth a £700 premium for a hot sausage, a glass of fizz and the surety of not having Billy Bunter squidge into his seat and half of yours?

SunbathingSmall 8.00am: The security man at Terminal 5 politely but firmly points out that the Camel’s Companion’s see-thru toiletry bag is about 10 times the size of the flimsy things you’re supposed to use. He begins to repack everything into two, which is a bit like trying to squeeze 50 poodles into a handbag. Finally he gives up and slopes off to the safety of the X-Ray machine leaving a blitz of bottles strewn across the counter like the carnage after the first day of Clarin’s summer sale.

9.30am: We finally take off after being ferried to the plane on buses. There are lots of empty seats in both cabins. Seems I wasn’t the only one to balk at £900. Three smiley cabin crew are on board and I do feel someone should take the lead, address the plane and thank them for being there. The moment comes and goes and we all stay silent.

12.15pm: Land at Nice 10 minutes ahead of schedule. A Truche lady is waiting and hands me the keys to a Mercedes, which isn’t what I was expecting but I’m not complaining. Perhaps it’s a loyalty reward?

1.15pm: On the A8 about to turn off for St Tropez when a frantic, panic stricken female calls to say that we have been given the wrong car and demands that we return to Nice immediately to change it for a Renault Clio. Not a chance!

1.17pm: She calls again.

1.18pm: She calls again and says that ‘she’s ‘disappointed’ we have not spent the afternoon bombing up and down the A8 to get her out of a hole.

1.45pm: We glide through Ste Maxine and St Tropez to Villa Marie. In a month’s time this journey will take hours! A puzzled receptionist looks at me, looks at her screen and in her best Franglais announces that ‘computer says no’. I produce the confirmation email just as the manager arrives and assures me that they have rooms and all will be fine.

2.15pm: After a quick change we make the short drive to Le Club 55, the most staggeringly profitable restaurant on the planet. In July and August this place consistently serves 1000 covers a day. The food is expensive and mediocre but it’s not about eating, it’s all about the people watching. Patrice, the proprietor / maître’d, gives us a warm welcome. “Is business good?” I ask. “Yes!” he exclaims, clapping his hands. But Patrice, there is more chance of England beating Brazil in the World Cup Final on penalties than there is of Club 55 having a bad summer.

5.00pm: After an hour or so lazing around ‘55’, basking in the sun we head to town and park in Le Places des Lices then stroll to the port for a few drinks in Senequier, the legendary bar. Two girls arrive on a pink sparkly moped. The entire bar gasps as they remove their helmets to unleash vast flowing locks of perfect hair which tumbles down their sexy silk dresses until it strokes their toned thighs. As they totter on towering heels a tiny dog is yanked from a designer bag on the moped floor and the pair strut off into the crowd. Is this a television commercial for a glamorous hair product? No. It’s just another moment in the ludicrous world of St Tropez.

ByblosSmall 7.30pm: The manageress of Lily, the town’s top boutique, recommends a visit to Byblos. Apparently the fading, over trendy hotel has sorted out its bar and restaurant, bringing in a tapas style menu, and is worth a visit. Sure enough, a four piece acoustic band is performing from a plinth over the swimming pool, the place is buzzing and an impressive basket of crudités is served with the drinks. As the boys break into Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ a flabby female grabs her camera and rushes to the poolside, standing adoringly as every note is stored on video.

QuaiSmall 9.00pm: Time to visit the port again and Joseph Le Quai, owned by St Tropez’s answer to Richard Caring. Joseph is a little rotund man who has built an empire of bars and restaurants over the last few years. This evening’s entertainment is by a smarmy male Latino who wiggles his hips to an odd fusion of Turkish dance and Shakira. The trademark black sand has been removed from the floor and replaced by a skanky black carpet. Still, I’m sure the cleaners are happy.

10.45pm: St Tropez is just beginning to come to life and the droves are heading for Cave du Roy, probably the most expensive nightclub in Europe where an entry level bottle of champagne costs €270, or why not splash out on Perrier-Jouet ‘Belle Epoque’ for a meagre €690. As for me – it’s time for bed.

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18 May 2010 11:46 AM

Pack the Car - We're going on Holiday

Small-camel-right In the old days the family holiday was a much more reliable affair.

Work places would close for a couple of weeks, generally the last week in July/ first week in August. Those who had managed to put away a bit of money during the year would set about packing their Hillman Minx for the annual drive to ‘the continent’.

First in the boot would be two deck chairs (one for mum, one for dad), a picnic table, and a camping gaz stove to boil a kettle at pre-designated tea breaks and toilet stops. Next in was food (Europe was a very expensive place in those days and you certainly couldn’t buy marmalade or PG Tips.) and finally, clothes - crammed into all remaining gaps.

800px-Hillman_Minx_series_VI_1725_cc_reg_april_1966 A smidgen of space would be left in the back seat for the two kids. “Just be bloody grateful you’re having a holiday”, was the retort to every murmur of a whinge.

iPods? Gameboys? Seat back movie screens? Not a chance. It was The Archers on the radio all the way to Dover and woe betide any child who squeaked.

Up on deck on the cross channel ferry was fun – escape from parents and the stuffy airless car. Back below, mum said “I’m glad I told you to take your ‘Sea Legs”, as the boat rolled and the stewed tea slithered across the table.

Once in France the excitement really kicked in. Dad wrestled with driving on the wrong side of the road as mum sucked and dad snapped at every close encounter. “Why can’t women read maps?’ he’d growl as she screamed, “keep your eyes on the road!”

A holiday was an annual event. A ‘City Break’ was a trip to the country and an airport was somewhere you stood outside to watch planes taking off and landing.

800px-Eyjafjallajokull-April-17 (copy) Then the eighties arrived and cheap ferries were replaced by cheap flights, airports became massive car parks and the world became everyone’s oyster, until Eyjafjallajokull started spewing and claimed back the sky for angry Viking gods. Additional assistance from BA renegades has made going abroad for Londoners a tricky and unpredictable challenge. Whilst legal sledgehammers may solve the latter, a grumpy volcano is beyond tempering and, we are told, might well continue to cause chaos for years to come.

As the summer of 2010 approaches we are still waiting for the start of spring. April showers drench the odd sprinkling of sun in May and, despite predictions of a scorcher the odds are we’re on for a hat trick of August gloom .

For a stress free holiday why not pack your picnic bits in the back of your SPV, extend your Tom-Tom subscription to Central Europe and load a few DVDs for the kids. Europe’s more expensive than it was a few years ago but getting cheaper by the day so no need to stock up on the Mars bars and biscuits before you go, and Twinning’s tea is everywhere. Book your car on the train from Folkestone to Calais then meander down through the vineyards of France to wherever takes your fancy.

Whilst your friends sit in airports you’ll be sitting pretty.

Hillman photo by Charles01 via Wikimedia

Eyjafjallajokull photo by Árni Friõriksson via Wikimedia

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30 April 2010 11:37 AM

A Week in Sicily (4) – 'Tacky Tourists & a Spitting Volcano'

Small-camel-right The recent hissy-spitty fit of Iceland’s unpronounceable hasn’t done a lot for the PR of volcanoes in the last few weeks but sitting, writing this, with the world’s most active volcano looking over my shoulder, I sense the presence of a sleeping giant with awesome power who could stir and lose his temper at any moment.

  Etna edit The sun is burning by the coast but snow sits visibly on Mount Etna, a few miles back from the Mediterranean Sea. This beast rises rapidly to a height of almost 11,000 feet, that’s two and half times the height of Ben Nevis. It's cone is clearly visible at the summit and staggeringly this vast flat mouth is 25 miles wide.

Etna is a very grumpy volcano, erupting frequently, but its eruptions are generally relatively small and short, although in 2007 the local Catania airport had to close overnight whilst the dust and ash settled. Most recent rumblings occurred as recently as just over two weeks ago in early April this year.

Taormina We’re in Taormina, an ancient town built on the hillside, sitting high above the sea with stunning views along the coast. Etna is to the right. The architecture of the town dates back to medieval times but tragically the place has been overrun by tacky tourist shops, bars and pizza joints. Groups of geriatric Germans follow ladies holding numbered lollipop sticks; their colour coded sticky lapel labels ensuring they don’t stray as they grunt at each other to keep up. Meeting point is the ‘Wunderbar’, a café, bar, restaurant that holds pole position in the town’s prime tourist square.

Coast view Taormina and its elevated position above the Mediterranean is reminiscent of Eze village on the Cote D’Azur, but without the style and character. This place is disappointingly lacking in any taste or class. The only sanctuary of sophistication is the San Domenico Palace, once a monastery and now the most famous hotel in Sicily. It is horrifically expensive – even in low season it’s hard to stay here for less than €500 a night, but the hotel is among the best in Europe and on a par with Villa San Michele in Florence.

Domenico view Visiting the Mediterranean in late April / May is an odd and risky experience. When the weather is good, the sky is clear and the temperature is as warm as the most perfect summer’s day, it is the optimum time to visit. There are no crowds, the hotels rates are low and the restaurants empty. The downside is that most of the best restaurants are still closed and hot days morph into chilly evenings.

If you’re looking for sun and tranquility go now but if you’re looking for a buzz and a bit of nightlife wait until the beginning of June when the Med really does open for business.

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29 April 2010 6:53 AM

A Week in Sicily (3) - ‘The perfect place for the perfect lunch’

Small-camel-right Just when you think you’ve found somewhere exceptional, you drive along the coast and find an even better place.

In fairness, our hosts acknowledged that Ristorante da Vittorio is very good but insisted we try a restaurant at the end of a long and windy track by a few tiny weather beaten fishing boats.

Passi port 2  “Just keep driving until the road ends. When you think you are lost, you are not”. Those reassuring words, together with the best signage I’ve ever seen for a restaurant, led to a cul-de-sac with the Mediterranean Sea on two sides and Ristorante a Due Passi Dal Mare on the other.

This stretch of the west coast is untouched by the twenty first century – indeed it probably hasn’t seen any developments for many decades. There are derelict properties in stunning positions that you feel if you could snap up would be worth a fortune in the years to come. The only sign of modern life is Ristorante a Due Passi Dal Mare. During the summer months the tourists fight for tables but on this scorching April lunchtime we had the place almost to ourselves.

Passi starter Most of the fish is fresh although Italian law stipulates that all restaurants must say in the menu if any produce has been frozen, and all the restaurants, even the best, seem to serve some previously frozen seafood.

A welcoming glass of Prosecco was a fine touch that immediately created a warm feeling towards the place. The restaurant is run by two sisters, Sabina and Theresa, with Sabina the boss and Theresa looking after front of house.

The menu is largely fish and seafood.

We started with Degustazione di crostacei e molluschi (€14) – a bowl of shrimps, scampi, scallops, mussels and clams in a fish sauce, and Ne’Coffe – Ne Crudo (€14) – a platter of marinated and smoked fish which was ‘not cooked – not raw’. Both were exceptional.

To follow, Linguini Rais (€14) – Shrimps, clams, cherry tomatoes, garlic, parsley and tuna roe.

Passi fish The showpiece of the lunch was a whole St Pietro, a John Dory, caught a few hours earlier. Don’t let the ugly appearance of this flat fish put you off. When cooked in olive oil with cherry tomatoes and diced olives it was sensational. It literally fell off the bone. At €6 per kilo it came to €48 but it was worth every cent.

Ristorante da Vittorio was excellent but Ristorante a Due Passi Dal Mare just edged it. If you are in this part of Sicily over the coming months, both are essential lunch venues, but make sure you book.

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