16th November, 2019
Our overnight passage from northern Italy saw Saga Sapphire initially transit the upper part of the Tyrrhenian Sea, passing some 25 miles north of Corsica, on almost a direct route to southern France.
A glorious sunrise marked our entry to the bay of Toulon harbour, with just a few fishing boats dotted around, collecting my lunch (I hope). Our local pilot boarded just as we entered the sheltered bay containing an impressive array of superyachts in the shipyard to the south, and what looked like half of the French Navy docked in the northern part.
Just a few miles’ transit through the basin led us to the relatively small commercial harbour, which is tucked neatly and conveniently close to the town. Squeezing through the breakwaters, we berthed at breakfast time, with the rising sun causing morning dew to glisten nicely. It was a brisk morning but temperatures were forecast to rise up into the high teens later today; delightful news.
A rather nice coastal resort approximately 30 miles from Marseilles, Toulon is an extensive port that is home to the (Mediterranean) French Navy as well as having a picturesque old town of colourful markets and elegant fountains. Formally it was a Roman settlement (or so my booklet tells me) before becoming a part of France in 1486, and then being fortified by an important chap by the name of Louis XIV in the 17th Century. The port was actually blockaded by Admiral Nelson between 1803-1805; however it’s probably best not to mention this fact when ordering an excellent bowl of moules mariniere in one of the dozens of waterfront restaurants…
Speaking of which, this was exactly what I had planned for lunch. Just a 5 minute walk from the ship, the relatively un-touristic waterfront packs a good selection of local restaurants and dish of the day here is definitely an enormous bowl of meaty moules doused in local wine, garlic & onion. Mop the mariniere sauce up with a freshly baked baguette, and the experience is complete.
For those with seafood allergies, (or perhaps anyone else interested in getting out and about to explore) there is tons to see and do here. We ran trips along the coast for sightseeing, or inland for wine tasting. City tours were also on offer of course, by coach, train or on foot. There was a tour to Marseille, as well as one to the romantic Provencal seaside resort of Cassis. “Who has seen Paris and not Cassis has seen nothing!” – were apparently the exact words of French poet Frederic Mistral. The winner on my list of tours today though, was one which exclusively visited a biscuit factory near the little 16th century port town of Sanary Sur Mer.
Well, evening came around all too quickly and after everyone (including myself) returned smelling of garlic & wine, it was time to set sail initially backwards out of the tight harbour entrance, before swinging the ship about opposite the naval port. Once clear of the bay, it was a straight line again this time across the Gulf of Lyon, towards Spain. I shall speak to you from Barcelona…
Captain Kim Tanner
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