SUN Day and the Ile de Benedor Experience Awaits!

Somewhat jaded from our big night out on the town last night we rose a little later than normal, but still there was a good supply of warm chocolate brioche and pain au raisin at Le Vieux Four not to disappoint.

On our way back from le boulangerie, Gillian spotted a pile of books neatly stacked on a table by the side of the road. Translation revealed that this was part of a national literary initiative to encourage people to stop throwing away books! Basically  it said Swap Them, Borrow Them or Take Them but Never Ever Discard Them!! Gillian spotted a lovely Provençal picnic recipe book in French, of course!  So she swapped out a copy of The Complete Mapp and Lucia: Vol 1. in English. We weren’t entirely sure this was a fair swap but when we passed by in the car later the book had gone!! This is  great initiative and one I have seen here in the UK at railway stations and the like. Anything that encourages free cycling and teaches the value of books at the same time gets the thumbs up from me.

The sun was already starting to burn as we got back to the hotel so we decided to breakfast al fresco at the Le Castellet viewpoint. Mugs of café au lait in hand and with the pastries in a bag under arm we sat down to have breakfast with this wonderful tableau beneath us.

Viewpoint towards Le Castellet vineyards

After breakfast we quickly packed for our overnight stay at the Hotel Le Delos on the île de Benedor and headed straight to Bandol to catch the ferry. We parked easily in the free Le Stade de Ferrari car park located about 500m west of the ferry embarkation point and caught the 10:30am ferry which was free this time as we were staying overnight on the island.

As we passed the pontoons with gleaming white yachts and pristine motor boats we both remarked that although visually this seemed no different to the marinas up and down the Côte D’Azur further east along the coast it had a more chilled and less pretentious atmosphere.

Bandol Marina from the Ile de Benedor Ferry

Although by now the sun was blazing down on us from the azure blue sky above, the cheeky Mistral was blowing up again. Thankfully the crossing was not too choppy as the ferry route is reasonably sheltered by the island.

On a arrival we dropped off our bags at the hotel and were told that they would call us on our mobile when our room was ready. Beach towels in hand we were both in need of a cooling swim in the clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.

We had about an hour to spare before the Paul Ricard Museum of Wine and Spirits and the Art Museum housing his collection of paintings and his own artistic creations! He was actually very talented with an eye for both the portrait and landscape subjects and working in both oils and watercolours. With free admission its a must visit.

Shortly afterwards we visited the Wine and Spirits Museum, just inside is this display case showing the brands that make up the Pernod-Ricard Empire. There’s too many to list but if you want more detail, look here: Pernod-Ricard Brands

Its amazing that an empire like like this could have been built out of an aniseed drink that kind of became the French national drink!

Some of the brands that make up Pernod Ricard

Some of the brands that make up Pernod Ricard

Theres also some colourful frescos around the walls with a wine making theme:

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By now it was getting on for 1pm and the islands restaurants were now packed with locals and tourists who had come for lunch. If you want to take a weekend lunch here be sure to pre book.

As we were staying at the Hotel Le Delos, the main hotel on the island we were able to get a table on the terrace as they usually keep some back for guests. This is the spectacular view that we enjoyed from the terrace over lunch.

View from the Terrace at Hotel Le Delos

View from the Terrace at Hotel Le Delos

The lunch here was amazing we just had the colourful Burrata terrine served in a large sundae glass with a cheese course afterwards and knew that we were in for treat for our evening dinner. What’s more you can opt to upgrade to half board for just 40 Euros per person and this gives you access to the 3 course set menu and an amazing buffet breakfast. More about that later.

As we didn’t have to worry about driving we also got to try the locally produced Embiez Island (also owned by the Paul Ricard estate) wines. All three are excellent;the white is made with a blend of Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, the Rose a blend of Cinsault and Grenache and the Red a classic Bordeaux style of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a little Carignan for seasoning rather than Petit Verdot as you might get in Bordeaux.

By the time lunch was over our room was ready and we were wowed by the view and the standard of the interiors having read some fairly average reviews on Tripadvisor. We also had a balcony and because we were on the second floor the added height added to the amazing aspect towards Bandol and the rest of the island.

We then decided to catch a few rays and a little afternoon nap on the beach before heading out to explore the island in a little more depth. There’s a large number of art installations and sculptures around tastefully set in the surroundings:

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We headed off around the island to the more exposed side that faces away from Bandol and saw the waves crashing onto the rocks as they were wiped up by Le Mistral.

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By about 6:30pm we were back in our room relaxing on the balcony and watching the world go by. Gillian supping on a Margarita and I my new favourite drink, a Ricard with loads of ice and a splash of water!

The highlight of the day was probably the dinner. Served inside due to the winds but still with amazing views off the sea, we did’t deliberate long over the menu as the set menu was stunning!

There’s usually a reason why you get stunning food and sometimes its more obvious than it seems. It was only when talking to the Maitre D’ that he told me that the Head Chef was Nicolas Davouze who had won the prestigious Bocuse D’Or- French Selection

There is absolutely no doubt that this guy is on his way to his first Michelin star, so its always exciting to catch a rising star in their ascendancy!

The Market Menu – 45 euros

Amuse Bouche 

Pasta Risotto with baby clams in a basil couli

Red Tuna Tartare with peppercorns and Sauce Vierge

Ribbons of courgette in a dill dressing with red tuna tartare mixed with a piquant salsa of tomatoes, olives, capers, dill, parsley, red basil and breadcrumbs. I really loved this Provençal take on the Tuna Tartare and is now in my Top 10 favourite dishes.

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Rack of Lamb (cooked pink) with and almond and herb crust with a fine ratatouille of olives

The lamb was pink and cooked to perfection and yet so tender it was like a rare fillet steak. The secret was in the fact that its slow cooked at a low temperature for several hours! Amazing!  This was served with baby garlic new potatoes, turned carrots and a cannelloni made from ribbons of grilled aubergine, instead of pasta and stuffed with a Provençale farci mix of peppers and courgettes.

Chocolate slivers with praline and Salted Caramel Ice Cream

The salted caramel ice cream was divine and rich and worked really well with the chocolate and praline.

We opted for the Embiez White with the starters and the Embiez Red with the lamb which had a hint of blackcurrants on the nose and a tannic dry finish, perfectly suited to the lamb.

Our waitress Madeline who was charming and delightful recommended the Ricard branded Lillet with our dessert , something we’d never tried before which is a blend of 85% Bordeaux white grapes and 15% citrus spirit liquors. The citrus flavours really came through and worked well with the dessert!

Then came these beauties with coffee, Myrtle berries, dipped in chocolate!

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With our bellies full and not quite believing that we’d eaten effectively a 5 course gourmet menu for £30 a head we climbed the stairs back to our room and watched the moon dancing on the Mediterranean waters before we drifted off to sleep….

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