South of France: Chic and cheerful

Port Grimaud in France
Port Grimaud in France
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Believe it or not, it is possible to live it up in the south of France on a modest budget, as Lee Sobot discovers in Port Grimaud.

THINK Venice mixed with Saint Tropez and the immediate thought is expensive. That’s Port Grimaud in the south of France where your average glass of beer will cost seven euros for 500ml.

But life in this blissful retreat needn’t cost the Earth despite few places on the planet being more pleasing on the eye and picturesque.

Situated four miles west of St Tropez, Port Grimaud is France’s answer to Venice, albeit on a lesser scale. Yet the visual impression from entering this French delight would take some topping, with picturesque properties complete with brows surrounded by vast canals that lead to the Mediterranean.

In amongst it all lies Port Grimaud village and square complete with a plethora of restaurants and bars whose prices can suddenly turn the appeal of the undeniably beautiful setting sour.

Yet if you are clever with your cash – something us Yorkshire folk are good at – even a one-week stay here need not bust even the tightest of budgets.

The first step into making ends meet in Port Grimaud is to completely forget about any pretensions of getting a taxi from the airport. The nearest airport to this delightful town and served by Jet2 from Leeds-Bradford is at Nice – some 60 miles away up the coast. But a taxi ride to Port Grimaud will cost, wait for it, around 250 euros one way.

Of course, there is the option of hiring a car which is particularly recommended if wishing to explore the picturesque and quaint villages of Grimaud and Cogolin which surround Port Grimaud up in the hills. But another alternative is to travel south by bus or train with the former both reasonable value and remarkably straightforward, leaving no need for murmurings of “je ne comprends pas”.

After all, there is nothing to be misunderstood about hopping on the first of two coaches from the bay directly outside Nice Airport to Saint Raphael. A one-way ticket will cost 20 euros a person for what is just half of the journey to Port Grimaud but the second leg of this adventure bizarrely costs just three euros – from St Raphael to Port Grimaud. Again, the changeover is straightforward.

And it means that 23 euros and 90 minutes later, the time has arrived to explore France’s Little Venice with whatever budget you choose. It goes without saying that for those willing and able to splash the cash, those with the Prada shades and Michael Kors handbags, the opportunities are endless.

Few European destinations can have a better smattering of luxury restaurants, with the seafood at La Table du Mareyeur particularly revered. Another true Port Grimaud classic that typifies the place in an instant is the beefburger topped with foie gras at 20 euros a throw.

In a beautiful and peaceful setting, the choices for simply sitting back and sipping on a glass of champagne, rosé or even beer are also endless. Then there’s the opportunity for some high-end shopping, though for the real array of designer outlets St Tropez is your port of call – just a three euro and 20 minute bus ride east.

The home of the rich and famous, the prices go up another gear in St Tropez, which is almost as stunning, and a trip to the more famous resort is also a good idea for acclimatising to the cost increase.

After witnessing bar tariffs that charge nine euros for a 330ml bottle of beer, Port Grimaud suddenly seems cheap on return. But even without venturing to St Tropez to acclimatise, Port Grimaud can be savoured to the maximum without worrying about the inflated prices, though a must for this is having the perfect base from which to operate.

We chose Stephen and Maria Belcher’s property ‘14365’, rented through Chez Nous, which boasts one of the best balcony views in the whole of Port Grimaud. And with a vast array of wines and in particular rosé on sale in the local store, here you can sip and savour to your heart’s content.

For anybody wanting a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, it doesn’t get much better than kicking back as a steady flow of boats from the small to the sublime pass in front of your eyes. Meantime couples and families enjoy sightseeing on the cobbled streets beneath you but all in a leisurely and laidback ambience.

Both sunset and sunrise at Port Grimaud are peace and quiet personified and as well as being stunningly beautiful, the town is just what the doctor ordered for relaxation and recuperation.

And if rosé wine is the first half of doing Port Grimaud on a budget then the second half is in utilising the freshly baked baguettes – again from the local store. Few people walking around this resort will not be seen carrying one, two or even three, with the basic ingredients for a homemade French bread pizza all available in the local market.

Or venture out to one of the many restaurants, with food, unlike drink, priced relatively comparable to UK eateries. Beside the canal, two decent- sized pizzas with two glasses of wine comes to 30 euros which is difficult to argue with in such a beautiful setting.

Very soon, after the initial drinks price shock, Port Grimaud becomes a home from home yet one where those renting from residents can simply hop on a taxi de l’eau for a cruise around the winding rivers and canals.

One must end destination is one of Port Grimaud’s two beaches – the private La Petit Plage – which is more resembling of the Caribbean than France especially under blue skies in 30 degrees centigrade heat.

Life really is a beach in Port Grimaud and any initial fears of astronomic prices soon subside. However undeniably pretty the place is, the week begins with a sense of “how long will our money last here?” and “how will we survive?”

By the end of your week and an emotional ride back to Nice Airport it’s more a case of “how soon can we return?”

• flights to Nice Airport from Leeds Bradford start from £44 one-way including taxes.

Chez Nous properties