Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Plage Pamplonne - almost lovely. nearly hobnobbed.

Thursday 5th May, 2016

Parking Tamaris is a motorhome aire about 6km west of St Tropez with direct access to Pamplonne Beach. At 15 euros per night including EHU it's good value in comparison to most of the campsites hereabouts, including those offering an ACSI discount. We need a few cheaper places to stay because the combination of being tied to campsites, the cost of diesel in Italy and the weakening pound resulting from Brexit wobbles is in danger of blowing a big hole in our planned budget. We managed to fill-up at a Casino garage for 1.09 a litre yesterday; that helps.

The strategically placed Parking Pamplonne

The low hills to the south of St Tropez are quite different the the high density development of the Riviera proper to the east. The villages of Gassin and Ramatuelle retain the appearance of ancient hill-top villages and the countryside itself is a pleasant mixture of wooded hills, vineyards, each with a chateau selling Cotes de Provence rosé, and tracks snaking off towards familiar sounding beaches, Tahiti, Pamplonne, Bagatelle and l'Escalet. It all looks lovely, and it is, but here too is highly developed, but it's more hidden. Look carefully among the clumps of umbrella pines, secreted away are low rambling pantiled villas. It might look like a backdrop to Manon de Source, but the real estate market probably rivals Beverley Hills.

The countryside around Cap St Tropez is surprisingly green and pastoral.


When we arrived yesterday the Beverley Hills aspect was more or less invisible. We took a walk along the beach, there were a few kids playing about, people from the aire sunbathing, and though some of the beach bars looked swanky, they were almost empty. Today it's a public holiday - Ascension - and it's a quite different story. 

On the day before the public holiday, Pamplonne was simply a rather nice, little frequented beach.

Man in hat blogs

Poppies and silvery dune grasses, a lovely combination

This morning we unpacked the bikes and went in search of a baguette. Unless you feel like battling with the St Tropez traffic, then the nearest store is a Spa about 3km away at Les Tournels on the road to Cap Cameret. Luckily the main road towards la Croix-Valmer has a marked cycle lane; the traffic was much heavier than yesterday. Mixed up in the usual holiday traffic of crowded family SUVs and badly driven hot-hatches were the occasional jet-black Bentley, lipstick red Ferrari and slate grey Merc convertible. The mix continued at the store, a slightly ramshackle affair with an on site launderette and beach equipment hut as well as supermarket. The place was packed, mainly with French families in a holiday mood on an effusive demonstrative and noisy retail binge. The rich moved among us like suave zombies, quieter in demeanour, in crisply pressed cotton shorts and pristine designer polos. Gill noted at the wine counter a shelf of Bordeaux from 50 euro upwards into the hundreds. The place may look like a small Spa in a country village, which it is, and is not.

Gill survives the holiday retail scrum and emerges clutching a baguette, and a bottle of Rose in the daysack.
Perhaps because we are British we find in this mix a dichotomy; maybe the easy coexistence of an elite with the masses in the same social space is merely the sign of a healthy republic that we loyal subjects of Liz are not attuned to. If so, then this afternoon on the beach was a triumph of La Republique.

The first thing to assert is that Plage Pamplonne is not some private enclave for the wealthy. Everything I am about to describe takes place in amongst a mundane bank holiday beach scene - kids building sand castles, lads and dads playing football, teens arsing about, mums slapping sunscreen on squirming kids, wandering Senegalese straw-hat sellers, and 1960s relics still going topless despite resembling half-empty sacks of potatoes.

Straw hat man


Mixed up in these mundane scenes are a number of fantasy elements. The first - kite surfing. Anybody who had a kite as kid knows that it consists of five minutes of exhilaration and fifty minutes of string untangling. Kite surfing is the same but on an epic scale and you get wet. Added to this is a fetish element related to the figure hugging latex wet suits. After the death defying antics on the water, followed by the hours of anti-macrame comes the really awesome bit where you get to stand about looking cool with other devotees among schools of beached day-glo kites flapping their last like giant tropical fish. Laconically you unhitch the top of your wet suit, bare your torso and pose, so passers-by can admire your baby smooth shaved chest and firm latex clad buttocks. Unlike owning a Harley, the sport is never going to cut it as a solace for the menopausal male as it requires actual, rather than imaginary virility, and no flab.

We have lift-off
You must need to be very fit, it looks exhausting just to stay upright
Kite-man hero shot
Apres kite chest display - an essential part of the ritual.
Next fantasy element - the beach clubs. These famous hang-outs of the rich and famous are strung along the beach from the wannabee paradise of Eden Place, (cream umbrellas and cane white cushioned lounge furniture plus hot tub = Ibiza cool); really it's is too close to the hoipoloi realities of the public car parks, camp-site and motorhome aire to be truly exclusive.

The Plage Pamplonne beach clubs - an essential part of the St Trop myth.




Finally, after passing a number of similar establishments each differentiated only by the shade of their cushion covers, you reach the true heaven of Tahiti Beach, tucked away below the shelter of Cap St Tropez's pine covered and billionaire villa dotted promontory. Tahiti is themed in tropical orange, bossanova wafts quietly from secreted Bose, tangerine pennants flutter above its cocktail bar, private jetty and screened off helipad. All beautiful for the beautifully rich. Somehow I found it curiously pleasing that given a westerly breeze all the flags read, 'it i hat'

Tahiti Beach - 60 years of  posing
IT I HAT - the place for sbelec ot eb
.Of course despite the best efforts of the captains of global capitalism, Putin's criminal acquaintances and a seemingly infinite number of Saudi princelings, on a a day by day basis there are simply not enough super-rich around to keep all these exclusive beach clubs going. In fact, they depend, like Royal Ascot, on an inexplicable past-time among a section of the general population for hob-nobbing, that some how just occupying the same space as a celebrity, and apeing their appearance and habits somehow bestows status by association. So the beach clubs bread and butter are the scores of people willing to pay 20 euros each for the hire of a colour coordinated sunbed, and for that you are conferred the right to sit on loos once occupied by the rear ends of the aristocrats of OK and Hello and even are allowed to pay the same exorbitant prices for cocktails with ridiculous names. Admittedly even a boring hetero like me could appreciate how gorgeous the waiters were in their neat uniforms of white shorts and tees, and as well as being waited on by beach angels.., just maybe, you might also spot a face that you once glimpsed in a magazine as you waited for your appointed time at the dental hygienist in a drizzly northern town.

Each beach club has a private jetty to ferry customers from yacht to cocktail bar

rub shoulders with the rich for only 20 euros per sun lounger...
The masses arrive at the bars by liveried golf trolley shuttles. As we were leaving the beach half a dozen or so revellers were being trundled back to Eden Place's car park - everyone of them had their right arm stuck in the air in the manner of a Nazi salute, they were taking selfies of course; is there no end to the capacity of people to look ridiculous? These customers are the establishments' cannon fodder. What the places need is Canon fodder, and they arrive from the yachts parked offshore. The yacht people inhabit fantasy bubble number four.

Photograpers range from bar to bar hoping to snap a lucrative celebrity wardrobe malfunction.
As we wandered east from Parking Tameris towards Plage Tahiti there were only two sleek white yachts moored off shore, but as we approached the famous beach club a third vessel nuzzled around the nose of Cap St Tropez. This one was battleship grey, and had the faintly sinister appearance of a boat a Bond villain might possess.

The mysterious 'Low Profile'
Blofeld's yacht dropped anchor, and soon Tahiti's rubber dinghy cast off from the jetty and bounced across the bay to pick up the new customers. A small gaggle had gathered on the aft platform of the yacht including two women wearing long white sundresses which flapped about with even greater vigour than the orange pennants fluttering from Tahiti's jetty. The chaps in the dinghy were having some difficulty manoeuvring alongside; there was a short, but choppy swell out in the bay. Now all eyes on the beach and Bar Tahiti's crowded terrace were trained on the little drama unfolding at the stern of 'Low Profile' - that was the grey yacht's name, and given that a red ensign was fluttering from its stubby mast, named, one suspects, with a fair old dollop of British irony. A few customers clearly came prepared for the current circumstances. they reached into their beach bags and retrieved binoculars to better survey the scene. I was unsure if this was for the purpose of celeb spotting, or simply in the hope that one of the lovelies would fall in the briney, and relieve a growing sense of mid-afternoon ennui.

We walked right to the end of the beach where it became more rocky and encrusted with a mushy layer of dead sea grass. Behind this less frequented part of Plage Pamplonne tall fences hide huge villas secluded in beautiful gardens each with a small secure gate giving direct beach access. I assume only the royalty of Wall Street, Hollywood and the Gulf can afford these. I wandered to the end of a jetty and took a picture of a house and garden. What is the statistic? The top 2% own 90% of the world's wealth, I suppose they have to live somewhere, and it's unlikely to be Milton Keynes.

I woinder how many of the villas' owners got a mention in the Panama papers?
Time to walk back, Tahiti had returned to its habitual torpor. I concluded that celeb watching was similar to fishing in that it involved sitting for hours waiting for an unlikely bite, more in hope than expectation. We were in luck, a ripple of activity spread across the terrace. Security goons with walkie-talkies sauntered nonchalantly to the edge of the decking. A short guy hulking a tall tripod and a camera with a lens like a blunderbuss scurried into the bar. A big helicopter curved around the bay and sunk slowly unto the screened helipad behind Tahiti beach and the sound system upped the volume and belted-out the theme from Star Wars. Who had arrived? Daisy? Harrison and Calista? Mr Lucas himself? Yoda? R2D2? We will never know, for we had not paid our 20 euros for a sunlounger and so were ineligible to join the scrum heading towards the cocktail bar clutching smartphones and cameras.

Cue Star Wars Theme - why?
By the time we returned to Eden Place the Spanish band that had been limbering up with a few wailing Andalucian standards 45 minutes before was now mid-set and playing a spirited flamenco version of The Animals, 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'. Tyneside meets the Riviera via Seville. We thought this might be their 'piece de resistance' but in fact they continued for hours. We could hear them from the van. As twilight fell they concluded with a Hispanic version of Hotel California. Remarkably, though they performed the song at double the tempo of the original, it seemed to last twice as long.

"Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood" (extended flamenco break)
I had unfinished business. I have a habit of saying hello and goodbye to the Med by throwing myself in. I did manage a quick dip a couple of days ago, but tomorrow we head north so it was time for a more formal farewell. I waded into the lively surf up to my waist, but bottled out of a proper swim. It was a tad too bone-chilling and the undertow a little strong for my elderly breaststroke to deal with. Instead I took the opportunity for a minor sociological experiment. I have noted that when the sea is too challenging for a swim, French middle-aged men compensate for being denied the chance of diving manfully into the seething waves by striking an imposing pose on-shore. This involves planting your feet ankle deep in the sea, standing legs apart, placing hands on hips and gazing towards the horizon as if you owned it. It takes the concept of manspreading to a whole more epic level. Ideally to pull it off properly you need to be a bit chunky with rolls of fat overhanging your trunks and have a shaved head. I thought I might give it a go, even though I am bit lacking as a baldy. Gill photographed my efforts.

Swimming - epic fail
Manspreading - epic success?
What do you reckon? I felt quite good about it... I wonder if I am too old to take up kite-surfing.,, perhaps we should sell the van and buy two Harley Davidsons...

St Tropez, Plage Pamplonne, Ascension Thursday... an intriguingly abnormal day, but perhaps it's simply case hereabouts that weird is the new normal.

e

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