The Côte d'Azur is the European playground for large yachts. Look over any pretty bay or inlet on France's southern Mediterranean coast and they grace every anchorage, with their white hulls gleaming in the sunlight, reflected in the azure waters that gave the coast its name. Stunned at so much magnificence on display, at first glance you might even catch yourself acting blasé-an attitude the Côte d'Azur practically invented.
A word of advice: Put a hold on the world-weary pose, because we have just the yacht to banish your je ne se quois forever. Her gracious accommodation and ample deck space, coupled with her "can do" crew, makes her the ideal hedonist hideaway. Moor her in French Mediterranean sunshine and you have the recipe for pure delight, plus the perfect rationale for her name: Indulgence.
Indulgence, the experience, began from the very moment we stepped off our airplane in Nice. A helicopter whisked us smartly away to Monaco, just 11 minutes flying time. There, on the helipad to greet us, was Stephanie in her shining white uniform, the three silver bars on her shoulder pads twinkling in the sunshine to match her eyes and infectious smile. She escorted us to the port to join the mighty vessel as she lay stern-to in the harbor famous for casinos and motorcar racing.
Launched in 1996, built for a Swedish businessman accredited with inventing the mobile phone, Indulgence was billed as the fastest luxury yacht in the world when she entered service. She quickly sped onto the books of the top charter agents as well, and has remained a perennial favorite ever since. Her high-speed gas turbine propulsion plant proved troublesome and has since been removed, but she retains all the attributes and qualities her designers-and water-jet-drive units-gave her. During our sojourn she traveled at night and was free of both vibration and noise during the short passage. Indulgence has been cleverly refitted to perfection by Steve Doyle, a broker at Northrop and Johnson, who masterminds all of this yacht's activities for a new American owner.
To awake in any French port for breakfast is a privilege, but to awake in Indulgence off the port of Beaulieu-sur-Mer is an unforgettable honor. It is a town hemmed in and protected by a rock face and flanked by a promenade lined with palm trees, earning it the nickname Petite Afrique. Among its many famous buildings is the hotel La Réserve founded by Gordon Bennett, the then owner of the New York Herald. The anchorage lies in the shadow of Cap Ferrat, a peninsular playground for the rich, with its fabulous villas and luxury gardens. King Leopold II of Belgium started the trend in the 19th century when he built Les Cedres on the west side of the cape. Now it is open to one and all, and features 35 acres of lakes and a zoo with chimpanzees that holds daily tea parties. The Duke of Windsor, David Niven and Edith Piaf all built what remain private homes here, but the villa built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild is now a museum open to the public and many of the pretty shoreside pathways that meander around the hill are available to walkers.
Breakfast is freshly baked croissants and French bread sticks still warm from the oven, served on deck, brought to the table together with the daily newspapers, freshly squeezed juices and coffee brewed to perfection. It is a good moment in which to appreciate the supporting cast that makes life seem like such a pageant aboard Indulgence. The deck and engineering crew aboard this yacht are Swedish and this happy group is led by Kaptien Lars Bergstrand, who runs his ship with a rotating crew of 10 to ensure everyone remains rested.
The all-female interior crew is under the direction of Stephanie Bormann, the chief stewardess; it is her role of hotel manager that makes any charter aboard Indulgence so complete. She seems to miss nothing, yet anticipates every need, with a skill acquired only after years of experience and training. Today she has suggested a shore excursion to Eze, a hanging village perched 4,500 feet above sea level, high up on the corniche overlooking the bay. On a clear day, from this vantage point, it is possible to see Corsica over 100 miles away. While we play tourist in the hills, our hardworking crew moves the boat from one side of the headland to another, so that when we descend from Eze, we can do so to the town of Villefranche, a classic French fishing village with narrow near-vertical streets dominated by a fortress.
Shopping was also on tap at our next port, Nice, with its quaint old town, and superb marketplace filled with a cornucopia of local produce. We used the services of a local car to drive to Cagnes sur Mer on the coast then inland to St. Paul de Vence where Pablo Picasso dined at local restaurants. Rather than pay his check at the end of the meal, he illustrated that day's menu; these now adorn the walls. The city of Nice itself is full of fabulous places, but it has to be said that the finest food in town happened to be served aboard Indulgence that night. Chef Sonya Grey is nothing short of a master painter herself when it comes to creating beautiful meals.
I would even go so far as to say that it is Sonya's food that makes Indulgence stand out from the crowd. Each day this New Zealander goes ashore and selects produce from the market, choosing what is freshest and ripest; her passion for the ingredients then translates into pleasing those of us who eat it. Stephanie knows how to match wine to Sonya's creations and together they make a formidable team backed by a duo of English stewardesses who both serve and tend cabins.
When it comes to yachts, Antibes is to France what Ft. Lauderdale is to Florida, packed with everything that they could ever need; the difference is that it is a charming medieval town. Just inland is the town of Biot, famous for its hand-crafted glassware while just around the corner is Juan les Pins. Napoleon Bonaparte landed here in 1815 when freed from his first exile on the island of Elba, but the town found true international acclaim in the 1920s when writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and friends made it theirs; soon American high society joined in-friends of the railroad heir Frank Jay Gould, who was already busy inventing the up-market resort it has become today.
We berthed in the well-equipped marina of Camille Rayon that evening, as it made the perfect jumping-off place for our final day of adventure, a trip to the Isles de Lerins. Lying just off the coast south of Cannes, the islands lurked in the morning fog as we approached. The sun appeared, quickly burning off the mist, revealing islands ahead and mountains in stark relief astern. In this superb setting, we dropped anchor between the two islands, in a channel so clear you could see the bottom.
Isle of Saint-Marguerite is similarly heavily wooded and its impressive fortress was used to imprison the mysterious "man in the iron mask"-whom rumor said was a hidden heir to France's throne-for over 11 years in the 17th century. Nowadays it is home to a maritime museum, well worth a visit. After walking the islands and enjoying their solitude, we lunched on board. Throwing aside our monkish mood, we then played with the yacht's extensive array of water toys, including Wave Runners, kayaks and skis.
That evening, anchored off the port of Cannes and having missed the fun and excitement of the film festival just a few weeks earlier, we contented ourselves by watching a Hollywood blockbuster in the yacht's media room, which has ruined us for our local Cineplex. The movie, in good Hollywood tradition, ended happily, and it was difficult not to feel like stars tripping the red carpet as we bid our charter farewell the next morning, caught our tender to the helipad and were whisked back to the airport.
Want to Indulge Yourself? Indulgence charters for up to 10 people at $116,750 per week in high season through The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals Inc. She sails the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in the winter season. For more details contact: email@example.com or visit the Web site: www.sacksyachts.com.