A Mother-Daughter Cote d’Azur Adventure On Azamara Club Cruises

Last week I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: a seven-day mother-daughter trip to Europe. While variations on The Family Bonding Trip exist­­—father-son, grandparents-grandkids—the mother-daughter voyage is a special breed. It’s a time when diets are broken, shoes are bought, and the Oh-my-gosh-I’ve-become-my-mother realization hits around day five. But what made my mother-daughter trip special was its setting: we were aboard the small, luxury cruise line Azamara, en route to some of the greatest cities of the Côte d’Azur: Saint Tropez, Monte Carlo, Nice, and Cannes. And they’re all they’re cracked up to be.

Being that Azamara was a "maiden voyage" for both my Mom and me, we anticipated the typical cruise crowd of bridge players, buffet enthusiasts, and shuffleboard champions. And while we did meet gaggles of bridge players at breakfast (overheard: “Playing bridge overlooking Monte Carlo. Does it get any classier than this, girls?”), we also discovered one surprising fact: Azamara loves its nightlife – both on the ship (if you’re into really good ABBA and Beatles nights), and especially at the destinations you boarded the ship to see.

Instead of leaving cities at the usual 5pm or 8pm cruise curfew, Azamara keeps the night young in all of its destinations, like Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo, giving time to explore until 10pm and even all night long, since it frequently stays in the more cosmopolitan spots like Monte Carlo and Nice overnight. And thanks to its uniquely small size, it can venture to ports other big cruises can’t—such as Seville in Spain, Langkawi Geopark in Malaysia, and the island-village Vila do Abraão of Brazil.

During our voyage, Mom and I stayed out late every night, feasting on fresh sea bass and cantaloupe grappa at L’Auberge de Maures in Saint Tropez, peeking into the private Monte Carlo Casino rooms with their mermaid-inspired mosaic bars, spreading foie gras on baguettes at Café de Paris, and sipping rosé at Le Statu,co in Nice. Mom surprised me with her wine consumption, I surprised her with my thrice-daily croissant cravings. Our relationship blossomed under the Mediterranean sun.

And the adventures of our nights trickled into our days. Azamara arranged trips to the sun-drenched, golden town of Aix-en-Provence to see the greenery and shops that inspired artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne, the Domaine de La Croix Winery near Saint Tropez for an afternoon rosé tasting, and to Saint Tropez’ serene cobblestone village Ramatuelle, which I suspect is the "small provincial town" Belle from Beauty and the Beast sings about. With 500 inhabitants year-round, and a Sunday morning flea market full of sheer-white blouses and pottery, it’s the small-town respite from the nearby Saint Tropez glam.

Every night of our seven-day trip, we hit our pillows gleefully exhausted, our outfits—attempts at blending in with the effortlessly fashionable French—stained with gnocchi cream sauce and dirt from places like Nice’s hilltop medieval village St. Paul de Vence, and Cezanne’s rustic Provence studio, where his paint-splattered smocks still hang from their wall hooks.

To relax, I wrote some music at the piano in the Cabaret Room and hit Azamara Quest’s spa, where a masseuse named Amber dug into my back like a miner with some really hot stones, and nearly sold me on purchasing the warming Elemis oil. Mom was tempted to take a dip in the ship’s outdoor hot tubs and pool overlooking the Mediterranean, but the breakfast buffet and flea market excursions took priority.

While our mother-daughter trip was certainly peppered with Mom’s usual classics—"Bonnie, you should learn a language," "Cover your mouth when you yawn," and "How do I log onto the wi-fi"—it was also flush with the trip’s number one question: "What city are we waking up in today?" And what a way to get up and go.

Over the course of seven days, I discovered both the beauty of the French coast and how great of a traveling companion a parent can be. Sure, you both nag, frustrate, argue—but they still wake up your parent and you their kid—and let’s be frank: the same can’t be said of friends on a seven-day voyage across six cities with limited wi-fi and occasional bouts of indigestion.

This trip on Azamara will be something Mom and I talk about for years—at Thanksgivings, birthdays, get-togethers—all to the utmost irritation of our family members who can’t relate. But who cares. It will be our adventure, memories between just the two of us. And that’s what I call bonding.

Read more about Azamara Club Cruises, BlackBook’s Côte d’Azur Guide, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

St. Tropez Opening: Hotel de Paris

As the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once so pithily observed, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” And if it’s spring, can jaunts to Saint-Tropez be soon due? Just in time, the Cote D’Azur‘s heated hotel wars just got a little hotter with the remake of the 1930’s classic Hotel de Paris. As a member of the Preferred Hotel Group, standards will be high across the board–but style takes center stage. Sybille de Margerie‘s design exhibits a sort of retro-sixties cool, with Jacobsen chairs, original sculptural elements, and a rather prodigious metallic chandelier. It’s sexily modern, yet infused with a genuine Mediterranean warmth.

Georges Blanc’s Le Suffren Cafe by Georges combines breezy decor (bamboo walls, yellow curtains, olive-treed patio) with executive chef Philippe Guerin’s unpretentious seasonal cuisine (lobster ravioli, Provence-style back of cod) for a casual cool dining experience. And The Roof is a sexy spot for champagne, caviar and fetching views. For those not inclined to party palaces like The Kube, Hotel de Paris’ laid back glam has a distinctive allure. Keep an eye out for a more privacy-craving brand of celeb.

[Related: BlackBook Cote D’Azur Guide; Listing for Hotel de Paris;  Interview with Nightlife Queen Amy Sacco; More by Ken Scrudato; Follow Ken on Twitter]

Saint-Tropez: The Fall and Rise of the World’s Ultimate Beach Party

In March of 2011, Saint-Tropez’s infamous beach club La Voile Rouge was officially ordered to shut down after 45 years of world renowned, high-class debauchery. Apparently, those countless noise complaints lodged by its tony neighbors did more than just bolster its reputation as the world’s ultimate beach party. But in true rebel fashion, the club ignored the order and kept the bottles popping all summer, entertaining the celebrities and billionaires and counting the money until the police showed up with bulldozers. 

To the nightlife enthusiast, it seems drastic to force close an iconic day-to-night club that’s been entertaining VIPs from Brigitte Bardot to Bruce Willis since the ‘60s, becoming in the process the archetype for the good life, but we get it. Thumping bass lines, deafening helicopters, Paris Hilton’s banshee shriek as she’s showered with Moët: it’s enough to drive the best of us crazy at 4:00 am on a Tuesday. But then, if you live in Saint-Tropez, a maison de mischief for half a century, you shouldn’t expect tranquil summers of quiet contemplation.

Yet the locals finally gained the upper hand against the jet setters by enlisting the aid of Mayor Jean-Pierre Tuveri. “My wish is not to get rid of Saint Tropez’s bling image—that is part of its identity now,” Tuveri told The Telegraph. “My policy is simply to try and drag its brand image upwards via culture.”

Surely it’s his prerogative to shift the party from champagne spraying to champagne sipping, but Saint Tropez’s chief source of income is tourism. It’s an economy that thrives on Joe Yachter’s nightly six-figure bills at beach clubs like La Voile Rouge. If Tuveri wants to class up the town by putting a muzzle on the party, Saint-Tropez will no longer be the place where anything goes, for a price. It’ll be the place where most things go, with some caveats, curfews, and curtailments. And that might just be enough to send the beautiful people elsewhere in their search for high-end hedonism. Those in the know are already reporting that many of the bumping, boozy, fleshy, paparazzi-swarmed parties have moved up the coast to Cannes. 

To get some local perspective, we reached out to industry insider and longtime Saint-Tropez resident Celia Gumbau, co-founder of the luxurious Hotel Muse. “Nightlife in Saint Tropez is less fun and rich than it used to be,” she says. “Cannes has definitely become more nightlife-oriented, with huge nightclubs like Gotha and Palais that have international DJ lineups.” 

So does this mean the party’s over? Has Saint-Tropez surrendered its crown as the world party capital to its film-loving cousin up the coast?  Non. It takes more than a few flustered neighbors to flay this beast. Despite the crackdown, some Saint-Tropez clubs—such as the Paris Hilton-approved VIP Room, and Jay-Z’s go-to spot Les Caves du Roy at the Hotel Byblos—have managed to maintain their riotous reputations. Other hosts have gotten creative. 

“Most of the parties are happening on yachts and in private villas, owned or rented for the month,” says Gumbau. “Saint-Tropez is still Saint-Tropez, and you still see all the world coming, celebrities, billionaires … ” She trails off, thinking of the endless parade of glitterati. So the party isn’t over, it’s just been moved to the150-foot Ferretti on the water, where the cops will need snorkels to bust it.