Rolling, bouncing, weaving along the dusty path that leads toward the sea, we’re surrounded by cropland in all directions. Apricot and olive trees, wine grapes and figs, tidy rows planted and maintained under watchful eyes. A salt-licked breeze ruffles the dry grass edging the trail, confirming even before it comes into view that the Mediterranean is about to become a defining feature of our journey.
Mon copain, Xac, and I have come to Hyères by the most industrious of vehicles, our bicycles. By the time we reach the center of this charming French port town, we’ve been on the continent for almost a month. It’s been a circuitous route, but the leg- and lung-burning trek has left us thoroughly primed for some real R&R—that particular brand of respite that only a Sea Ray can deliver.
So we’ve made our way to Hyères to meet with a family who can provide exactly that: the Lecheminouxes, residents of Paris who keep their 305 Sundancer in Saint-Tropez and frequent the various port towns all along the coast.
As we secure our bikes and head for the dock, Thierry Lecheminoux is the first to extend a hand. He greets us with a friendly “Bonjour!” followed by a round of introductions. Thierry is joined by his wife, Patricia, their son Maxime and Maxime’s buddy Antoine.
Thierry works as a television executive, and Patricia is a language therapist for speech-impaired children and adults. The work can be emotionally challenging, so the escape to the boat takes on additional resonance. “It’s a beautiful area here,” she says, beaming.
Their home marina in Saint-Tropez gets packed come July and August. Thierry recalls one instance where they couldn’t get back in—but where there’s a will, there’s a way. “Last summer, we arrived in the evening after a day trip and found we had to moor outside and join Saint-Tropez by tender,” he says. “But still, it’s very nice to have a place there.” The location also makes visits to their dealer, Chantier Naval Simons, quite convenient.
“We have a very good relationship with our dealership and our salesman, Frédéric Guichert,” Thierry raves. “They really take care of everything on our 305, and they are a good source for advice.”
Regarding that 305, he cites the full hardtop and amenities like the comfortable cabin, large cockpit and Raytheon VHF radio that make the Sundancer perfect for their needs. “We wanted to have a boat for our family, and of course our friends, to be able to spend more than one day,” Thierry says. “The 305 is a boat with a great, sporty look. We like its shape a lot. For us it’s a really good choice for our first ‘habitable’ boat. And it’s made us want to have a bigger one to enjoy it even more!”
In part to make room for friends, the Lecheminouxes are contemplating a trade-up to a larger model, the brand-new 355 Sundancer—one of which happens to be in Hyères this very weekend. The 355, a model exclusive to the European market, boasts all sorts of features—plush lounge seating, a wet bar in the cockpit, an enclosed mid-stateroom for overnight guests—not to mention a striking red hull.
“No surprise, when we saw the 355 for the first time at the Dusseldorf Boat Show, we already felt it was a really good boat,” Thierry says. “When we tested it, the weather was not really good, but actually, it was nice to test its behavior on water that was a little choppy. It’s a good size for six people, comfortable, and the finish is tasteful.”
The 355 Sundancer ferries us to the latter destination for an afternoon of exploring. Dropped at the dock with a wave, we’re free to wander and experience the place Patricia calls “very charming.” About half an hour in, we stray down an unmarked trail and find ourselves at L’Alycastre, the island’s very own boutique winery. Just as we’re nosing through the door, the proprietor, Laurent Vidal, rumbles up on a golf cart and offers us a private tour.
Cruising through the rows of Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes, he divulges all the viticultural details: 35 hectares of family-owned land; organic farming practices; 200,000 bottles shipped annually worldwide … Laurent speaks with the passion of an artisan, and even though there’s a bit of a language barrier, it’s apparent that L’Alycastre is run by people who love what they do.
The next morning, we bid a fond au revoir to the Lecheminouxes at the marina and head back into town. Roaming up into the hills above the harbor, we come across a large, well-preserved garden, fenced in but open to the public. Upon entering, we find we’ve reached the verdant heart of Castel Sainte-Claire, the preserve adopted by American author Edith Wharton back in the 1920s. Wharton chose Hyères as her winter home and wrote much of her best stuff here—including a description excerpted from one of her letters and posted on an outdoor placard:
I have never seen a place that is more inviting, more golden, more covered in flowers and more sheltered from the wind. I am surrounded by the beauty and calm of a paradise which is like no other; it is the cielo della quiete to which the soul aspires when the end of a journey draws near.
Overstated? Well, that’s debatable. But the garden, and this area as a whole, is without question a fitting place to wrap up our bike tour of Europe. And it is, as the Lecheminouxes and many others like them have figured out, a most perfect place to wind down a day spent plying the Mediterranean by Sea Ray.