La Vague d’Or: Mediterranean gastronomy elevated in Saint-Tropez

If you thought that Saint-Tropez is all about flashing celebrities sunning their perfect bodies on the Pampelone beach, rosé and champagne splashing around, and super-yachts hanging in the glittering bay, then your vision is not complete. The ‘golden wave’ only hit the local gastronomic scene in 2005 when chef Arnaud Donckele took over La Vague d’Or back then at La Résidence de La Pinède and now of the ultra-luxe Cheval Blanc hotels portfolio. Trained by Michel Guérard and Alain Ducasse, the chef inherited the three star French heroes’ sensitive approach to cooking and passion for local ingredients. His effort peaked in the third-star by the eponymous Michelin guide, but there is more to savour here than just the exquisite food. The location is stunning, so make sure you can eat at the Mediterranean sea lining terrace.
 La Résidence de La Pinède in St TropezLa Vague d'Or restaurant terrace dining
Regional bounty is introduced right at the beginning when the Mediterranean-themed amouse-bouche arranged on and around a miniature olive tree are laid on the white-clad table. A savoury thyme-scented marshmallow on a branch, while the grapes are masked as olives down under, as if they just fell from the tree, complement the baked cheese crackers nurturing the acid bite of your aperitif. The chef proves that he is an artist with a passion for local ingredients, all carefully acquired from small farmers, that are entirely dedicated to their extraordinary produce. He doesn’t stop with superficial gimmicks though as the show moves to serious flavours one devours with a Bacchanalian zeal.
La Vague d'Or

The golden touch at La Vague d’Or

By calling each course an “act” Arnaud, as the team amicably calls the chef, serves a cue that each plate has a story. The big tales have forms of three degustation menus: Timeliness, Provence Escapade and An Epicurean Adventure. The title of each hints exactly what the multi-course dining experience will be about. The more selective diners can also choose from the wide selection of the à la carte dishes.
Ideally, be guided by your momental emotions as the chef did when creating the dishes.
The first time my intrepid husband ordered the eight-course Epicurean Adventure, while I went for the Timeliness because the chef claims: “This menu is made with some emotional dishes, improved slowly in time. The others are newly gourmet creation. With the idea to combine them in harmony to please you.” I am an emotional person seeking harmony, therefore, I was in. As each year La vague d’Or lures our spoiled tongues in, we moved to the à la carte picks. Knowing the flavours, one can be better guided by his mood of the moment when selecting the plates.
gastronomic meal at La Vague d'Or
French bread
First, the bread, perfectly fresh, crunchy, soft and oozing with aromas as it should, and if you are very of gluten, ask, and soon a perfect gluten-free bun arrives warm. Served with an annual press of local olive oil and the most unctuous borage-scented butter one can imagine, enter the world of heavenly flavours created at La Vague d’Or.
In the first course of the ‘Amberjack and crabmeat marinated in Berlugane mandarin oranges, Thyme leaves, raw baby vegetables, herbs and baby salad leaves’ I was introduced into the chef’s sea world. A light plate expressing natural flavours of local southern French produce.
Lightly seared Scarlet Gamba Prawns from the Mediterranean followed. Accompanied by veggies in multiple forms from sauces and jellies to dried, fried and even frozen in a sorbet. A creamy bonito (tuna) sauce enhanced with Lambrusco wine made it more intense than the previous dish.
Closing the curtain of the sea story was the ‘Loin of seabass slow-cooked in seaweed, Crispy tartare of belly and sea spaghetti, spinach leaves seasoned with caviar, poached abalone and cuttlefish, my creamed seafood potato’. This sea kingdom on a plate made its produce more familiar to an earthbound human like me.
A ‘Thyme blossom granita and Florence fennel sorbet with a touch of absinthe‘ poured in front of you at the table marked a change of stage and also served to refresh your palate before the land revealed itself transformed under the chef’s skilful hands.
La Vague d'Or Saint-Tropez
The English description of the dishes on the menu might sound a bit too detailed, but the chef seems to highlight the complex processes of his cooking, the precise steps involved in preparing each dish. I can imagine how the “Breast of chicken slowly cooked in a bladder with an aromatic broth. Zitone pasta delicately stuffed with black truffle and foie gras. Patties of thigh meat, oyster meat, wing and a touch of breast meat. A consommé infused like a tea” were meticulously made.
At the first look, the chicken looked as if it were dressed in a Halloween costume as it was brought to our table in an inflated bladder in which it was “slowly” cooked. Paul Bocusse allegedly invented this style of cooking chicken and Éric Fréchon at Le Bristol in Paris also prides in this theatrical homage to French poultry. This animal balloon protected the flavours of the meat and once taken out from its “bubble”, it looked and tasted sublimely tender on the plate. The Zitone (chopped short as macaroni) pasta served on the side are one of the chef’s star features on the menu that he learned when assisting the Parisian Michelin chef Jean-Louis Nomicos. The tube-shaped pasta are intense, and the foie gras and Provençal black truffles stuffing leaves an impactful mouthfeel. dessert at La Vague d'Or in Saint-Tropez
As my sea and land omnivorous appetites were sated, I was ready for the sugarland. My dessert came in the form of “A lightly minted ten citrus millefeuille, a confit of frozen sudachi, and Middle Eastern lemonade served aside at your table“. The Milleufeuille was the most enjoyable for its refined, creamy but not too rich taste, and a delicate texture. Ideal with a pot of fresh herbal infusion.
The pastry chef Guillaume Gaudin further treats you with a tray of mini-deserts such as his take on the local creamy Tarte Tropèziene, making sure that none of your cravings remain unattended to.
When sitting outside, the shades of the cauliflower-shaped pine trees at La Résidence de La Pinède (promptly named ‘the pine grove residence’) are magnified in the evening as the sun is setting beyond the Mediterranean horizon. Their dark silhouettes add mystery to the romantic open gaze of fishing boats rubbing their fair corpses with the giants of the luxurious yachts docking around the St Tropez’s petite port.
Three Michelin stared La Vague d'Or in St TropezMediterranean dining at La Vague d'Or

Vintage armagnac and cognac for cigar aficionados, Provençal wines for locavores, house tisanes for tea-to-tellers, …

La Vague d’Or has an interesting selection of single origin coffee, tea and herbal tisanes. Premium arabicas surely elevate pre-party energy with their caffeine boost, while herbal blends aid digestion or relax, so you can easily zen out after the long meal. Who wouldn’t succumb to infusions with names like “Pense pour toi” (A thought of you), dedicated to the chef’s wife; or “Perle Mèditerranée”  (The pearl of the Mediterranean)? I enjoyed them both on different occassions.
The head sommelier pairs the plates with the local wines like the white blend by La Ferme des Lices from Saint-Tropez, Domaine Gavoty, the biodynamic wines by Henri Milan – Le Jardin. The first time we dined at La La Vague d’Or we went for the local wines pairing and can recommend it to any curious wine connoisseur. On the following occasions we ordered a bottle of Burgundy (the lighter styles like Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin), which compliments the superb chicken. By the end of the savoury part of the meal, an impressive trolley of digestives, generously supplied with vintage armagnac, cognac, sweet wines and other spirits, may seduce you for an indulgent full stop of this marvellous gastronomic feast. My husband succumbed.
Armagnac at La Vague d'Or St TropezAged French Armagnac
There is only one negative aspect of the restaurant – the prices. Being located at Le Cheval Blanc by-the-luxury-besieged St Tropez a meal for two easily comes above €500, not adding the wines! The margins are very high for drinks, therefore the smartest choice would be to stay local and try either the flight of the Provençal wines paired with your menu starting at €115 or one of the more affordable but very good bottles from the surrounding Languedoc-Rousillon or Provence regions. Wines by the glass (priced around €25) also won’t keep more in your pocket unless you limit yourself to one glass for the entire meal.
The Mediterranean has imprinted itself deeply into the Normandy-born chef’s culinary mind, and for any serious food lover, La Vague d’Or is worth the splurge and a compulsory stop while passing by Saint-Tropez.
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Welcome to Saint Tropez and Beyond

Saint Tropez has changed, but the surrounding area still glows with an authentic smile deifying its face. The once tranquil fishing village on the Mediterranean coast of the Var department in the southeastern France paid the decades cashing toll for its celebrity-spotting tourism. The to-be-seen, high-rolling, champagne bathing and by jewels and billionaire’s yachts studded beaches seem to have lost touch with the real natural wealth of the area. During July and particularly in the French holidays month of August, it is hard to find a decent spot on the legendary Pampelone beach, where Brigitte Bardot barred herself into the hotness of her so 1960s bikini. A half century later, it just got a bit too commercial and crowded there.

Do not reach for a handkerchief yet, no tears are necessary yet to mark the farewell to the wild beauty of this village and the region. As the parties go on, the French authenticity moved further West. Two typically old French traditions though remained unspoiled in this coastal town – the rolling of the boules on the sandy central square and the cream filled brioche Tarte Tropézienne sold since 1955 at the local patisseries. This physically undemanding game never bores the French and the visitors do not hesitate to join either. Many a favourite pastime though is licking the cream off their fingers while indulging in the secretive local cake, whose exact ingredients are guarded by its namesake pastry shop.
Cap Camarat from La Reserve sunset at the beach
Keep your boat or car engine running and you will discover a hidden beauty just around the curvy hip of the cape reaching to the sea west from the glitzy Pampelone beaches. The azure palette of blues glistens from the Mediterranean, while the robust medieval stones cool the hill-toping villages in the back country. The tiny communes Ramatuelle and Gassin, both about 1o minutes drive from Saint Tropez through the sprawl of local vineyards, are culturally as much as purely aesthetically rewarding. The views from the sea level of Saint Tropez’ Bay high up to the snowcapped Alps during the cool season pull you from reality into a blissful state of calmness. Most of the clear, star-studded evenings invite for a stroll on their cobbled carpets reminiscent of the villages’ advanced age and perhaps a dinner al fresco at one of their honest bistros and fresh produce plating restaurants.
Medieval village of RamatuelleBiodiversity of Mediterranean shrubs and flowers
The annual Festival de Ramatuelle attracts classical, French chanson and jazz music, theatre and comedy shows to its amphitheatrical stage built just for the occasion. Enrich your cultural soul in this almost a magic setting.
My favourite times to visit are in Spring – April and May, but also in the Indian summer of mid to late September. During these months, the Mother Nature wields its lushest embrace and the weather tends to be the most pleasant. Only the ‘omnivocal’ crickets remain humming from the tall pines, turning any hike along the environmentally protected coast into a meditative and rejuvenating experience. Tie your sneakers up and set your legs free, as now I am taking you for a visual trip through my favourite treasure islands in this blessed part of coastal France. The paths are well signposted, therefore I hope this teaser will provoke the walking zeal deep inside you.
The farmland and many of the wineries in the area also remain vastly authentic. White horses welcome you off the dirt road at Château de Pampelone, while the vines of Domaine La Tourraque, stretch all the way downhill to the protected sea coast. Nature hardly tamed by men’s hands still rules in this beautiful dominion of the sea, soil and shrubs overshadowed only by the mighty umbrellas of the Italian Stone Pine trees.

My local dining tips:

La Vague d’Or – gastronomic three Michelin stared Mediterranean experience overlooking the port from the privacy of the La Résidence de La Pinède in the Bay of Saint Tropez, by far the best food in the region.
La Voile –  helmed by a chef with a similar pedigree, but less Michelin stars, this is one of the lightest dining options, perfect for a romantic dinner with tranquil sea views from the superb La Réserve Ramatuelle luxury hotel.
Couleurs Jardin – beach side siesta in the garden of tartan chairs overlooking the sandy Plage Gigaro in Croix Valmer can be reached either by an 8km challenging coastal hike from Plage Escalet in Ramatuelle or by car.
La Yaca – gourmet Italian in a romantic setting on a pool-lit patio in the heart of the old village in
Le Club 55 – the legendary Pampelone Beach spot with frequent celebrity appearances does not cease to offer excellent, simple Provençal food in its convivial, tightly set rustic scene. Get the artichoke and the wild strawberry cake.

Bertaud Belieu winery: the glamours winery you must visit in Saint-Tropez

At the imposing Greek-style built Bertaud Belieu winery, Leonardo DiCaprio hosted an intimate charity dinner for the St.Tropez glitterati to sponsor his environmental foundation. Joined by the hyper-activist for anything good, Bono, they were staged to impress − the wine is very good for a Provençal breed.
Bertaud Belieu winery
Its prestigious location near the shores of Saint-Tropez still puts trumps into the cards of the Bertaud Belieu winery, yet its wines could win the game based on their own brain power. Despite the winery’s frequent changes in the ownership, with the current proprietor being of a Kazakh origin, the winemaker remained the same as the guardian angel of consistency.
Heraclea by Bertaud Belie
The name of the winery comes from the petit river Bélieu that flows casually through its vineyards. Bertaud was the founding family of the estate and when it was purchased by the nearby domaine of Bélieu, the names were joined together.
Although some of the bottle wrapping at Bertaud Belieu now shouts ‘glamour!’, the prices are not as over-ambitious as the wines from the currently hyped-up Château d’Esclans.
Covered in a fancy silver coat and a suede pouch with the winery’s logo set in gleaming crystals, the newest rosé added to the portfolio – Héracléa, fetches €18 at the winery. A bottle of our favourite Rosé Prestige comes at €12, which is not a bargain for a young wine that should be consumed in its first two years of life, but the joy from it equals for me a double of its cost.
Cuvée Prestige rosé by Bertaud-Belieu
As I savoured yet another bottle of the peachy Prestige Rosé from Bertaud Belieu with my lunch at my favourite Le Club 55 beach, I discovered my fondness of this elegant, delicate and gently exotically perfumed wine. It was made by grapes skin contact with the must during a cold maceration just after desteming (method typical for Côtes de Provence rosé wines). Its charming freshness easily distracts me from the people watching in St Tropez.
Wines of Bertaud Belieu
The rosés of Côtes de Provence in general are blends of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and locally distinct Tibouren. Héracléa has a more masculine character owing to a higher percentage of Grenache in its blend. Yellow peach pulped up by apricots and acacia honey stickiness create a flashy yet elegant body.
The domaine produces mostly rosés as most of its neighbours, but about 20% of its production are whites, reds and even a sparkling white and rosé table wine. Their reds were not my preferred glass of wine, but the white oaky and exotic Chardonnay brought a farm-raised Bresse chicken with cream sauce a la Georges Blanc‘s grandmother recipe to my, by-flavours-obsessed, consciousness. It would pair wonderfully. The Chardonnay can be designated only as a ‘Vin du Pays‘, while the other white wine made from the locally-approved Rolle (Vermentino) carries the AOC Côtes de Provence label.
The winery produces also a spirit called Marc de Belieu, Grande Réserve Cesar. A powerful, grape-based companion to gentlemen’s cigar soirée.
Chardonnay by Bertaud Belieu
The vines of Bertaud Belieu are grown on clay and limestone soil. Nighttime harvest preserves the cherished youthful freshness and protects from pre-mature fermentation of the grapes. Not a humble production of average 300 000 bottles per year secures the wines’ wide presence on the Riviera’s tables.
Art meets wine at Bertaud Belieu, with frequent exhibitions of contemporary artists’ works at the tasting room.
Art meets wine at Bertaud Belieu
 Mon-Friday 10am – 7pm; Daily during the summer.
 Domaine Bertaud Belieu
635 Route Ramatuelle, Presqu’île de Saint Tropez, 83580 Gassin, France

 +33 4 94 56 16 83

La Voile at La Réserve Ramatuelle: light gourmet food near Saint Tropez

The chef Eric Canino is known as one of the pioneers of healthy French cuisine. In the fashion of the legendary three-Michelin chefs Michel Guèard and Alain Ducasse, he also tries to create light and intensely flavored dishes. Canino goes as far as not using butter and other animal fats in his cooking. Only Mediterranean olive oil is used and in desserts he prefers sweetening with raw cane sugar instead of the refined white powder used in most French pastries.
Vegetarian dish
The luxurious hotel La Réserve Ramatuelle has recently claimed the highest recognition a hotel in France can claim – the status of a Palace. The hotel is located on a stunning property with views across a calming bay right behind the busy beaches of Pamplone just behind St Tropez. The views can be appreciated the most from the hotel’s roof bar.
B Champagne
The restaurant itself has a meditative vista through the large glass windows, but the terrace is more secluded offering a more peaceful dining experience. The smart modern architecture respecting its surrounding natural environment is refreshing and light.
In the same spirit of freshness and lightness is build the restaurant’s menu. Generally locally sourced from one farm, organic and low in calories while looking fabulous like those healthy looking people consuming this kind of food. Balancing a low-calorie meal though is challenging. There are some chefs achieving excellent flavors in not-fattening dishes.
Dining at La Reserve in Ramatuelle
For example Patrick Raingeard currently at Riviera’s Cap d’Estel restaurant captures the essence of light and delicious cooking. In the first years, the chef Eric Canino could not grasp the right balance. The only think I used to enjoy from the  entire dinner was a cheese plate with fresh bread, the least healthy items on the menu. This has changed though and with the coveted Michelin star arrived also the chef’s culinary eloquence.
I remember a plate crowned with strawberries and crystalized petals on a bed of chopped tomatoes fixed in a fine jelly that I could not finish because the dish was so bad.
Michelin dish at La Reserve Ramatuelle
The Langustine Starter is now sublime. The premium Langoustines from Brittany are served both raw and cooked look like a piece of art one would hang on a wall. The langoustines are soft, but not overwhelming with richness of flavors. The cooked pieces were slightly better than the raw tartar “bejewelled” with flowers like a child’s creation on a play field.
The cheese is fresh, mostly local or French. It along with the fruit – dominated deserts is the most indulging part of the meal as well as the daily freshly baked white brioche, olive bread and other starchy sides.
small sweet treats
Drinks: Getting an aperitif at an outdoor bar (on nice warm days there is a wonderful roof terrace open as well) next to the restaurant brings a holiday breeze.
The wine list at the restaurant is good. The patron of the hotel also owns Château Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux and a winery in Tokaji so the list features some interesting bottles from his properties. Otherwise, the list is focused on the French wines. We usually order red Burgundy. Like a fresh Volnay or a lovely Gevrey-Chambertin. These are also great wines to drink on their own. For a white the Alsatian Rieslings are interesting match to the seafood dishes.
Opening hours: seasonally from April – mid October.
Lunch: 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm
Dinner: 07:30 pm to 10:00 pm (also a buffet breakfast for hotel guests)
Contact: +33 4 94 44 94 44
Address: Chemin de la Quessine; 83350 Ramatuelle, France

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