The most delicious way to discover the Île de Bendor and the Île des Embiez is by foot or on a bicycle. For it is by meandering that one gets the best of these unique private islands off the coast of Provence’s Var region, which belong to the family of Paul Ricard, the inventor of pastis, the famous amber- coloured aperitif that has become a symbol of easy living.
Although Bendor and Embiez are open to tourists and continue to modernise, they remain true to the values of Paul Ricard – an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and an ecologist before the term was even coined.
Bendor is an utterly charming 17-acre pebble in the water while Embiez is a 235-acre “resort” perfumed by the high seas. There are no cars or man-made beaches, only trails for exploring secluded calanques (beach inlets), vineyards, pine forests and waters of the purest blue.
An Exquisite Fairytale
When Paul Ricard bought the Isle of Bendor in 1950, it was uninhabited and essentially barren. A seven-minute boat trip from Bandol, today Bendor cuts a fine figure, with its Provençal houses nestled among palm trees and bougainvillea, its many sculptures, an art gallery and the Village des Créateurs (designer’s village), an area dedicated to Ricard promotional items, which are prized by collectors.
With just the slightest hint of kitsch, Bendor could pass as the setting of an exquisite fairytale operetta. Ricard himself noted, “In building this miniature world I realized that I could do anything I wanted. I only had to take the size of the place into account, with sky and sea as the sole limits to my dreams.” Created for family and friends by a passionate man, Bendor captivated many celebrities (the memory of Salvador Dali still lingers).
Arriving at the tiny port, visitors are first greeted by the Hôtel Delos, which was designed by Ricard himself and sits alongside The Little Villas, a row of small garden accommodation where visitors can stay in a discreetly elegant atmosphere. Recently refurbished by British designer Carolyn Quartermaine, the hotel’s shades of fuchsia, lime green and pimento, and its ceramic, wrought iron and linen accents blend together harmoniously. German designer Hubert Hufnagel, well known in the fashion world (he created window displays for the likes of Valentino and Thierry Mugler), also lent his signature to the ultra-contemporary renovation of the eight villas, with designer furniture, antiques and mementoes from Africa.
In 1958, Paul Ricard acquired Embiez, which lies 12 minutes by boat from the port of Brusc. Almost 15 times larger than Bendor, the island enchants with its old ruined tower, beautiful pine forest, pristine beaches and 25 acres of vineyards, where winemakers have been cultivating reds, whites and rosés, distributed in the Côtes de Provence and Vin du Pays du Var AOCs (Appellation d’origine Contrôlée), for half a century.
In 1963, a port was excavated on the former salt marshes – last June it was named the Best Mediterranean Port in France by the sailing journal Voile Magazine. Open year-round and offering 750 moorings, it is a very popular port.
While strolling, one encounters trails bordered by olive and arbutus trees, cork oaks and Aleppo pines. Hundreds of plant species thrive on the island, including certain types of wild orchid. A bird sanctuary for the Refuge de la Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), Embiez is the meeting place for ornithologists, who observe avocets, herons, kingfishers and cormorants. The abandoned Saint-Pierre Fort, used under Napoleon Bonaparte – then a young army captain – during the siege of Toulon, now houses the world-renowned Oceanographic Institute Paul Ricard, where a team of researchers works year-round.
“By creating this Institute in 1966, with the biologist Alain Bombard, my grandfather understood early on that the Mediterranean was in danger and that action had to be taken to better understand and protect it,” explains Patricia Ricard, the Institute’s President. Each year, thousands of schoolchildren visit the Institute’s aquarium to learn about its fascinating seahorse-breeding program and see the Museum of Maritime Civilization.
Hotels and elegant homes were also built here in a protected environment, including the fully renovated four-star Hôtel Hélios, where the décor pleasantly combines naturalness and simplicity, and the Mas des Romarins, a warm and refined guesthouse. These two quiet, peaceful oases exist in total contrast with the usual exotic, tourist-invaded resorts.
Bendor and Embiez can convince anyone that complete happiness lies just a few minutes off the Var coast.
Bendor and Embiez Essentials
Planning a trip to Paul Ricard’s paradise islands? Here’s what you need to know…
Bendor: By car: Autoroute A50, Exit 12, Bandol. Plane: Aéroport Toulon-Hyères (42km). Train: Gare de Bandol & shuttle to Port de Bandol (7 mins).
Embiez: By car: Autoroute A50, Exit 12, Bandol. Plane: Aéroport Toulon-Hyères (39km). Train: Gare de Ollioules-Sanary sur Mer & shuttle to Port du Brusc (12 min).
Ferry schedules and rates: www.lesilespaulricard.com
Where to Stay
Hôtel Delos: Nineteen glamorous rooms and dinner on the terrasse overlooking the sea.
Le Palais: The hotel’s annex offers 36 newly-renovated, contemporary-styled rooms. The Little Villas: Eight exclusive garden units combining the charm of a private house with all the benefits of the Hôtel Delos.
Hôtel Hélios: With 61 beautiful, newly-renovated rooms, a terrace and fine cuisine from chef Baptiste Lamoulie. Near the port, there are 150 rental apartments with terraces or gardens.
Le Mas des Romarins: A charming five-room maison d’hôtes (guesthouse) with a fragrant garden and a spacious lounge.
Where to Eat
The Hôtel Delos’ restaurant for urchin caviar and the fish at La Terrasse de Bendor. Tel: +33 8 99 51 64 62
The Hôtel Hélios’ restaurant for grilled meat, and the superb shellfish at Garlaban. Tel: +33 4 94 32 11 56
PAUL RICARD: A REMARKABLE LEADER
BORN IN 1909, IN THE SAINTE-MARTHE DISTRICT OF MARSEILLE, PAUL RICARD DREAMED OF BECOMING A PAINTER, AND THE CURIOSITY AND IMAGINATION THAT MARKED HIS YOUTH NEVER DESERTED HIM. WHILE AT ART SCHOOL, HE WORKED WITH HIS FATHER, A WINE MERCHANT. IN PROVENCE AT THAT TIME, EVERYONE HAD HIS OWN PASTIS RECIPE (AN OCCITAN WORD MEANING MIX). RICARD’S VERSION OF THE APERITIF, A BLEND OF ANIS, LIQUORICE AND HERBS, WOULD MAKE HIS FORTUNE AT THE TENDER AGE OF 23.
IN THE 1930S, MARSEILLE WAS IN ITS GLORY. MARCEL PAGNOL’S MOVIES, THE GAME OF PÉTANQUE AND THE POPULAR DRINK PASTIS REFLECTED THE IMAGE OF A PROVENÇAL CITY WHERE LIFE WAS SWEET. BUT THE WAR INTERRUPTED RICARD’S DAZZLING ASCENT. WHEN THE VICHY GOVERNMENT PROHIBITED ALL ANIS-BASED ALCOHOL, RICHARD SWITCHED TO AGRICULTURE AND LIVESTOCK, TAKING HIS EMPLOYEES TO MÉJANES, HIS PROPERTY IN THE CAMARGUE, TO SAVE THEM FROM BEING SENT TO GERMANY AS FORCED LABOUR.
WHEN THE WAR ENDED, RICARD ABANDONED THE PRODUCTION OF RICE AND MILK, AND RETURNED TO MANUFACTURING PASTIS IN SAINTE-MARTHE. ALTHOUGH THE ENTREPRENEUR WAS ACCUSED OF PATERNALISM, HIS STAFF BENEFITED FROM MANY ADVANTAGES, INCLUDING FLEXIBLE HOURS, PROFIT SHARING, ENHANCED SOCIAL PROTECTION AND RETIREMENT SAVINGS.
ON A VISIT TO THE UNITED STATES, PAUL RICARD DISCOVERED THE CONCEPT OF SPONSORSHIP. CONSEQUENTLY, RICARD’S BLUE AND YELLOW – THE SYMBOLS OF SKY AND SUN – SOON APPEARED ON THE VEHICLES OF THE TOUR DE FRANCE. GIFTED WITH A RARE GENIUS FOR PR (ANTI-ALCOHOL ORGANISATIONS WERE VIRULENT AT THAT TIME AND ADVERTISING PASTIS WAS BANNED), RICARD MADE A NUMBER OF COUPS, INCLUDING PURCHASING MARCEL PAGNOL’S STUDIOS TO PRODUCE HIS OWN FILMS.
IN 1956, THE SUEZ CRISIS SLOWED RICARD’S DELIVERIES. CONFRONTED WITH A FUEL SHORTAGE, THE ENTREPRENEUR DECIDED TO DELIVER HIS PRODUCT ON CAMELBACK. THE SLOGAN “THE RICARD CARAVAN VANQUISHES THIRST” PASSED THROUGH THE CHAMPS-ELYSÉES IN PARIS AND LA CANEBIÈRE IN MARSEILLE.
TWO YEARS LATER, RICARD EVEN BOOKED THREE TRAINS TO TAKE HIS ENTIRE STAFF TO THE VATICAN IN ROME TO SEE THE NEWLY ELECTED POPE JOHN XXIII. PRECEDED BY PROVENÇAL TAMBOURINAIRES (FIFE AND DRUM PLAYERS) AND ARLÉSIENNES IN NATIVE PROVENÇAL COSTUME RIDING CAMARGUE HORSES BEHIND THEIR TRIDENT-CARRYING GARDIAN – A KIND OF HERDSMAN, AKIN TO THE AMERICAN COWBOY – THE ROMANS WERE UNLIKELY TO FORGET THE RICARD PROCESSION.
IN 1975, RICARD APPROACHED HIS MAIN COMPETITOR, JEAN HÉMARD, THE FOUNDER OF PERNOD, AND THE PERNOD- RICARD GROUP WAS BORN. TODAY, IT IS NUMBER TWO IN THE WORLDWIDE WINE AND SPIRITS INDUSTRY AND THE GLOBE’S TOP PREMIUM BRAND, WITH AN ANNUAL TURNOVER OF NEARLY €8.6 BILLION.
THE GREAT ENTREPRENEUR, WHO DIED IN 1997, WAS ALSO COMMITTED TO CULTURE, THE ENVIRONMENT AND SPORTS. THE PAUL RICARD FOUNDATION DISCOVERS AND PROMOTES YOUNG TALENT; THE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE PAUL RICARD ON EMBIEZ ISLAND IS INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED FOR ITS WORK ON BIODIVERSITY, AND MAJOR AUTOMOBILE/MOTOR SPORTS COMPETITIONS AND EVENTS OCCUR AT THE CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD RACETRACK.
IN 2012, AFTER THE SUDDEN DEATH OF PAUL RICARD’S SON, REIGNING GROUP CEO PATRICK RICARD, IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT HIS GRANDSON, ALEXANDRE RICARD, WILL TAKE THE REIGNS OF THE COMPANY IN 2015.