Dear fellow travellers
It's hard to say no to pastis. Especially on the island of Bendor, off the south coast of France, where pastis is the preferred drink at almost any time of day. If you are really bold, you can get away with ordering a glass of the local Bandol rosé, but a call for pastis always curries favour.
Bandol is the small mainland port where one embarks for the voyage to Bendor. It's a maritime adventure which takes all of eight minutes, and for a return fare of 11 euros (13 euros in high season), the traveller can discover an island where pastis is the clear winner in the beverage stakes.
The Île de Bendor has no permanent inhabitants, but that's not to say that it's empty. The island was purchased in 1950 by Paul Ricard, and there are now many facilities for visitors (including a number of bars and a hotel). Ricard was the man who created his own very successful style of pastis, one of the traditional tipples of Provence. Few islands have been so successfully branded as Bendor, with consistent investment by the Ricard family.
Under Ricard family stewardship, Bendor has morphed from a scruffy patch of offshore pasture into a very urbanised space with neat flower beds, paved footpaths and quirky sculptures. It's dead at this time of year, but summer visitors can learn about pastis and other drinks in a museum devoted to wines and spirits.
So Bendor has certainly changed since the days when the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield lived in Bandol and looked out on dull January days across the water to Bendor. January 1916 was a rare period when Mansfield was truly happy. She arrived in Provence in November 1915, staying for a while in Cassis (where Virginia Woolf was later to quaff white wine and smoke cigars). By the end of the year Mansfield was settled in the Villa Pauline in Bandol, where an almond tree tapped at the window of the dining room. Here she wrote a remarkable short piece called The Prelude.
Mansfield was never rosy-eyed about the Mediterranean. She once famously described the sunset at Bandol as looking "horribly like a morsel of tinned apricot." She bemoaned the absence of comfortable chairs in Bandol. "What appalling furniture," she wrote. "If you want to talk, the only possible thing to do is go to bed... you're simply forced into bed - no matter with whom."
There is no record as to whether a glass of pastis ever crossed Katherine Mansfield's lips. Nor do her diaries record whether she ever set foot on Bendor. In those days, only the occasional goatherd or fisherman visited the rocky island. Katherine Mansfield and the literary set moved away from Bandol, and nowadays the town's harbour is popular with the yachting crowd. Wander through the marina on a summer evening and, long before the sun is over the yardarm, there's the clink of glasses as the pastis flows freely. Paul Ricard died in 1997, but his version of pastis is still popular worldwide. And, each time we raise a glass, we cannot but think of Bendor and Bandol.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)