French Riviera Secrets

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French Riviera beaches - hype and reality

When it comes to the Riviera beaches, flashy photographs in tourist brochures usually show a never ending line of white sandy beaches, deep blue skies and azure coloured seas… well, reality is slightly different, and you may be disappointed when you actually try to find those beaches.

The deep blue sky is there alright, so is the warm azure coloured water of the Mediterranean... but the beaches themselves are often shingle beaches, pebble-strewn, and the ones that are sandy are only 5-10 meters wide in places and are incredibly crowded during the summer months (not to mention almost impossible to reach by car, due to extreme traffic congestion of the coastal roads).
In fact, for really spectacular beaches you have to go to nearby Corsica, which is a 3 hour trip by ferry from Nice (recommended by the way!)...

So, now you know that the French Riviera beaches are not always what they are made out to be, what to do? Is the picture really that bleak? No! It isn’t, of course.
There are some beautiful places where you can enjoy the magnificient waters of the Mediterranean; you just have to look a bit harder.

By the way, those overcrowded summer beaches can be beautiful too, during the off-season period. Winter sun, calm waters, people strolling along the waterfront soaking up the sun, can make for a very relaxing, tranquil setting.

Below you will find a number of beaches which I think are definitely beautiful, some in both summer and in winter, others only in winter.


St.-Tropez

Pampelonne Beach, St.-Tropez Pampelonne Beach, St.-Tropez

At the western extremity of the French Riviera lies St. Tropez, a well-known resort, loved by artists, celebrities and politicians alike. And it has got some pretty beaches too!
Pamelonne beach is actually quite a large beach, so there is more space than in Cannes and Juans-Les-Pins; however, the road towards St. Tropez is very congested during the summer season. At the western extremity of the French Riviera lies St. Tropez, a well-known resort, loved by artists, celebrities and politicians alike. And it has got some pretty beaches too!
Pamelonne beach is actually quite a large beach, so there is more space than in Cannes and Juans-Les-Pins; however, the road towards St. Tropez is very congested during the summer season.

Waterfront village centre, St.-Tropez Waterfront near the village centre, St.-Tropez

Îles d'Hyères

Porquerolles Isles- Plage d'Argent Porquerolles Isles- Plage d'Argent

Still further west, close to Toulon, lie the Isles of Hyères. A short boat trip from the port of Hyères, they are a haven of peace (no cars!) and offer nice beaches and beautiful views over the Mediterranean.
Quite popular and therefore busy in summer, but still a good place to go, even during the peak season.


Esterel

Pointe de l'Aiguille, Esterel Pointe de l'Aiguille, Esterel

Just 20 minutes west of Cannes by car (ok, 15 mins in winter, 25 mins in summer), lies the Esterel, a very old mountain range, consisting of red volcanic rock. A scenic coastal route called the Corniche d'Or runs all the way to Frejus. There's plenty of opportunities to get out of your car and descend towards the beach in one the many rocky inlets. No sand here, but relative quiet and magnificent scenery should make up for that.


Cannes

Cannes Mandelieu waterfront Where's that beach?

Cannes, and Mandelieu to the west of Cannes, have got a narrow sandy beach beach that runs the length of the town centres, along a busy road. Best time to visit and relax: October-April.

Cannes waterfront on a January morning Cannes waterfront on a January morning

Juan-Les-Pins

Beach at Juans-Les-Pins Beach at Juans-Les-Pins (1st of August)

A famous name, and a tourist hotspot. As for Cannes, this area is too busy for me in summer. But of course that is just me saying that!
Best time to visit and relax: October-April.


Antibes

Plage de la Gravette, near the old town, Antibes Plage de la Gravette, near the old town, Antibes

Antibes of course is right in the middle of the action... the picture to the left was taken in June, so just outside the tourist peak season of July and August. Antibes is a very interesting town with a rich history, very much worth a visit.
This little bay and accompanying beach is very pleasant when not too crowded.

Plage de la Garoupe, Antibes Plage de la Garoupe, Antibes

Villeneuve-Loubet

Villeneuve-Loubet Beach Villeneuve-Loubet beach

Not everyone's cup of tea, but I quite like the shingle beach of Villeneuve-Loubet.
There's a nice view on Cagnes-sur-Mer and Nice, with the Alps providing a scenic background.
Nice Airport is very close by, and in normal weather conditions approaching planes fly right over this stretch of water towards the nearby runway. Deserted outside the summer months, it gets busy in summer, but never crowded. Note that like in many places around the Mediterranean, the water gets deep very quickly!

Villeneuve-Loubet beach Villeneuve-Loubet beach

Cagnes-sur-Mer

Cagnes-sur-Mer beach Cagnes-sur-Mer beach

Right next to Villeneuve-Loubet, on the way to Nice, is Cagnes-sur-Mer.
The seafront has been redesigned and refurbished, and there is a very wide pedestrianised boulevard between the beach and the main through road.

Cagnes-sur-Mer beach Beach at Cagnes-sur-Mer, just outside the Cap 3000 shopping mal

Nice Promenade des Anglais

Nice, Promenade des Anglais Nice, Promenade des Anglais, on an early summer's evening

Along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, the same pebble beach as in Villeneuve.
Romantic and beautiful on a warm summer's evening, great for relaxing in autumn and winter, and nice and fresh for an early swim in spring!
Plenty of beautiful things to see in the old part of Nice, just on the other side of the Promenade.

Nice, Promenade des Anglais Nice, Promenade des Anglais, early April

Eze Bord de Mer

Eze Bord de Mer - Baie de Saint-Laurent Eze Bord de Mer - Baie de Saint-Laurent

Driving east from Nice, towards Monaco, after about 10km, is Eze Bord de Mer, a tranquil setting of villas, tucked away in the greenery and flowers. From the main road (called Basse Corniche), there are several public footpaths leading down to the beach, along some beautiful gardens.
Summer here does not end until well into October!


Monaco

Monte Carlo Beach Hotel Monte Carlo Beach Hotel

The picture (note no editing has taken place, colours are real!) shows the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel, with its private beach and Olympic swimming pool. Not accessible for everyone, but a beautiful setting nonetheless.


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