Spend any time on the French Riviera and you’ll soon realize you can hardly throw a tube of Bain de Soleil without hitting a beach.
For lovers of the bottomless glass of rosé and the topless bathing beauties (only the American frat boys will point and yell “boobs!”), swanky and crowded beach clubs string out like pearls along the Cote d’Azur from Monaco to Nice to Saint-Tropez, especially during the summer months. They are a lot of fun and I’m going to be honest here: there are not many paths unbeaten or beaches uncharted along the French Riviera.
But fear not, beach-goer. There are definitely plenty of subdued slivers of seaside and sand where the vibe is more “look at that sunset” than “look at my Gucci!”
The French Riviera heats up, literally and figuratively, in the summertime so lounging on the beach is practically a sport for locals and visitors who often head to the beach to cool down and chill out with friends. Beach clubs can mean high density and high prices. During off off-peak months, the crowds thin, and most shut down by the end of September. But there are public beaches, too, where you can spread your towel a little wider at no charge.
There’s not much space that hasn’t been claimed when it comes to beaches along the French Riviera. Some clubs, like the ones along Pampelonne Beach in Saint-Tropez, are splashed in limelight and stardust, while others hang down to earth but still offer excellent food and drink served with unrivaled views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Lounge chairs (called matelas or mattresses) and sun umbrella rentals are the norm at beach clubs, even the smaller ones, and can add up. Expect to pay €20-€30 per day or more, per person, and that may or may not include the sun umbrella. Always bring your own towel (you can borrow one from your hotel), otherwise it’ll cost you around €6 more to “rent” one from the club.
Public beaches are just that— public, even if they sit beside a tony beach club. Here you are free to set up your camp for as long as you’d like but remember, it’s B.Y.O. everything.
If you decide to hit a beach club, call ahead for rates and to reserve a spot, especially during summer weekends and holidays like July 14 (Bastille Day). Sometimes half day prices are available after 2 p.m., usually only during peak season, and are a little cheaper.
Whatever your itinerary on the French Riviera you should definitely plan some time on the beach. Any time of year they share one thing in common: a heavenly slice of this Mediterranean paradise.
There are many to choose from. Take a map and go explore. But here are some of my favorite from West to East:
Pampelonne gets all the glory in Saint-Tropez, but low key locals prefer Plage des Salins, that has much less bling, bordered by pine trees with a simple restaurant/pizzeria if you get hungry. If you can, head further west (about 12km from the village) to more wild and remote L’Escalet Beach, on the southside of Cap Camarat. There’s not much in the way of signage, and you’ll find it down a bumpy road, but it’s worth the adventure if you’re up for unfurling your map. Also check out The Gigaro area, in La Croix Valmer, appreciated for its sandy beaches, stunning water, with some small restaurants and snack shops nearby.
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Located just across the gulf from Saint-Tropez, this family-friendly village has a main beach in the center of town but I suggest heading over the white bridge (follow signs to Saint-Tropez), where small public beaches abound. Pick anyone to set up camp, or keep going until you arrive at the pine tree shaded Le Pingouin Bleu, a low key private beach club with thatch-roofed bar, tables shaded by pine trees, and an outdoor barbeque. Head the other direction from the center of the village to an area called La Nartelle and you’ll find several easy going beach clubs with toes-in-the-sand service just as good as any in Saint-Tropez. Try Prao Plage.
From Sainte-Maxime, pass through the nondescript town of Les Issambres along the coastal road toward Saint Raphael and the shoreline begins to crinkle with calanques, wondrous little rocky inlets that are a hallmark of this part of the world. Eventually you’ll see a sign for a restaurant called Le Cercle below which is a lovely off-the-grid beach club called La Crique.
The beaches and calanques east of Cannes, between the pretty town of Théole-sur-mer and San Raphael, are some of the prettiest thanks to the copper-colored cliffs that dive straight into the cobalt blue sea. Many of them are found inside the L’Esterel National Park. The sandy and crystalline beach of Plage de l’Aiguille is an easy place to pass the day, or do as the locals do, and just pull over to a safe parking place and hike down to the water. You won’t be disappointed.
Instead of the pricey and trendy clubs along La Croisette, grab a towel and your backpack picnic and take a quick 15-minute boat ride to Ile St-Marguerite (you can see if from shore) or Ile St-Honorat and enjoy an island getaway that’s not far away. You won’t find much in the way of wide sandy beaches but the water is crystal clear and the scenery is photo worthy.
There are 48 beaches along the coastline that surrounds Antibes and Juan les Pins. Holy Beach Day! F. Scott Fitzgerald liked La Garoupe, just outside town on Cap d’Antibes, but you can certainly blaze your own beach trail here.
Just east of Nice, Villefranche Beach is tucked just below the train station and is popular with families and local Nice residents.
The peninsula jutting into the sea just east of Nice is a well-heeled hideaway that also harbors some quieter beaches including pebbly Paloma Plage. Not far from the must-see Villa Euphrissi de Rothschild is Passable Plage, with jaw-dropping views of Villefranche Bay and water sports for active beach goers.
Not to be confused with the hilltop village of Eze, this picturesque curve of Mediterranean Sea has all the makings of a perfect day.
Most of the beach is public, but Anjuna Beach Club, will whisk you far away.
Just a pebble throw form Monaco, the picturesque Plage Mala is a short walk from the Cap d’Ail train station and only accessible down a set of stone steps, or by boat. The private Eden Plage Mala Beach & Restaurant is one of my favorites on the French Riviera, despite the hundreds of steps to get to the hidden paradise.
Located between Monaco and Italy, this blink of a village remains relatively off the radar and its beach, Plage du Buse relatively uncrowded with crystal clear water.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in, or near Cannes, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. To book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or, if you are headed for a particular part of the coast, enter your preferred resort/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.