The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
The French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur as it’s called in French, is famous (and possibly infamous) for its beaches. There are an enormous variety in the approximately 125 kilometres of coastline between Menton and St Tropez, from pebbles to fine white sand, from long open stretches to small rocky coves, from urban built-up beaches to wild secluded ones, and just about everything in between.
You may have heard that you have to pay to go to the beach on the Riviera, or that they are all pebbly and dreadfully crowded. I want to show you that these rumours need not be true if you know where and when to go, so before I start please put aside any prejudices and expectations you might have and please don’t compare the beaches of the Côte d’Azur to beaches in Australia, South-East Asia, the Caribbean or any other beachy paradises, that would be like comparing apples to oranges. There’s no getting around the fact that the South of France is popular; Nice and the Côte d’Azur are the second most visited destinations in France after Paris, and France is the world’s N° 1 tourist destination, so let’s face it, there are plenty of people around. There’s a reason for this though, and that is that we have a wonderful climate in a beautiful part of the world (among other things). The département (county) where I live is called les Alpes-Maritimes because it’s where the Alps meet the sea. This geographical feature is relatively unusual and creates spectacular scenery and many different types of beaches.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know I love the area where I live and you’ll also know I’m very well travelled. I’ve been to beaches all over the world and while I probably wouldn’t describe any of the local beaches as my favourite ever, I really do genuinely enjoy the coast on the Riviera. I love the variety, and that depending on what we feel like doing as a family on any given day, we can tailor the beach to our desires. There are places for snorkeling, places to go to jump off rocks, places where you can bodysurf or hire a sailing boat. There are city beaches with great restaurants or quiet island beaches with no facilities at all. Here I’m going to show you some of my family’s favourite beaches in the Alpes-Maritimes, Var and even Monaco. They are all very different from one another and they are all free! I won’t be writing about the private beaches where you pay for a sun-lounger and waiter service as we almost never go to them, only very occasionally for a treat (without the kids).
Finally before I get started there are a couple more things I’d like to point out about the Côte d’Azur. Firstly, it’s not called the Azure Coast for nothing, the water is gorgeously blue no matter what type of beach you’re on and secondly, beaches east of Antibes are mostly pebbles or gravel, and going west you’ll fine sand. This should help you orient your choice. If you’re not familiar with pebble beaches and not sure you like the idea, take a look at this post I wrote explaining how to enjoy them, for there are plenty of reasons to like pebbles!
These beaches are in no particular order of preference. Where the name is highlighted in brown I’ve written about it in detail in another post so click through for further information. All these beaches are kid-friendly (what beach isn't really, let's face it, but some are more accessible than others for strollers and little people) and all are within one hour of Lou Messugo (Roquefort les Pins), most are significantly closer.
At a pinch possibly our favourite as it offers so much: snorkeling, rocks to jump off, gentle shallow water access and not as crowded as some beaches as it involves a very easy 15 minute (flat) walk from the car park (just enough to put some people off!) La Pointe de l'Aiguille is sandy - a rich golden, grainy sand not fine white and has great views across to the mountains.
Villeneuve-Loubet is our closest beach and is thoroughly un-chic, which is what makes it appealing in my mind! It's populated by ordinary locals not millionaires or wannabes and not even many tourists. We've never failed to find parking even in the height of the summer season. A pebbly beach fun for water sports, evening picnics, gentle bodysurfing if windy and a quick dip.
La Gravette is a sheltered sandy city beach, close to the wonderful Provencal covered market for picnic ingredients, shallow easy access for kids and lovely views over the ramparts, Picasso museum and Cap d'Antibes. Great for kids.
Ste Marguerite island offers not one but many different beaches, some of which you'll find may be empty even in summer. The trick is to get off the ferry and walk to the other side where there are plenty of tiny rocky coves, excellent for rock pooling and splashing around in. There is also a long(ish) sandy beach near the ferry jetty which gets pretty busy. St Honorat island also has rocky coves and is less visited than Ste Marguerite but is not so good for children as being run by monks you are supposed to be quiet! Excellent for adults though!
Now for something rather different. Nice is famous for its huge bay: one long pebbly beach (split into different names, some areas private, some public), but where we like to go is a little further from the centre, on the east side of the port, in a tiny rocky area known as la Réserve. You'll never be alone here but it has a certain charm perching on the rocks and watching the daredevil teenagers jumping off everything and anything.
This beach is gorgeous. It’s the main reason I’m including it because its natural beauty makes it worth the difficult access. This small bay surrounded by high cliffs (and some pretty amazing villas) has two sections, with sand near the steps and pebbles further along. There are private and public bits, with a couple of restaurants, loos and water sports. Did you note the mention of steps? That’s the problem here…well, it isn’t necessarily a problem but it’s not great for anyone with mobility issues because there are about 100 steps down from the road (and then 100 back up again at the end of the day!) However if you can make the effort you are rewarded with possibly the prettiest water on the Côte, it’s an incredible sparkling mix of dark blue, turquoise, emerald and jade, and so very photogenic (my photo doesn't do it justice). The other problem is parking, there almost isn’t any so you have to go very early or out of season (or on 2 wheels).
The Estérel coast, where warm red rocks tumble into the sea dividing the Alpes-Maritimes from the Var (between Théoule sur Mer and St Raphaël) is home to a wealth of tiny creeks and bays. They all look inviting and tempt you in for a swim, it’s just finding access that can be the problem. The Calanques de Maupas is one place where there’s room to park and scramble down to stunning dark blue sea with rocks to jump off. There isn’t really a beach to speak of and because of this there aren’t many, if any, people there.
Passable is a gravelly beach (not quite sand but not pebbles either) which needs to be pronounced the French way as its way more than just “passable” (in English)! It’s lovely! It’s especially fun for children who like jumping off jetties and not high rocks. It’s sheltered with a high stone wall on one side that radiates heat making it a warm place even out of season. During the summer the wall is covered in a magnificent bougainvillea adding to the already charming look of the place.
Possibly our favourite beach to go to with little kids/toddlers, Port Gallice is completely sheltered, very calm and shallow for quite a way. The sand is fine and white. There are yachts moored nearby which stronger swimmers can swim out to. The port’s big car park is rarely full which makes taking lots of kiddie paraphernalia easy but the beach does get crowded. Best to go early.
Esclamandes beach is sandy, long, exposed and often windy making it a great place to fly kites, windsurf and even body surf. It’s quite different to the beaches in the Alpes-Maritimes, it’s wilder. There are areas that have private loungers for hire but it’s mainly public without many facilities.
Named after Paloma Picasso who used to frequent it, this beach is another very picturesque place. It too is down a fair amount of steps but nothing like as many as at Mala. Paloma beach (pebbles) has a restaurant with private loungers and a reasonable proportion of the beach is free but it is only small so it can get crowded. I would suggest this beach is not as child friendly as some of the others. Best to come early.
This beach is yet again very different from the others on my list, in stark contrast to Esclamandes it is highly urban with tower blocks almost down to the water's edge and yet incongruously the water is a marine reserve. This means there are plenty of fish which you can swim among, something that doesn’t happen much in this part of the Mediterranean any more unfortunately. The beach itself consists of tiny stones, nearer gravel than pebbles. There is a sea wall along one side from where you can jump or dive into the water or use the convenient steps for easy access to the deep water. This beach is the main beach for the Principality for Monaco so it can get crowded. It has some great restaurants and lounge bars with private sections on the beach which are glamour encapsulated but the public part is reasonably spacious and down to earth (if that's possible in Monaco!) Parking is easy in an underground carpark that leads straight on to the beach. As well as the pricey restaurants there are ice cream places, a small children’s playground and a beach volley court (with sand). You’ll find a pontoon moored outside the area protected by the wall which stronger swimmers can swim out to. It’s not a beach I’d go to every day but it’s so different that it’s worth a visit, especially after a sightseeing session in the old town.
A final word of warning. During the summer the Côte d’Azur can be plagued by jellyfish which give painful but not dangerous stings. A tell tale sign that there are méduses around is when there’s no one in the water on a lovely hot day. Here is a useful website that updates sightings daily so you can prepare your beach visit accordingly as they are never on every beach every day.
But let's end on a more positive note, that is the length of the beach season on the French Riviera. It can start as early as late April and goes on till late October, early November. There are of course people who swim all year round and we go to the beach to walk and play throughout the winter. One of my favourite periods is late September early October when the water is still warm but the crowds have gone.
Voilà, so there you have it, a selection of some of my family’s favourite beaches. There are many more in the area that I haven’t mentioned including the wonderful sandy beaches near St Tropez, but they are a bit far for regular day trips from Lou Messugo. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.
PIN it for later!
Stunning list of beaches - I never knew there were so many! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes
Looks beautiful, really need to visit your part of France.
Phoebe, I think the better question is, who doesn't love where you live?!?! I think we are all planning on moving in with you someday very soon. Love these summery posts and I hope I get to come to the Cote d'Azur next year!!
It's such a while since we've been to the south coast, but the beaches are all truly beautiful and very tempting indeed. #AllAboutFrance
It's years and years since I was on the Riviera - back in the sixties with my parents - and I bet things have changed a bit since then. I remember Cap Ferrat and Juan-les-Pins but nothing about the beaches, alas. To be honest, I'm more of a mountain than a sea person, but I will certainly consult your guide if we find ourselves over there.
Oh yes, it's changed! The great thing about living here is that you can be a mountain and a sea person, you don't have to choose as we have both!
A great list with great accompanying photos as always.
I'll take a non sandy beach please, I really don't like sand.
plenty of choice here then Jacqui
We've been relatively close having been to the Languedoc. Hopefully next visit to France we'll make it to your neck of the woods. This really must be the most extensive and fun list of what appear to be great places to hang! Ha! I'm not sure we would ever visit, because as my wife likes to say, "We are the original "energizer bunnies"!, and, it seems, we never take time to just chill. (By the way, "energizer bunnies" is a reference to a battery commercial that runs here in the States.)
We have the energizer bunny ads too! We don't ever chill at the beach for long, which is why we like ones where there are rocks to jump off or snorkeling etc. We're not so good at sunbathing for hours. I hope you make it over this way one day Arnie.
Do wish we had explored more of the south of France during our time in Paeis - the crowds and the cost always seemed to deter us. But it's all about the timin and when to go. All these beaches sound great. Perfect summary
The crowds aren't here if you come out of the 2 top summer months...and you can always stay in a good value place like Lou Messugo!!! It needed be expensive, certainly not if you're used to Paris prices.
All of these look fantastic. I need to get myself to the Riviera one of these days!
Please come and stay one day Diane, I'd even make an exception for Dagny!
This is really helpful, thank you! I never know where to go and always manage to be dissatisfied because I end up picking the most crowded ones by accident.
Fascinating! For some reason I thought the Riviera beaches were all flat and sandy. Now I've seen them, I think I'm going to have to visit...though maybe in winter when there aren't so many traffic jams and people.
Wow, beautiful photos. I've only been to a couple, but I think my favourite of those is Cap D'ail. Enjoy your hols!
Hi Phoebe: this is a fabulous round-up post and resource for anyone visiting the French Riviera, and hoping to go swimming without the hordes.
Very jealous of how many beautiful beaches you have within an hour distance! Such a great, comprehensive guide. If we ever make it to the French Riviera (haven't been since my 20's so hoping we do) I'm def using this! #mondayescapes
They all look amazing - it's such a beautiful part of the world x x
Thanks - many new beaches for me to try out! My current favorites are the Grand and Petit Mugel, and the Calanques Figuerolles beach...
I love rocky beaches... the formation looks lovely... beautiful captures. We got some gorgeous beaches in Sydney too.
Love you guide since it was written from the local perspective. There are a lot of gorgeous places presented in here. I am not a person who like to spend hours in the sand or in the sea. I am happy stopping by several beaches, walking around, eating a little something and enjoying the atmosphere. I have been to the French Riviera and the place is perfect for my preferences.
This is such a useful guide, Phoebe. All these beaches look inviting although the one that really tempts me is the Mala Beach. I'll be saving this for sure!
So pretty! Can't wait to explore the beaches of France at some point. Bookmarking this post for future research.
Oooh these are great! I hope to make it to the French Riviera one day! It was one of our destinations we were debating about for our honeymoon next May/June but we decided with the Almafi Coast! #MondayEscapes
I've been to the one in Antibes and the main beach in Nice and in Cannes) #monday escapes
All of these looks a-mazing!! Now...where to start?
That's always to hard part Lia....!
Beautiful photos! #MondayEscapes
Thank you Kate
Oh so m,any fab beaches to choose from. We haven't visited the French Riviera before, but I would love to and there is so many places that we could have a ball
Jen, when are you coming to stay at Lou Messugo I know you'd love it!
What an amazingly detailed and helpful post Phoebe. Sharing far and wide
Thanks Katy! When are you coming to stay so you can experience them for yourself?
Soon I hope! We will be doing a road trip around France before we leave the UK and I am planning to drop by for sure!
Some great beaches here! My only requirements for a beach is that it is not too crowded- I like peace!
Then you'd like the islands off Cannes Nadine, they are quiet and peaceful.
SOOOO many gorgeous beaches to choose from. I have to say I am not really a beachy type of person. I am too fidgety and get bored easily, but I could actually be tempted by pretty much all of these!
The great thing about most of these beaches Emma is that there's so much to do you won't get bored. But if you do, then just move on to another one and explore that one instead!
Gorgeous beaches and so many of them to go out and explore.
And there are even more than this Erica, this is just a tiny selection.
I honestly did not know just how many beaches there were. My kids have been to the French Riviera lots of times, but without me.
There are literally hundreds Anne, I've just scratched the tip of the iceberg!
What a fantastic post - it's so helpful to have these tips from a local. When we visit the French Riviera, I'll be sure to look out for those jellyfish!
Best to know where they are and avoid them than be disappointed or get stung.
Ahh that gave me 5 minutes respite from the rain reading this and imagining myself sitting on one of those beaches with a nice cold beer!
I'm pleased Liz! Sorry about your bad weather.
Beautiful beaches, if I wasn't moving house this summer I would definitely be booking a holiday!
Next year then Laura?!!!
Oh I can't wait we are back in the south of France at the end of August. Every beach looks lovely in your photos with sand or pebbles, the sunshine really has it over Cornwall at the moment and the sea temperature.
But you do have some stunning beaches too Fiona.
I have travelled a fair bit in France but I haven't yet been to the Riviera. I certainly want to go and reading this has made me want to go even more, such beautiful beaches.
Book your holiday to Lou Messugo then Nikki! What are you waiting for!!
What a lot of beaches. They all look wonderful and as you say so very different. Oh to be on one on this cold grey miserable day in Sth of England.
Sorry you're having bad weather Catherine!
Wonderful suggestions. I will be traveling over from the Luberon to have a quick peak at the area for just a day. I'll probably get hooked and need to come back for more.
Then you know where to stay if you do Cheryl!