I consider the South of France one of my dearest friends. We go back to my college days, when I came to spend one summer studying in the metropolitan, coastal town of Nice. During my time there I fell deeply in love with the vast landscape of the Cote d’Azur.
I recently returned to the region to re-ignite my long-lost love affair with the region. Although now I live along the other side of the Adriatic in Croatia where we have plentiful beaches ourselves, the beaches in the South of France are in a league of their own. The region’s shoreline is filled with pebbled and sandy havens that are ideal for a romantic, French getaway.
Here are the best beaches in the South of France
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Nice is the Miami of French Rivera and the epicenter of any beach getaway. With a combination of pebbled shores and vibrant city life, I would recommend basing yourself in Nice during your stay, at least for a couple days. You can read all about the day trips from Nice throughout the region here.
Nice boasts about 10 km of coastline that start from the Nice airport. Although it’s a little difficult to walk along the pebbled beaches, the Promenade des Anglais walking and biking path stretches for about 5 km along the shore.
Speaking of the pebbles, here’s a fun fact: the small stones called galets are important to local culture in Nice. The pebbles travel from the mountains down through the river, and every winter the crashing waves erode the beach. Inside of replacing it with sand, locals insist on keeping the pebbles.
There are a number of popular public beaches along this stretch in Nice, such as Opera, Neptune, and Blue Beach. If you’d rather reserve a sun bed, you’ll have to head to one of the private beaches. You can read more about the different beaches in Nice here.
There is still so much more to Cannes than celebrities on the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival. One of them being that Cannes has some of the best beaches in the South of France. 15 km long of sandy beaches bring in a luxury crowd as a result.
Cannes has 13 public beaches, and 33 private beach lounge/restaurant areas. Most of the private beaches are in the La Croisette area near most of the hotels, while most of the locals head to the public beaches along Boulevard de Midi. Gazagnaire is another popular beach along with Moure Rouge.
Villefranche Sur Mer Beaches
You don’t have to worry about any pretensious beach-goers here, because all the beaches in this coastal town are completely public! As you can see from the photo above, this means that locals and tourists alike flock to this area in the heat of summer. Like Nice, the beaches here are pebbled.
Plages des Marineres featured in the photo above is the most popular beach in Villefranche. However, recently the pollution from the nearby marina has degraded the water quality. The beaches further west in town, L’Ange Gardien and Plage de la Darse have slightly better quality.
Grau du Roi Beaches
For a completely different beach experience, head towards Montpellier to visit the small town of Grau du Roi. In contrast to Cannes, this is a laid-back beach town with a retro 1980s vibe. The town has tons of seafood shakes, ice cream shops, and souvenir shops. There’s also a ton of activities to do on the water, such as jet skiing or stand up paddle boarding.
The most popular attraction by far in this area is the Espiguette Beach. When visiting my friend in the inland town of Nimes, she took me to this beach. I was surprised to see how popular this beach was a day trip for other French people. The entire beach is covered in white sand, and stretches about 5 km long.
St. Tropez Beaches
St. Tropez has a reputation similar to Cannes as being a luxury beach getaway. What once was a small fishing village is now a chic resort town with booming nightlife and beach resorts. Yet the quaint atmosphere of this small town still remains, and likely part of the reason why it is still popular after 50 years.
The mean stretch of beaches in St. Tropez is along Pampelonne Plage, without a tourist stand or beach snack bar in site. Although most of the beaches here are private, there still remains an authenticity that balances the luxury beach clubs. There is a portion of this 5 km coast that is public, but for the bigger public beaches you should head to Plage des Canoubiers that is further out of town.
Within the coastal landscape of Provence you’ll find the small town of Cassis, home to the iconic Calanques National Park. A Calanque means essentially an inlet surrounded by rocks and sea. The park itself is worth of an entire day trip of exploring the panoramic views as well as hiking, kayaking, and swimming.
The most popular beach is located at the second inlet, Calanque de Port Pin. You’ll have to do a little bit of hiking here, but for views that look like closer to beaches in Thailand, it’s worth the effort.
Cassis has other beaches that aren’t in the park, such as the popular Plage Cassis Les Calanques. You can also visit Plage Bleue and Plage de la Grande Mer.
St. Jean Cap Ferrat Beaches
I stumbled upon this area somewhat by mistake when walking around the Villefranche area and walking out of town. I was on my way to the Rothschild Villa, when I discovered there are dozens of hidden beaches guarded by cliffs and lush, meditterean foliage. The best part is that they are mostly public beaches.
While they are definitely less crowded than most of the other beaches in the South of France, the area is slightly more isolated from public transport and parking. The two most popular beaches in this area are Paloma Beach and Plage de Passable, both pebbled beaches.
As the last major town in France before reaching Italy, Menton is a coastal gem that combines the best of both cultures. Perhaps one of the most colorful towns along the French Rivera, the structure and colors closely resemble the villages of the nearby Cinque Terre. Italian and French are dominate languages here, and overall this still remains an underrated destination in the South of France.
The main beach that is featured in the photo above is Plage Sablettes, a public beach closest to the center of town. Despite being next to the small harbor, the water quality here is still good. On the western end of town you’ll find Plage du Borrigo and Plage du Casino that are slightly less touristy, but also a bit rockier.
- Avoid bringing plastic water bottles to the beach and bring your own reusable water bottle.
- Pick up after yourself and don’t leave waste on the beach. Recycle items in bins, usually by the parking lot.
- Consider avoiding the months of July and August. Travel in the shoulder season instead.
- Learn more about responsible travel here.