French Riviera beaches have developed into one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe. It first evolved as a winter health resort for tourists from cold countries searching for balmy warm climes at the end of the 18th century. By the mid-19th century, it was patronized by British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria, and King Edward VII while he was Prince of Wales. As its popularity grew, it drew artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley, as well as other wealthy people from all over the world. In the latter part of the 20th century, it was promoted as a destination for mass tourism through trade fairs, exhibitions, and business conventions. While it still remains the playground of the rich and famous, and celebrity sightings are common here, it has not remained exclusive to them.
Contrary to the burgeoning popularity of these French beaches, many have pebbles rather than sand, are often small or narrow, and located near busy roads or highways. The beaches turn into seas of humanity in the height of summer, and visitors often find that they have to pay for a stretch of sand to lie on, as many of the beaches are privately owned. For those who want to get away from the crowd and commercialization, there still exist pristine stretches of sand that allow for a relaxed peaceful holiday experience.
Plage de La Paloma, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
East of Nice, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is where the truly affluent live in their palatial villas that dot the rocky peninsula. However, the Plage de La Paloma still has stretches that are open to the public. So find yourself a spot on this crowded beach, put down your towel, and park yourself there. The steep steps that lead down to the plage open up to a view of yachts and sailboats, the resort of Beaulieu, the cliffs at Eze, and Cap d’Ail. The bay is shallow with soft sand and clear water. A swim out to about 100 meters in the ocean gives you a view of the magnificent mansions above the beach.
The opulent crowd that visits include Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and Shane Warne, who were spotted here at James Packer’s pre-wedding party last year.
Plage de Notre-Dame, Porquerolles
Porquerolles is one of the islands of The Golden Isles, located off the south coast. It is a beautiful Mediterranean island, teeming with vineyards, forests, fruit groves, and fragrant eucalyptus and pine trees. As cars are not allowed here, exploring has to be done on foot or by bike, which adds to the experience. The outdoor restaurants serve flavorful locally caught fish.
The Plage de Notre-Dame is a stunning beach on the north-east coast of Porquerolles. It is a bay, and offers an enchanting seascape of ships floating in and out of view on turquoise waters. As it is in the south of France, you are likely to find people bathing au naturel. If it is activity you seek, the beach offers the opportunity for swimming and snorkeling. However, it is the perfect place for quiet contemplation too. Remember to pack a snack, for the beach has no snack bar.
At the southernmost tip of France is the département of Les Pyrénées Orientales, often referred to as French Catalonia in the region of Languedoc Roussillon. The beaches of Côte Vermeille here are relatively secluded and dotted with rocky coves. The stretches of flat sandy beaches of Côte Radieuse are a good option too. The best beaches on this stretch are La Franqui and Leucate near Narbonne, and Portiragnes and Sérignan near Béziers. A wonderful view of the Pyrénées can be enjoyed from the northern end of Argelès-sur-Mer beach. As the Côte Vermeille is close to Spain, the area has some Spanish flavor and thus a different feel to it. The closest cities are Perpignan and Montpellier.
Mala Plage, Cap d’Ail
This beach is at the small town of Cap d’Ail, west of Monaco. For reasons unknown, this posh French Riviera beach is uncrowded, even in the summers. This could be because of the tricky 10-minute downhill road from Avenue Princesse Grace that needs to be taken to get here. One can enjoy Mala Plage’s extensive public areas, by sunbathing on the beach or kayaking or snorkeling in the coves under the cliffs to the west. This beach is about a ten minute walk from the Cap d’Ail train station.
The French Riviera has always been perceived as a holiday destination for the wealthy. While its high glamor beaches and hotels are best known, it also contains secluded pristine beaches and affordable living options.