I have a photo of me the first time I dipped my toes into the striking blue waters of the Mediterranean. Would it surprise you to know I look like a girl that had received her first, lovely doll at Christmas? Mais oui! The Côte d’Azur is simply breathtaking … but representative of so many stories, as well.
The French Riviera summons a landslide of mental images – F. Scott and Zelda partying through a champagne-filled evening. Privileged dowagers collecting priceless art in seaside mansions. Silky white beaches and sleek long yachts – all the province, it would seem, of the rich and famous, those untethered to the worldly cares most of the world must consider.
The reality of the “Cote d’Azur” sweeps well beyond stolen paparazzi moments and the red carpets of Cannes. Officially, the French Riviera extends from Menton in the east to the Golfe de Saint Tropez in the west. Parasol pines guard rocky coves and pebbled beaches. Miles of white or pebbled beaches stretch along coastal roads. Narrow paths snake along cliffs that drop to the sea. What a stunning world with countless choices for sun and sea worshippers!
Saint-Raphael seems a fine place to start, where yachts seek shelter in the horseshoe bay. The Corniche d’Or winds along a dramatic seascape with little inlets, coves and tiny beaches. Take delight in wandering, until the ideal spot (and a place to park) commands your presence. Along the way, stop at a little wayside epicerie for a cool bottle of Rosé and a fresh baguette sandwich – jambon et beurre? – perfect for your seaside picnic.
In the summertime, particularly in August, the beaches often are packed with holiday escapees from landlocked cities. Saint-Tropez, Cannes and Antibes are popular for those who prefer smooth, sandy beaches over the often pebbled shorelines. The beaches are a mix of public and private, where the latter offers mat and umbrella rentals and dressing rooms for relatively modest fees. Usually, the private beaches also have outdoor cafes and restaurants.
The Route des Plages takes you to the popular 6-mile stretch of beach in Saint-Tropez, known as Les Salins. Just 3 miles from town, the Plage de Pampelonne is another popular spot. You can walk or bike to the beach to avoid the hunt for parking.
In Cannes, La Croisette is the largest public beach, a bistro, partying kind of scene that attracts huge crowds in the summer and lots of young folks for the jazzy night life. Public beaches have toilets and open showers. Hotels and restaurants own small patches of the beach, where chaise rentals are the norm.
Families gravitate to a small public beach in Old Antibes, as it offers the safety of artificial breakwaters. Juan-les-Pins is the more “happening” beach, with seaside restaurants, where thousands gather along the promenade. The shallow water and interesting rocks of Petit Plage attract those looking for a quieter beach experience. The main public beach is La Salis, on the edge of Le Cap d’Antibes.
Nice is popular year round with a large stretch of beach along the Baie des Anges. Again, public and private beaches intertwine along the broad seaside Promenade.
Today, ever-growing numbers of visitors flock to the same beautiful seaside that catered to 19th-century European socialites. Whether you choose a private or public beach, a broad sandy shore or a pine-shaded inlet; you will understand the enduring attraction of Mediterranean vistas. I can close my eyes this very minute and see that first glimpse of the sea near Antibes…Merveilleux!
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