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The best beaches on the French Riviera are among the most beautiful in the world. True, there are literally hundreds of places along the French Riviera coast where you can throw down a towel or rent a beach chair and relax. A day at the beach is never bad! But sometimes you want a truly memorable experience. Here are the hidden places where local beach connoisseurs go to revel in spectacular scenery and clean, calm water.

Mala Plage

Mala Plage, Cap d'Ail
This stretch of sandy beach along a protected cove on Cap d'Ail is where locals go for a beach treat. It's truly a magical place. The tall cliffs behind the beach create a stunning backdrop to the calm, clear waters which consistently rank as the cleanest sea water in the region. The beach is a mixture of sand and pebbles that's easy on the feet. No need for beach shoes! Because access is only down a long flight of stairs, the beach is usually free of crowds even at the height of the summer season. Most of the beach is public but there are two elegant private beach restaurants that attract a calm, subdued crowd.

Facilities: There are beach showers and lifeguards from mid-June to September.

Safety: Netting protects the swimming area from the dreaded local jellyfish.

Food and Drink: There are no snack stalls but dining is available in the two beach restaurants Eden Plage and Cap Resort.

Lounger/parasol rental: Eden Plage and Cap Resort are open April through September (at least) and rent lounge chairs, parasols and towels for the full beach experience.

Getting there: Take the train to Cap d'Ail. From the train, signs direct you down a long, long flight of stairs to the beach.

Plage de la Garoupe

Plage de la Garoupe, antibes
This storied beach on the Cap d'Antibes was a favorite playground for Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald back in the 1920s. They had good taste. This sheltered cove is wide and sandy with a view over the sparking water that stretches to Antibes. Need a break from the beach? Take the coastal path that starts in the southeast corner of the beach and winds around the peninsula. It's a gorgeous walk. Bring a hat and sunscreen though as there's little shade. Part of the beach is given over to private beach restaurants but there's a large public portion.

Facilities: There are beach showers and a lifeguard on duty from mid-June to mid-September

Food and Drink: The two private beach restaurants, Plage Keller and Le Rocher offer meals as well as La Joliette and La Petite Garoupe restaurants.

Lounge chair/parasol rental: Plage Keller and Le Rocher rent all necessary beach equipment.

Getting there : From the Antibes train station, take the #2 bus to Eden Roc and get off at the Fontaine stop. The bus runs hourly from Monday to Saturday and is a 15-minute ride. Check the schedules at Envibus.

Pampelonne Beach

Pampelonne Plage

Five kilometres of wide, sandy beach is what attracts celebrities, politicans and thousands of beach buffs to Saint Tropez each year even though the beaches are in neighboring Ramatuelle. Pampelonne Beach is the biggest and the best. It's class all the way. Forget about tacky souvenir stands, crowded seaside walkways or high rises framing the beach. Sand, waves and dunes are dotted with discreet private beach clubs. The beach restaurants and clubs are legendary but expansive stretches of the coast are open to the happy public.

Facilities: There are beach showers and lifeguards available on the public beaches

Food and Drink: The private beach restaurants in Pampelonne offer a wide variety of dining experiences from casual to chic. There are too many to list here; see my Pampelonne Beach page.

Lounge chair/parasol rental: There are 26 beach clubs along Pampelonne. Prices start at about €50 a day.

Getting there : There's no public transport to Pampelonne beach but there is a shuttle bus running from central Saint Tropez. Parking is plentiful the length of the beach.

Marinieres Plage

Plage Marinières, Villefranche

Nice locals will choose Plage des Marinieres in Villefranche-sur-Mer as their go-to place for a picnic, party or simply to enjoy a swim in the calm waters. The gravel is easy on the feet, it's easy to access and the view of Villefranche bay is outstanding. The shallow drop-off is reassuring to families and anyone hesitant to plunge into the open waters of Nice. Summer weekends can be towel-to-towel. Get there early!

Facilities: There are beach showers and toilets available.

Food and Drink: There are several inexpensive stalls and a restaurant for light dining.

Lounge chair/parasol rental: There are no beach clubs and no beach equipment rental.

Getting there: The ease of access is part of what makes the Plage Marinières so popular. The train station is right next to the beach. Parking is also available but it can fill up fast on summer weekends.

Paloma Plage

Paloma Beach, Cap Ferrat

Paloma Plage lies on a sheltered cove in toney Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and is the beach of choice for the peninsula's well-heeled summer visitors. It was named after Picasso's daughter Paloma as the artist's family enjoyed whiling away their summer days here. The view of the majestic hills that lie to the east is unforgettable and the water is always calm. As the beach is at the bottom of a low cliff, there's no traffic noise whatsoever. Because of its position, Paloma Plage is not handicap-friendly. What I like about this beach is that the sun only bakes the beach in the morning. When the sun passes behind the cliff in the afternoon, the beach becomes cool and shady.

Facilities: There are beach showers but only the beach restaurant has toilets. A lifeguard is on duty from June to September.

Food and Drink: The only dining available is at the elegant Paloma Beach restaurant.

Loungers/parasols: Beach equipment is available for rental at the Paloma Beach club/restaurant

Getting there: Paloma plage has ample parking. Get there early. Or take the 15 bus from Nice to Port de Saint Jean and take a short walk to the beach.

Theoule-sur-Mer
Theoule-sur-Mer beach

The red-tinted Esterel mountains dip down to the Riviera's most beautiful stretch of sandy coast at Theoule-sur-Mer. There are seven public beaches in Theoule linked by a promenade and dotted with a few beach restaurants and snack stalls. Plage de l'Anguille (above) is the widest and sandiest. Lying under the Pointe de l’Aiguille rock, this beach has a rich underwater diversity. It's the best snorkeling on the Riviera.

Facilities: There are beach showers and lifeguards are on duty on some beaches.

Food and Drink: There are no food stalls along the beaches but several casual beach restaurants provide sustenance.

Lounger/parasol rental: There are a number of beach cubs that rent equipment along the promenade that heads from the train station to the Plage de l'Anguille. More on Theoule beach club/restaurants.

Getting there: From the train station of Theoule-sur-Mer, it's an easy walk to the beaches. Parking is also available.

Plage du Buse
La Buse, Roquebrune

Magical Plage du Buse (Hawk Beach) in Roquebrune-Cap Martin has been left almost entirely in its natural state with only a small beach restaurant to animate the quiet beach. It's not the place to sip a frothy drink in a lounge chair or display your taste in swimsuit style. It is a place to allow the sea vistas to calm your soul. The 400m of sand, gravel and pebbles has some pine trees for shade but it lies at the foot of several flights of stairs which keeps the crowds sparse.

Facilities: There are beach showers but ittle else.

Food and Drink: The little beach restaurant Le Cabanon is open from mid-June to September and weekends only in the spring and fall.

Getting there: From the train station of Roquebrune Cap Martin, signs direct you down to the beach.

 

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