Friday, August 9, 2013

French Riviera beaches

Beach life the egalitarian way on the Côte d'Azur

The topic 'beaches' seems to be a popular subject for readers of this blog. So since it is August, what better time for an update.

The Côte d'Azur is fortunate to have a stretch of coastline that meanders from wild rocky coves to golden sand. Having just returned from a holiday in Italy where almost the entire Ligurian coastline is organised in regimented beach huts and sun-beds, there is something appealing and free about coming back to the French Riviera. Maybe it is a hang-over from France's ethos of égalité, but there certainly seems to be more of an attitude that the beaches are for everyone, not just for those who will pay.

Two sides: Private and public at St Jean Cap Ferrat

Of course, if you want private beaches then the Côte d'Azur has plenty. From the hip Hi Beach in Nice (for the young and chic) to Paloma at St Jean Cap Ferrat (for the ... well, young and chic), to Bâoli in Cannes and Pampelonne in St Tropez, plage privée is a staple of life here. Private beaches start from around €20 (Nice's Plage Opera is one of the least expensive) and then rise steeply depending on the chic -metre. Count on around €30-40 per day for the sunbeds etc and then add food on top.

Beach beds in a row, St Jean Cap Ferrat

Private beaches have advantages. The private beaches along the Nice coastline tend to be sandy (having trucked in tonnes of sand just before the season). The rest of us have to develop hardened feet to cope with the stony public beaches of Nice, Beaulieu, St Jean et al. The private beaches have restaurants and bars on tap.  We bring picnics. In all honesty, we look upon the private beach dwellers as a bit sissy. What's a few stones?, we say as we hop over the blazing pebbles. If we really want moules marinière we can gatecrash their restaurants.
Sunset Plage Passable, St Jean Cap Ferrat

Plage Passable at St Jean Cap Ferrat is one of my favourite beaches. As the beautiful people lie back on sun-beds on one side of this small cove, the locals monpolise the other side. Stones are just part of the pleasure. We splash around in the sea, dive from the concrete pier, probably make too much noise, laugh too loudly, and bring our own food. They look over at us with envy - or at least I think that is what that look is.

So Vive Egalité! And remember, jellyfish sting everyone.

The pick of the best public beaches on the Côte d'Azur

St Tropez - it requires a short walk, but Plage des Graniers is a pretty cove surrounded by pine trees.

Cannes - Plage de L'Abreuvoir. Sandy and relaxed

Antibes - Plage de la Gravette. Town beach, easy to get to and wide so plenty of space

Nice - The best Nice city beaches are grouped near the Port and Hotel Negresco centre of town. Stoney but good for a dip after a hot day.

Villefranche - entirely public and more fine gravel than stone

Beaulieu - La Petite Afrique. low-key family beach

St Jean Cap Ferrat - Plage Pasable or the public beach next to the entrance to the SJCP Port

Eze - stony but generally not too crowded

Roquebrune Cap Matin - rocky, difficult to get to (you need to walk some distance) and where Corbusier built his beach 'cabanon' (beach house). Perfect.