Where the local go to experience the best of the sunny seaside
Many avid and armchair travelers know that the French Riviera is home to such glamorous yachting destinations as Monte Carlo, Saint-Tropez, Nice, and Cannes. Look closely and you will find a handful of lovely seaside towns that are full of provençale charm and character—all off-the-radar and most only accessible by train or yacht. These friendly seaside locales are what locals claim is their joie de vivre.
The sleepy resort town of Saint-Cyr-sur Mer offers long sandy beaches, seaside cafés, and strollable little streets, backed by a mix of pine forests and vineyards. Known mainly to locals, it boasts an interesting selection of highlights, including Roman ruins displayed at the Museum of Tauroentum (showing the vestiges of a Roman villa) in the Vieux Port des Lecques. Should you follow the coastal path toward Bandol, you will happen upon small, pebbled beaches, including a hidden one at Port d'Alon (sshhh, don’t tell anyone!). Golf enthusiasts will enjoy several golf courses from which to choose.
Tender into a small jetty at the western end of the village. There you will find this pastel-hued dream of a town, defined by candy-colored houses clustered around a medieval church and azure-blue port. To take in all that this quaint French Riviera town has to offer, spend the day relaxing on the beach, enjoying a leisurely lunch in the Old Town, and wandering through at least one of the four museums in the 16th-century Saint Elme Citadel, a 1557 stone fortress restored in 1981 to house the town hall, cultural center, and open-air theater and gardens.
Often referred to as “the French Pompeii,” Fréjus bursts with ancient monuments and a history that few seaside towns can claim. Here Julius Caesar founded the first Roman military harbor on the Mediterranean coast, and with its 2,000-year-old history you might just feel like you are in gladiatorial times past. Unmissable sites include the Roman Ampitheatre, an impressive oval arena seating 12,000 people, perched on the outskirts of town. The Roman Aqueduct, where 40 kilometers (about 24.85 miles) of channeled waters from the Foux and Siagnole Rivers meet via massive underground conduits. And the Archaeological Museum, which houses the bust of Hermes, the symbol of Fréjus. Take in the open-air street market, brimming with local life and culture, and ask your chef to accent your evening’s meal with local flavors.
Tiny boutiques, outdoor markets, cozy cafés, and long stretches of beach define this sleepy next-door neighbor to Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer. Explore the fishing boat-dotted harbor and stroll its waterfront, lined with palm trees and pastel-colored houses. Pause in the Byantine-style churches of the nineteenth century. Explore the historic center, completed with the small Chapel of the Penitents Blanc with its seventeenth-century pieta and busts of St. Nazaire and St. Peter. From there, perhaps walk to the west of Sanary-sur-Mer, which follows the Stations of the Cross up Oratory hill until you reach the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Pitié, a sixteenth-century chapel providing views of the coast and the small islands that lie offshore.
Infamous for being home to Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, this ancient walled town is one of the liveliest and prettiest on the French Riviera. Defined by a relaxed beachy feel, thriving yachting port, and breathtakingly beautiful Old Town, Antibes lies east of Cannes, offering a more traditional French atmosphere. On the far side of Antibes, golden sandy beaches curve around the famous Cap d'Antibes, where gated villas sit along the rocky coast.
This small coastal village and wine-producing area in the Provence region of southeast France is truly off the beaten path. It is home to turquoise waters, dramatic seaside cliffs, and an abundance of sun-drenched days. As well as being one of the most beautiful towns in Provence, Cassis is most famous for being the gateway to the Massif des Calanques, a national park defined by its unusual rock formations and hiking trails that stretches between La Ciotat, Cassis, and the 9th district of Marseille.
Sitting pretty on the edge of the Cote d’Azur, the “Pearl of France” is widely known for its designer shops, upscale eateries, and very loungeable beaches and wide gardens. Because of its location between the mountains and the sea, Menton boasts the most hours of sunshine in all of France (and is also the only place in the country where lemons grow on trees). Its variety of sandy and pebbled beaches stretch from Garavan, on the Italian border, along to Carnoles. For one of the most incredible views along the French Riviera, walk to the Cimetière du Vieux Château, which overlooks the town and the sea beyond.
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