The Côte d’Azur: a sailor’s guide to the French Riviera

From Villefranche to St Tropez, sailing from port to port gives you a new perspective on this much loved stretch of French coast

‘A tourist remains an outsider; but a sailor is part of the local scene from the moment he arrives,’ observed Ann Davison, the first woman to sail single-handed across the Atlantic Ocean. If you want to truly understand and learn about a place, arrive by boat; you can survey the shoreline as you sail in, and from there you can really explore. You will likely be greeted by the local marina managers, and immediately get a flavour for life in your new destination.

The Cote d’Azur, South of France, offers a range of venues for all levels of sailor, the hardened racer may choose to head to some of the spectacular regattas held in Monaco or St Tropez, whilst the cruising folk can visit the lesser known towns and bays for a quiet pootle around the rocky coastline and a trip ashore for a lengthy rose lunch. There is always a calm hazy hue over this part of the world, where the red Esterel rocks rise up from the deep blue of the sea, and you feel like you are in a watercolour painting. This is an image best experienced from the deck of a gently rocking yacht sitting quietly at anchor, sunhat nudging your nose, listening to the quiet clink of an ice cube on glass.

This coastline is best explored from June to September, generally the winds are light, and some days they never really appear, so be sure to have an engine on standby or be prepared to be becalmed in a bay.

Villefranche

Villefranche sur Mer

Villefranche is a charming town situated on the coast between the impossibly glamorous Monaco and the traditional town of Nice. Its cobbled streets and fine seafood cuisine make for a fabulous visit. The bay is relatively quiet and provides a safe anchorage for the night. The atmosphere is wonderfully relaxed, you will hear an accordion play the catch of the day up the dock and straight to the kitchen of a waterfront restaurant.

A particular favourite is Le Cosmo, with its fabulous crab and avocado salad and an impressive fruit de mer platter. Diners observe the gentle comings and goings of the waterfront, surrounded by quaint boutiques filled with pale cottons and piles of panama hats. After supper you can safely row your tender back to your yacht, and enjoy a fine rosé while you watch the shoreline light up for the evening.

St Tropez

Saint Tropez, France

The Voiles de St Tropez is the highlight of the Classic Yachting Regatta calendar, the traditional wooden boats gather from all over to spend the week competing. This regatta is best viewed by boat, where you can witness some of the oldest yachts in the world sailing against each other.

For those among us in need of a sun lounger, pool, cocktails and waiters, Nikki Beach, St Tropez, is worth a visit. More white linen, and a Café Del Mar soundtrack seemingly being played from palm trees, sushi boats you could cross oceans on and endless champagne, all you need to spend a day here is a pair of oversized sunglasses and a bottomless wallet. It is the ultimate venue for high-end chilling.

St Tropez bay can be a little wavy and bumpy to drop anchor in, so you might prefer to book in to the Port de St Tropez, then step ashore for a quiet wander in to town, where you can choose from a host of traditional bars and restaurants to listen to live music and sample exquisite French cuisine. Or you can sample one of the best night clubs in the world – the VIP Room, laden with celebrities, it is the place to see and be seen.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

A waterside villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

For uninterrupted traditional glamour, the Cap Ferrat peninsula is a must see, it is a rocky outcrop of grand villas which beholds a sense of calm and elegance, you can stroll along the coastal footpaths and observe the stunning views, while your yacht lies at anchor beneath. The peninsula and surrounding waters are part of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marina Mammals which means that you are likely to spot whales and dolphins during your visit. The place to head for a quiet lunch is Grand Hotel Cap Ferrat, where the guests wear casual sandals and long beach dresses. The locals describe this place as the last gem of the Cote d’Azur.

The joy of yachting is that when you desire you can return to your vessel and your own cabin comforts, away from the hustle and bustle and heat of the land. It is always so much more refreshing to be on board a yacht rather than terra firma.

There are a number of ways to sail the Cote d’Azur, you could take your own boat, or for those non boat owners but with sailing experience a bareboat charter is best. Sailing Europe ( have fleets on offer, or you might choose to charter a larger yacht complete with full time crew, Arthaud Yachting can put together the perfect holiday for you. Whichever boat you choose, this stunning coastline is best viewed from the water, the terracotta buildings nestled in to the rocks provide a stunning backdrop to the sea where you will experience visits from friendly dolphins and watch the sea birds soar above. And when you’ve absorbed all you can from one view, just lift your anchor and sail away. As Captain Jack Sparrow says; ‘Now bring me that horizon’.


Close