The perfect French Riviera yacht charter is a tale of two glorious extremes.
On the one hand, there’s the spine-tingling glamour of docking in exclusive marinas like Monaco or St Tropez for a night of Michelin star dining and champagne-spraying decadence.
On the other, there’s the idyllic peace of sitting at anchor with a view of beaches and mountains, the only sounds the lapping of water on the hull and the soporific buzz of cicadas in the nearby pines. From your anchorage you can dive off the swim platform, get the water-toys out, or tender into one of the French Riviera’s swanky beach clubs.
Being able to switch between exclusive marinas and tranquil anchorages within minutes is one of the reasons that the French Riviera continues to be one of the ultimate superyacht destinations.
To help you decide where to drop anchor on your South of France yacht charter, here are some of Bespoke Yacht Charter’s best anchorage spots along the Cote d’Azur, cruising westward from Monaco to Marseille.
Plage Mala, Cap d’Ail
Anchoring off Plage Mala for the day is one of those moments where you take a look around, breathe in the smell of salt and pine, and thank the gods for the creation of superyachts. As one of the prettiest beaches on the entire French Riviera, Plage Mala is fringed by cliffs and has blue green water straight out of a Conde Nast travel shoot. The beach is pebbled, but we promise you won’t mind, as the water is clear and cool and the Eden Plage Beach Club is an exceedingly pleasant place to drink champagne and loll about on a sun-lounger.
The anchorage at Plage Mala is a day anchorage as it’s not very protected; if you’re looking for an overnight anchorage, Bespoke Yacht Charter suggest heading around the corner to the next anchorage on our list, Cap Ferrat.
An address synonymous with wealth, the famed headland of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is an enclave of gated villas and exotic gardens, with a glamorous roll call of royals and Rothschilds. When anchoring at Cap Ferrat you’ll want to visit the extraordinary Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild gardens and stroll the upscale port boutiques, but above all, you must, must have lunch at Paloma Beach. This historic, charming beach club has the atmosphere of the French Riviera of yesteryear—you almost expect to see Grace Kelly and Cary Grant wandering on by as you sip on a cold glass of Provencal rose. And the beach setting is magnificent, with crystalline water and opulent villas peeking out of the umbrella pines. If heaven is a place on earth, Cap Ferrat may well be it.
Cap Ferrat is such an excellent anchorage that superyachts are often known to drop anchor here for weeks, and some Cap Ferrat villa owners keep their yachts anchored here for the whole summer season. Cap Ferrat is well sheltered from all winds except north/northeast, in which case you’re better motoring around the headland to the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer where conditions will be better.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a medieval town of immense beauty, and seeing it from the water never fails to take the breath away. Situated on a deepwater bay, Villefranche-sur-Mer’s steep streets and vaulted passageways tower over the picturesque little port, where pastel-painted facades shade pavement cafes. At twilight, it’s almost painfully beautiful, and to not stop at Villefranche-sur-Mer on your South of France yacht charter would practically be a crime against pleasure.
However, from an anchorage point of view, you need to pick your moment with Villefranche-sur-Mer, as it is prone to very rolly swells unless a north-northeast wind is blowing. The most protected anchorage spots are right in by the swimming buoys in the southeast corner. Cap Ferrat is the better anchorage in most sea conditions, but regardless of where you anchor, you can easily explore Villefranche-sur-Mer or Cap Ferrat by tender, as they are only separated by a headland.
Each summer a fleet of superyachts are seen bobbing at anchor just off the iconic Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, where you might go ashore for a meal, swim in the famous cliffside pool, or indulge in a spa session in a garden cabana.
The fashion of the French Riviera as a summer resort began here at Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in the 1920’s, and you can also drop anchor at the Plage de la Garoupe, where the Murphys used to kick off the social season with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway during the heady days of the Jazz Age. Plage de la Garoupe is a gorgeous little beach with several beach clubs including the excellent Plage Keller, and it’s also the starting point for the simply splendid coastal walk around to Millionaire’s Bay.
If you’re heading into Antibes old town, an alternative anchorage is off Plage Salis just outside the swimming buoys, and in good weather you can drop anchor just off the ramparts, the tower of the Picasso Museum rising up above. These anchorages are good for watersports and exploring the lovely cobbled streets of Antibes, as well as enjoying the summer firework displays.
Juan les Pins
The other side of the Cap d’Antibes towards Juan les Pins also offers good anchorages and clear water in a NE/E wind, giving great access to the beach clubs and boutiques of this Art Deco resort town. Even better if you’re visiting during the famous Jazz Festival in July!
Only a 15 minute cruise from the mainland, the Cannes Islands (Îles de Lérins) are like another world entirely. This tranquil archipelago of pine forest and crystal clear coves is the perfect place to unwind, walk, snorkel and picnic after a night of revelry in Cannes. On Île Sainte-Marguerite there’s also Fort Royale to explore, where the real ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was imprisoned, while on Île Saint-Honorat you can wander through the vineyards and taste the wine made by monks at the Lérins Abbey.
The anchorage here is between the two islands, at the protected Plateau du Milieu. While busy during the day in high season, this anchorage is often near-empty overnight as yachts gravitate towards the glitz and energy of Cannes, so it makes for a dreamy evening anchorage, dining on deck and watching the lights of the French Riviera twinkle across the water.
As for Cannes proper, the bay is quite open, but the anchorage spots in front of the Croisette get very busy on some summer nights, as this is the perfect spot to watch the fireworks rain down across the art deco facades of Cannes hotels and reflect their rainbow colours across the sea. During the day however, these anchorages get very rocky due to the passing yachts, tenders, and watersport boats.
Théoule-sur-Mer, Gulf of La Napoule
The scenery is magnificent as you pass Cannes and head towards the southwest corner of the Gulf of La Napoule. The deep red volcanic rock of this coastline contrasts vividly with the turquoise sea, yellow wildflowers dot the marquis scrub, and the Esterel mountains rise above the coast.
There’s a protected anchorage just off the little town of Théoule-sur-Mer which has been used since antiquity, and it’s a lovely spot to stop for either the day or night. You might anchor to enjoy an afternoon of watersports on the bay, or take a hike into the hills in the cooler morning hours, smelling the wild herbs and enjoying the sea views, before returning to your yacht for refreshing swim and lunch on deck.
In July and August, up to 300 yachts a day drop anchor off Pampelonne Beach, one of the most famous stretches of beaches on earth and home to a strip of glamourous beach clubs such as the iconic Club 55 and chic newcomer Bagatelle Beach.
Drop anchor off the beach and get the watertoys out for a spin, then tender ashore for a long rose lunch at a table on the sand, breeze lifting off the water and rustling the tamarisk trees. The energy in high summer is palpable, with celebrities and oligarchs coming off their yachts to laze in the sun, drink cocktails, and get the party started as the afternoon wears on. Each beach club has its own unique vibe, from the most exclusive to the family friendly.
There’s something for everyone at Pampelonne Beach, where the sand is soft, the water clear, and the sound of music and glasses clinking carries on the air. Brigitte Bardot launched this beach to stardom when filming And God Created Woman, and the film set glamour still seems to sparkle in the air.
There are possible restrictions on the way for anchoring in the bay at Pampelonne Beach, with mooring buoys proposed for a limited number of yachts in order to protect the seagrass meadows, but for now (2017) it is free and has unfettered access – so enjoy!
Just off Hyères past St Tropez, you’ll discover the Îles d’Or, the Islands of Gold. The highlight of this sleepy, bewitching little archipelago is undoubtedly the island of Porquerolles, which is often likened to the Caribbean for its soft white sands, tropical vegetation, and blue-green waters.
Luckily, there are excellent anchorages off Porquerolles, so you’ll have plenty of time to explore the exquisite beaches, stroll through rolling vineyards, and lunch in the pretty port village. There are no cars here, which only adds to the mystique and beauty of this splendid place. You may find yourself asking the captain if you can stay, please, just for one more day.
If you can drag yourself away from Porquerolles, the nearby island of Port Cros is also a delight. The whole island is a national park with lots of wonderful hiking trails through the wild hills and the national park extends out 600m to sea, making this a superb spot for divers and snorkelers. The water is exceptionally clear, with lots of marine life, and there’s even an underwater hiking trial signposted along the seabed! There’s also a heavenly little port with shady palm trees: it’s almost impossible to believe that you’re only a short distance from the action and busy towns of the French Riviera.
As for anchorage possibilities, there are moorings here to preserve the seabed, and they can fill up fast as Port Cros is understandably popular. It’s definitely worth spending a day here for hikers, divers and snorkelers- and of course, those who just love great beaches and stunning Mediterranean island scenery!
The final anchorage on our list is straight out of a dream. The high limestone coast on the coast towards Marseille are riven by tiny fjords, where sheer cliffs hem in water of dazzling blue. The view of a yacht at anchor in the Calanques has launched a thousand postcards, and little wonder, as these secluded little inlets are a perfect place to spend a day, with their clear waters, rugged cliffs, and surrounding vistas of forest, fig trees, and aloe plants. Some of the Calanques even have their own bars or restaurants on the beach, serving up rustic, delicious seafood in a magical setting.
Most Calanques now have mooring buoys that come at a small cost, but it’s a cost well worth the experience!
The marinas of the French Riviera are some of the most famous in the world, and are undeniably perfect for times when you want to shop and party. But we’d argue that it’s out at anchor that you’ll find the real delights of yachting on the Cote d’Azur, as you swim and jetski and dine your way through perfect sunny days.
To find out more about planning your South of France yacht charter, contact the local specialists, Bespoke Yacht Charter: