Sunny Cannes, with a palm tree-lined waterfront promenade and glamourous Belle Epoque hotels, is one of the premier sailing hubs in the French Riviera, especially in May when the red carpet is rolled out for a galaxy of global stars during the Cannes Film Festival. Away from the high-fashion boutiques of La Croisette, you can uncover the cobbled alleyways of Le Suquet, the old town. The town has two ports, Vieux Port de Cannes and Port Pierre Canto. From here, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to yachting day trips.
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In the shallow waters off Île Sainte-Marguerite, leading British underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor has submerged – at depths of up to 5m (16ft) – towering portraits of six Cannes residents. In doing so, he’s established the first underwater museum in the Mediterranean. You’ll have to swim out from the shore to find the exact location, but you can do so with just your snorkeling gear. Entry is free.
At the western end of the Bay of Cannes, Mandelieu-la-Napoule is another popular pleasure port and a recommended base for watersports such as jet skiing and parachuting. The impressive Château de La Napoule dates from the Middle Ages and was restored last century under its current American owners. Today, as a foundation dedicated to the promotion of international arts and culture, the impressive building houses a museum and cafe (open April to September).
In summer, the beachfront at Juan-les-Pins transforms into one long stretch of waterside restaurants, with inviting sun loungers arranged in neat rows leading down to the shore. With its own jetty, restaurant Plage Belles Rives at the five-star Hôtel Belles Rives serves a selection of local flavours at the water’s edge. Jazz à Juan festival in July, running since 1960, is a highlight of the summer calendar and attracts some of the biggest names in the genre to the beachfront stage.
Towering gates obscure the grand residences of Cap d’Antibes from passing eyes, but there’s plenty for the public to enjoy on this leafy peninsula. Take the coastal path that starts at Plage de la Garoupe and curves around the headland towards the Belle Epoque Villa Eilenroc (open Wednesdays and Saturdays), or explore the nature trails of the Garoupe plateau, which shelter a small chapel and lighthouse. The brightly coloured fishing boats at Plage de l’Olivette make this small bay an atmospheric picnic spot.
The sheltered cove at Théoule-sur-Mer is popular with families who appreciate the soft sandy beach and translucent waters of Plage du Château adjacent to the port. Dine with your feet in the sand at Marco Polo, a restaurant and private beach which has occupied the same stretch of sand since 1949. Fill your basket with local specialties at the Provençal market, held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings year-round.
The earthy-red rocks of the Esterel Massif range rise high above the water between La Napoule and Saint-Raphaël. The coastal road is one of the most spectacular drives in the region, but navigating it by water gives access to hidden coves to cool down in during a hot summer’s day. Coastal paths are marked out, as are interior hiking and cycling routes.
Sleepy fishing village no more (especially in summer), Saint-Tropez is synonymous with French Riviera glitz and glamour. Grab one of the front-row tables at Café Senequier on the port for a spot of people-watching. In the narrow streets full of chic boutiques, you’ll find La Tarte Tropezienne, home of the cream-filled brioche pastry of the same name. The open-air markets on Place des Lices on Tuesday and Saturday mornings are an explosion of colourful local produce.
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