Secret Alternatives to Busy Marinas in the French Riviera for Avoiding the Crowds

Villefranche sur Mer is a true hidden gem for sailors on the Cote d'Azur
Villefranche sur Mer is a true hidden gem for sailors on the Cote d'Azur | © Oliver Wintzen / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Tristan Rutherford
29 November 2021
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As your train rattles along the French Riviera or your jet descends into Nice Airport, get ready for an awe-inspiring vista. Thousands of yachts of all shapes and sizes lay scattered across a topaz sea. Sailing is certainly one of the best ways of exploring this sublime coastline but the marinas can get very busy during peak season and they can also get extremely pricey. In a bid to beat the crowds, we reveal a selection of the best alternative mooring spots in the French Riviera – with some not costing a cent.

Plage Paloma

Natural Feature
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France Europe South of France Cote d'Azur – Boats off the sandy busy beach of Plage Paloma near Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
© Kreder Katja /Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Prevailing westerly winds can mean some French Riviera anchorages near Nice and Cap Martin can be a little tumultuous. Paloma Plage, tucked in the crook of Cap Ferrat, makes for a more peaceful place to spend the night. The plage itself has been occupied by the same sand-in-the-toes beach bar since 1948, which serves up tempting delights such as tempura and vegetable crudités alongside refreshing beverages. Work it off with a spot of watersports, and hydrofoil surfboards are also for rent. Alternatively, the petite peninsula that shields Paloma Plage, known as Pointe de Saint-Hospice, is ringed by a fragrant seaside path. Stone steps from here lead towards the deep blue, so you can hop directly onto your anchored yacht.

Villefranche-sur-Mer

Natural Feature
Map View
Villefranche-sur-Mer and the harbour in the French Riviera of France, Europe
© Helmut Corneli / Alamy Stock Photo
Villefranche boasts the deepest and most sheltered anchorage between Italy and Toulon, so it’s little wonder the US Navy used to anchor in the mirror-flat bay. Alas, the 420 berths in Port de Villefranche-Darse book up fast so why not throw your anchor behind the maker buoys near the marina wall and moor up for free. Need a baguette or a biere? Cool kids swim to shore with a waterproof bag to hand. Unpack your T-shirt and your Havaianas and you’re hot to trot.

Anse des Fossés

Natural Feature
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An elevated view of a promontory on Saint Jean Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera, France
© aerial-photos.com / Alamy Stock Photo
Anse des Fossés is a million dollar anchorage. That’s because this cute little cove is tucked into Cap Ferrat, the planet’s priciest peninsula. Come summer, a night at the nearby Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat costs €2,000 (£1,690) minimum. Dropping anchor in the translucent sea here costs nothing and it makes for a sublime setting with the white sands of Plage des Fossettes, just next door. Another highlight of this beach is an underwater snorkelling trail that highlights Poseidon grass and an octopus garden. Downsides? You’re a 60-second sail from the open sea, so expect evening swell.

Baie de Saint-Laurent

Natural Feature
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An elevated shot of the busy Cap d'Ail Plage La MalaFrench Riviera Cote d'azur France Europe
© niceartphoto / Alamy Stock Photo
This sublime bay is the best free anchorage near Monte Carlo. The deep waters are home to a kaleidoscope of species from large starfish to rainbow carp. At lunchtime, you’ll see superyachts passing by but come nightfall the place empties, bar a few vessels and bobbing fishing boats. When it comes to things to do in the area, there are two swim-to gorgeous beaches, each with its own unique character. First is Mala Plage, which serves as a cool escape for Monaco’s golden-skinned youths. The other is Plage des Pissarelles, an utterly wild naturist beach, accessible only by vertiginous path or by sea.

Île Saint-Honorat

Monastery, Natural Feature, Shop
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Elevated view of the ancient monastery on Île Saint-Honorat, which has a terracotta roof and is surrounded by palm trees.
© Sergey Dzyuba / Shutterstock
This island carpeted by ancient vines, pine trees and olive groves has been home to a silent community of Cistercian monks since Saint Honoratus prayed on the beach in 410CE. Tranquil? St Honorat is like a giant inflatable mattress bobbing between Cannes and Cap d’Antibes. There are no cars and no hotels, so sailing there is the best way of staying for the night. Anchor up in the channel between Ile Saint-Honorat and big sister island Ile Sainte-Marguerite. Although the channel is protected it does have a swift current. While on your island sojourn, make time to sample the wines made by the monks at the picture-perfect waterside restaurant, La Tonnelle.

Cap Taillat

Natural Feature
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Busy Cap Taillat headland during summer in the town of Ramatuelle, southeastern France
© Andia / Alamy Stock Photo
Cap Taillat is more St Lucia than St Tropez, with sweeping white sand beaches, shallow azure waters and an emerald green herb-scented peninsula. When your depth gauge shows 4m (13ft) toss your anchor and enjoy the riches of this Caribbean-esque spot. If you find it a little breezy, simply motor to the other side of the cape and anchor there instead. Cap Taillat is ringed by four golden strips of sand and if you’re after something a little more active, hike up to the peninsula’s peak where you’ll be rewarded by highly Instagrammable views. You can also opt to take the spell-binding coastal trail to St Tropez, with the walk taking around five hours.

Île d'Or

Natural Feature
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An aerial view of Ile d'Or, Saint-Raphael, Esterel Massif, Var, French Riviera, France.
© aerial-photos.com / Alamy Stock Photo
This rocky red speck rises from deep seas between Cannes and St Tropez comes with a kooky backstory. A century ago the mysterious Doctor Lutaud won the island at a card game, declared himself king, then held big parties in the little castle he built overlooking the sea. Now kayakers and sailors come to party while legions of gilthead bream shimmer in the surrounding waters. Too choppy to spend the night? Cruise into the Bay of Agay just east for sandy anchorages and discount buoy moorings.

Porquerolles

Natural Feature
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An aerial view of the busy marina on Île de Porquerolles, full of sailing boats and surrounded by terracotta-roofed buildings and lush forest, France
© Borges Samuel / Alamy Stock Photo
Porquerolles may be your only chance to anchor off an island frequented by a cast of A-listers. It’s a destination where Chanel owns the vineyard and Andy Warhol canvases reside in an underground art museum – the Villa Carmignac. Taking to the beaches, these sumptuous swaths of sand look like they could be somewhere in the South Pacific. There’s a deep anchorage off Batterie des Mèdes at one end of the island, which is a snorkeller’s dream with great visibility and an abundance of marine creatures. If you’re feeling peckish, head to the other side of the island where you’ll find ​​Mas du Langoustier, a magical restaurant overlooking the tranquil waters of Baie du Langoustier. The real charm of the island is the sense of peace and quiet. As Porquerolles resides in a maritime/terrestrial National Park, after the last passenger ferry departs at 6.45pm, the island will be pretty much all yours.

Discover the best places to moor up in the French Riviera after hiring a boat through Dream Yacht Charter, or rent a yacht for the day with SamBoat.

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