The Cannes Film Festival brings hoards of people to the French Riviera, as the town gets an influx of glitz and glamour. While Cannes is busy drowning in tourists, why not check out another French beach town just as breathtaking? Here are the other French beach towns to consider.
An hour’s drive north of Cannes is Menton, a quiet town near the border of France and Italy. Nicknamed the “Pearl of France,” Menton offers a sandy and pebbly shoreline enclosed by pastel-colored mansions on one side and calm turquoise waters on the other.
Menton’s unique microclimate makes it a fruit-growing haven for tangerines, oranges and lemons. Visitors who come in February delight in the Lemon Festival, a celebration marked with lemon sculptures and parades.
Who Should Go: Travelers who appreciate architecture and culture. As the last town before the Italian border, Menton is the place where two European cultures and languages meet.
It sounds familiar because you’ve seen a photo of your favorite celebrity aboard a yacht off the coast of this magnificent French beach town. It was also a luxurious hippie haven for the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Mick Jagger in the '60s and '70s. While you may not have the cashflow for lavish offshore digs, you can still soak up as much sunshine as you want on the beaches of Saint-Tropez.
Expect big crowds in the summer, especially on the ever-popular white-sand Pampelonne Beach. While this beach has retained its natural feel (there are no high-rises, snack shacks or a promenade), it is famous and frequently visited. If you prefer to beat the crowds, sneak off for a trek around the rocky headlands of Le Sentier du Littoral and take a dip in one of the secluded coves along the way.
Who Should Go: Those who want to see and be seen.
From Saint-Tropez, drive 30 minutes north around the Gulf of the same name to the more laid-back and less frenzied version of the famous celebrity-speckled hot spot. Saint-Maxime claims close to seven miles of French Riviera coastline, three miles of which are spread with white sand.
La Pointe des Sardinaux, located on the rugged peninsula, is full of activities like swimming, sunbathing and scuba diving. And if you tire of the big blue, take to the green on the golf course with views over the Mediterranean.
Who Should Go: Travelers seeking a more authentic side of the French Riviera.
An hour’s drive north of Cannes, the cobblestone streets of Villefranche’s old town wrap around a wide natural harbor before giving way to deep Mediterranean waters. Strolling the colorful streets, stopping for a drink in a café, visiting the town’s historic palace and checking out the ancient chapels make up a day well spent.
Of course, we know you didn’t come to this French beach town for a history lesson. Head to any one of the nearby public beaches, the most accessible from town being Plage des Marinieres. Up for something more exclusive? Head along to the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to the Plage de Passable, boasting stunning views of the Villefranche harbor and plenty of amenities.
Who Should Go: Visitors who want a side of culture with their day at the beach.
Less than 30 minutes from Cannes by car, Antibes is an irresistible day trip on the Côte d'Azur. The former-Greek trading post is full of activities. Must-dos include a visit to the castle-turned-Picasso-museum, an exploratory day wandering the medieval Old Town, an afternoon browsing one of the best markets on the French Riviera and a couple of light treks to some epic viewpoints, specifically La Garoupe lighthouse.
Oh yes, they have beaches, too. Visit the sandy Plage du Ponteil or Plage de la Salis, both of which are right in town.
Who Should Go: Those who get antsy sitting on the beach all day.
Juan les Pins
Drive less than 10 minutes south from the heart of Antibes and arrive at Party Central. Technically part of Antibes, Juan les Pins makes up for its lack of culture by offering two things that go together very well when you’re on vacation: beaches and partying. Providing an offering of nightclubs, bars and restaurants, along with and a view of million-dollar yachts bobbing off the sandy shores, Juan les Pins is an ultimate destination for the party-hardy beach lover.
Who Should Go: Beach bums who like to party.
A favorite of 18th- and 19th-century vacationers, Nice also captured the hearts of the artistic. Famous French painter Henri Matisse and Russian-French modernist Marc Chagall set up shop in Nice for many years, dazzling the world with impressive reincarnations of the sparkling waters. Nice tipped its hat right back by dedicating a museum to each artist; a visit to Musée Matisse and Musée Chagall (both in the Cimiez neighborhood) are must-dos.
Nice also houses the remains of an ancient Roman civilization, now resting in a public garden. Another visitor favorite is Castle Park, doubling as a 19th-century archeological site and a panoramic look-out point. Lastly, hit the beaches. The choices are rich — dance to DJ-spun hits on Beau Rivage, waterski on Blue Beach or order a beachside massage on Opéra Plage.
Who Should Go: Art-lovers who don’t mind a little beach lounging.