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Sailing Mediterranean France

The whole of Mediterranean France is plentifully supplied with marinas, and offers excellent repair facilities for all sorts of boats of all sizes.  It's crowded cruising, especially in high season, and finding a berth may not be easy, particularly for vessels over 15m. Once past the Pyrenees the area divides naturally into three parts; the relatively low lying (and sometimes very windy) coasts of the Golfe de Lion, the more craggy and attractive coastlines just east of Marseilles to Toulon, then the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) where the super-rich display in summer. Marina prices vary from very high to very modest . This coastline offers historical towns, an outdoor café culture, good wines and a superb cuisine. Connections with northern Europe are good, by air or by rail. It is also a popular gateway to the Mediterranean via the French Waterways

Weather, and When to Go. The frequency of winter gales and cold offshore winds dictate the comfortable sailing season as being May to September, though adventurous souls keeping an eye on the forecasts will manage quite a bit of sailing in April and October, benefiting from lower prices and plenty of marina space afloat. 

Booking Wintering Marinas. It is notoriously difficult to book wintering marinas along this coast. Long term contracts (year or more) are largely subject to 2 year waiting lists. Visitor's berths for winter are usually only offered after face to face contact.Map of Mediterrenean France for sailors

Med France Cruising Regions

Contents: South West to East:

The Pyrenees (4/10)

The short coastline, from the Spanish border to Collioure is an extension of the Costa Brava with a rugged shoreline and small harbours nestling in deep valleys. Of the five harbours on this 10nm stretch (Port Bou, Cerbere, Banyuls, Port Vendres and Collioures) only Port Vendres offers the cruising yachtsman reasonable access. Collioures is open to swell and wind from the north but is well worth visiting if the weather serves. Map at Top

Golfe du Lion - South (3/10)

The bay between Perpignan and Marseille is nearly 100nm across, split by Cap d'Agde. Scoured by big winds (the westerly tramontana in the south and the northerly mistral around the Rhone), this is quite easily the windiest part of the Mediterranean, especially in winter. Away from the Pyrenees foothills, the coast is low lying, sandy, dotted with numerous large developments and their accessory marinas. There are probably more berths per mile in this southern coast than anywhere else in Mediterranean France. Starting in the south with Port Argelés, S Cyprien, Canet-Plage, the area has endless sandy beaches with man-made etangs behind. Lethal in onshore winds, these beaches give way to natural etangs from Saintes Marie onwards and relatively fewer berths until you get to the volcanic bumps at Cap d'Agde. Inland the area has much rich historical interest, and is very rewarding for those using (or chartering on) the Canal du Midi. The Train Grande Vitesse (TGV) connection from Perpignan either goes up the coast via Béziers, Nimes and the Rhône Valley, or across via Toulouse to the Gironde. International airports serve the area at Girona, Perpignan and Béziers.

Port Leucate provides good quality technical services, over wintering ashore or afloat and is convenient for Perpignan airport, 30 minutes by taxi.>

Cap d'Agde marina provides every service that could be required and is a good alternative for mast raising/lowering for the Canal du Midi. For details of the port and access to the Canal du Midi see Grehan's French waterways site, the Inland France equivalent of this site . While here visit the crag-surmounting Cathar castles, mediaeval monasteries and fortified cities of the area. Béziers (7/10) is one such, while the 19th century reconstruction of a mediaeval town at Carcassone (9/10), commercialised though it is, is not to be missed.  Narbonne (6/10) is also very attractive, particularly the canal-side area. Map at Top

Golfe de Lion - North (3/10)

Just N of Cap ‘d Agde is the Étang de Thau, the first of a series of lagoons which allow an uninterrupted inland access to the R Rhône via the Canal du Rhône à te and to Bordeaux via the Canal du Midi and the Garonne. Besides being the largest the string of Etangs, Thau is the deepest, a centre of oyster culture, fed by hot springs. Towns like Sète and  Aigues Mortes lead naturally to Saintes Marie, scene of an annual Gitano festival and the centre of the Camargue, Europe’s largest river delta at 360sq miles, formed by the Rhône,  rich in wildlife,  famous for wild bulls,  horses, gardians (cowboys)  and flamingos. Not a comfortable place. On summer evenings mosquitoes are plague. In winter, it's just windy, and very cold when the mistral blows.

Palavas les Flots (6/10) is a most unusual little town, well worth seeing. It lies at the junction of several canals, one of which flows down the main street. Small but relatively cheap berthing.

Port Camargue A massive but surprisingly attractive marina. Tourist area well organised for walking and cycling. Good for live-aboad wintering, and nearby access to the Canal du Midi. See Aigues Mortes or more details.

Port St Louis area (8/10 for being very useful; 3/10 for discomfort) is a small town at the locked  entrance between the navigable Rhône and the Mediterranean.Two yards in the area are suitable for layup. The town has reasonably priced pontoon berthing, but lacks toilet facilities and general security. Navy Service is a dry marina on the Canal Lateral, remote and cheap but short on amenities, in an old timber-yard. Port Napoleon is in a separate S channel off the Golfe, with pontoons as well as hard-standing; more sybaritic, but more expensive and even more remote than Navy Service. More detail about the Port Louis area, plus all you need to know to travel to and from the Med using the French waterways.

Golfe du Fos is a major petrochemical terminus, where commercial vessels have right-of-way over sail.  Port-de-Bouc is a pleasant harbour opposite the entrance to the Canal Lateral, at the mouth of yet another cut (Canal Caronne) into the 15,000ha  Étang du Berré . Unfortunately the Canal d’Estaque, leading on to Marseille from the Étang has been blocked by a rock-fall in the underground tunnel. Map at Top

Rhone Delta & Marseille (4/10)

Marseille is an industrial area, but a base for exploring inland. Within the 20 nm of coast between the end of the Golfe de Lion and Marseille commercial harbour are two moderately sized marina-ports. They are at Sausset-les-Pins and Carry-le-Rouet. There are also  two shallow ports, only suitable for small boats,  at La Redonne and Méjean. The major Marseille  marina complex at L’Estaque is just W of the commercial port entrance. This is full of local boats and well out of town. The Vielle Port in Marseille, east of the commercial and ferry ports, is central, with a number of berthing-operators. Excepting the two SNM pontoons, security is low. An interesting alternative is the island of Frioul, where visitor berths are more likely to be available. Reach the centre of Marseille by a regular ferry service taking around 20 minutes.

Inland, visit picturesque Avignon (8/10, a lively summer festival, museums, bustling cafés and restaurants) and Aix en Provence (7/10), the beautiful regional capital with a noticeably well dressed population on display among the shops and cafés.  In Marseilles, worthy of visits are the Museum of Archaeology, the municipal waterworks and its park, the Museum of Pottery in its park and the Musée Grobit-Labardie. Marseille offers direct 'Train Grand Vitesse' (TGV) from St Charles throughout France, Belgium, Germany and to UK, and internal and international flights from the local airport at Marignan. Map at Top

E of Marseilles to San Raphael (6/10)

East of Marseille is something else. Striking scenery all the way, only occasionally marred by overbuilding. Just east of Marseille are the famous "Calanques", fantastic miniature limestone fjords, very nice day anchorages if you can find room but untenable in easterlies. All weather anchorages are the bay of Toulon, the Gulf of St Tropez, and the Île d’Hyères. Add the islands of Porquerolles, Port Cros and Île de Levant, and this pretty area is well worth  exploring. Île de Levant is shared by a navy firing range and a nudist colony, some of whose inmates wander out of their reserve. Some brief notes below, with more (but older) detail on MedYacht Charter's site . . .

La Ciotat is a small working town that used to have substantial shipyards, now being re-established as yards for work on super yachts.  The town has many good small shops of all forms. Many restaurants and a good one at the Yacht Club in the Vieux Port. For a short stay the very reasonably priced Vieux Port is perfectly adequate and quite possibly gives better shelter for visitors. Both the marina and the Vieux Port are suitable for overwintering or leaving a boat. Good value.

Mouillage de Tarente across the bay from La Ciotat is a sheltered (in most conditions) and attractive anchorage

Sanary-sur-mer is a delightful place but not really geared up for visitors in the marina as they have limited toilet and shower facilities. It is possible to call ahead and reserve a berth but, nominally, only for a two day stay. Good value. There is an excellent daily market and rather limited chandlers.

Île Porquerolles has a marina, not particularly expensive, and good anchorages. Facilities are good and there are adequate provisions, maybe rather more expensive than on the mainland. Plenty of good walks or cycle rides. Take your chance and anchor on either side of the marina if necessary and depending on the wind.

Port Cros has laid moorings, very reasonable charges but arrive early at this popular spot. Beautiful walks ashore.

Bormes-les-Mimosas, is a very well organised marina with good facilities.  Limited provisions available but adequate shops in nearby la Favière. Not cheap and less interesting than its near neighbour, 

Le Lavandou is a delightful Provençale town with an adequate marina, moderately expensive. Good shopping close by.

Cavalaire-sur-mer is rather touristy, very much a holiday resort. However, it has some of the good traiteurs and other small food shops - demonstrating why France and good food are synonymous. This is a reasonably priced stop, but toilets and showers not in the top rank.

St Raphaël is somewhat a surprise in being moderately priced but a very good marina (near Fréjus). There is a good delicatessen in the supermarket and boulangerie cum pâtisserie both at the marina. These are the main shopping for the nearby well heeled area. There are two basins, if you do not make VHF contact, go in the southern entrance, go ashore and ask. Map at Top

Alpes Maritime/Côte d’Azur (7/10)

From St Tropez eastwards to the border is well sheltered from the big Rhône valley winds. This is the summer playground of big boats and big money, but not always expensive. There is a reservation service for several of the ports in the area from La Napoule to Menton. Reserve for the same day or the next two days by calling 0820 422 600, see www.resaports.com.  The whole of the bay of St Tropez and other ports are often rough with the wash of these large boats, for instance the Baie de Briande sometimes becomes untenable for smaller vessels. Again, more (but older) detail on MedYacht Charter's site .

More detail about things to see and do in the Alpes Maritime.

St Tropez, nowadays, is as expensive as you might imagine. It's worth a night in the marina just to see the well heeled at play in the old harbour and to visit the old town, which has retained its Provençal flavour.Try it out of season. Deep in the baie de St Tropez  Port Grimaud is interesting as a pseudo Provençale village; phoney, but, like Port Meirion in Wales, good phoney.

Anse des Canebiers just east of St Tropez is a reasonable anchorage exposed to the north-east. Water off St Tropez is too deep for many boats to anchor.

St Maxime opposite St Tropez is good value and offers visitor berths. A ferry service runs into the centre of St Tropez.

Cannes. Well, you just have to go and have a look. The bay has some five marinas, but the best bet is the large marina at La Napoule, five miles west. In high season they will only give you one night on a visitor’s quay. However, once in, ask for more nights and they will fit you in if possible. Reasonable shopping nearby and good chandlers. Otherwise, in settled weather:

Îles de Lérins are two islands (and some rocks) off Cannes. An anchorage between the islands is often empty at night. The old monastery on Îles de Honorat does a thriving trade in their home grown wine.

Antibes, despite being the home of the super-yacht, is surprisingly inexpensive. First class victualling is available at the food market close to Port Vauban.

Villefranche is a good marina, fairly small, sheltered in SE gale, though some swell will get in.  Moderately priced, and a charming town to wander around.  To find good holding in the bay, go close to the bathing buoys for shallow depths and pick your spot between the weed patches.  Can be packed with day visitors.

Anse de la Scaletta has good shelter from southerlies when Rade de Villefranche on the opposite side of Cap Ferrat is exposed.  Slight swell but much less than in Rade de Villefranche.

St Jean Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-mer are both good marinas but likely to be full in season; the latter has greater shopping options.

Monaco. See the fast set at close quarters. Port de Monaco, (Port de la Condomine) is uncomfortable, mainly from boat movements, and expensive, being the very centre of Monaco. The alternative is Fonvielle, also expensive despite being beside the Monegasque industrial estate.  Or just to go into the Vieux Port. Shopping there is expensive, but this is Monaco/Monte Carlo; you can’t sail past and not visit! Look out for the life sized statue of Fangio

Menton has two overnight options in le Vieux Port and the marina, Menton-Garavan.  The Vieux Port is nearer the town with its excellent shopping and restaurants. It is also reasonably priced. The marina is nearer to supermarket, has been recommended for overwintering, and is moderately more expensive. Good facilities at both. Map at Top

Acknowedgements; much help from Charles Reed and Vyv Cox.

Summary

  • Attractions. Variety of coastline. Very good yacht services. Lovely inland towns in the south west. Plenty of anchorages in the very smart and attractive coast east of Toulon. Access to the Inland waters of Europe. Easy year round travel to UK and back.
  • Snags. Frequent Tramontana and Mistral winds make the area west of Toulon unusable in winter, and sometimes too windy for comfort in summer.
  • Ports of Entry. Plenty, but rarely needed; check pilot book.
  • Layup or Wintering. Convenient and economic shore hards at Port Louis, Rhone mouth. Plenty of sites, both ashore and afloat, west of Marseilles, Cap D'Agde and Leucate often used. For live aboard, consider the canal system just inland.
  • Transport. Good year round scheduled flights and trains connecting with UK.
  • Boat Charter. Canal boat charters on Canal du Midi. Sea charters of all types except flotillas possible.

Reviewed Feb 2014

Cruise Region: 
Country's Boating Regulations and Data: 

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