Cruising Notes for Mediterranean France 2011-2013
Published 10 years ago, updated 5 years ago
This report from Alison Spinney, SY ChaliVentures III (USA)
Med Coast of France, spring/summer 2011 & 2012 (with updates from a visit in 2013)
It was our very un-aggressive plan to cruise the Mediterranean French coast for the 2011 season. Compared to the previous 5 years that we’ve been in the Med, this was a lot of time for a relatively little coastline. But aren’t we happy we did!! There were several pleasant surprises.
The least expensive marinas were in the Cote d’Azur and the Riviera! The trick is to stay in the Vieux Ports. That includes the ones in La Ciotat, St. Raphael, Cannes, Nice and Menton. Also on the list of CCI ports/www.Riviera-ports.com –but we didn’t go into them — was Golfe Juan and Villefranche.
www.riviera-ports.com has pricing information for Cannes, Nice, Villefranche, Golfe Juan. They also let you THINK that you can send a reservation request through their website. Don’t bother. Just call no earlier than the night before, or indeed morning of your planned arrival. They can’t really afford to take advance reservations. In any of the old ports, you’ll be put in someone’s berth, so if the berth-holder is due to come back then you’ll have to leave, or if you’re lucky, get put in another slip.
I should add that Marseille’s Vieux Port wasn’t part of the same schedule. It cost 44 euros there in May (for our 12m boat). They charge by the square meter, whereas the other harbours have a scale based on length. We were in the 12-12.99 meter category. In the high season (July-Aug), the tariff for our 12m x 3.9 m sailboat was 37 euros (Cannes was 43). During the shoulder season, the rates were a mere 31-32 euros.
Unless noted, electricity, water are included in the price. Only a FEW places had a wifi. I made a note of it.
The best anchorages (think FREE, not like Croatia or Spain!) are also in the Riviera, with the east side of Cap Ferrat being far superior to its west side in the bay of Villefranche. Although the scenery in Villefranche bay is beautiful, and the town is lovely and colourful, it was consistently ROLLY. Real bad swell from the SW. Although we’ve been told that the northeast end of the bay, as close to the swimming buoys as possible is less rolly. And after the swimming season (in sept.) when they remove the swimming buoys and can tuck up very close to land. Of course, if you’re getting a Northeaster/Eastern wind, THAT’s the place to be, NOT Cap Ferrat. Another fairly good anchorage was the north coast of the island of Ste. Marguerite, just off Cannes, as well as the southwest corner of Golfe de la Napoule, off Theoule-sur-Mer, assuming the wind isn’t from an eastern sector…. And of course Porquerolle Island…
France has the most expensive telecom solutions of anywhere in the Med. An SFR “dongle” or what the French call a key/ “cle” will run about 35 or 39 euros, including the SIM card. We paid 39 euros (I think, maybe 35) for 1GB of data, good for up to 2 months. We supplemented that with getting a sim card for our android phone from ORANGE and paying for the weekly data pre-pay plan. For 7.50/week, we had UNLIMITED DATA using the smartphone. It disallowed Skype as well as using our smartphone as a router or modem (the “Personal WIFI Hotspot feature of most smartphones). I got very adept at using all the android apps and downloading documents and stuff via the Bluetooth features of the phone and the computer.
TELECOM UPDATE: In August 2013, I bought a new SFR sim card for the USB modem (a clé). For 30 euros, we got 4 GBs that was good for 1 month. AND….. SKYPE WORKED! The smartphone plan we had from ORANGE last year is long gone. Orange was much more expensive this year!
Ports we Visited – Starting from the Spanish Border:
Port Vendres. Called on VHF, no quai d’accueil. Finger pontoon and mooring line. 43euros/night in Sept. NICE TOWN. We both really liked Port Vendres. Took the bus into Perpignan (slow/long/1 euro) and the train back (fast, 6 euros). Saturday morning market at the WWI memorial Obelisk. Super U marche close by. Good restaurants. Overall a very nice place. It was good to be back in the mountains after the golf de lion flatlands/marshlands (we came here on our return cruise).
Canet et Roussillon: quai d’accueil. Finger pontoon AND mooring line. Not much to this place. Just a newly constructed holiday village. Happy to leave. No wifi. 37e in May.
Gruissan: MUCH BETTER! At least there’s a small historic village within walking distance, which has a FABULOUS Saturday market. Quai d’accueil. Side-tied near the restaurants and the footbridge. Close to Lidl’s, a boulangerie and a laverie. Had to pay 19euros/week for the wifi, which can only be used by one computer. So 38 euros for both of us! Crazy. The weekly rate in May was only 21euros/night! We ate Moules frites several times. Took the bus to Narbonne, a lovely old town.
UPDATE September 2013: We have come to Nautiland 11, a boatyard in Gruissan to spend the winter on the hard. So far so good. About 1850 euros for a 12m for 6 months on the hard.
Sete: no quai d’accueil. Call on VHF when arriving. They’ll tell you where to go. The first pontoon, in the end, is for visitors. Although our friends LOVED Sete, we found the location to the necessities to be a little too far. Definitely need a bike, just to get out of the port area! Plus, with our old dog not taking long walks any more things were just a bit too far. We arrived on the ONE WEEKEND that they were totally booked with a race, so could only stay 1 night anyway. 31 euros/night in May.
Cap d’Agde: 33 euros (Sept.). We have friends who liked this place, but we didn’t plan to stay long enough to find out. It’s an enormous marina, but we opted to be side tied just on the inside quay from the capitainerie, around the corner from the fuel dock. Just a stop-over. Nothing more. At least the boulangerie was close by.
Palavas Les Flots: 33 euros (Sept.). A fairly touristy town. We had planned to stay here for several days to wait out a forecasted severe blow, and use the time to go take the bus to Montpelier. Everything was a bit far away to be really convenient. Since we had been assigned to someone else’s berth, and then someone else came back sooner than expected we had to leave abruptly. The lady in the office was VERY NICE, VERY APOLOGETIC, didn’t charge us for our 1 night, and called ahead to Carnon Plage to secure us a place.
Carnon Plage (Sept.) Side-tied to the quay just beneath the Capitainerie. 33euros/night. Right next to the bathroom/showers. Short walk to bakeries and a Petit Casino and the bus stop to Montpelier. Fresh fish just down the quay where the fishing boats come in. We liked it much better than Palavas Les Flots and are glad we had to leave there unexpectedly. We LOVED Montpelier…a university town. Very vibrant and lots of trees.
Saintes Maries de la Mer: quai d’accueil at the gas dock. The gipsy place, and we were there for THE WEEKEND in May of the gipsy festival. As a result, the town was very dirty and crowded and lots of begging was going on. The best part about SMdlM was the marina bathroom. Great showers and a washer/dryer in the bathroom block. There was a free wifi included. We had to go into one of the slips with POSTS, which complicated our mooring activities. Thank heavens one of the marineros came on the boat with us from the quai d’accueil. Weekly rate in May was 24 euros/night.
Port Napoleon: We only came here to visit some friends. It’s a great boatyard, but you wouldn’t want to come here for a pleasant stop. The other marina, St. Louis on the Rhone, has shops; Port Napoleon doesn’t, although there is a restaurant, WIFI, bathrooms/laundry facilities. The visitor’s pontoon is the last pontoon. There was no quai d’accueil, and no one answered the VHF so we side tied to the hammerhead. That’s where we stayed. 47 euros/night in May. We learned that St. Louis du Rhone was much cheaper. It’s also where the lock is to the Rhone river where you’d want to go to start your river/canal cruise north.
Having travelled on the coast from Port Vendres to Marseilles, I would opt to do an overnight and go right to Marseilles next time. There’s nothing that interesting along the golf du lion.
Marseilles Vieux Port: We emailed ahead to the SNM managed pontoons to starboard, so actually had a reservation. 44euros/night in May. Quai d’accueil. Pretty conveniently located to a couple of grocery stores on the south side of the harbour. There’s also a giant shopping mall (Le Borse) near the NE end of the harbour which I didn’t even discover till the day before we left. There’s a Starbucks close by if you want to buy good French Roast coffee beans! They provided a WIFI code (per computer). We LIKE Marseille. Very vibrant city! Beautiful architecture.
Isle du Frioul, outside of Marseille: 43euros/night!!!! For what? Call or email ahead and stay in the Vieux Port of Marseilles! There’s no town…. Just touristy restaurants, and 1 small market. The new marina has mooring balls that you need to lasso your own line through unless you arrive when someone is on duty…. THEN they might help you. Definitely NOT WORTH THE 43 EUROS.
La Ciotat Vieux Port: (2011, 2012) GREAT REAL TOWN. Quai d’accueil in front of the Capitainerie… if you’re lucky, no other boat will be tied up there. Only 30 euros/night in June and September (we stopped going east and west). In June, we were put in a permanent member’s berth on the starboard (north) side of the harbour and could only stay the 2 days while he was gone. Great location to stores. In Sept. the actual visitors quai, in front of the capitainerie, immediately beyond the quai d’accueil was available, and that’s where we moored, bows to. 2 giant megayachts occupied the rest of the quai between the visitor’s quay and town. There was room for about 5 sailboats on the visitor’s quay. Mooring lines available. Town has a Lidl’s, Schleker’s, Carrefour, Petit Casinos, veggie markets, boucheries, etc. TWO Laundromats, a nice old church. The train station is way out of town, but there is a bus station right next to the tourist office. WONDERFUL Sunday Market with food AND stuff wraps around the harbour. Market on Tuesday also near the Place Esquiros, and perhaps other days, too. After being on both sides, I think I like the south/left side better. The neighbourhood surrounding La Cinema/Place Esquiros is more interesting than the tourist area north of the church. No Wifi. May 2012 rate = 19 euros/night;
UPDATE September 2013: the rate was 26€/night
La Ciotat Bay: In June when we had to leave the Vieux port after only 2 nights, we anchored in the Bay. Decent protection from the northwest, but exposed to the east and south.
St Cyr Les Lecques: Just a holiday resort town. They directed us to the visitor pontoon on the left via VHF and voice. No quay d’accueil. We were one of the largest boats there. The old town is about 5 km inland. It was a stop-over when we needed shelter from eastward/NE winds. 39euros/night-June. It wasn’t too far to walk into the petit village to get bread and a few other supplies. We only stayed 1 night. No wifi. Give it a miss.
Bandol: The Quai d’accueil next to the fuel dock was always occupied. They directed us via VHF to the visitor’s pontoon – the first one facing the captain, across from the fuel dock. Lovely town. Daily Market right at the end of the dock. The only negative about Bandol is that it was relatively expensive (49 euros/night-June) and there was no Laundromat within walking distance. Petit Casino was the only grocery. No wifi.
We have friends who anchored to the south of Sanary around the little island. See your cruising guide. I wouldn’t have missed Sanary Sur Mer for anything. LOVED IT.
UPDATE 2012: High season starts on April 1, and it’s now 50euros/night
Les Iles Embiez: We anchored just ENE of the island in the shallow water. Good protection.
Les Isles d’Hyeres: Porquerolles, specifically. GREAT ANCHORAGES. We anchored both east and west of the harbour entrance. Better protection on the western side I think. Even in a westerly wind. The wind nozzles through here from west to east, so even if the wind is forecasted from the nw, it still seems to come from the west. Good sandy bottom. The town is 100% touristy. Day-trippers arriving every 15 minutes, plus the occasional small cruise ship, not to mention the cruisers themselves. The anchorage on the east side of the harbour entrance has a convenient “back door” to the town where you can leave your dinghy up on the beach. Although there’s no security, none was needed. Boulangeries, boucheries, fruiteries, but all pretty expensive. Just tourists. BUT, the anchorage is great and peaceful and the water is clean with a sandy bottom, and it’s a convenient place to stop.
Port Hyeres Marina 2013: New location for the quai d’accueill which is immediately on the right as you enter. That’s where they wanted us to stay. It was so far away from everything – including the office – that we left and anchored immediately south of the entrance. Good protection from the SW/W/NW.
ANCHORAGE 2013: Ilots de Leoube. Good protection from NW/N/NE winds in the Rade d’Hyeres, about 2miles north of Port Hyeres Marina
Le Lavandou May 2012: 40 euros/night in May. Finger pontoons. Town ok. Good Laundromat right next to the marina. A Petit Casino and a “Shopi” supermarket. This is a holiday town, pure and simple. The more interesting shops are south of the marina. We got kicked out because of a big sailboat race, the weekend of May 17-20th. We tried to get into BORMES next door to wait out the weather. For 30/night + allegedly a free WIFI, sounded like a deal, but in spite of the fact that the lady said on the RADIO that she could accommodate us for 3 days when we arrived, she said she couldn’t.
UPDATE Aug 2013: Rate was 61€/night. AND…. WIFI WAS EXTRA! The fairway is pretty narrow for getting in and out (at least in our boat!) we were on D dock. According to Bormes website, it was even more expensive than le Lavandou. I guess they’ve really changed their pricing structure since 2012.
Canoubieres Bay Anchorage, May 2012& Aug 2013: Great anchorage just inside these corner of St. Tropez Bay. We tucked up close on the SE corner of the bay in order to get max protection from forecasted northeasterlies. However, with the forecast for lots of rain, too, and F6’s, we decided to go into a marina. We called St. Tropez Marina. They had space but cost 61 euros/night. No thanks. We called St. Maxime…. No space all weekend. So we ended up at….
Cogolin Marinas (May 2012): For 44/night. It’s a condo/marina complex built all around the harbour with nooks and crannies, and on W dock we are as far away as is possible from ANYthing. The first day, while it was still sunny, we walked about 1 mile to the Geant Casino. DEFINITELY need a bicycle here. We’re secure enough, but that’s about it. With a car, it would be great. No close restaurants, even.
Ste. Maxime: A nice town, although it didn’t “sing to me,” the way St. Raphael and Sanary Sur Mer did. 43/night in Sept. (12.1-13.5m = 53/night). No WIFI. Charge for showers (2euros), and there IS a Washer/Dryer (7 for the washer). The town is close; there’s a covered market. They VHF’d us to the slip. The visitor quay, right in front of the capitainerie, is next to the Bateaux Verts ferries that go to St. Tropez every 20 minutes. We took the ferry over just to see how “debauched” it really was, and I was pleasantly surprised; There were some lovely old buildings and a big centre square/boules court. We ate lunch there – daily special of salmon steak for 12.50 not bad! Giant power boats lined the harbour wall…Awful.
Our FAVORITE PLACE along the whole coast! Quai d’accueil. Good Laundromat, Monoprix, market, fish market, all the shops you need within 100 meters of the port. It’s also got a good train and bus transportation. Plus, the town has been around for a while so it had a lived-in feeling. There’s a great basilica right in front of the port. Too bad the Vieux port is so small; that there’s no long-term, wintering potential here. We tried getting in on our westbound trip, but they were full up. No WIFI. 32/night in shoulder season; 37/ July-Aug. The best combination of low price, convenience to all the necessities in life, and loveliness.
May 2012: We couldn’t get into our favourite harbour town because the whole port was closed due to WORKS. They’re expanding the marina. So….. we went to Port Frejus.
UPDATE 2013: They’re still working on the Vieux port, so again, we had to go to Frejus.
UPDATE 2014: I understand that St. Raphael has re-opened…. and of course all that construction was to accommodate mega yachts!! Have no idea what access is like now for “normal” boats.
Port Frejus (2012): After the Cogolin marina/condo development I was pretty unenthusiastic about going into another one, like Port Frejus. BUT! It’s smaller; the visitor pontoon is conveniently located near a Casino Supermarket (medium sized, good.) and a Laundromat. It’s not nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be, and at 37 euros, it’s not even as expensive as Cogolin was. NOTE: the Quai d’accueil is also the visitor pontoon, so don’t side tie as you usually do to a quai d’accueil… just do your normal bows or stern to. Lines are provided. The old town of Frejus was about a 25-minute walk. Also an infrequent bus (which we took back since we got the bus schedule from the tourist office). It’s a nice town with loads of shops, a nice cathedral and even some so-so roman ruins (after Turkey and Tunisia, EVERYthing else is so-so!)
UPDATE August 2013: 50/night
Golfe de la Napoule: There is a decent anchorage in the SW corner, between Theoule Sur Mer and La Rague Marinas. Not much swell. And a lovely surrounding. We dinghied into the little Theole sure Mer marina. You can walk around to the left (where the beach is) to get into town where there are groceries and pharmacies.
Ste. Marguerite Island = north side. Anchored here immediately east of the fort and west of the fish farm. Had pretty good protection, but we left when winds were forecast to come from the NE. We re-anchored just off Pierro Canto marina near Cannes, and it was horrible with all the speedboats pulling inflatable things and waterskiers from the Cannes beach. That’s why we finally gave up and radio-d the Cannes Marina.
West side of Cap d’Antibes (2012 & 2013): Between Juan Les Pins marina and the fish farm – great protection from the NE/E. Moved here after the wind picked up from the NE while we were anchored at Ste Marguerite Island…. Which got VERY UNCOMFORTABLE! It’s about 15-20 feet with some sandy patches.
Anse de la Garoupe: just south of Antibes: Good anchorage, although it would have been better if we’d been on the south side. The speedboats with all the “drag-along” and skiers zoomed out of the north side about every 20 minutes. Decent protection except the east.
Nice: Big City! Which means that everything is a little hike. No quay d’accueil. They VHF’d us our slip assignment and a marinero was there to take our lines. They speak English, so giving them a call is even more effective…. However, the left hand doesn’t always talk to the right hand if you have multiple conversations! Train stations and bus stations are quite a distance. The marina has a washer and dryer, which is convenient if you’re on the east side of the harbour. The 2nd time we came in August, we were on Pontoon G. The first time we were on the west side on pontoon H. I had claustophia on H because we were surrounded by very high megayachts. However, that side is more convenient to Monoprix and the old town which has an outside fish market and I think some veggies, too. On the East side, there was a convenient Schlecker’s and an Intermarche within walking distance. Cannes and St. Raphael have everything closer, which makes it much easier living. 32/night may&june; 37 July & aug.
East side of Cap Ferrat: Anchorage off Paloma Beach– NO SWELL! What a relief after Villefranche. Also a free, open WIFI from Paloma beach/Anse de la Scaletta. What a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, when the wind comes up, it’s invariably from the northeast, which makes it pretty uncomfortable, so we had to dash around the corner back into Villefranche. We also anchored near Port des Fourmis in the sand as well as the east side of the entrance to the Beaulieu Sur Mer marina. It would have been ok except for the northeast wind.
Beaulieu–sur–mer: The best thing about this town is the wonderful SuperU Marche supermarket fairly close to the marina. This is a very upscale town with lots of wealthy vacationers, so the store has a vast array of items not found in other supermarkets. Good pizza from the takeout place just up the road from the marina. The daily open-air market in the town square. 49 euros/night. No quai d’accueil. Called on VHF. They sent a launch to meet us and take our lines. No Laundromat.
UPDATE 2013 August: Stayed first 4 days in Menton Garavan at 56€/night, then into the Vieux port in the transit parking in front of the Capitainerie for 37/night. Still, love Menton!
SY ChaliVentures III (USA)
Related to following destinations: Antibes, Bandol, Canet-en-Roussillon, Cannes, Cap D'Adge, Carnon-Plage, France, Frejus-Saint Raphael (Port Santa Lucia), Gruissan-Neuf, Hyères-Plage, La Ciotat, Le Lavandou, Mandelieu-La Napoule, Marseille, Mediterranean Coast (France), Menton-Garavan, Palavas-les-Flots, Port-Vendres, Sainte Maxime, Sanary, Sete, St Pierre des Embiez, St-Cyr-Les-Lecques, Villefranche-sur-Mer