The Best Places for Water Sports
The French Riviera is considered one of the best destinations in the world for water sports. A unique place for everyone that enjoys water activities, the Côte d’Azur boasts an exceptional natural environment with nearly 200 kilometres of coastline, six islands, exceptional sea beds and more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Hiking, diving, snorkelling, paddleboarding, sailing, windsurfing, kite-surfing, kayaking, jet-skiing, water skiing, parasailing, boat trips and even whale and dolphin-watching… there’s something for everyone.
The French Riviera is a world-class destination for water sports
How to Minimize Damage
There’s no sugar-coated way to tell you this: Humans are causing damaging the natural balance along the coast. Degrading habitats, turning over pebbles, disturbing the water along the shore inevitably damages the natural environment and its animal and aquatic populations. For this reason, we don’t recommend you bring children or teenagers to these areas (take them to one of the popular beaches instead), and please follow the below guide, to help minimize your impact.
The future depends on your behavior.
Do not throw anything in the sea, or soil the edges of the water. Fish and small animals can choke on discarded plastic and cigarettes.
Do not wear chemical sunscreens, which poison and kill turtles, frogs, fish, and their eggs. (Learn more here.) A widely-sold safe and healthy sunscreen brand is Biarritz Alga Maris sunscreens (available in pharmacies).
Avoid walking in shallow water, as you can crush eggs and tiny animals. Indeed, the rocky coastal area lodges all-year-round spawning, fish, frog, reptile, and insect larvae. The latter are the main food source for fish and native crayfish, all of which are in sharp decline due to human interference. Many creatures live, spawn, or take refuge under the stones and they can be crushed when humans walk in the shallow water.
Now, on to the fun stuff!
Paddleboarding, Kayaking & Snorkeling
The French Riviera is possibly the best place in the world for paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling. Go out on your paddleboard (you can rent one for about €10) or kayak, and bring your snorkeling gear so you can do both activities. Here are the best spots to go:
The Lerins Islands
Take your paddleboard or kayak and explore this protected archipelago off Cannes, venture into the small turquoise coves or even get closer to the famous Royal Fort where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was incarcerated. But be careful, crossing from Cannes to the Lérins islands is strongly discouraged: there are strong currents and lots of yachts in the area. In addition, most paddleboards are not allowed to go outside a 300-meter strip. The easiest way to get there is to take the boat from Cannes. With more than 10 departures per day, it’s easy and fast!
Cap Dramont and Ile d’Or
Facing the Cap du Dramont beach in the red rock Esterel area, the Ile d’Or is a fun challenge for paddleboarders. Located about a hundred meters from the shore, it’s easy to go round on a stand up paddle board. The sea bed here is famous for snorkeling and scuba diving (see more about this below).
Cap d’Antibes and Billionaire Bay
From the Port of L’Olivette , explore Cap d’Antibes by stand-up paddleboard and take a break for a swim and snorkel. Along the way, you will go past unspoilt coves and incredible beaches, some of which are only accessible by boat. Don’t miss the famous Bay of Antibes Billionaires , a secret place known only to the Antibes locals.
Saint-Cassien lake is a lake with turquoise water in the Esterel area. It’s perfect for kayaking or paddleboarding. There are places to rent paddle boats, canoes, or kayaks and several casual restaurants on the lake.
Near Saint-Tropez, the coast of the Ramatuelle is perfect for water sports. The spot between Cap Camarat and Cap Taillat is ideal for snorkelling or paddleboarding. Cap Taillat is somewhat of a local secret. Accessible only by foot or boat, it has escaped the development that shrouds many beaches along this stretch of the coast and still exists in its raw state.
Here are the best spots to go scuba diving on the French Riviera:
The Underwater Airplane Wreckage in Villefranche
As its name (L’Avion) suggests in French, it is the wreckage of an aircraft – a small model of the Morane-Saulnier Rallye type, which pulled a banner – and which has been destroyed over time. In other words, you have to go now. Located off Villefranche-sur-Mer, this diving site is well worth the effort. Here’s a video to give you a sense of what you’ll see:
Mini-Islands & the Marine Reserve in the Estérel
The Cap Roux marine reserve, covering 445 hectares , is located between Saint-Raphaël and Cannes, at the foot of the Estérel mountain range. Thanks to the “fishing restriction” that prohibits all types of fishing, this areas has exceptional underwater flora and fauna. You’re sure to see hundreds of damselfish below you (the small black or blue fish characteristic of the Mediterranean), and lucky divers may even see whiptail stingrays.
Navigation is simple as you are swimming around an underwater rocky peak, and there is almost no current. The view from the boat when heading from La Napoule port to Cap Roux is worth admiring in itself, with these incredible red rocks of the Estérel that plunge into the deep blue of the Mediterranean.
Near Saint-Raphaël, you’ll find a tiny private island called the Ile d’Or . It’s not far off-shore, so it’s within everyone’s reach and is home to lots of underwater delights. On the program for your underwater encounters: barracudas, morays, groupers, sea urchins, octopuses, lobsters. It is easy to dive to a depth of 30 meters.
Nearby (just a little farther west), you’ll find more of these little rocky islands, making an incredible underwater playground. Half the diving sites around the Sea Lion island are found in water that is fairly shallow (around 40 meters) and clear, above a white sandy bed. In addition to an especially beautiful underwater arch, there are also two statues, one of the Virgin Mary and one mermaid, which offer wonderful opportunities to capture underwater memories with a waterproof camera (rentals available). The statues can be accessed by beginners are they are located 10 meters down.
The Underwater Museum at Lerins Islands
The Lerins Islands are also the site of an incredible underwater ecomuseum. Comprising of 6 statues submerged between 3 and 5 meters down, the underwater ecomuseum is accessible to beginners. These works of the art by Jason deCaires Taylor are worth the detour!
In the same area, there’s an excellent choice of fairly shallow diving sites where the fields of sea grass give a poetic atmosphere. Shoals of sea bream with scintillating yellow stripes will swim around you. It’s also a perfect location to see ornate wrasse; you’ll recognize them quickly: small, extremely curious and multicolored!
Windsurfing & Kitesurfing
The Mediterranean sea along the coast of the French Riviera is generally very warm and tranquil in the summer, with occasional windy days picking up in late August. That’s why windsurfing and kitesurfing are very popular activities on the French Riviera. There are many, many places to rent or buy gear, take lessons, and enjoy these sports. You can find the nearest one by searching in Google Maps.
While windsurfing and kitesurfing are definitely more fun with waves, you can also have a great time on choppy water, especially during the Mistral winds. The French Riviera often has days with strong (60 to 80 kph) winds, and yet the water is warm, making it a world-class destination for these sports. And on calm days, you can spend your time paddleboarding.
Chasing Waves – Surfing & Bodyboarding
The Mediterranean sea can get some small swells, but it’s definitely not the ocean. What makes it relatively safe, warm and relaxing, also makes it less ideal for serious surfing. That said, while not common to see, with the right conditions, the French Riviera can be a great place to learn to surf and for people who love to bodyboard.
If you’re looking for waves, it’s important to time your trip optimally. The biggest waves come in the autumn, after storms and when the Mistral winds are active (these strong winds blow in the winter and spring, and are stronger the farther west you go).
There are surf shops all along the coast that sell wet suits, surf boards and body boards.
The city of Cannes has become the first town in the Mediterranean to obtain the “surfing city” label awarded by the French Surfing Federation. We’re not sure why, as you need to be very lucky with timing (usually right after a storm) to find any swells, but here are the spots to try:
- Cannes has one main site sought after by surfers: Pointe Croisette . On this pointe, the Palm Beach spot and Gazaniaire beach are where to go.
- Not far away, the Aerospatial spot sometimes offers decent waves along the jetty.
- And the Batéguier wave , on Île Sainte-Marguerite is another spot to try.
The Rest of the French Riviera
Here are the spots to try:
- Near Cagnes sur Mer, the mouth of the River Var , offers nice waves — but use caution, as this is also an active boating area.
- Out past St Tropez, closer to Marseille, the Les Lecques spot in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer with its big beach and pleasant bay.
- The Brutal Beach spot is also highly appreciated when the Mistral winds are blowing.
- The big beach at Le Lavandou . Calm and peaceful in summer for swimmers, it starts up and is revealed in the autumn with waves that can reach 3 meters.
This guide is still being built out, and we’ll be adding more tips shortly, so keep checking back! If you have tips, please send them to us at [email protected]