The Experience of Yachting on the French Riviera
Luxury yachting has its beginnings on the French Riviera in the late 19th century, when the sleepy, sunny Riviera was ‘discovered’ by the European royals and high society, who sailed their beautiful wooden yachts along the coast, competing in regattas at Cannes and dropping anchor off the crystal clear coves of Cap Ferrat and Cap d’Antibes.
But it wasn’t until Aristotle Onassis in the 1950’s that the superyacht lifestyle truly began. The Greek shipping tycoon purchased a wartime frigate which he refitted as the epitome of luxury, naming her Christina O. He invited a steady stream of luminaries aboard his floating palace, including Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.
The extravagant parties, the lavish décor, and the scandals that took place on this yacht were breathlessly reported in the world’s press, where it created a fever of interest in this new superyacht lifestyle. Owning a yacht like Christina O became the dream of the elite, and the luxury yachting industry was born.
The French Riviera towns are only a short distance from each other, meaning cruising is effortless and a motor-yacht in Monaco can be in Saint Tropez in time for lunch. Peaceful Mediterranean islands are located 15 minutes away from cosmopolitan cities, and medieval villages perch above white sand beaches and pebbled coves.
Nowadays, many yachting events are hosted on the French Riviera, including the Monaco Yacht Show and the Cannes Yachting Festival, and in summer about 600 of the world’s 4000 super-yachts (boats longer than 79 feet) can be found on the Côte d’Azur.
Imagine It: The Yacht Experience
As you sit on the deck of your yacht, watching the French Riviera drift slowly past, you’ll witness a changing landscape of extraordinary beauty. In Monaco, gleaming skyscrapers and grand hotels cling to the steep hillside, and the Prince’s Palace sits high on the Rock above Port Hercules. As you leave Monaco on your yacht and turn to starboard, the rocky coastline carries on down to Cap Ferrat, where cliffs fall away into blue-green sea, and historic beach clubs still carry the glamour of a bygone era.
As the yacht comes around the glorious deepwater bay of Villefranche to the Italianate city of Nice, the coast flattens out and palm trees line the iconic Promenade des Anglais . Cruising along a little further to Antibes, the old town’s tower and terracotta roofs cluster on the ramparts, the Alps towering up behind, while the Cap d’Antibes curves around the Bay of Angels, opulent villas shaded by emerald pines and rocky bathing platforms with steps leading down to the sapphire sea.
In Cannes, the majestic belle époque facades and Palais des Festivals dominate the port of Cannes and stylish beach clubs line the sands, before the backdrop changes again as you move westward, into the red rock hills and turquoise seas of the Esterel.
As you approach the Gulf of Saint Tropez, powder-white sands give way to the pastel facades of St Tropez and the rolling hills of Provence, and offshore from Hyeres, the Islands of Gold are like exquisite jewels in a blue-green sea. Floating westward still, you’ll find the vineyards of idyllic Cassis, the crystalline, fjord-like Calanques, and the ancient city of Marseille.
What to do while yachting the French Riviera
On a French Riviera yacht charter, you can spa, shop, dine, and party in locations straight out a film set. Spend a morning shopping in the designer boutiques of Monaco, Cannes or Saint Tropez, exploring the colorful Provencal market of Antibes, or buying artwork at the artisan studios of St Paul de Vence. Have a Provencal lunch on a terrace in a flowery hill village perched high above the coast, feeling the afternoon sea breeze lift off the distant sparkling Mediterranean, the leaves of the trees sending dappled shade across the white cloth table.
Spend a lazy afternoon in a sophisticated beach club, champagne fizzing softly by your deckchair and your feet in the sand, the DJ playing chilled summer beats. Indulge in a pampering session at a Riviera spa with breathtaking sea views, or have a massage on your yacht, listening to the water lap gently at the hull.
When the yacht drops anchor, the toys come out. Imagine jet-skiing beneath the cliffs of Monaco, or fly-boarding off Plage Pampelonne, everyone watching from the beach clubs as you soar through the air on a jetpack. Spend your days on charter diving the wrecks and drop-offs in the Gulf of Saint Tropez, snorkeling the pretty coves of the Cap d’Antibes, or wake-boarding off Cap Ferrat. As the afternoon light starts to fade, the French Riviera has over 30 excellent marinas to dock in, and an abundance of lovely anchorages.
As evening falls, the chic rooftop bars of the Riviera await you, the pink and purple sunset fading into night, summer fireworks cascading across the skies. When it’s time to dine, there’s an abundance of Michelin star restaurants along the coast, from the famous 3 Michelin star Alain Ducasse at the hotel de Paris Monte Carlo , down to the 3 Michelin star La Vague d’Or in Saint Tropez . That is, of course, if you can drag yourself away from gourmet candlelit dinners on the deck of your yacht, the lights of the Riviera twinkling onshore.
After dinner, it’s off to enjoy the Riviera’s sizzling nightlife at some of the most iconic clubs on the planet: Jimmy’z in Monaco , Baoli in Cannes , and Caves du Roy in Saint Tropez , where vintage champagne flows like water and the dance floors fill with billionaires and race car drivers, supermodels and movie stars.
There’s something for everyone on the Riviera. If you don’t care so much for the glamorous party scene, you’ll love the quiet islands, the medieval hill villages, the history, and the fabulous art museums. No matter what your passion, the French Riviera has it all.
On a French Riviera yacht charter, you have a room with a view, and the view is always changing. You cannot say you’ve truly lived the superyacht lifestyle until you have cruised along the French Riviera in the long days of summer. So what are you waiting for?
Want more? Check out our guides to the Cannes Yachting Festival and the Monaco Yacht Show.