The sandy beaches of Ile de Porquerolles in Hyéres, France.
Matthieu Colin

French Riviera's Best Beaches: 5 Med Escapes

Contrary to the French Riviera's film and tabloid image, it's not just about bronzed stick figures and celebrities hiding behind Chanel shades. The coastline from the Hyères to Nice is lengthy and varied enough to satisfy a range of beachcombers -- whether you seek solace and tranquility in a secluded cove, wild nature, family activities, or a hotspot in which to see and be seen. The island of Corsica, too, is famed for its shorelines. Access to the listed beaches is free. Unless otherwise noted, assume there are no facilities on-site and pack food, drink, towels, and sunscreen before you head for the plage.

Photo Caption: The sandy beaches of Ile de Porquerolles in Hyéres, France.
Pampelonne Beach of St-Tropez, France.
Matthieu Colin
Plage de Pampelonne, St-Tropez
St-Tropez's public image was forged and burnished on this 9km (5M-mile) stretch of white sand. A galaxy of stars have bronzed their busts and butts to perfection on this beach, and the mega-wealthy and -famous continue reserving places in the exclusive beach clubs. Certain stretches are reserved for nudists. Gays and families also have their own designated areas.

Photo Caption: Pampelonne Beach of St-Tropez, France.
Les Iles des Lerins in Cannes, France.
Matthieu Colin
Iles de Lérins, Ste-Marguerite & St-Honorat
Away from the glitter of Cannes, two offshore islands, called the Iles de Lérins, offer sanctuary to those wishing to escape the Riviera's glamour queens and kings. Ile St-Honorat is the smaller of the two, dominated by a fortified Cistercian monastery that is still occupied by monks. Its remote creeks and beaches are peaceful and inviting. No nipples or bare bottoms are permitted while swimming and sunbathing. Ile Ste-Marguerite is an Eldorado for those wishing to break up their beach time with hikes through pine and eucalyptus woods.

There's also an old fortress, built by Cardinal Richelieu and reinforced by Sébastien de Vauban in the early 18th century, which contains a marine museum. Trans Côte d'Azur boats leave from quai Laubeuf (
The sandy beaches of Ile de Porquerolles in Hyéres, France.
Matthieu Colin
Ile de Porquerolles, Hyères
A short boat crossing from the Hyères peninsula leads you to an island of pine trees, vineyards, walking and cycling trails, and several small, sandy beaches—the landscape that reportedly inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island. Rent a bicycle and choose a destination: the silvery sands of the Plage d'Argent; Plage de la Courtade, ideally situated by Fort Ste-Agathe; or beautiful Plage Notre Dame, the island's biggest beach, bordered by pines and furnished with a seasonal restaurant.

Maps are available at the information center in the village, Carré du Port, Ile de Porquerolles (; opening times vary so call to check or call Hyères Tourist Office).
Sailboats docked at the Port of Frejus
Plage de St-Aygulf, Fréjus
Just outside of Fréjus, St-Aygulf beach is encircled by rocks inside the nature preserve Les Etangs de Villepey, which affords a lovely view over the Fréjus bay and protects both fresh- and saltwater lagoons. More than 217 species of birds live here. The most exciting time to visit is spring, when pink flamingoes and gray herons fly overhead while you soak up the sun. Chair rentals are about €10 a day. Restaurants and public facilities are available onsite.

The beach Plage de Rondinara in Corsica, France
Plage de Rondinaram, South of Porto-Vecchio, Corsica
The horseshoe-shaped Rondinara beach—with its fine, white sand; clear, shallow turquoise water; and resident cows in the off season (tourists chase them away in the summer months)—is one of Corsica's most beautiful bays. It has a desert island-like quality to it; bathing here in spring or autumn can make you feel as though you've found your own slice of paradise. In summer, however, the hordes arrive, so choose your season.