Cruising the French Riviera on a Shoestring Budget: La Ciotat to Cannes

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The French Riviera is well known for being a playground for the rich and famous with prices to match. Whether you’re young or retired, on a budget or not, it’s always nice to feel you’ve got choices as to when and how you spend your hard-earned cash. Having sailed up and down this popular area for the last three years and visited most ports and anchorages along the way, we reckon we’ve sussed out the secrets to enjoying life aboard without worrying about marina fees eating up your budget. In this article we explore between La Ciotat and Cannes on the west Riviera.

Tip 1: Make sure you have a good anchor and a decent dinghy.

We have a big heavy 25kg CQR/Plow anchor on the bow of our yacht with 35 metres of chain and another 40 metres of thick, strong rope attached. When laid properly it will hold well in most conditions and you can be confident in leaving your boat at anchor for a trip ashore. We also have an aluminium Danforth anchor as a secondary anchor and have used it very successfully as a stern anchor to hold us across the wind and into the swell, making some nights much more comfortable. How to choose an anchor? Research your area, types of anchor suitable for that area, and what weight is recommended for your boat. The new ‘spade’ anchor is used by some of our sailing friends and they swear by it. Well worth the investment, it re-beds itself if it is ever disturbed and an undisturbed night is had by all at anchor.

One joy of being in a marina is that you can step off your boat, ready for dinner, without the worries of water having an adverse effect on outfits or hair! With a good, rigid-bottomed tender, and of course a good helm, you can also arrive dry and presentable to dinner from an anchored boat.

Tip 2: Choose your marinas wisely

Take advice from fellow sailors. Whether from online sources, almanacs or pilot guides, people who’ve been there before are a valuable source of information. Very often, the most expensive marinas have poor facilities but a brilliant, free anchorage just outside. Most French marinas include water and electricity in their prices, so fill your tanks and charge your batteries whilst in there.

Best Value Marinas (prices based on a 15 metre sailing yacht)

  • La Ciotat – a well-kept secret with good security, good showers, boat yard near by who will fill gas bottles, wifi, very helpful staff, some of the best seafood on the Riviera in lovely harbour restaurants, roughly £25 per night all year.
  • Sainte-Maxime – very helpful, friendly staff, gas available in chandlery on quay, good provisions and restaurants, very good local amenities, ferry to St Tropez, roughly £50 per night in peak season.
  • Port de la Figueirette – careful approach is needed into the port as depths are limited. Outside of August, tie up on the fuel quay overnight for a small charge. Good provisions, nice family beach with non-motorised watersports, good restaurants.
  • Cannes Port – although one of the biggest ports and most popular places on the Riviera, Cannes is one of the few marinas you can book, via email, in advance and their prices are extremely reasonable, just £50 per night. Excellent facilities, provisions, shelter, and helpful staff. A great place to base the boat whilst you explore inland. Watch out for night-long noisy parties in peak season at the Palais de Festivals.

Tip 3: Safe Anchorages

It is vital to choose your anchorages with care and most depend on a wind or swell direction. Follow forecasts carefully as well as local information and advice.

    • Porquerolles – a beautiful island, well worth exploring on foot or by bicycle. Anchor in a large area outside the small marina, or in a bay, Calanque du Maure, on the north side of the west tip of the island, marked by a black and yellow cardinal buoy.
    • L’Estagnol – a beautiful horseshoe bay to the west of Brégançon with white sands and shallow waters. Surrounded by woodland and well protected from most winds, the calm, crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkelling. A restaurant of the same name provides delicious lunches throughout the summer just behind the beach.
    • Baie des Canebiers – the perfect antidote to the bustling town of St Tropez. Anchor up outside St Tropez during the day and take the dinghy in to the town but when you’re ready to sleep, move a couple of miles around the corner for the best night’s sleep ever! Good holding, beautiful views, peaceful and out of the predominantly southerly swell.
    • North of Port Grimaud harbour wall – very good holding, sandy bottom, easy access to Port Grimaud by dinghy, not so good in strong local winds but protected from southerly swells.
    • Rade d’Agay – you can pick up a buoy here for a small charge but you can also anchor in selected spots outside the protected areas. Good holding, can be deep, quiet at night but quite open to the swells.
    • Théoule sur Mer – north of the harbour entrance provides excellent holding opposite beachside apartments that retail for about £900,000! Lovely French holiday resort with a good variety of restaurants, facilities and sports, including boat jousting!
  • Îles de Lérins – southeast of Cannes, a beautiful nature reserve with a number of anchorages suitable for refuge from most winds. One restaurant on each island provides expensive lunches but Sainte Marguerite also has a few tourist snack bars and pizzerias. Don’t be put off in peak season by the number of boats – they’ll all go home at sunset, leaving you in peace.

Food and Wine:

When you find a big supermarket, such as in Cannes, stock up with dry provisions and fill your wine cellar. Small marinas and anchorages may provide you with beautiful views, peace, quiet and a free night’s sleep but the local shops will charge you the earth for basic provisions.

Eating out – look out for the busy restaurants full of locals. If you’re not sure of where to go, ask around the marina on other boats and in the office. They’re always happy to recommend somewhere to you in your price range.

Keep a Weather Eye:

Always keep your eye on the local weather as well as the long-range forecast. Weather around the Riviera can be very local, 30 knots West in Cannes, 0 knots in Antibes and 25 knots East in Nice, all at the same time! If you see warnings for Mistral or Tramontane winds, investigate further with the nearest marina and make plans in advance for getting sheltered. These winds only last a day or so but it’s worth paying for a safe berth for peace of mind. Make the most of the situation and take the opportunity to stock up, refuel, recharge and explore further afield on dry land.

Source by Kate Reeves

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