Follow Theo Bilsbarrow’s guide to the perfect mix of beach and culture in the south of France.
“I love being in the water – fresh, salty…or even murky (if you count a certain West Sussex lido before its revival).
But I can’t lie on a beach all day. The mantra that “there’s no such thing as a safe tan” has buzzed around in my head for almost as long as “only floss the teeth you want to keep”.
So, I’ve invented the perfect beach holiday with stunning countryside, history, art, shops, restaurants…and beaches – all in just five relaxing and affordable days. Every day, you can swim in a different stretch of water with a different view, and all within 15km of each other.
We sailed from Portsmouth to Le Havre with Brittany Ferries and then drove southwards, taking five days for the trip. We camped at Camping Caravanning Saint-Paul, which stands in around four acres of quiet countryside in a valley beneath the ramparts of a mediaeval village. Tent pitches are around €20 a night.
And these were our beaches:
Beach one – the day began with modern art, shopping and eating in Nice, but by 2pm, we were snorkelling and choosing pebbles at Paloma Plage on Cap Ferrat. Sparkling blue water, sparkling white yachts in an iconic Riviera setting.
Beach two – a 20-minute drive to Pont du Loup and an easy walk, further and further up the gorge to ever-more idyllic pools. It seemed we were the only people on the whole river.
Beach three – the beaches in Antibes were serious – teeming, competitive and stressful. So we drove on by, and found a corner of fee-free cove round the corner. La Baterie, next to the Plage restaurant, looked across to the hotels and yachts of Juan les Pins, but was beautifully glamour-free and great for snorkelling.
Beach four – A moon-coming-up trip to the beach at Cagnes sur Mer had given us a glimpse of Villeneuve-Loubet and its beach, so endless that no amount of holiday-makers could make it feel crowded. So, we drove 20 minutes to Baie des Anges, picked up a picnic at the Géant Casino, and picked our spot.
Beach five – Further down the coast from Villeneuve-Loubet, en route to Antibes, the road runs a pebble’s throw from the sea. There are showers on the beach, gentle waves and the (unexpected) handiness of having your car right next to you. It’s beautiful too – a huge expanse of beach and sea.
On every beach day, we did something else too – a trip to the Fondation Maeght, the ‘perched towns’ of Bar sur Loup and St Paul de Vence or listened to bands playing in the Nuits de Sud world music festival.
I always want to be home at the end of a holiday. This time, I wanted to stay. As we drove back along the coast where we’d swum and snorkelled, I just wanted to dive straight back in.
Got a favourite camping spot on the Med? We’d love to hear about it.