You have never truly seen the French Riviera, until you have seen it from the sea – that stupendous view of towering Alps and red-rock hills rising up above the blue-green Med, all in a spectacular built landscape of medieval villages, grand villas, and skyscrapers topped with waving palms. The experience of being on a boat gives an entirely different perspective on what is perhaps the most famous stretch of coastline on our planet.
Alas, not everyone has the time (or the budget) to spend a week or more floating along the Cote d’Azur on a superyacht. But it’s a grave mistake to discount the boat hire experience altogether, for a single day at sea on the French Riviera is worth a month in other places. If a day is all you have, it will be a day to remember.
Luxury Day Boat Hire on the French Riviera
Day boat charters are a superb way to explore this enchanting stretch of coastline. There are a multitude of places to hire a boat along the Riviera to indulge in the Mediterranean yachting dream – if but for a single, perfect day. Whether you’re exploring the dreamy Cannes Islands, anchoring off the exotic island of Porquerolles, or rubbing shoulders with celebrities at a Saint Tropez beach club, renting a boat affords you the most stylish access to all of the Cote d’Azur’s best spots.
Here are some of the perfect day charter locations for a French Riviera day boat charter. Note that many crewed day boats for rent do have luxurious cabin accommodation on board and can also be hired for overnight trips.
Monaco & Cap Ferrat
Cast off from the infamous Port Hercules, and head out beyond the cliffs of Monaco. Drop anchor briefly to dive off the yacht into the deep, cool sea, surfacing to admire one of the great views of the Riviera – the city of Monte Carlo spilling down its steep hillside, its crowd of grand hotels and casinos and the Prince’s Palace sitting proudly above the port.
After your refreshing swim, the captain will motor around to Cap Ferrat where you’ll spend a blissful morning snorkelling around the headland and using the yacht’s watertoys. Lunch on board at anchor, followed by a walk through the famous Villa de Rothschild Gardens. Spend a lazy hour on a deckchair at Paloma Beach club (Picasso’s old hangout), sipping cold rose from an icy-cold ice bucket and watching for celebrities. Enjoy canapes on deck as you head back around to Monaco, disembark your charter boat and head into one of the world’s most glittering cities for a night at the Casino de Monte Carlo.
Cannes & Cannes Islands
Just off the palm-lined boulevards of Cannes lies the other face of the French Riviera: the quiet, enchanting islands of Les Isles de Lerins. Idyllic and timeless, this little archipelago offers the perfect day out on a boat, with its rocky, crystal clear coves shaded by pine trees and winding forest paths leading past medieval monasteries and vineyards.
St Marguerite is the largest of the four islands and the most-visited, with wonderful walking trails and the fort where the real ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was imprisoned. Across the water on Ile St Honorat you’ll discover an ancient monastery with a working vineyard, more lovely coves, and La Tonelle restaurant, with a view looking back across the water to the French Riviera. After snorkelling, picnicking, and exploring the day away, return to Cannes refreshed and sun-bronzed and ready for a big night out.
Saint Tropez & Pampelonne Beach
Join your day charter boat in St Tropez, enjoying the summer buzz of one of the prettiest ports in the world. Get settled on deck as you head out of the marina and across to Pampelonne Beach, where 23 beach clubs promise a day of decadence on five kilometres of golden sand. Club 55 remains the legend of the scene for its history of Hollywood glamour, but there are some hot contenders, including Bagatelle, Loulou à Ramatuelle and the Phillipe-Starke-designed La Réserve à la Plage. In 2019 there’s was a shakeup forcing the retirement of some of the more tired clubs, and the opening of some new ones making the St Tropez beach club scene ritzier than ever.
With St Tropez’ traffic issues snarling up the road to the beach, there’s no better way to arrive at Pampelonne than by boat, anchoring off the beach and diving off the deck into the sea. Spend a day swimming off your boat and doing watersports, lazing on the beach, drinking cocktails and engaging in some of the world’s finest celebrity-spotting. Return to St Tropez as the light turns golden and the Provencal buildings glow a burnished red, feeling the thrilling energy of the summer night as you step ashore into the beautiful crowd.
Ile de Porquerolles
Hire a day boat in St Tropez or Toulon and set off for Porquerolles, an island often compared to the Caribbean for its exquisite white sand beaches and startling turquoise sea. Sparsely inhabited and blissfully car-free, there is an unmistakeable sense of the exotic about this island, but its bewitching landscape of vineyards and wildflowers, olive groves and Aleppo pines is pure, timeless Mediterranean.
Anchor off Plage Notre Dame – voted Europe’s best beach in 2015– or head to one of the beach bar-restaurants at Plage d’Argent or Plage de la Courtade. Hire a bike or stroll the rocky cliff paths in the island’s north, snorkel or scuba dive in the gin-clear sea, or visit one of the island’s 16th century forts. Take a seafood lunch on the boat or head ashore to one of the islands’ excellent restaurants, and walk it off with a wander among the exotic palm trees and cacti at the botanic garden. Art lovers must visit the Fondation Carmignac, a spectacular pop art gallery featuring works by Andy Warhol and others, lit from above by water refracting through a glass-bottom pool. Deeply contented after a day in paradise, head back across to the mainland.
Stretching from Marseille to Cassis, the Calanques National Park is a magnificent stretch of cliff coastline indented with tiny fjord-like inlets, creating some of the most spectacular anchorage spots in the South of France. With deep turquoise water so crystal clear that you can see the yacht’s anchor on the sea bed far below, and tiny, dreamlike coves under limestone cliffs, this rugged terrain is France at its most wild and beautiful. Given that road access to the national park is often closed during summer due to fire risk, a day boat charter is the ideal way to explore this astonishing coast.
Pick up your crewed day boat from Cassis, Marseilles, or Toulon, and make your way along the 20 mile coast, finding the perfect calanque to drop anchor in. This is a chance to indulge in the true Mediterranean idyll-swimming off the boat, lunching at anchor, and sunbathing in pretty coves. Active charters will enjoy a hike along the cliff paths, while experienced rock-climbers can scale the limestone calanques. There’s also Le Chateau restaurant in the Calanque Sormiou – the perfect spot to end your day charter with a delicious bowl of seafood bouillabaisse and a glass of Provencal wine, basking in that shimmering, almost nostalgic glow of a perfect day on the French Riviera.