“Sea and Ski” Yacht Charters on the French Riviera

Sea and ski yacht charters on the French Riviera

When planning a holiday, you normally have to choose between snow and sand, mountain and beach, chalet and superyacht. Not on the French Riviera in spring—one of the few locations on earth where you can enjoy a sea and ski yacht charter.

In the south of France, Alpine ski fields are in close proximity to warm, sunny beaches. The French Riviera is famously known as a destination where you can be hurtling down fresh powder in the morning, only to find yourself relaxing in a Cannes beach club in the afternoon, enjoying the spring sunshine as you drink rose with your feet in the sand.

A yacht charter than involves snow skiing and beach clubs, art galleries and opera, Michelin-star dining and hill villages, après ski and boutique shopping.

Sunshine, calm seas, and snow. Where else but spring on the French Riviera?

 

Read More: Sea and Ski : Spring Yacht Charters on the French Riviera

Winter on the French Riviera

Antibes and the snow covered Alps with the Mediterranean sea in the foreground

A scant 100 years ago, the idea of visiting the French Riviera in the summertime was unheard of in polite society, who deemed the South of France in July and August to be far too hot and bothersome.

Instead, the first-class trains and ornate horse-drawn carriages would start to arrive as the weather cooled and the first snows fell on the Alps, delivering queens and tsars, dukes and duchesses, writers and artists for a glittering winter season of parties and operas and promenading under the palms.

The Duke of Windsor in Cap d'Antibes, France

In winter at the turn of the 19th century, the Cote d’Azur was the centre of the fashionable world. In summer, the carriages departed, and the opulent villas and belle époque hotels were shuttered up once more until the haze of summer cleared and the sea again held its enchanting winter sparkle.

And that’s how the Riviera stayed—a resolutely wintertime resort— until the 1920’s, when New York socialites, Gerard and Sarah Murphy, convinced the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc to keep a wing open for them for a summer. After buying a nearby villa the next year, they invited friends F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway for decadent, endless summers of jumping off the rocks into the sea, fabulous parties, and long boozy lunches under the shade of pine trees that buzzed with cicadas.

Read more: The French Riviera in Winter : A Return to Winter Sun and Elegance

Winter Tipples on the French Riviera : Where to Enjoy Vin Chaud and Other Wintery Treats

Vin Chaud

Winter on the French Riviera is an absolute delight, as the summer crowds thin out, the snow gathers on the Alps behind the coast, and the landscape is covered in a vivid yellow carpet of mimosa flowers.

Whether it’s a crisp blue sky day with endless views of sparkling sea, or a blustery afternoon where the palm trees bend and wave along the seafront at Cannes, there’s nothing quite as lovely as warming up after a walk with a steaming cup of vin chaud, a mug of rich hot chocolate, or a paper cone full of roasted chestnuts.

Roasting chestnuts on open flame

And with the Cote d’Azur lighting up with Christmas markets, and the ski resorts within easy reach of the coast, the French Riviera offers a winter experience with just the right amount of joie de vivre.

Here are some delicious wintry drinks and treats to enjoy in France, as well as a few select places to enjoy them.

Vin Chaud

Whether you want to call it vin chaud, mulled wine, or gluhwein, the fact remains: the first sip of this warm red wine spiced with cloves and cinnamon is pure Christmas in a glass.

Mulled wine in the pan

And on the French Riviera, there are so many places to enjoy this wintery beverage!

Christmas Markets

Is there anything more festive than wandering around a brightly-lit Christmas market on a dark winter’s night, cold air on your face and a warm cup of mulled wine in your hand? We think not. Wonderful Christmas markets spring up all along the French Riviera in the wintertime, as well as in the pretty hill villages behind the coast. The Christmas markets at Nice and Antibes even have a giant Ferris wheel on site, giving dizzying views across the city, sea and mountains.

Christmas market in Valbonne on the French Riviera

All of these Christmas markets have pretty little Christmas stalls with pitched rooves dusted in fake snow, their stallholders wrapped up tight in scarves dishing out steaming cups of vin chaud—as well as other warming treats like roasted chestnuts wrapped in paper, gooey Nutella crepes, and unbelievably moreish slices of socca sprinkled with pepper and wrapped in tinfoil.

Making crepes

The Christmas markets (and the yummy food and drink to be found at them) is one of the best things about a winter holiday in the South of France. Every time you drink mulled wine in future, you’ll be instantly transported back to that holiday feeling of winter on the French Riviera.

Local Cafés and Bars

If you’re looking for vin chaud outside the Christmas market experience, our best tip is to go local. Find a café or bar displaying the sign ‘maison vin chaud’, which means they make the drink in house. Perhaps even more importantly, look for a bustling café full of locals, because you want a busy place where the vin chaud isn’t allowed to get old, as it becomes bitter when it’s reheated.

Vin Chaud in French cafe

Besides, the experience of walking into a warm, noisy French café on a cold winter’s day and taking a table to watch the comings and goings is so utterly French that you really can’t miss it when on holiday! Avoid the sophisticated bars aimed at tourists and go somewhere with a bit of local heart and colour if you can.

In Antibes, try one of the cheap and cheerful local bars up near the market, or Le Vieil Antibes café by the fountain on Rue Republique. In Cannes, you might like to enjoy the cosy atmosphere of 72 Croisette, sipping vin chaud as you look out across the boulevard to the superyachts in the port. In Nice, Bistrot Chaud Vin really ought to be a winner for mulled wine given the name, and in Monaco, try the unpretentious Monte Carlo Bar in La Condamine, any time of day or night.

Ski Resorts 

One of the most incredible aspects of a winter holiday on the French Riviera is the proximity to the ski-fields, with the closest ski resorts only an hour away. And vin chaud is an unmissable part of the French ski field experience!

You might like to stop at one of the mountain terraces for a steaming cup of the mulled wine between ski runs, or get into the spirit of things with an après ski session, with hot mugs of vin chaud, spiked hot chocolate, or shots of schnapps warming up the chill in your bones.

Panoramic Alpine Ski View

Of the ski resorts within 2 hours of Nice airport, Isola 2000 has the most bars and nightlife if you want to get into the après ski spirit after a brisk day on the slopes, but you’ll find that all the ski fields in the area offer vin chaud and a welcoming buzz in the evenings.

Again, the key is to look for a busy place that won’t let the vin chaud sit around for long enough to get bitter!

Hot Chocolate

The first question you must decide on: what is your perfect hot chocolate? Is it the powdered stuff you have at home, laden with marshmallows? Or is it French hot chocolate, with its dark and silken combination of real bitter chocolate and milk? Or perhaps your idea of perfect hot chocolate is Italian, which is so thick and gooey you can almost stand your spoon up in it?

Chocolat chaud in French hotel

You can find all three kinds of hot chocolate on the French Riviera, all coming under the title of ‘chocolat chaud’. You’ll generally find the powdered cocoa version at your cheaper cafes, but we urge you towards the decadent drinking chocolate experience to be found at the finer establishments of the Riviera.

Famous Luxury Hotels

Drinking top quality hot chocolate in one of the world’s most opulent hotels is not a bad way to spend a leisurely hour or two. A hot chocolate at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco is a memorable, refined affair, as is the hot chocolate served during high tea at the glamorous Hotel Carlton Intercontinental.

Casino Square in Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Chocolatiers

Perhaps the very best hot chocolate, however, is to visit one the French chocolatiers along the Riviera, whose thick delicious concoctions are pure bliss on the tastebuds. Jean Luc Pele’ has flagship stores in both Cannes and Antibes, where you can sit in the little nook overlooking the street and drink your hot chocolate and feast on their heavenly pastries and artisan chocolates.

Cafés

As mentioned, many cafés now use cocoa powder in the American or British style, which results in a fairly thin, not particularly chocolatey drink. If you’re looking for thick, Italian style chocolate while on holiday, one very good option is Caffe Lalu in Cannes, which incidentally, also does very good coffee (not an easy thing to find in France!)

Hot Chocolate in French Cafe

Chocolate Festivals

If you’re visiting the coast in February, you’re guaranteed to get a superb hot chocolate at the Antibes Chocolate Festival, ‘Bread, Love, and Chocolate’, which begins, rather fittingly, on Valentine’s Day. Warm your hands with a hot chocolate and take a wander through the port, where you’ll see crew on deck of the beautiful yachts, beginning to ready them for the spring yacht charters.

Make your own spiked hot chocolate

If your accommodation is self-catering, you can experiment by buying top quality chocolate and milk, with pouring cream to add if you like.

If you’re looking to really get in the spirit, add a glug of alcohol into the mix for a spiked hot chocolate. Boozy hot chocolate is utterly, utterly Christmassy and very warming on a cold night. A splash of dark rum adds a wicked depth, while liquors like Kahlua, Baileys and Amaretto are huge crowd pleasers.

Hot Chocolate

People are getting ever more creative with their spiked hot chocolate creations, whether it’s the recent trend for red wine in hot chocolate, a dash of Guinness, or the magical combination of Nutella and Frangelico for the perfect hazelnut hot choccy.

Other Wintery Drinks to Enjoy in France

A glass of Armagnac, cognac, or calvados will light the fire in your belly, and are perfect tipples for a cold winter’s evening. Whatever your favourite liquor is, we suggest that you head to a bar with an atmosphere of French Riviera glamour, and preferably some classy live music. Think Bar Americain in Monaco, where live jazz and soft armchairs will put you in the mood, the historic bar at Nice’s stunning Hotel Negresco, or the piano bar at Bar l’Amiral at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes.

Bar at Hotel Negresco in Nice, France

If you fancy something a bit more lively and a good sight less salubrious, it’s hard to go past the famous Absinthe Bar in Antibes, where you head downstairs into a vaulted cellar bar festooned with art deco posters and silly hats. Once you take a seat, you’ll choose off a vast absinthe menu, and a glass absinthe fountain is delivered to your table, along with ornate spoons and cubes of sugar. The absinthe is beautifully warming…and very alcoholic. Be warned!

Absinthe Bar in Antibes, France

On some nights there’s a musician playing piano, and this often leads to rowdy sing a-longs and much hat swapping. It’s a fabulous night out, but check before heading there, as winter hours can be wildly undependable.

Of course, there’s also the option of heading to a local café and enjoying a laid back glass of pastis, diluted with just the right amount of water. This is best drunk in a café with a nice warming fug and lots of activity for people watching.

With these decadent warming drinks on the menu, winter on the French Riviera will warm the cockles of your heart. Happy indulging!

Snow to Sand: Ski in the Morning and Go to the Beach in the Afternoon

Skiier in Chamonix, France

If skiing in the Alps and sunbathing on a Riviera beach on the same day seems like a pipedream, read on. There aren’t many places in Europe where people can ski to their heart’s content and then be on the beach in their swimsuits a couple of hours after having a hot chocolate in Val Thorens. A quick and convenient helicopter transfer can transport you to the highest mountains and back down to the Cote d’Azur for a day to remember. It’s worth taking a luxury helicopter flight for the views of snow-capped peaks and dappled azure waters alone. We have selected three mountain/beach flight combinations that are easy to access and varied.

Helicopter Courchevel

Tignes and Cannes

Tignes is always one of the last resorts to close its ski lifts because of its high altitude. Its 1,550m-3,450m slopes are heavy with snow, which makes it one of the most reliable places for late-season skiing. It’s ideally located in the famous Espace Killy ski circuit, which offers easy access to Val d’Isere. It also benefits from the presence of the Grande Motte glacier, which is open until 6th May this year.

The ski resort of Tignes, France

A helicopter from Cannes to Tignes takes just 1 hour and 15 minutes. Enjoy white groomed pistes and white sandy beaches within one day. Sunbathing on Cannes glamorous beaches will take you a world away from the high-adrenaline slopes of Tignes and Val d’Isere. Should you tire of catching the spring sun on the private beaches on La Croisette, you can try one of the many chic restaurants along the prestigious stretch of coast. Alternatively visit the small public beach Plage de Casino nearby the Palais des Festivals, which is sheltered and good for swimming if the temperature is right. If you are a fashionista, don’t forget to take in the Cannes Shopping Festival at the Palais between 14th and 17th April 2017.

View of Cannes, France

Chamonix and Monaco

Chamonix offers the highest skiing in the French Alps with the Aiguille du Midi lift at 3,842 m. Skiing is available throughout spring and closes in early May. Located at the foot of the legendary Mont Blanc, Chamonix’s altitude ensures great skiing and snow coverage. The resort has always attracted adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies with its advanced pistes such as the famous Vallée Blanche, but also has plenty of options for more amateur skiers. Chamonix also has some good restaurants and an abundance of snow activities such as snowmobiling and dog sledding.

Offpiste in Chamonix

After fun in the mountain sunshine, catch some rays on Monaco’s Larvotto Beach. This soft pebble man-made beach has a unique city setting, beautiful clear water for swimming and plenty of eateries around to satisfy even the pickiest of foodies. The good thing about this beach is how convenient it is for Monaco’s attractions such as the casino and the beautiful gardens. It’s also close to five-star restaurants and designer boutiques.

Larvotto-Beach-Monaco.jpg

If you are in Monaco in April don’t miss the chance to ski in the morning and watch the Rolex Tennis Masters at Monte-Carlo Country Club in the afternoon. The event brings the finest athletic talent to the city-state from 15th to 23rd April. The championship takes place in the stunning setting of the Monte-Carlo Country Club, which directly overlooks the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. People who prefer cars to sports, should pair a Chamonix helicopter ski trip with a visit to Top Marques, a prestigious luxury goods and supercar show which takes place on 20th-23rd April at the famous Grimaldi Forum. Taking a helicopter from Monaco to Tignes, Chamonix or Val Thorens is also an option if you’d prefer ski in the afternoon or enjoy the après ski scene.

Val Thorens and Nice

Val Thorens is the highest purpose-built ski resort in Europe and it has enviable snow conditions. Located in the enormous Trois Vallees ski area, it is home to more than 140km of pistes above 3,000m, and since most of them are north-facing, skiing goes on until late in the season. The resort is car-free, making a luxury helicopter transfer the ultimate ski pass with hundreds of mountain peaks in sight. However, if you’re hoping for a ski pass a little closer to earth, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find special deals are usually available on lift tickets from mid-April. The season runs through to May and re-opens for glacier skiing in the summer. The cutting-edge ski facilities and high-tech ski lifts complement the informal and laid-back feel of the resort.

The French ski resort of Val Thorens

When you’re ready to enjoy your apres-ski on the beach, fly to Nice where the water is clear and inviting and the scenery is beautiful. Neptune Beach is a wonderful central private beach option that is affiliated with the famous Negresco Hotel off the Promenade de Anglais. It’s also family-friendly and its beach restaurant has a children’s play area. In the unlikely event that the weather takes a turn for the worst, the indoor lounge area offers various games to pass the time. Plage Publique du Voilier is located nearby on the Blue Beach and is close to attractions like the Museum of Fine Arts. Nice’s beaches stretch along the coast for 10 kilometres so you’ll have your pick of private or public ones. They are composed of large pebbles called ‘galets’ that make the water a uniquely vibrant blue.

Baie des Anges in Nice, France

With these combinations of Riviera helicopter flights you are never far from a beach or mountain. So enjoy the best of both worlds!