The French Riviera : Welcome to the Adventure Sports Playground

Paragliding French Alps

The French Riviera may be best known for its sparkle of celebrity glamour and tranquil blue-green coves, but there’s a truly wild side to the South of France too (and we’re not just talking about the champagne-spraying debauchery of a summer’s night in Saint Tropez.)

Superyachts in the Port of Monaco

If you’re looking for thrills of a different kind, the magnificent landscapes of the Cote d’Azur make this region a dazzling adventure playground for sport-lovers, with the rugged Alps plummeting steeply down to the sea and vast limestone canyons shearing through the hills of Provence. Rock climbers cling to overhangs suspended far above Monaco, and mountain-bikers plunge down vertiginous paths in the forested hills, where wild deer perch on red rocks that burn deep ochre against a Mediterranean sky. Kayakers and white-water rafters navigate the milky-blue rapids of Alpine mountain streams, F1 cars scream around Provencal racetracks, and paragliders soar from rocky precipices and float right down to the sea. As summer passes, snow cloaks the Alps with a heavy mantle, and skiers and snowboarders shred through powdery drifts at one of the many ski resorts within an easy drive of the sunny Cote d’Azur.

Ferrari in the port of St Tropez, France

If it is active adventure you seek on holiday, you will find it in spades in the South of France.

Adventure in Luxury on a French Riviera Yacht Charter

The French Riviera is an adrenaline junkie’s paradise, and a South of France yacht charter offers the ultimate mix of adventure sports and decadent indulgence, as you drift effortlessly down the coast from Monaco to St Tropez and fill each day with a different activity.

Aft deck on Pershing 115 yacht MISTRAL 55

On a Cote d’Azur yacht charter, you might start the day with an early morning swim off the aft deck in the Cannes Islands or take a quick spin on the yacht’s jet skis to get the heart racing, before fuelling up for the day’s activities with a lavish breakfast on deck. The yacht’s broker, captain and crew are on hand to tailor-make an adventure sports itinerary that will linger in your memory forever.

Superyacht at anchor at Cap Taillat on the French Riviera

And when the sport is finished, there’s nothing better than returning to your yacht in the afternoon, cooling off with a swim, or soaking tired muscles in the Jacuzzi as the yacht powers across the water to the next destination. Each night, enjoy a dreamy soft bed and the sound of the water lapping gently at the hull – no packing and moving between hotels as you float along this marvellous stretch of coastline. There is no better way on this earth to adventure in luxury than on a superyacht charter.

Adventure Sports Activities in the South of France

Formula One Racing

Ever watched the Monaco Grand Prix and fancied yourself as a race car driver? Well the French Riviera is the place to tick that experience off your bucket list, with a range of motorsport experiences and track days available.

Yachts at Monaco Grand Prix

There’s a few ways you can experience the thrill of the supercar experience on the Cote d’Azur – and some are more hard core than others. There are multiple operators running both passenger and driver + instructor experiences driving supercars through the rock tunnels and street circuit of Monaco and along the open highway. You can also privately rent some pretty spectacular road cars in this neck of the woods, from the legendary Porsche 911 Turbo S to Ferrrari’s F12 Berlinetta, or experience the brutal power of the Lamborghini Aventador S. However, you will have to be content with driving within the speed limit – still a pretty intense and glamorous thrill in these extraordinary machines.

Ferrari tour on the French Riviera at Gorges du Verdon

For the full-throttle experience, you’ll want a track day, and there’s no better place to do it than at the AGS Formule One Racetrack on the Circuit du Var, only 30kms from St Tropez. Running since 1992, these track days put motorheads behind the wheel of a real F1 car for a half or full day of instruction and G-Force bending speeds, as they learn with either manual or paddlebox gearboxes. If you just want the experience of travelling at Formula One speeds but don’t want to be behind the wheel, there’s also passenger experiences on offer.

Monaco Grand Prix

You’ll be absolutely buzzing when you get back to the yacht – but chances are, you’ll want to get out to the clubs of St Tropez or Monaco to keep the adrenaline going (and maybe rub shoulders with a few real-life racing car drivers at the bar). For the ultimate motorsport vacation, ask your yacht broker to plan these experiences during a Monaco Grand Prix yacht charter.

Rock Climbing

Prefer to use your muscles than a machine to get your thrills? The French Riviera has some tremendous rock-climbing on offer, whether you want to dangle high above Monaco on the Grand Face Route at La Turbie, or head to the Gorge du Loup in the foothills for multi-pitch routes up to 300m high including the famous Divers Crag. Rock climbers also flock to Europe’s deepest gorge, the staggering Gorge du Verdon in the Provencal hills, the Caves of Peillon, and the Cliff of Geit at Mont St Martin.

Climber

For rock-climbing right on the coast in view of your yacht, there’s no better than scaling the Calanques cliffs near Cassis, where the yacht anchors in natural fjords riven into the high limestone coast, in dreamy turquoise water straight out of a travel magazine. Finishing the climb, you’ll reward yourself with a swim off the back of the yacht and a long lunch on deck, or head to La Chateau Sormiou restaurant right in the Calanques to enjoy a seafood meal by the water.

The fishing harbour of Cassis, near Marseille, France

There’s also some superb wineries to visit in the area, which we’ve written about before: the perfect indulgent reward after a morning of exertion.

Kayaking, White Water Rafting & Canyoning

Because the Alps plunge so steeply towards the sea in the South of France, there are a multitude of Alpine streams and snow-melt rivers within easy reach of the coast. A day in a kayak or raft in the French high country is a thing lifetime memories are made of, as you paddle maniacally through rapids, squeeze between narrow canyon walls, and manoeuvre past giant boulders, only to pass into areas of calm water surrounded by wildflower meadows and grazing cows with tinkling cowbells. A lunch in a mountain restaurant with a terrace view is the perfect complement to the experience, before heading back down to the yacht and its waiting Jacuzzi to soothe those screaming muscles. You won’t know if you’re living the life of Bear Grylls or Heidi Klum on a day like this.

Kayak in Gorges du Verdon

There are several locations to get your white water thrills in the South of France, with a couple of standouts. The Roya River at Breil sur Roya lies in the Pre-Alps about one hour from Monaco, and offers a huge amount of adventure, from white water rafting to hydrospeed to canyoning, canoe and kayak-rafting, and aquatic hikes.

Rafting in Gorges du Verdon

The other rafting playground is the mighty Gorge du Verdon, where every adventure sport you can imagine takes place in the ribbon of electric blue water that tumbles through the gorge. It’s a two- hour drive from Cannes or St Tropez, but believe us, it’s a day you’ll never forget.

Bungee Jumping and Sky Diving

If you love falling from a great height while on holiday, there’s a few places to get your kicks in the South of France. For bungee-jumping, it’s hard to go past the Gorge du Verdon, where you’ll launch yourself off Europe’s highest bridge, Pont l’Artuby, 182m above the river and rocks below. For an option at the Nice end of the coast, head into the hills to the Pont de la Mariee bridge, where 80m of adrenaline-pumping freefall awaits.

Bungee jump Pont Artuby

For skydiving thrills head to Cannes, where you can see all the glories of the French Riviera – beaches, mountains, and yachts spread out like specks of white on the blue – spread out before you as you plummet to earth from 4000 metres. You may need to calm your racing heart with a restorative cocktail at a Cannes beach club afterwards, or stay on the yacht for glamorous drinks and canapes at sunset.

Skiing and Snowboarding

Yes, you read that right. You might be surprised to see skiing listed as an adventure sport to be combined with yacht charter, but as we wrote last winter, there are some exceptional opportunities to combine sunny seaside pleasures with snow sports during a spring yacht charter along the French Riviera.

Skiing in France

After all, the French Riviera is quite famously one of the few places on earth where you can be making tracks down Alpine slopes in the morning, only to be sipping a rose in the spring sunshine in a Cannes beach club in the afternoon. For information on which resorts have the best spring skiing in the South of France and what you might do on a ski yacht charter, check out our article here.

Paragliding and Hang Gliding

If you look up from your yacht while in Monaco, you’ll often see the shapes of paragliders drifting down from the mountains that rise up sheer from the coast. The incredible thermal currents created at this meeting point of Alps and sea make Monaco/Roquebrune one of the best hang-gliding locations in Europe – so good in fact, that it’s chosen as the finish line of the Red Bull X-Alps Challenge.

You can launch yourself from the Roquebrune platform (there’s a great paragliding club there) and take in the monumental view of the mountains, sea and the skyscrapers of Monaco below you, before landing gently on the beach. What an experience!

Hang Gliding

However, these gliding sports are only permitted around Monaco between October to April, so this is an adventure sport for either an early-autumn or spring yacht charter.

Mountain Biking

With so many blisteringly good mountain biking trails in the South of France, you may want to bring your mountain bike onto the yacht with your luggage so you can head into the hills at any moment – although there are plenty of high-end rental opportunities available too.

Mountain biking in the snow

The varied terrain and altitudes of the South of France makes for some simply incredible mountain biking, with a dizzying number of world-class routes.

Get your heart pumping and your endorphins soaring as you tear down the trails at Peille, the training ground of world champions, or pelt along the Balconies d’Azur track, with its majestic views of the distant sea. Sospel is a magnet for advanced mountain bikers, while the Circuit du Thonde in the stunning red rock landscapes of the Esterels is a beauty for the less experienced.

These are just a few of the adventure sport activities in the region. Immerse yourself in adventure with a French Riviera luxury yacht charter through the South of France yacht charter experts at Bespoke Yacht Charter.

“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!