Stand-Up Paddling on the French Riviera

AzurAlive: Stand up paddle

Stand up paddling may have originated in Hawaii where surfers longed to paddle further out to sea to catch the perfect wave, or possibly even earlier in Australia. One thing is for sure: over the last 3-4 years, it has taken off on the French Riviera. 

The idea is simple. Take a long, stable, buoyant surf board. Take a paddle with an adjustable length. Set the paddle length to just above your shoulder height. Tie the board safety loop to your ankle. Push the board off the sand into the sea. Hop on. Hang on. Hope the sea stays calm and the legs sturdy. Paddle. 

AzurAlive: Stand up paddle
Stand up surf was listed last year as the most popular outdoors activity among first-time participants. Why would it be so popular?

For one thing, it's relatively inexpensive. Here on the French Riviera, you can rent a paddle board for an hour from anywhere between 8 and 20 euros. Yes, there's a large variation according to where you are. In most resorts, count on about 15 euros per hour.

It's accessible to anyone who can stand up. And has a reasonable sense of balance. And can swim too, preferably.

It's fun! Go with friends and family across age groups. You get to see the beach and the surrounding areas from a whole new perspective out in the bay. 

Stand up paddle on the French Riviera
Where to stand up on the sea?

Most resorts all along the French Riviera, from Nice to Hyères, will rent paddle boards.


Sailboat Chartering on the French Riviera

Sailing around StTropez
Sailing along the French Riviera coast makes a tantalizing alternative to renting a flat/house/hotel on the coast.

  • You slice through open water to reach your spot for the afternoon rather than play bumper cars on coastal streets.
  • You access beaches and creeks otherwise difficult to reach.
  • You island-hop: to the islands Lérins close to Cannes or the islands of Hyères further west. Or if you have enough time in front of you and good sailing skills, Corsica.
  • You fish to eat... well, provided to troll at the right speed, at the right location, at the right time, with the right lure, you might catch a few tasty makerels. 
  • You sleep onboard.

Sailing around St Tropez

What's needed to charter a sailboat on the French Riviera?

Not much, other than a large chunk of change. Don't assume the worst however, and ask for current promotional deals. For a family or a group of friends, a simple smaller catamaran (not the above photo!) may cost you the same as a flat rental.

Unlike motor boats, no license is needed to rent a sailboat here on the French Riviera for sailboats up to 55 ft. Clearly, you need to be 100% comfortable maneuvering a sail boat, including berthing it, rigging it, respecting rights of way, communicating with the host ports etc. So come prepared with your sailing CV. If you're interested in bareboat chartering, it's up to the chartering company to decide if you're fit to charter without a skipper.

Of course, you're also in closed salty quarters for hours on end. So you need patience. Plus, you're at the mercy of the weather. If the Mistral picks up, as it can especially on the western French Riviera, you will be staying put, docked safely at a sheltered port. Plans rest in the hands of nature. So you also need a flexible & adaptive frame of mind. 

Where can I charter a sail boat on the French Riviera? 

There are many, many boat chartering outfits on the French Riviera. If you can, visit them in person and tour the available boats on hand before booking. 

Antibes is probably the best known of the Riviera yacht chartering towns. After all, it has the largest yacht marina on the Côte d'Azur. You'll quickly notice that it also berths some of the largest luxury yachts, both chartered and private. Tucked away in the port, you'll also find human-sized charter boats too!

Cannes is also a magnet for luxury yachts, with its two harbors and its islands in front of the bay. During the Cannes Film Festival in May, you'll find a number of yachts dotting the bay and acting as luxurious floating hotels. 

Lesser known but expanding, St Raphael is currently the third largest yaching port on the French Riviera. Seaways Yachting (Thomas Godin) charters sailboats from the port of Santa Lucia in Saint-Raphael - tel as well as in Golfe-Juan. They do offer human-sized yachts that are kinder to the wallet than the luxury type. Take a look.

An interesting online outfit aggregates boats for charter across the globe: They don't own the boats, but simply act as an agency between owners who are looking to place their yachts for charter and clients looking to rent. We've never used them, or have we (yet) received feedback from users. They are gaining in popularity on the French Riviera, so they're worth a closer look.

Sailing by St Tropez



The Gorges du Verdon

On the Route Des Cretes, Verdon

Les Gorges du Verdon

Edouard Martel may have spearheaded modern speleology, and he may have officially been trained as an attorney, but he is the first to have thoroughly explored and reported on the Gorges du Verdon, the "Grand Canyon of Europe".

Martel thought the Verdon the most stunning of canyons. Few dispute this today. The Gorges du Verdon is the largest canyon in Europe, carved up to 700 meters deep into limestone rock. From atop the Route des Crêtes on the northern section, the green Verdon river looks like a tiny grass snake wiggling along.

In the 1920s a handful of vista points were built along the canyon, mostly for the intrepid explorers as access was still difficult. Soon after WWII, the D71 road was constructed along the southern ridge. It's only in 1973 that the road on the northern ridge of the canyon was carved and set-up (the D952).  Since then, many have enjoyed visiting by care, as well as on foot, on rafts, by bike and motorcycle (Verdon is a big motorcycle place).

How's the road?

Comfortable. Sure, it winds around. Given the geology, you expect a road that turns, and you'll spot an occasional rock that jumped the cliff to land on the road. You drive slowly and stop frequently to take in the view, so turns aren't as much of an issue as some folks make it to be. The real issue is mid-summer traffic when crowds pack the entire area. Visit the Verdon before July 1 or after August 25 if at all possible.

The traditional loop around the Gorges du Verdon begins from Castellane and meanders along the gorges' northern rim on the D952 to Moustiers Sainte Marie. Count on a half day journey to enjoy it. The return loop heads from Moustiers to Aiguines to Trigance to Castellane on the D71, D90, D995. The southern ridge is a bit less crowded. There's no reason to stick to this counter-clock direction, mind you. Loop it whichever direction suits your trip. The only one-way loop is the Route des crêtes off the D952 on the northern section.

Point Sublime at Verdon

How long is the drive around the Verdon canyon?

As long as possible. Seriously, you might circle around the Verdon north and south in a full day. You would amazed, but dizzy and dazed. With the largest canyon in Europe, best to take your time and soak it all in.

My recommendation? Take 3 days and 2 nights to visit Castellane, Rougon, to stop at the best vista points, to hike a bit along the Point Sublime and on the many marked trails, to experience Moustiers Sainte Marie at nightfall, to ride a pedal boat at the Lac Saint Croix (not when windy, unless you're Tour de France material), to enjoy it when goats block your passage on the canyon road rather than cringe because you're late.

Verdon Goat says: What's the rush?

What are the best spots?

I've underscored what I would consider must-see's. You could easily spend a week to explore more. What's more, the western side of the gorges is also the eastern edge of some of Provence lavender country (Valensole plateau) so a whole other world of possibilities opens up in May, June and July before lavender harvest.

For a view over the raw plunging cliffs of the Verdon  you'll have to stop to the edge of the canyon, at Point Sublime off the D952 on the northern ridge.

It's at the cross road with the street that heads up to the village of Rougon. Perched in the sky and hovering above the entrance to the Verdon Gorges, Rougon is worth a visit. If you're up to it, hike up from Point Sublime to Rougon. It's 3 km or a half hour's hike. You'll feel like an eagle. There's also a good hike from Point Sublime down the canyon. I've not done it, but clearly it must drop and climb a little...

Point Sublime Back on the D952, just before the village of La Palud sur Verdon, the Route des Crêtes loops around the canyon's crest-line for 25 vista-peppered kilometers. Not too many miles, but with all of its "belvedere" view points from the top of the canyon, count on a full hour. 

Vulture checking out tasty tourists, Verdon With a little luck, Eurasion Griffon Vultures (Gyps Fulvus) will circle above your head before it returns to its nests in the cliffs. It's a scavenger who catches hot air currents and glides over the gorges in search of meat. This bird of prey prefers rabbits and wild boars to humans ;-). It was re-introduced in the Gorges du Verdon in 1999 and early 2000. The vultures too seem to love the Verdon.

Continuing west on the D952, you might spot a little road-side cabin that sells lavender pouches, and honey and oil.

You reach an intersection at the end of the gorges: left for the Lac du Verdon for a refreshing dip in the bright green waters or right to experience Moustiers Sainte Marie.

Moustiers Sainte-Marie is magical in the evening when the sun sets on the surrounding gold-colored cliffs. It's full of little restaurants, some of them better than others. We like the Treille Muscate for its location right above the river and in the center of town.

A dip in the Sainte-Croix lac feels very refreshing and many family-run outfits rent pedalos, kayaks and windsurfers on the beaches along the lake. A pedal boat and a good set of legs will make for a fun tour of the lake. If interested, I recommend you rent from the outfits at the northern section of the lake (by bridge off D957) so you can more readily access the Verdon river, its caves and waterfalls.

For the full loop around the canyon, head back on the southern rim by charming Aiguines, on the Route de la Corniche Sublime (D71) then enjoy the Balcons de la Mescla vista spot where the Arturby river flows into the Verdon, then Trigance. From Comps, depending on your next destination, you can head back up to Castellane, take the D955 down to Draguignan or the D21 toward Grasse.

Do you have a map for the route you describe above?

For a map of the Gorges du Canyon loop described above, click on the below Google map. 

View Gorges du Verdon in a larger map