Some of the beaches on Côte d’Azur are open to the public, while others are private, enabling users to pay for extra services, most notably towels, deckchairs, umbrellas, lockers and food. In some of these facilities, you’re accorded the opportunity to take advantage of these benefits after paying the entry fee; in others, you don’t need to pay extra for towels, umbrellas and other necessities if you splash out on something to eat.
Some of these private beaches belong to hotels, one of which is Negresco’s Neptune Plage. Negresco is indeed one of the first names to come to mind at the mention of Nice. Established on La Promenade Des Anglais at the beginning of the 1900s by a young Romanian entrepreneur, Henri Negrescu, the hotel “for the rich” has become a brand with its halls, chandeliers and staff bedecked in 18th-century attire. What’s more, it has been added to the protected list as a historical artifact.
Neptune Plage is a beach that can be accessed by both guests of the hotel and those that pay the entry fee. It also offers a smorgasbord of duration options: it’s possible to opt for any of a half-day, daily, 10-day, 20-day, monthly or season-long membership. Situated between the hotel and the beach, however, just happens to be a six-lane highway; anyone that wants to head to the beach is obligated to cross this heavily congested road. The beach itself also has pebbles rather than sand, meaning it’s one that absolutely requires some sort of footwear.
From west to east along the Côte d’Azur
But instead of enduring all these trials and tribulations in the name of going for a swim, I reckon arriving toward the evening for an aperitif is a far better idea. There’s a special menu for children, while I recommend the Lumberjack’s Omelet (L’omlette forestière) for those of an older age. Drizzling a bit of olive oil on the top makes it even better.
But let me summarize what I know about beach restaurants on Côte d’Azur, moving from west to east:
The beaches in Cannes are sandy, unlike the pebbled ones in Nice. I’ve previously touched on the beach at the Carlton in Cannes, which is famous there in the way the Negresco is in Nice, in the piece “On what Married Women Suffer from the Language of Men,” so there’s no need to repeat myself. Suffice it to say, it’s a place that’s great for both swimming and dining.
I’ve also provided a thorough take on Eden Roc’s seafront Pavillon in the piece “A Pastry for Some, a Pasting for Others from Rita Hayworth.” If you’re interested in a place that’s far from prying eyes, provides a tranquil atmosphere and gives the sense that you’re observing the sea from the captain’s bridge – and don’t mind paying top dollar for the privilege – I give it my full recommendation.
The Imperial Garoupe Hotel’s beach shares the Garoupe Cove with other expensive beaches in the area. These are all adjacent to one another and exceptionally crowded. Just like their counterparts at the Negresco, hotel guests must traverse a small road – even if it’s a quick endeavor – to arrive at the beach. The restaurant, meanwhile, is located above the beach. What’s on offer is generally the light fare that is found at every beach restaurant. But what actually grabs one’s attention, in my opinion, is their new striped tables and chairs and their colorful glasses and plates. However, in comparison with the beach below, the overhead awnings made of tent fabric are likely to amplify, rather than reduce, the heat on a day devoid of any breeze.
The Baie d’Orée is a small hotel with 15 rooms, but its beach has a bigger capacity because it was established with outside guests in mind. Those with homes in the area come here often; after dining with friends and family around the big tables, they usually stay to play cards, eschewing the chance to take a dip in the sea. As it is, this “usually” also extends to the amount of jellyfish in the sea, and those mistaken enough to enter generally make a B-line to the first-aid station as soon as they get out of the water in search of the appropriate ointment. At the same time, the taxi services in the area are fairly thin on the ground. Calling for a taxi might involve a considerable wait, and the cab fare might be no less than what you just paid for the food. If you’re still intent on having a bite to eat in spite of everything, let me suggest a cheese and ham omelet with an ice-cold beer.
In search of the best sand
The best sand in the area is at Juan Les Pins, which takes top spot over the sand found in Cannes. The most unfortunate shores in the region have to be the pebbled ones of Nice. The coastline at Juan Les Pins stretches for many kilometers and is marked by some beaches with entrance fees and some without. As far as I’m concerned, in terms of the beaches subject to entrance fees, Le Colombier is a step (or perhaps several steps) ahead of the competition. Its array of food and alcoholic drinks is way beyond that of any normal beach restaurant. Another plus is that its beach facilities are excellent. Visitors, however, would be well-advised to avoid coming at all in July or August – not so much because of the crowds in general but because it’s a tough ask just finding a place or services on the beach or walking on the street. If you’re young, this might not be a problem – and it might even be a selling point, particularly during the jazz festival. If you’re older, though, let me take you to the Hotel Du Cap Ferrat.
But now that we’ve arrived at Hotel du Cap Ferrat, don’t pester me with queries about where the sea and beach restaurant are. Here, lying back for some R&R is more important than jumping into the water because, well, you can’t even jump into the water here! After the Eden Roc, the hotel is the most ostentatious resort in the area. Like the Eden Roc, it boasts a magnificent garden, along with tranquility, far as it is from the hordes of tourists. Alas, only the rich, or curious people like me who have saved up all their pennies, can actually stay for the night.
The sea: So close, yet so far
For my wife and me, the concept of a “resort” denotes some manner of sea, as she can particularly swim for hours on end. But places that don’t make the grade in terms of opportunities to swim never suffice for us even if every other amenity is top notch. That’s the situation at the famous Hotel du Cap Ferrat. You leave your room, pass through the expansive garden with a smile on your face and exit at its conclusion through a door onto a small road largely devoid of traffic. Crossing to the other side, you come to the hotel’s Club Dauphine, which awaits you with a large swimming pool and a beach restaurant. If swimming in the pool is enough to tickle your fancy, then you can do so before exiting and enjoying a light snack and some wonderful local wine while enjoying the sea view. But if the pool is not going to cut it for you, you can emulate us and descend to the sea with a path that winds down between the rocks. Once there, there’s a small gap in which you can enter the seafront that’s no bigger than a boathouse. Naturally, however, the ladder down is covered in seaweed, providing a fairly strong indication that your entry into the water even here is deemed less than appropriate. You retrace your steps, sit down in the restaurant (having first keyed in the correct password at the club’s garden gate – if you don’t have a password, you can’t get back in), unhappily poke at something to eat after failing to find what you want on the menu and make a face.
Another traditional hotel in St. Jean Cap Ferrat is the Royal Riviera, which shares the Baie des Fourmis (Ants’ Cove) with another beach with an entrance fee, as well as a free public beach. It doesn’t have many deckchairs, but its portion along the sea is sandy. Because it’s a small cove, swimming there is safe and enjoyable. After exiting the water, the address for food is the Jasmin Grill, which looks onto the cove and the famous Villa Kerylos on the opposite shore. In contrast to the other beach restaurants, it also offers a table d’hôte menu at an acceptable price.
Bonne appetite and happy swimming…