Sailing in France

If you fancy sailing in France, you’ve several areas to choose from. The Mediterranean options divide in to three cruising areas; The Gulf of Lion, the Cote d’Azur, (the French Riviera) and around the island of Corsica. Of these, the latter two are more popular for yacht charters.

Villefranche: The town and north harbour with behind, the Citadel and marina entrance

Villefranche: The town and north harbour with behind, the Citadel and marina entrance

For those seeking tidal sailing and happy with cooler climes, there are other choices. You can charter on the Atlantic coast, mainly around the south Brittany area, and on the north coast, in the English channel.

For the majority, sailing in France means the Cote D’Azur or Corsica. The Cote d’Azur has long been known as the playground of the rich and famous but it’s not all casinos and super yachts. There are a number of pleasing holiday towns, and a good supply of sandy beaches. And sailors have the best means to get to quieter spots including off-lying islands.

Corsica offers more dramatic scenery. The land ends in many a steep cliff. The culture is also somewhat different to mainland France – almost a country within a country.

These areas have similar climates, with lighter winds in the morning but fresh and sometimes strong sea breezes in the afternoon, not unusually reaching F4-F5.  Along the Cote d’Azur these winds are know as the Marin.

Requiring much more attention is the Mistral, which blows from the NW, down the Rhone valley and affects both sailing areas. Though less frequent in summer than in winter, this wind can appear suddenly at any time, and may last for several days, though it is less strong the further you head east along the Cote d’Azur. In addition to the Mistral, Corsica can also be affected by the Libeccio which blows from the SW, a blustery wind which may often reach F7 or more as it funnels around the top and bottom of the island.

So although for much of the time the sailing is fairly straightforward, you do need to have a plan prepared should conditions change.  In between these blows, the weather is superb; not as overbearingly hot as say Turkey or Greece, with the afternoon breeze keeping things manageable, even if you’re having a stroll ashore or stopped for a swim.

Roquebrune: The town on the Cap Martin peninsula centre shot

Roquebrune: The town on the Cap Martin peninsula centre shot

Fortunately, should the wind pick up there are plenty of places to go. Along the Cote d’Azur, some of the anchorages are rather exposed but there are plenty of marinas, meaning it’s easy to cruise the coast in short hops. As you might expect given its reputation as the playground of the rich and famous, you can pay dearly for the pleasure of mooring up in places such as St Tropez or Monacco (especially if you pick Grand Prix weekend)! but there are many more modestly priced places, though you’re unlikely to pay much less than £40 a night in high season.

Around Corsica, it’s much easier to avoid marinas should you wish, with more tenable anchorages available, amidst some superb scenery.  However, though it may lack the ramatazz and poseurs of the Cote d’Azur, don’t expect any significant difference in marina prices which in high season are very similar.  Things do get cheaper outside the main months though, and generally, the cost of life ashore is a little less.

Bonifacio: The old town perched on the cliff top

Bonifacio: The old town perched on the cliff top

The French are proud of their sailing tradition so it should come as no surprise that RYA schools are absent from their Mediterranean coast. Bareboat yacht charters are available for several places and there’s now also a France flotilla running from Toulon.

Most reach the Cote d’Azur through either Toulon or Nice airports.  Toulon has a limited service with flights from London City and Stansted, both with Saturday departures.  Nice is a much easier proposition with services from a large number of UK airports, many of them daily.

Corsica also offers a couple of entry points.  There are flights from Gatwick and Manchester to Bastia, and from Gatwick to Ajaccio.  There is of course the other way of getting there, which is to sail from the Cote d’Azur but at around 90nm this is perhaps a bit far for most people’s definition of a holiday sail!

More details on French destinations, including more on the different areas, write ups on lots of possible stops and some suggested routes, will be coming in due course.