Heading for the ports of Nice Côte d’Azur

1 September 2021

« Happy he who like Ulysses has made a great journey… » – Joachim Du Bellay

I have been on a beautiful and long journey. I set off on a sailing boat to see the world, on the other side of the Mediterranean… I am happy to have crossed sea and ocean, to have met people who are proud of their country and their traditions. So yes, if today I have put my beautiful memories and thousands of photos away somewhere in my head and in a drawer, I still find pleasure walking around the marinas and fishing ports of my region and imagining leaving again one day?

I love the smell of iodine, the sound of the halyards hitting the masts, the cries of the seagulls and the wind coming to tell me distant stories. If, like me, you like to walk along the quays, to dream while reading the names of the boats and their home port, if you like the colours and the timeless elegance of fishing boats, then follow in my footsteps… I will take you to visit the ports of the Nice Côte d’Azur Metropolitan area. From Cagnes-sur-Mer to Cap d’Ail, via Nice or Villefranche-sur-Mer, each port has its charm, each port has its soul…Où se promener sur les ports de Nice Côte d’Azur ?

1 – Cagnes-sur-Mer

The atmosphere of a fishing village!

Joli petit port de pêche de Cros-de-Cagnes
Petit port de pêche de Cros de Cagnes (@Cagnes-sur-Mer)

The Port of Cros-de-Cagnes is one of the last small fishing harbours preserved from pleasure boating on the French Riviera. It is hard to imagine that this haven was, in the years 1920-1930, the biggest fishing port of the Maritime Alps! Today it only counts about sixty rings and only boats under 10 m can berth there. At the same time intimate and very lively, because of its strong associative activity (diving, Latin sails, rowing boats…), it still welcomes some traditional fishermen. They continue to throw their nets and longlines in the bay and to supply the local restaurants with fresh fish and notably with “poutine” (sardine and anchovy fry which can only be fished 45 days a year, at the end of winter; the Alpes-Maritimes department being from now on the only one to practise this ancestral fishing).

Every morning, on their return from their still lively fishing, the professionals also sell directly to private individuals, on about ten stalls grouped together in the Halle aux Poissons on the port (except on Mondays). You will be able to benefit from the fishermen’s advice on how to cook them as well as the advantageous prices. Here is a small traditional port with undeniable charm! To be visited without moderation!

2 – Saint-Laurent-du-Var

With a surface area of 17.5 hectares, 3.6 km of quays and wharves for 1,084 berths, the Port of Saint-Laurent-du-Var is one of the largest on the Côte d’Azur coast.

Un petit air de Miami sur le port de Saint-Laurent-du-Var
Marina Saint Laurent du Var (instagram@serene_services)

The marina is lined with around 50 shops, restaurants and pubs. At any time of the day or evening, the terraces are taken by storm (well… it was the case before the arrival of the Covid and the imposed closure of the restaurants…!). Everybody likes to meet there to have a drink, eat a pancake, taste an exotic dish or a fish caught during the day and then dance until the end of the night.

The majestic palm trees bring a green touch which contrasts with the blue of the sky and the waters of the port but also with the predominant whiteness of the ships. Doesn’t it feel like Miami?

From the eastern end of the marina to the CAP 3000 shopping centre, one can enjoy a pleasant pedestrian walk along the seafront, with no cars on the horizon. Locals and visitors alike enjoy strolling along the elegant “Promenade des Flots Bleus”. Here, too, there are restaurants, terraces and beaches… Every time I pass by, I come across swans that have made it their home, reminding me that the Var estuary and its Petite Camargue, an ornithological reserve classified Natura 2000, is very close by…

3 – Nice

Just a few steps away from the Quai des Etats-Unis and at the foot of the Castle Hill, the Port of Nice Lympia is a must for all visitors and locals alike, all the more so as numerous shops, exhibition sites and restaurants contribute to the attraction of the area.

Pointus au port Lympia de Nice (@OTMNCA / JM)

The Port Lympia

The cradle of the city’s maritime heritage, the Port Lympia of Nice is a place for meetings and walks. Both a commercial and a pleasure port, it is home to yachts, sailing boats and nearly a hundred traditional wooden boats (known here as “pointus”). Some are sailing boats, others are rowing boats. The people of Nice use them for family outings at sea or for fishing with trolling or palangrotte (line with several hooks spaced out). With their bright colours, the “pointus” are the stars of the port, regularly showcased at certain popular festivals such as the Saint Peter’s Day or the Port Festival. The Port of Nice Lympia is also the ideal starting point for ferries to Corsica.

The architectural environment which serves as a showcase for this port complex is remarkable and beautifully coloured in a palette of ochre, yellow and red. A vast project to redevelop the district is planned for 2022, particularly in the immediate vicinity of the Church of the Place de Beauté. It will be even more beautiful!

The Port of Carras

To the west of the city, near Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, the port of Carras allows modest boats to be brought ashore thanks to permanent winches. In the summer, fishermen and some yachtsmen take advantage of this small seasonal shelter. On the stalls, the fishing of the day quickly finds takers among the accustomed customers: bass, sea bream, red mullet, rock fish, sometimes lobster… What a pleasure it is to buy your fish on an ultra-short circuit! Every 24th June, in the evening, the Saint John’s Day festival takes place there with folklore entertainment, a ball and stands for tasting local products in a family atmosphere.

4 – Villefranche-sur-Mer

Set at the foot of an amphitheatre of hills, the charming seaside town of Villefranche-sur-Mer boasts a wide shoreline of unparalleled beauty.

As soon as you arrive, whether by sea, train or the Corniche road, Villefranche-sur-Mer offers you a magnificent panorama. Its majestic harbour attracts visitors from all over the world every year, especially yacht owners and cruise passengers who enjoy a stopover with incomparable charms. The variety of colours, especially those of the sunny facades of the buildings on the seafront, but also of its crystal-clear waters, makes it a city loved by painters and artists. Jean Cocteau also left his mark here by decorating the Chapelle Saint-Pierre in 1957, a building that is well worth a visit.

At the foot of the ramparts, the Chemin de Ronde leads to the Darse marina. This historic royal port was built in the middle of the 16th century at the same time as the citadel. Since 1991, the Port de la Darse has been listed as a Historic Monument. Under the vaults, there are workshops of marine carpenters who restore and repair traditional yachts. In 1983, a scene from “Never Again” with Sean Connery in the role of the charismatic James Bond was filmed here.

The second port is La Santé, a picturesque little harbour which mainly houses fishing boats and where you can discover drying nets on the edge of the quays (photo opposite). This port also has the particularity of welcoming the shuttle buses of the cruise ships anchored in the harbour. A ferry terminal allows the disembarkation of passengers during stopovers.

At the far end of the harbour, the beaches are taken by storm in spring and summer. It must be said that the site is simply sublime.

5 – Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is organised around its harbour, but a stroll around it will allow you to enjoy the lush vegetation which houses many luxurious villas.

You will certainly enjoy strolling on the main quay, which is entirely pedestrian. It features many shops and restaurants. The marina welcomes nearly 560 boats, both permanent and temporary. Walkers can be caught dreaming in front of the magnificent yachts but also in front of the traditional boats. Lovers of old ships will be delighted. Time stands still here. You are on holiday or you think you are!

The Port can be the ideal starting point for a walk around Cap Ferrat. The stunningly beautiful coastal path offers an easy walk that will satisfy your desire for nature and serenity (allow 2 hours to walk around the peninsular). On your return, you won’t say no to a good ice cream or hot chocolate, to be enjoyed on the terrace!

6 – Beaulieu-sur-Mer

2 ports, 2 atmospheres…

Port des Fourmis à Beaulieu sur Mer (instagram@leacavargini)

At the foot of the legendary Villa Kérylos, which I strongly recommend you to visit, the Port des Fourmis (photo opposite) is a small port as we like it. Because of its shallow draught, it only houses modest boats, giving the place an undeniable Mediterranean charm. It offers a very nice view of the beautiful Plage des Fourmis beach, nestled under the Casino and Rotonde gardens… The Côte d’Azur spirit is at its best here!

Not far away, the port of Beaulieu Plaisance is a privileged shelter for sailors. With its numerous shops and restaurants, this large marina is also a very popular place for tourists and locals alike, especially on summer evenings when you can enjoy the lively terraces. At the eastern end of the port, nestling at the foot of steep cliffs, the Petite Afrique beach seduces with its umbrella pines and palm trees under which families looking for a bit of shade can settle down.

You will gladly push the discovery further by taking the “Promenade Maurice Rouvier”.  This coastal footpath will take you, in only 1.3 km, to the port of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Entirely asphalted and without steps, this lovely walk is accessible to pushchairs and people with reduced mobility.

7 – Cap d’Ail

The port of Cap d’Ail, as well as the adjoining Marquet beach, were built in the wake of the construction of the Fontvieille dike, a residential area in the Principality of Monaco.

Port de Cap d’Ail (@Hôtel Riviera Marriott Porte de Monaco)

We are very close to Monaco and it shows! Surmounted by the famous promontory of the “Tête de Chien” (by the way, a magnificent hiking site which offers a unique panorama), the port of Cap d’Ail is surrounded by high standing buildings. Well-located hotels offer magnificent rooms with a breathtaking view of the port. The Jet-Set is in place, as are the luxury yachts. At the foot of the buildings, snack bars and restaurants to satisfy all desires and budgets.

Friday morning is market day! A dozen stalls of colourful fruit and vegetables of local production are set up there.

Not far from there, don’t miss the Sentier des Douaniers

I invite you to continue your walk along the very pretty coastal path (Sentier des Douaniers) which links the Marquet Beach to the Mala Beach, often described as the most beautiful beach of the French Riviera. You will enjoy this walk in the heart of a preserved nature. At the end of the path, you will be breathless, not by the effort it took to get there, but by so much beauty!

While strolling through the ports of Nice Côte d’Azur, you will perhaps find yourself dreaming of long journeys and will understand a little of the magic power that the sea exerts on men.

I hope that this evocation will inspire you to go for lovely walks with a delicious iodine taste, under the Côte d’Azur sun and the Mediterranean breeze. Perhaps we will pass each other on a quay, without knowing it?

Experience more


Assistant Director of Marketing and Communication at the Nice Côte d'Azur Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau