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Our top pick of the most picturesque Mediterranean ports in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

Of course, you’ll find plenty of ports in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The best-known continue to attract flocks of visitors, curious to discover these mythical sites that are still the talk of the town. But you’ll find lots of little harbours overflowing with charm along the coast from Marseille to Nice too. Here’s our top pick.

In Marseille, from the coast road to the calanques

Aside from the city’s must-do Vieux-Port (Old Port), several little, lesser-known ports are tucked away along the coast on either side of Marseille. Located less than 5 km from the centre, the Corniche Kennedy coast road harbours several little gems. Less confidential but just as picturesque, the little port of Vallon des Auffes never fails to delight. This ancient fishing village, adorned with colourful cottages, is now much appreciated by bathers as well as foodies keen to savour a bouillabaisse Chez Fonfon, or at the Michelin-starred L’Épuisette. A few steps further on, the picturesque Port de Malmousque is also a favourite haunt for bathers. To reach it, you’ll need to meander through the winding lanes leading to the bottom of this city quarter. Once you reach the port, head along the rocks to the right, find somewhere flat for your towel then jump in if you fancy a swim to Ile des Pendus. If you venture a bit further along the coast road, you’ll come to a third little port nestling under a tall bridge: Anse de la Fausse Monnaie. Calanques National Park also boasts a number of treasures hidden away along its shores, in particular Calanque de Callelongue fjord and its tiny port, just a short hop from the villages of Les Goudes. A short distance further on lies the gorgeous Port de Morgiou, a coveted climbing spot with sea views and the starting point for some magnificent hikes. Last but not least, don’t miss a visit to Port-Miou: the port is very easy to reach and features a 1,800 metre coastal recess snaking between the cliffs. Beautiful and truly unique!

Along the Côte Bleue: by foot or by rail

The Corniche coast road – and especially Malmousque – offers fabulous views over Château d’If, the Frioul archipelago and entire Côte Bleue coast, home to several picturesque little seaside villages. Easy to reach by train from Marseille, the villages are set along the Sentier des Douaniers (coastal footpath), promising a magical walk at the water’s edge. Good walking shoes and plenty of water are a must! Starting out from Niolon – one of the Côte Bleue’s best-known ports, sheltered from the wind and easy to reach on the “Train de la Côte Bleue” -, you can hop onto the coastal footpath and roam all the way to the charming port tucked away in Calanque de Petit Méjean, under the watchful gaze of the railway viaduct. A bit further on you’ll come to Figuière – an even smaller port – then the slightly larger and very-picturesque Port d’Ensuès-la-Redonne, still redolent with the atmosphere of an old fishing village.

A stroll along the Var coast and boat ride from Giens Peninsula

Several little-known ports lie further east, heading towards Toulon. The first is situated in the town of Six-Fours-les-Plages and is called Le Brusc. A combined marina and fishing port, it is also the boarding point for Embiez island and its quaysides are lined with a few lively restaurants. Just east of Toulon, Le Pradet is home to two other noteworthy ports starting with the tiny, very discreet and still fairly wild Port de San Peyre – very much an insider’s address. Can you keep the secret too? Less mysterious but also a delight, the port of Les Oursinières basks just next to the beach of the same name. Simple and welcoming, it opens onto the pretty bay of La Garonne, ideal for tranquil bathing or sailing. Already reputed worldwide for its charming village, beaches and coves, Giens peninsula harbours several picturesque ports too. Port du Niel, situated between Pointe des Morts and Pointe de la Vignette, is easy to access by car and offers an authentic setting for lunch, a stroll, or spot of sailing or kayaking. Towards Pointe de la Terre Rouge, niched in largely untouched natural scenery, Port d’Auguier is another delightful discovery. Very pleasant too, Port des Barques is hidden away on the other side of the peninsula, sheltered from the wind next to Almanarre beach. If you leave the peninsula and head along the coast to the east, you’ll come to the little Port de Pothuau, near the Salins d’Hyères, set between the sea and old saltmarshes (vieux Salins): one of the Var coast’s most remarkable natural sites.

At the foot of the Estérel hills and its flaming red rocks

Let’s move much further east now to the Massif de l’Estérel, stopping off first at Port du Poussai. Adjacent to Saint-Raphaël, but hidden away in greenery, this tranquil and agreeable port leads to Plage du Débarquement beach on one side and the Cap Dramont coastal footpath on the other. Further on, let’s rest awhile at Port d’Agay: although fairly large, it is definitely worth a visit: the bay of the same name gazes out over the typical seascapes of this stretch of the Var coast, with its villas tucked away on the heights against the backdrop of the Estérel’s majestic red rocks. Less than 4 km away, Port de Fernand Reynaud is smaller and much more intimate, and boasts a heavenly and well-preserved decor that is sure to delight. The same goes for Port de la Figueirette. Located at the edge of the town of Théoule-sur-Mer, it was the first port in the Alpes-Maritimes to obtain the “Clean Port” distinction.

From Cannes to Nice, where lavish villas and tradition meet

The coast lining the Alpes-Maritimes area is home to three absolute must-do ports. The first is Port de l’Olivette, near Antibes. This ancient little fishing port has maintained all of its authentic charm and you can still see Provence’s traditional pointu fishing boats bobbing in the water there. Standing under the watchful eye of Villa Aujourd’hui, imagined by architect Barry Dierks in 1938, Port de l’Olivette offers sweeping views over the bay of Juan-les-Pins. Let’s continue on to Nice, stopping off at the picturesque little port of Cros-de-Cagnes, near Cagnes-sur-Mer: it was one of the Alpes-Maritimes’ largest fishing ports in the Twenties and Thirties. Today, a few artisan fisherman continue to fly the flag of their trade at Port du Cros and a celebration is held every year there in honour of the traditional “pêche à la poutine” (artisan sardine fishing), an authentic speciality of Cagnes-sur-Mer. Last but not least, let’s go beyond Nice to wind up our tour of the little ports of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur with Port des Fourmis, now managed by an association. Overflowing with charm, it stands under the majestic gaze of the neighbouring Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Villa Kérylos and Résidence Gustave Eiffel. Awe-inspiring!