Beaches in the South of France

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The South of France

I have a vivid recollection of our last beach holiday, not least because on the first day, I shaved off the full beard that I had sported for more than a decade. 

Memories are made of this!

And then there was the “family tragedy”: our son (then barely two years old) lost his beloved, if unimaginatively named, “Unicorn”, a helium-filled balloon to which he had surprisingly developed a deep attachment (considering how little time they had actually spent together). Let’s face it. Such is the track record of relationships between little boys and toy balloons, probably never meant to survive the afternoon. Wasn’t it yesterday when he was small?

"The young Easy Hiker (Schuermann) family - baby Josh, Mom and Dad"

If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can still hear his plaintive wail.

Last year, the same son agreed to accompany me on a hike in the South of France, to celebrate his newly acquired Law degree. When did he grow to be so tall?

"Easy Hiker Jr. in the south of France beach of Presqu'Ile St Mandrier in the south of France"

Our plan was to hike from the Saint Mandrier peninsula south of Toulon along the Sentier Littoral – the “coastal path” developed under Napoleon – to Zanary-sur-mer in the west.

We confidently packed our swimming trunks, because there would surely be plenty of beaches on the way, and we expected to find many a deserted bay, azure waters surrounded by golden cliffs and fine silvery sand, with, perhaps, the odd mermaid thrown in for good measure, that sort of thing.

Now, French hiking trails, if they get it right, get it very right. They have certainly not undergone the theme-park treatment, and nobody could accuse them of being overly twee – the cardinal sin of some of their German cousins.

Instead, they display a magnificent, almost breathtaking disdain for the hiker: for what he might be able to do (his physical limitations), what he might like or what he might be interested in. They are, in short, as pitiless as the nature that surrounds them. “So Monsieur does not like to trudge through a parched, featureless landscape for hours? Tough – because that’s exactly what Monsieur shall have to do.” Followed by an evil gallic cackle, presumably.

But you have to admit, even while you are stuck in one of those parched landscapes in the middle of a hot summer day, that this is an attitude that demands a certain kind of respect.

Unfortunately, however, French hiking trails do not always get it right, and when they get it wrong, they get it very, very wrong.

"The craggy paths to the beaches of the south of France, of the Sentier Littoral in southern France"

The Sentier Littoral near Toulon is a good example for this. Some of the views along the trail and some of the stretches that manage to combine them for kilometres at a time are simply wonderful: craggy ridges, trees hanging on for dear life on rocky slopes, the great blue yonder of the Mediterranean, and all of it drenched into the dry, razor-sharp light of the south.

On much of the trail, however, you are left to imagine all of this while trudging through suburban wasteland, the neither-country-nor-town sprawl that has blighted so much of the French South. It is like hiking through LA.

And our dream beach?

We never found it, of course. The only real beach we came across on our hike, during the final stretch near Zanary-sur-mer, was a scruffy little thing, with patches of windbreak grass, fences made from fake wood and crowds of bored French holiday makers – who clearly thought that these strange sweaty persons in long trousers and heavy shoes had just descended from the planet Zork.

"The craggy beaches of Sentier Littoral of southern France"

Under the circumstances, stopping – even for a cup of coffee, never mind a swim – was clearly out of the question.

So, we kept marching on towards the horizon, heads held up high like a pair of authentic big game hunters – Hemingway and Denys Finch-Hatton – who had just run into an organized safari tour. And then, behind the next corner, we flagged down the next bus that would take us to Zanary-sur-mer.

The swimming trunks, meanwhile, are still in our backpacks. Thus ended our hiking trip with a whimper, not with a mermaid. Next summer, we are planning to hike somewhere else on the Mediterranean coast.

Fingers crossed!

16 comments to Beaches in the South of France

  • We love the South of France. The wife wants us to live there soon. Well, you know who to contact, next time you’re in France.

  • I took a car trip along the south coast of France back in 2007. Very Beautiful area, and very quiet on the roads.

    The towns along the way were quaint and enjoyable too. Can’t say I went hiking there, I saved that for Spain. But I did find it a very nice location for relaxing in Europe.

  • Haha, you can be so lucky, Debbie.

  • Nancie, it was absolutely scenic there.

  • These are stunning! I love the depth of the blue sky and water.

  • My idea of a great hike would be hike a bit stop for wine, hike a bit stop for a swim, hike more…more wine! Maybe I should look for a different route than you took!

  • Geez, now you know how my young family looked eons ago.

  • Jeremy Branham

    Love the idea of a hike along the coast in France. We have some hikes like this in California but most of them involve cold, foggy, or rocky cliff-lined beaches. Spectacular views but no swim trunks are needed. Would love to do a warm hike like this on the Mediterranean!

    Not sure if I like the idea of the hiking or the photo of your family more! :)

  • In hindsight, Andrew, this was one of our more “memorable” hikes despite the bit of disappointment in some areas.

  • We certainly will, John. That’s the part of France we love the most. Good to know about the walks. Thanks.

  • We certainly prefer that side too, Amy.

  • Amy Hume

    Bandol looked nice. We stopped for just half an hour so we didn’t get a real feel of the place. Lots of families though. What do you think?

    I still like the beaches east of Toulon i.e. the Cote d’Azur.

  • I’ve recently done some super short walks on the Sentier Littoral, between Villefranche sur Mer and Nice, around Cap Ferrat, and one along the coast from Cap d’Ail. You could have used your swimming trunks endlessly!! Try these out another time.

  • Andrew Graeme Gould

    Very interesting to read your description of this hike. A pity about the disappointments, but at least you had some nice views, and a good bit of exercise!

  • France has plenty of gorgeous beaches. We were just unlucky in our choice. I hope the beaches of Elba would be more welcoming.

  • I didn’t realize France had such beautiful beaches, a bit rocky, but gorgeous.

    I have to get over to Europe to see this for myself!

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