Visit the Mediterranean Harbours
Port-Vendres, on the Vermeil Coast
A port used by both leisure and industrial vessels, including the fishing industry (specializing in sardines) and commercial vessels (three cargo ships unload fruit and vegetables every week). This lively town is truly orientated toward the sea – probably because its location, near Cap Béar, has been frequented since the
days of ancient Greek sailors.
Le Grau d’Agde, located between river, canal and sea
Le grau, is an Occitan word for ‘channel’ and here it refers to the mouth of the Hérault River, which was dyked near the town of Agde making the port of Le Grau a part of Agde. Here, the salt and fresh water combination has been a contributing factor in forming a unique history for the area. This is because ancient Phocaean sailors arrived here from the sea to create a prosperous city-state, while in the 17th century the Canal du Midi, just inland from the coast, established a crucial transport and communication link between Toulouse and the Mediterranean.
Le Grau-du-Roi, a port on its own
The Canal de la Roubine, linking the Mediterranean to the lakes and canals around the medieval city of Aigues-Mortes, is what makes Le Grau-du-Roi a unique fishing harbour serving both the Languedoc and Camargue regions at the same time. Every day some 25 trawlers head out to sea for the day, while other fishermen work the lakes, and tellinaires hunt the beaches for tellines (small shellfish, typical of the area). As to the name of ‘Roi’ (King), it refers to the nearby town of Aigues-Mortes, founded by King Louis IX. The canal port of Le Grau-du-Roi has retained its own special character amidst the surrounding tourist destinations and the marina of Port-Camargue.
Cassis, and Port-Miou cove
Next to the charming little port of Cassis,
this cove with the hollows of the cliffs and creek like structure is a mooring point to many leisure boats, a ‘provençal fjord’. Like Marseille, Cassis was inhabited as early as 600 bce (not to mention the famous prehistoric but inaccessible Cosquer cave, whose entrance is now under water).
Saint-Mandrier, in the bay of Toulon
A quiet and friendly harbour town, it’s sheltered by Cap Cépet and is highly appreciated by yachtsmen. It embodies ‘the other side’ of the bay, facing the military port of Toulon and the shipyards of Seyne-sur-Mer, while keeping its back to the sea.
Saint-Raphael and the harbour of Le Poussai
You must leave the pretty port of Saint-Raphael and follow the coast toward Cannes, keeping an eye out for a discreet spit of land just before Agay, among the red rocks of Estérel to
find le Poussai with its small dyke, handful of boats, and diving club. Just opposite is the golden isle of Ile d’Or, capped by a ‘medieval-style’ tower, which inspired Hergé for one of his Tintin comic books, The Black Island.
Calvi, the Genoese citadel
The capital of the Balagne region of Corsica, this tiny town has a population of 3,000. The stronghold which it nestles against was built by the Genoese sailors who ruled Corsica from the 15th to the 17th century. Calvi’s picturesque alleys lead down to its gorgeous marina, flanked by cultural landmarks such as the 13th-century Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral and the baroque church of Sainte-Marie-Majeure. It also hosts exquisite landscapes including sandy beaches, slopes dotted with orchards and vineyards as well as colourful scrublands. It seems hard to believe that bitter naval battles took place just off shore. For example, it was during the siege of Calvi in 1794 that the famous Admiral Nelson lost an eye, eleven years before he decisively defeated the French fleet at Trafalgar, in Spain.
In the same spirit, other coastal areas around France offer experiences worthwhile, including the Atlantic and Channel ports.