France has a rich sailing heritage and offers yacht charter on two coasts. The best time of year for yacht chartering in France is from April to October.
The most popular yacht charter route in the Western Mediterranean is along the Côte d’Azur in the South of France. Many of the world’s largest, most impressive megayachts call this region home from May through September, so much so that captains give it the nickname “the Milk Run.” (Read "Yacht Charter France: the Mediterranean Milk Run.")
The ports in Cannes and Monaco draw noteworthy megayachts for the annual Film Festival and Grand Prix, while the port in Antibes is home to so many marvelous yachts that it has a dock known as Billionaire’s Row. From these locations, charter itineraries can include historic coastline stops such as Nice and St. Tropez.
Many ports are large enough to house a fleet of superyachts, but smaller boats can also find their way along the rocky shorelines and outlying islands. Bareboat and crewed charter options abound, especially between Marseilles and Nice. Because August is a vacation month for most French, reservations should be made well ahead of time.
The Atlantic coast of France is ruggedly beautiful, and home to a number of great charter bases. The Gulf of Morbihan offers a warm, sunny climate, uninhabited islands with white sandy beaches, and well protected anchorages. It is possible to cruise right up several rivers in the area to explore some of the beautiful old towns. Bareboat and crewed charters are available, on many different kinds of boats. High season runs from May to September.
By far the most popular itineraries for Mediterranean yacht charter run along the Côte d’Azur in the South of France. Captains who have run charter yachts in the region for even a few years call it “the milk run” because so many charter clients want to experience everything on offer in the heart of the world’s superyacht scene. Port after port along the coastline offers megayacht marinas packed with tridecks and express cruisers alike. And the bigger, the better—especially if you’re hosting a dockside party for several hundred of your closest friends.
The unofficial start of each summer’s charter season in the South of France is marked by two events: the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix. Many of the world’s largest, newest, and most luxurious yachts are booked as much as a year in advance for these events. The yachts themselves are often the stars that people crane their necks to see, with each boat offering yet another glimpse into the glitterati lifestyle.
For the Cannes Film Festival, charter clients look for megayachts with the expansive deck space ideal for dockside parties. Red carpets lead Hollywood stars and movie moguls to the aft decks, and parties celebrating the newest movies rage on sundecks well into the wee hours. Great party yachts are also in high demand for the Monaco Grand Prix, but so are yachts of physical stature that tower high above all the rest. Sundecks aboard these most mega of megayachts provide an excellent platform for viewing the Formula 1 race through the local streets, as well as on the projection screens along the marina quay.
Once the Cannes and Monaco events are over, the summer charter season goes into full swing. Megayachts typically command their highest weekly rates of the year when charter demand peaks during the “high season” months of July and August along the Côte d’Azur. Lower rates are usually offered during June and September, when availability is better because families with children stay close to home and school.
Popular ports of call along the Mediterranean Milk Run include not just Cannes and Monaco, but also St. Tropez, Nice, and Antibes. At all of these ports, the marinas fill quickly during the summer months and reservations must be made far in advance. Often, the availability of a marina slip in a given city can dictate the itinerary of a charter.
St. Tropez is known for its glitz and glamour, with beaches that are the playgrounds of millionaires and billionaires alike. Shops and restaurants in St. Tropez offer fineries from around the world, with everything from huge diamonds to cutting-edge fashion to culinary delicacies. The most yachting-minded of the jet set visit St. Tropez each October for the Les Voiles de St. Tropez regatta, which marks the unofficial end of the Mediterranean season. It draws classic sailing yachts as well as fast new racers, along with comfortable megayachts from which spectators can watch.
Nice is steeped in history, all the way back to the Greek inhabitants who lived there as long ago as the 300s BCE. Cathedrals, museums, and palaces that have withstood centuries still line the city’s streets, offering fantastic backdrops to the white, sandy beach along the sea. Charter clients who go ashore to wander the cobblestone alleys will find everything from silk shops to olive oil importers, along with some of the finest organic produce in all of Europe. Many charter yacht chefs say Nice is their favorite stop on the Côte d’Azur because of the morning market that stretches farther than the human eye can see.
Antibes draws such large megayachts to its port that an entire dock goes by the nickname “Billionaire’s Row.” A 100-foot yacht can look like a dinghy in Antibes, where 200-footers, 300-footers, and even their big sisters regularly drop anchor and tie up. The historic Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc is here, too, a spot so exclusive that its clientele over the years has included everyone from Winston Churchill to Elizabeth Taylor. A more elegant place to go ashore and have lunch would be difficult to find on any charter itinerary, anywhere in the world.
Most yacht charter vacations along the Mediterranean Milk Run are for one week, but two- and three-week itineraries are also available. They can include stops at local golf courses, day spas, and casinos, as well as getaways of a few days to the rustic island of Corsica. For the vast majority of charter clients, though, it is the glitz and glamour of the Côte d’Azur that makes a charter in the region so memorable. The place is as much about looking around as it is about seeing and being seen yourself.