If you would like to venture a little further than the beaches south of Marseille, try heading instead north-west to the Blue Coast where the beaches are numerous. Walk, drive or take the train to find your own idyllic spot.
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Many of these beaches are small. Most (though by no means all) are rocky or pebbly. Some are wild and remote and only the main ones are described here. But all along the Blue Coast north-west of Marseille there are dozens of little coves and calanques with no name and a distinctive, intimate flavour.
Several beaches on the Blue Coast have been awarded the coveted official label of Pavillon Bleu (Blue Flag), signifying that they meet strict standards in terms of facilities, safety and environmental quality. They are the Corniche beach at Sausset les Pins, Sainte Croix, Verdon and Carro.
Moreover the south-facing Blue Coast beaches are relatively sheltered - unlike those on the other side of Marseille, which face north and west straight into the chilly Mistral wind. Click on the map to enlarge the image.
The camping sites in this area of Provence are concentrated at the western end of the Blue Coast strip towards Carro.
These beaches are easily accessible to hikers. Others, where indicated, can be reached by the Blue Coast train. For a few, such as the very popular Plage du Verdun, you really need a car.
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The Plages de Corbière, just outside L'Estaque, fall strictly speaking within Marseille but are the unofficial starting point of the Blue Coast.
They consist of three artificially created urban beaches, the Plage de la Lave and the Plage de la Batterie, both sand, and the Plage du Fortin, a pebble beach.
The two sand beaches have a rather uninspiring view towards the port of Marseille, while the Plage du Fortin looks west along the coast and out to sea.
This spacious, landscaped park sits under the road and railway viaduct and is accessed down long flights of steps. It's equipped with showers, a first aid post and a large, wooded picnic area with tables and benches.
Many people bring picnics and portable barbecues, as the area is short of places to eat out. But there's a mobile snack bar and a restaurant in the nearby boating centre, which also has facilities for rowing, sailing, kayaking and other water sports.
Quick and easy to get to from the centre of Marseille the Plages de Corbière are highly popular with locals. They're close to the city's rough and ready northern suburbs and can get rowdy at night.
There's very limited parking and on fine days (and evenings) you will see lines of cars stretching for miles along the road. It's best not to drive here but, if you really must, be sure to arrive by the beginning of the afternoon and don't leave valuables in the car.
To reach the Corbière beaches (pictured), take the metro (line 2, direction Bougainville) or tram (line 2, direction Euroméditerranée Arenc) to Joliette. Then catch the 35 bus. Corbière is the last stop.
Note that, outside the middle of summer (1 June to 31 August), the 35 bus terminates just outside L'Estaque. From there it's a 1.2 km / 0.75 mile walk to the Corbière beaches.
More recently an attractive alternative means of transport to L'Estaque has become available: the batobus, one of two boat shuttle services along the coast north and south of Marseille. They both run once an hour, take about 40 minutes and operate between April and September.
Expect long queues in the middle of summer as the batobus is very popular with both locals and tourists. It's a 10-15 walk from the landing stage to the Corbière beaches.
Click here for full information about Marseille's public transport system.
CARRY LE ROUET
Immediately outside L'Estaque are the Blue Coast calanques - Niolon, Méjean and Ensuès la Redonne - and small rocky coves (Les Eaux Salées is one of the larger ones). The beaches proper really begin at Carry le Rouet.
A pleasure port noted for its open-air seafood feasts in winter and connection with the French film star Fernandel, Carry is also a good starting point for walks and hikes along the coast.
Just outside the town to the east, the Plage du Rouet, sometimes known as the Plage des Tamaris, is the town's largest and best-equipped beach. It has a sailing and kayaking centre, paddle-boats for hire, two diving schools, a (paid-for) car-park for 450 vehicles and toilets and showers.
The beach itself consist of fine sand at the eastern end and pebbles towards the west. There is disabled access, plus two paid-for private areas if you want to avoid the crowds and lifeguards on duty during the summer.
Next along is Cap Rousset, with its pétanque court, lifeguard station, bar and restaurant, Le Madrigal. A little path leads from here through pine woods into the centre of town.
In Carry itself, go through the long car-park to the west of the harbour in order to reach the Plage Fernandel, a small, coarse sand beach thus called because one of the swanky villas overlooking this strip of sea formerly belonged to the toothy actor. This beach offers good disabled access.
From there, an easy hiking path / nature trail (with explanatory plaques at intervals) winds westward along the coast past coves and minuscule pebble "beaches" to the Plage de la Tuilière, which is really just rocks overlooked by a small restaurant, La Cale.
To reach Carry le Rouet, catch the Blue Coast train from Marseille Saint Charles station. The ride takes about 30 minutes.
Or drive north out of Marseille along the A55 motorway until you reach the signposted turn-off to Carry (Junction 8).
You can also walk to Carry le Rouet along the GR51 (Grande Randonnée 51) hiking trail, from Ensuès la Redonne in one direction or Sausset les Pins in the other.
SAUSSET LES PINS
The nicest beach along this segment of the coast is the Plage des Beaumettes, just across the boundary between Carry and Sausset les Pins. It's a coarse sand beach with three good restaurants across the road (recommended: Les Girelles).
The Zanzibar, a funky brasserie with a Buddha theme is right on the beach itself and serves a slightly wider range of food than the usual, ubiquitous pizzerias.
This beach is rather far from both Carry and Sausset train stations and, if driving, parking may be tricky. Try the car-park outside the Casino supermarket just up the road.
Like Carry, Sausset is a commuter town and the coastal road is lined with modern villas and weekend houses. In winter, also like Carry, it hosts open-air seafood feasts.
The town is flanked by a series of creeks and stony beaches (pictured right), notably Le grand Rouveau, Le petit Rouveau, Le petit Nid, Le grand Nid and Bourmandariel. In the centre is a large harbour with berths for over 500 boats.
To reach Sausset les Pins, catch the Blue Coast train from Marseille Saint Charles station. The ride takes about 35 mins.
Or drive north out of Marseille along the A55 motorway to Junction 8 (signposted to Carry le Rouet). Then look for the turn-off to Sausset.
You can also walk to Sausset les Pins along the GR51 (Grande Randonnée 51) hiking trail, from Carry le Rouet in one direction or La Couronne in the other.
The coast west of Sausset is a fretwork of little bays and inlets and rocky or shingle beaches.
Tamarisk trees line the roads and inspire the name of Tamaris, a hamlet with a small port, tiny sand beach, superette and campsite (there are more and more campsites dotted around from here on west). You will need a car to get to Tamaris.
Surrounded by pine woods, Sainte Croix is surely the prettiest beach on the Blue Coast, and certainly our own personal favourite. Long, very steep flights of steps lead down to a picturesque, sandy bay (pictured left) overlooked by a romantic little 17th century chapel perched on the cliff, with a tiled roof and an anchor above the door.
There is no village here, just a cluster of campsites, shops, a couple of pizza restaurants and a 450-space car-park on the cliff-top. The beach itself offers no facilities.
The beach is a long climb down (and back up). However, the adjacent beach of La Saulce (pictured top left)is readily accessible from the road.
You will need a car to get to Sainte Croix. Note that Croix Sainte, on the Blue Coast train line, is nowhere near this beach.
As the place names all along the Blue Coast (Carry, La Couronne, Carro) hint, this area was once famed for its quarries. Prized since Greek and Roman times, local pink limestone was used for many buildings in Marseille such as La Vieille Major Cathedral and the Vieille Charité. You can still see traces of these quarries in the landscapes.
Populated since the neolithic era, of which vestiges have been found dating back to 11,000 BC, La Couronne has been a busy commercial, agricultural and industrial centre since prehistoric times.
In the town itself, La Couronne Vieille is a sand beach with a boules court, while out on the point at Cap Couronne there is a lighthouse, the very large Richard Fouque marine park (210 hectares/ 519 acres) and a wild, isolated rock and shingle beach (pictured).
No bars or cafes so come armed with water and a picnic: many locals do, especially on summer evenings.
Another favourite activity is to hunt for favouilles - elusive, but very tasty Mediterranean crabs - or whelks and mussels. There is a small car-park.
To reach La Couronne, catch the Blue Coast train from Marseille Saint Charles station. The ride takes about 40 mins.
Or drive north out of Marseille along the A55 motorway to Junction 8 (signposted to Carry le Rouet). Then look for the turn-off to La Couronne.
You can also walk to La Couronne along the GR51 (Grande Randonnée 51) hiking trail, from Sausset les Pins in one direction or Carro in the other.
PLAGE DU VERDON
The Plage du Verdon, roughly midway between La Couronne and Carro, is the largest beach on the Blue Coast and definitely the best choice for families.
This sheltered, fine sand beach is easy to get to with a pushchair or wheelchair from the very large car-park and is equipped with showers, a volleyball area, a children's roundabout and an array of seafront restaurants. Lifeguards are on duty all day from the beginning to June until early September.
Each year in spring, the Plage du Verdon hosts a Festival de cerfs-volants (Kite Festival), which attracts international kite-makers and enthusiasts from all over the world, from Brazil and Martinique to Turkey and Malaysia.
It includes kite-making and kite-flying workshops and sales of kites too.
To reach Verdon beach, drive north out of Marseille along the A55 motorway to Junction 8 (signposted to Carry le Rouet). Then continue on the road as far as Verdon.
In Carro, a traditional, working fishing port perched right at the end of the Blue Coast, you will find two adjacent beaches. The eastern one is a sheltered sandy beach with easy access down a slope on the edge of the town. It's right by a traffic roundabout and road, and surrounded by houses. Lined with tamarisks, it boasts a surf shop, a pétanque court and several nearby shops.
The second is a very small beach on the edge of the harbour in the charming little town itself (pictured). Carro also has a morning fish market and a large car-park.
After Carro the coast loops round to the north. The west-facing seafront is lined with narrow, rocky dunes and the sea is peppered in the distance with oil tankers from the industrialised region around Port de Bouc to the north.
To reach Carro, drive north out of Marseille along the A55 motorway to Junction 8 (signposted to Carry le Rouet). Then continue on the road as far as Carro.
You can also walk to Carro from La Couronne. Onwards, after leaving the Blue Coast proper, the footpath takes you north to Bonnieu, a nudist beach 50 minutes' walk from the town, and eventually to Martigues (four and a half hours).
Further along still and set in a sheltered bay is the Plage des Laurons, a large, west-facing sand and pebble beach with a picnic area and a manned lifeguard station throughout July and August. It can be reached by road: take the Route de Ponteau off the D49.