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 which are easily accessible to hikers.
The camping sites in this area of Provence are concentrated at the western end of the Blue Coast strip towards Carro.
Others, where indicated, are fairly accessible by car or the Blue Coast train. Click on the map to enlarge the image.
The Plages de Corbière, just outside L'Estaque, 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.
The area is short of places to eat out, though 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 must, be sure to arrive by the beginning of the afternoon.
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.
Or drive north out of Marseille along the A55 motorway until you reach the signposted turn-off to Carry (Junction 8).
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).
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.
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. 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.
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. There is, however, 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 Canada to Turkey and Malaysia. It includes kite-making and kite-flying workshops and sales of kites too.
In 2014 the Festival de cerfs-volants takes place from 21-27 April and promises to be a really fun family occasion. Website for the Festival de cerfs-volants
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.
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.
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.