La Ciotat is a very attractive bet for a beach holiday, with a wide choice of locations and types of beaches within easy reach of the town centre.
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Some 7 km / 4 miles of beaches and calanques line the coast on each side of La Ciotat. Depending on where you choose to lay out your towel, you can see the Ile Verte (Green Island) shimmering on the horizon, or the towering red rock of the Bec de L'Aigle. At some beaches, a view of the town's shipyards provides an additional, more unusual point of interest.
Car parking is always a problem in Provence in mid-summer and so it's a huge advantage that most of these beaches are reasonably accessible by public transport. In fact the nearer ones on both sides of the Old Port of La Ciotat are well within walking distance.
To the north-east of the Old Port near the centre are sandy beaches set up for families. A little further out, some more remote, rocky ones are great for fishing, water sports and getting away from the crowds (though in summer, that's relatively speaking!)
From the bus station (gare routière) next to the Tourist Office, bus no. 40 runs north-east along the seafront as far as the Plage de Saint Jean before turning inland towards the train station. On certain days in mid-summer only, a Bus des Plages (Beach Bus) runs to Fontsainte and the other further north-east beaches.
The beaches to the south-west of the Old Port are snuggled in calanques (rocky inlets) and can be reached by bus no. 30, though this is a rather infrequent service, while those over on the Ile Verte (Green Island) are reached by a shuttle boat. Click on the map to enlarge the image.
La Ciotat has also made a particular effort to welcome disabled visitors and is one of a very small handful of towns in Provence to have been awarded the French government's official Tourisme et Handicap certificate of merit. Several of the north-east beaches have wheel- and push-chair ramps. Visitors requiring special assistance should make for the Plage Lumière.
Beaches north-east of La Ciotat's Old Port
Starting from the town centre...
The closest beach to the Old Port, the Plage des Capucins is composed of sand and shingle. It's near a refreshment kiosk and next to a small, pretty harbour with mooring for about 50 boats.
A lifeguard station is manned in summer and the sea is cordoned off by buoys. The beach has free, clean WCs, showers and wheelchair / pushchair ramps.
Other amenities include a "fitness zone" with a treadmill, climber and a couple of other exercise machines plus a children's play area and carousel.
The Plage des Capucins is, however, close to the busy coastal road, so it's not really a spot for peace and quiet. There's on-street parking only. About a 15 minute walk from the Old Port or bus no. 40.
Dogs are, generally speaking, not allowed on the beaches of La Ciotat - with one exception. In 2012 the city created an "espace chiens" or "dog zone" (the area doesn't have a specific name) between the Plage des Capucins and the Plage Cyrnos where dog-lovers can take their pets for a run and a dip in the sea.
The wide, sand and shingle Plage Cyrnos has a small play area for kids. The sea is cordoned off by buoys. It's lined with several bars and restaurants, has free toilets and a lifeguard station manned in summer and is accessed via a ramp. About a 20 minute walk from the Old Port or bus no. 40.
The Plage Lumière, pictured,commemorates the Lumière Brothers, the pioneer film-makers whose family owned a beautiful estate nearby, but it could equally be named after the quality of light on this wide, south-east facing sandy beach, in many respects the best in La Ciotat.
It's lined with palm trees, bars and restaurants which shield it from the road, and has free toilets plus a small go-kart track and trampoline at the entrance. There's nearby pay-for on-street parking. The lifeguard station is manned in summer.
The best beach for disabled bathers, the Plage Lumière is accessible by wheelchair ramps and has specially adapted toilets and showers. Staff are on hand in summer between mid-June and mid-September to help visually- and mobility- impaired visitors. Tiralo and Hippocamp wheelchairs are also available.
The Plage Lumière was designated as a non-smoking beach in 2011 - the first one in France, an experiment that has proved a success and has been quickly copied by other beach resorts. About a 20 minute walk from the Old Port or bus no. 40.
The fine sand Grande Plage is - as the name implies - large and more commercialised: a private section is reserved for a restaurant and paid-for sun loungers.
This beach has showers, a children's play area and a ramp for wheel- and push-chairs. Sailing, water-skiing and kayaking are among the sports on offer. About a 25 minute walk from the Old Port or bus no. 40.
On the edge of the route served by the no. 40 bus before it turns inland, the Plage de Saint Jean, pictured, is a small gravel beach that's fully sport-oriented, with kayaks, stand-up paddle boats, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
There is a handful of bars and restaurants nearby and free (but very limited) on-street parking. About a 30 minute walk from the Old Port or bus no. 40.
Things start getting more rugged from here on. The main attraction at the pebbly Plage de Fontsainte is the Santa Maria bar and restaurant, which has a small beach shop and a private area with sunbeds.
The Plage d'Arène Cros, pictured, is a strip of small rocky coves and pebble beaches and a popular spot for fly fishing - and painting. It has one restaurant, Chez Jean-Louis, which offers pizzas, fresh fish and great views across the bay, though in summer you will need to reserve ahead for a window seat.
There are few other facilities. The beach is accessed along the corniche d'Arène Cros, a narrow one-way (west to east) road right along the coast with very limited parking.
Right on the eastern edge of town, the small rocky Plage du Liouquet, at the bottom of a steep path, has amenities for scuba diving and jet-skiing and is favoured by gays and nudists. A section is closed, due to the risk of rock-fall. It has limited free on-street parking and a hotel-restaurant, Le Revestel.
Starting from the town centre...
The Plage du grand Mugel is a pebble beach set in the Calanque du Mugel - though this is more like a rocky cove than a classic calanque (click here to read our general introduction to the calanques of Provence). Surrounded by pine-covered slopes, it's an idyllic spot with a view across to the Ile Verte and a glimpse of the nearby shipyards.
Access is fairly easy, with a ramp most of the way down to the beach. A lifeguard station is manned in summer.
Right on the waterfront - "les pieds dans l'eau" as the French say - is a restaurant, Le Mugel, which serves simple meals (though you're paying a premium for the location) and offers rooms. It gets very busy in summer and doesn't take credit cards.
About a 15 minute walk from the Old Port (note that this route goes past the shipyards and is uphill most of the way), or no. 30 bus. There is pay-for parking for about a hundred cars (but make sure you have coins for the meters, as they don't give change or take credit cards) and free parking near the beach for two-wheeled vehicles.
A little further on, the Plage du petit Mugel sits in a rugged little cove and is similar to its neighbour apart from the fact that quite a lot of steps are involved - this beach is not really wheel- or push-chair friendly. It is very sheltered, however. There's a bike rack. Pictured: the Plage du petit Mugel (note the shipyards in the background).
As an added attraction, both these beaches are close to the beautiful botanical gardens of the Parc du Mugel.
The Plage de Figuerolles is set in a real calanque, the Calanque de Figuerolles. However this steep, rugged inlet dominated by the towering Bec de L'Aigle (Eagle's Beak) rock looks quite different from the calanques around Marseille and around Cassis.
La Ciotat's significantly higher rainfall means that the landscape is much greener - the name Figuerolles comes from the fact that the calanque, pictured, used to be planted with fig trees (a few of these still remain).
The rock - known locally as poudingue or pudding-stone - is a conglomerate pitted with caves and a rich reddish colour rather than the usual dazzling white limestone. This dramatic landscape has attracted many artists, including Georges Braque and Othon Friesz.
The calanque is south-west facing and sheltered from the Mistral wind, with a small pebble beach. It's accessed by quite steep steps and, as usual in a calanque, the sea-bed falls off sharply so this might not be the best choice for families with small children. There's no lifeguard station. The Plage de Figuerolles is popular for snorkelling and scuba diving, however.
The Plage de Figuerolles has just one restaurant, but it's a good one. Chez Tania offers a gastronomic menu that's recommended in several leading guides and enjoys a superb location with terraces on several levels along the steps leading down to the beach. Pictured: the Bec d'Aigle and bay viewed from the restaurant terrace.
Founded in 1956 by the current owner's Russian grandparents, it quirkily declares itself to be the "République Indépendante de Figuerolles" with its own government, passports, currency, etc. There are eight simple rooms and apartments, adapted from former fishermen's cabanons (cabins), where you can spend the night. Chez Tania closes in winter.
About a 19 minute walk from the Old Port (note that this route goes past the shipyards and is uphill most of the way), or no. 30 bus and then a 10 minute walk. There's a tiny car-park with space for only about 25 vehicles but, if you must drive, you could park at the Mugel car-park and walk from there.
Alternatively, you can visit these calanques by boat: Les Amis des Calanques runs trips from the Old Port of La Ciotat to the nearby calanques as well as longer excursions further along the coast to the calanques between Cassis and Marseille.
L'Ile Verte (Green Island)
There are three beaches on L'Ile Verte, all on the east coast of this small uninhabited island, which claims to be the only wooded island in the département of the Bouches du Rhône .
La Plageolle is a pebble beach, the smallest of the three. The Plage de Saint-Pierre is found in the cove used by the boat shuttle from the mainland and has a little restaurant, Chez Louisette.
The Plage de Seynerolle, pictured, is the southernmost beach and the only sandy one on the island. More easily accessible than the others, it gets very crowded in summer.
The boat shuttle to the Ile Verte takes about 15 minutes from the Old Port (12 quai Charles de Gaulle, opposite L'Amiral brasserie) and runs from April to October only. Website for the Ile Verte boat shuttle.