Best for diving: L’Ile de Riou, Marseille
There’s no better form of escapism than venturing down into the blue beyond to sink into scenes from another world. For adventurers, the pretty island of Riou, just fifteen minutes and a boat ride from our hostel, is spot on. Here, you can enjoy Marseille’s unique calanques, or rocky coves, the result of erosion along the Marseille coast which create a chalky contrast to the deep lapis blue of the surrounding ocean. Uninhabited and perfectly preserved, its beach offers a snapshot back in time to 2,500 years ago when Phoeca was founded there, which evolved into present-day Marseille. Now, it forms a part of the Parc National de Calanques, an undersea forest ideal for swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers.
Stay at Marseille – Bonneveine, right on the edge of this little piece of paradise, just 300m from the Marseille shoreline.
Best for photographers: Sète
Offering an irresistible taste of the unspoilt Mediterranean, this small town is a fascinating one in terms of scenery and local life – perfect for budding photographers, whether you’re searching for panoramic landscapes or documenting the essence of human life. Sète itself circles a lone hill, Mont St-Clair, and our hostel sits right on the slopes, offering exceptional views of the Mediterranean shoreline and the stretch of beach beyond. With the sea on your doorstep, you also have the Thau lagoon as your back garden, a vast expanse of salt water dotted with oyster beds, and a picturesque network of canals.
This town’s charm lies in the fact that it doesn’t try to be charming – perhaps because it doesn’t have the time. This is a serious and busy port full of working people with stuff to ship, and this unfiltered boisterousness makes for great, characterful snaps.
Stay at our Sète youth hostel with a wonderful sea view from the terrace.
Best for culture and history buffs: Fréjus
This cute, historical town located between Cannes and St Tropez is an antithesis to the over-the-top glamour associated with much of the French Riviera. Just 2km from the lovely beaches inescapable in this sunny corner of southern France, this quiet place was the landing port for the defeated fleet of Anthony and Cleopatra in 31 BC, and was colonised by Julius Caesar in 49BC. Its scattered Roman ruins and maze of plazas and pastel buildings makes a visit to Fréjus feel like a journey back in time.
Our Fréjus/St-Raphaël hostel is peacefully located in the heart of a 10 hectare pine forest.
Best for outdoors types: Nice
To be honest, Nice’s appeal is universal and it’s not difficult to shoehorn it into any of these categories. It’s a gritty city, with personality; it’s ripe for celebrity-spotting and great for year-round sunshine and historical treasures. It’s also a perfect spot for backpackers inclined towards outdoor pursuits: our hostel is ideally located for the woodlands and mountains of the Mercantour National Park, and along the surrounding coastal area – caving, hiking, paragliding and fishing.
Stay at Nice Camélias, inspired by the romance of the Riviera.
Best for seekers of the underrated: Montpellier
Often over-looked in favour of France’s better known cities, Montpellier is a Mediterranean coastal haven with the young influence of a university hub, bags of innovation projects, an interesting 10th century history to uncover and an enviable outdoor café culture, Montpellier should be the French city on everyone’s lips this year.
Montpellier is fronted with big beaches, but if you really want to seek a slice of paradise, make the 40 minute pilgrimage to Espiguette, the King of beaches in the Languedoc region backed by miles of wild dunes. It’s so vast, you can find a space to sun-bathe no matter how many people there are.