Lively marine reserves and hundreds of rocky coves to explore all along the coast

There are hundreds of snorkeling spots in Southern France’s coastal waters, including rocky creeks, Calanques, rocky islets, Posidonia meadows and lagoons, as well as more atypical locations such as shipwrecks, Roman ruins, or underwater sculptures.

If you are fascinated by marine fauna and flora, you will have to favor the reserves and National Parks, with colorful backgrounds and full of life. These are the places to find the best snorkeling in South France.

View of Plage de la Palud in Port Cros
View of Plage de la Palud, in Port Cros National Park.

Snorkeling in Port Cros and Porquerolles National Park

Off Hyeres, the Port Cros and Porquerolles National Park, one of the most beautiful marine protected areas in Europe, offers the best snorkeling in all of Southern France. The best spots are found around Port Cros Island, which is the heart of the National Park.

The bay of Plage de la Palud, which can be reached in about 45 minutes on foot from the port, is considered to be Southern France’s greatest place for snorkeling. You will encounter in its seagrass beds and along its rocky ridges large common dentex, greater amberjack, brown meagre, gilt-head bream and dusky groupers. No other snorkeling location in mainland France allows observing so many rare species in such a small area.

Dusky grouper in Port Cros
Plage de la Palud is France’s best location to encounter dusky groupers.

Anse de la Fausse Monnaie is another must-visit spot for Port Cros snorkeling enthusiasts. There too, large sargo, gilt-head bream and schools of salema laze in the translucent water.

Neighboring Plage du Sud, popular with beach lovers, has less spectacular underwater life. On the east coast of the island, the Bay of Port Man and Calanque Longue are remote but stunning snorkeling spots.

Anse de la Fausse Monnaie, Port Cros
Snorkelers at Anse de la Fausse Monnaie, Port Cros.

Although also located in the Port Cros National Park (which was extended in 2012), the island of Porquerolles has poor marine life, as fishing is still authorized on large sections of its coastline.

Some of the best snorkeling spots on the island include Calanque du Brégançonnet, Plage du Langoustier and Cap des Mèdes, but you can also explore the rocky edges of Plage Notre-Dame and Plage d’Argent.

Brown meagre in Port Cros.
A brown meagre in Plage de la Palud, Port-Cros.

Snorkeling the coast from Toulon to Cavalaire

Between Cavalaire-sur-Mer and Hyeres, the coast has numerous small coves lying amid rock points. Among them, from east to west, Plage de Jean-Blanc, Plage de Bregançon, Plage de l’Estagnol, Plage du Pellegrin and Plage de l’Argentière, the latter being equipped with a snorkel trail.

On Giens Peninsula, the best spot is Calanque du Four à Chaux, from which you can snorkel over shallow seagrass beds to the island of La Redonne. To the north of Almanarre Beach, you can also discover the Archaeological Site of Olbia, where an ancient Roman quay and a 19th-century shipwreck sit in a few feet of water.

Noble pen in Plage de la Madrague
A noble pen shell in Calanque du Four à Chaux.

A few minutes from Toulon city center, Anse Magaud, with its protected rocky beds where fish, octopus and starfish live, is the best spot in town.

Snorkeling in the Gulf and peninsula of Saint-Tropez

A legendary destination in the Côte d’Azur, Saint-Tropez is world-famous for its smooth golden beaches, sparkling seas, and cloudless blue skies

In the northern extension of the famous Pampelonne Beach, Tahiti Beach has shallow rocky beds where you can see fish and octopus. Further south, Plage de l’Escalet and Plage de la Douane also lend themselves to fair snorkeling.

Plage de Jovat and Ilot du Crocodile
Plage de Jovat and Ilot du Crocodile snorkel trail.

Cap Lardier, in La Croix Valmer, is one of Southern France’s signature undeveloped shorelines, a perfect option for those seeking a secluded beach escape near Saint-Tropez. It features Plage de Jovat, a small protected area where you can explore a rocky islet, Posidonia seagrass beds and a wreck in which groupers and morays hide.

Snorkeling in Nice, Cannes and the Esterel Massif

The coastline that stretches between Cannes, Nice and Antibes is heavily urbanized. The best snorkeling in this region is found on the few capes and small islands, still relatively untouched. If you are staying near Nice, reach the Cap Ferrat peninsula, where nice spots, such as Anse des Fossés, Anse des Fossettes or Paloma Beach, are located.

Underwater sculpture at Cannes Underwater Museum.
One of the portraits of Cannes Underwater Museum.

If you are looking for a more unusual environment, head to the Lerins Islands, less than 2km off La Croisette. It features the Cannes Underwater Museum, a series of six monumental portraits sited near the shore, at a depth of 10 to 15ft/3 to 5m.

On the Cap d’Antibes, a few options are available to snorkeling enthusiasts, who can get into the water at Baie des Milliardaires or at Plage de la Garoupe.

Cup coral and red sea star in Pointe de l'Aiguille
Cup coral and red sea star noted on Pointe de l’Aiguille pinnacle.

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle then the Massif de l’Estérel, a nature haven, should be your top pick. This coast of red rocks extends for almost 30 km between Théoule-sur-Mer and Saint-Raphael.

In this area, don’t miss Pointe de l’Aiguille snorkeling spot, where brown meagre, two-banded seabream and dusky groupers are sometimes seen around the pinnacle that emerges in the bay. Other popular snorkeling locations in Massif de l’Estérel include Calanque d’Anthéor and Calanque de Maubois.

Calanque d'Antheor
Calanque d’Antheor.

Snorkeling in Marseille and the Calanques National Park

In the heart of the Massif des Calanques, between Marseille and Cassis, 27 creeks follow one another along the coastline. Surrounding limestone cliffs shelter the Calanques from high winds by offering serene waters for snorkeling.

However, the Calanques support relatively little underwater life. Indeed, although its coastline has been protected by a National Park since 2012, fishing is unfortunately still authorized in most of the area.

Calanque de Sormiou, Marseille
View of Calanque de Sormiou, in Marseille.

On the Marseille side, Calanque de Sormiou, Calanque de Morgiou and Calanque de Sugiton, all three with shore access, allow observing starfish, seabream and salema in a crystal-clear sea. There are fewer fish in Cassis, especially in Calanque de Port-Pin and Calanque d’En Vau, overcrowded in summer. Many other Calanques make good snorkeling spots, but many of them are remote and a boat is usually required to reach them.

Triplefin blenny in Calanque de Sugiton
A red-black triplefin in Calanque de Sugiton.

At the eastern end of the National Park, the ocher Calanques of La Ciotat offer a different scenery. Anse du Petit Mugel and Anse du Sec, also popular with divers and freedivers, are some of South France’s greatest snorkeling locations.

Caves lined with zoanthids and yellow gorgonians await the most seasoned snorkelers, who will also spot blennies, scorpionfish, moray eels and nudibranchs. Calanque de Figuerolles, further west, has fair snorkeling too.

Mediterranean moray at Anse du Petit Mugel
Encounter with a Mediterranean moray at Anse du Petit Mugel.

If Pointe d’Endoume and the Frioul Islands are also some of Marseille’s decent snorkeling locations, you will find better options in Carry-le-Rouet, especially in Cap Rousset Beach and Anse des Bouchons. These spots are part of Parc Marin de la Côte Bleue, an aquatic life conservation district located on Marseille Bay’s northern shore.

Snorkeling in Sete, Agde and the Etang de Thau

In Languedoc, where the long sandy beaches follow one another, the snorkeling opportunities are rarer. In Le Grau-du-Roi, Palavas-les-Flots or La Grande Motte, you may want to explore on a calm day the surroundings of the breakwaters to hope to see some fish.

Ponton de la Bordelaise, Balaruc
Ponton de la Bordelaise, in Balaruc, is the most popular snorkeling and diving location in Etang de Thau.

If you can, head to the rocky shores of Cap d’Agde and Sète instead, which are home to more decent snorkeling. In Sète, there is fair snorkeling at Plage du Lazaret as well as at Crique de l’Anau, both nestled at the foot of Mont Saint-Clair.

About twenty kilometers further south, Cap d’Agde is also home to some nice spots. La Plagette, where a snorkeling trail has been installed, is the best known, but the neighboring Plage de la Conque, as well as the rocks that extend south from the Plage du Mole, can also be snorkeled. Fort de Brescou, located on a small rocky island off the port, is also a recommended location.

A seahorse in Etang de Thau
A long-snouted seahorse in Etang de Thau, at a depth of fewer than 2 feet.

If in Languedoc the spots at sea are relatively poor in fish, the Etang de Thau, a 20 kilometers-long lagoon separated from the sea by coastal dunes, boasts one of the most fascinating aquatic environments.

Ponton de la Bordelaise, in Balaruc, is the best snorkeling spot in the lagoon: most marine life, including seahorses, pipefish and nudis make their home in the shallows, providing the perfect opportunity for even beginner snorkelers to witness mysterious underwater life.

Snorkeling the Vermilion Coast

At the western end of the French Mediterranean coast, the Côte Vermeille, between Argelès-sur-Mer and the Spanish border, is a gorgeous rocky shore and a must-experience snorkeling area in mainland France. These few kilometers of rocky coastline are home to the oldest marine reserve in the country, the Cerbère-Banyuls National Nature Reserve, established in 1974.

Seabream Plage de Peyrefite
Plage de Peyrefite has the fishiest seabed on the French southwestern shores. Here, a school of sargo.

Plage de Peyrefite, halfway between Banyuls and Cerbère, is the most popular snorkeling location in the reserve. Gilt-head bream, sargo and octopus live in its shallow rocky scree, which can be explored freely or by following the buoys of the snorkel trail. Plage du Troc and Plage de Taillelauque, which are also part of the marine reserve, are also worth a visit.

Outside the reserve, Plage des Batteries and Plage de l’Huile (in Collioure), Anse de Thil and Plage de Bernardi (in Port-Vendres) or Anse de Terrimbo and Plage d’El Canu (in Cerbère) are good alternatives spots, but you will see less fish there.

Snorkeler at Plage de Jovat snorkel trail
One of the panels of the Plage de Jovat snorkel trail.

Underwater trails

About fifteen underwater trails have been installed on the French coast. Equipped with underwater educational panels attached to buoys, they are an original way to explore the seabed and discover the biodiversity of the Mediterranean.

Beginner snorkelers, who will be able to get to know the fascinating inhabitants of the shallows thanks to the panels, usually enjoy the snorkel trails. Among the most popular are the snorkel trails of Plage de la Palud in Port Cros, Plage de Peyrefite in Cerbère, La Plagette in Cap d’Agde, Pointe de l’Aiguille in Théoule-sur-Mer, Plage de Jovat in La Croix-Valmer and Anse Magaud in Toulon.

School of two-banded seabream in Port Cros
The protected marine areas feature the most abundant sea life. Here, a school of two-banded seabream in Plage de la Palud.

What will I see while snorkeling in South of France?

The Mediterranean Sea is a relatively small and enclosed sea, teeming with biodiversity rarely seen elsewhere. It is estimated that it is home to 8% of the world’s marine fauna, with nearly 30% of endemic species.

Snorkeling in South France allows observing bustling sea life. The Posidonia meadows, in particular, are a specific marine environment that is easily explored from the shore. They host red starfish, pen shells, cuttlefish, ornate wrasse, pointed-snout wrasse and small conger eels, and play a crucial role as a nursery for many other fish species.

Octopus in Plage de Peyrefite
A common octopus in Plage de Peyrefite.

Ornate wrasse, rainbow wrasse, two-banded seabream, salema and saddled seabream can be spotted almost everywhere in the shallows. You may also be lucky enough to encounter a moray eel, a broadnosed pipefish or a scorpionfish.

However, you will have to reach the marine reserves and National Parks to encounter more emblematic species such as gilthead seabream, brown meagre, greater amberjack or common dentex. To spot the dusky grouper, flagship species of the Mediterranean, head for Plage de la Palud in Port Cros, where it can be seen less than 15 ft/5 m deep.

Pipefish in Etang de Thau
A pipefish photographed at Ponton de la Bordelaise.

The coastal lagoons, in particular the Etang de Thau, are home to very specific biodiversity. Sabella, sea hares, shrimps, peacock blenny, cuttlefish, pipefish, but also two species of seahorse, a magical marine creature.

If you are planning a snorkeling trip to Southern France, we recommend you take with you the Europe and Mediterranean Marine Fish identification guide, a comprehensive guide that includes all the marine fish species that may be encountered in the Mediterranean up to 50m deep.

Check this video 👇 to discover Plage de la Palud underwater world with us! Huge gilt-head bream, greater amberjack, dusky grouper, brown meagre… you never know what shows up! More than 15 distinct marine species can be seen in this short video shot with a GoPro.

 

 

When to go snorkeling South of France?

The Mediterranean climate is mild and sunny, and the temperatures are generally clement. On the coast, average temperatures range between 70 to 80°F (20 to 25°C) from June to September, and from 55 to 70°F (14 to 20°C) the rest of the year. July/August is the peak period for tourists in the region, and you can expect high visitor numbers on some parts of the coast.

Water temperature varies between 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C) from July to October and around 60°F (15°C) in May/June. Outside these months, snorkeling is limited by cooler water temperatures, unless you have an adapted wetsuit.

School of greater amberjack in Port Cros
School of greater amberjack in Plage de la Palud in Port Cros. No other area in South France allows sighting such abundant sea life.

Even during summer, we recommend wearing a rashguard, which will protect your back and shoulders from the strong UV radiations that occur in the Mediterranean. Our selection of the best rashguards and wetsuits for snorkeling may help you to make your choice!

The wind, blowing in gusts over some parts of the coast, should be taken into account before a snorkeling trip in the Mediterranean. It can lead to dangerous conditions in the sea (waves), but which are also less pleasant (cold).

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This page covers the continental Mediterranean French coast. For Corsica, see the special page. The French overseas departments and territories also have dedicated pages: Réunion Island, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, St Martin, St Barthélemy, Martinique, French Polynesia and New Caledonia. You can also check our pages about snorkeling in Brittany and freshwater snorkeling in the French Alps lakes.

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