You might not at first think of going to Marseille for a beach holiday. But in fact the city offers an enormous array of seaside spaces catering to every possible taste all along its west-facing southern coastline.
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Some are perfect for families with children, others for surfing, skateboarding, a beachside drink or meal or, at the very fringes of the city, a hike into the remote rocky calanques.
Some are natural, others man-made, a few are sandy though most have pebbles or rocks. Of course sunbathing is high on the agenda at all of them.
This guide covers the beaches (plages) to the south of Marseille. Click on the map to enlarge the image.
And click here to read about three artificially created beaches, the Plages de Corbière, to the north of Marseille in the outlying district of L'Estaque.
As in previous years, Marseille hopes sun-worshippers will be a bit more active and is offering some 33 organised sports and activities for adults and children at the Plages des Catalans and the Plages du Prado between June and August.
These include everything from kayaking and snorkelling to beach rugby, and there are swimming lessons for kids. A nominal charge of 2€ is made for these activities.
The sea can be turquoise-blue and marvellously clear, given the proximity of the beaches to a major city. It can also be filthy, depending on the wind direction.
Marseille has constantly struggled to keep standards acceptable and in 2012 introduced Gen-Spot testing technology to monitor water pollution - only the second city in France to do so.
In 2013 the city went one step further with daily online reports logging water cleanliness (or pollution) posted at each lifeguard station.
Along with other beach resorts such as Sanary sur Mer, Marseille is also making disposable ashtrays available from the lifeguard stations.
The water temperature varies widely, and will always be a few degrees cooler in the calanques, where the sea is deeper than elsewhere along the coast.
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Each of Marseille's beaches is accessible by bus, though on hot summer afternoons these will be jam-packed with locals out for a dip after work or school, as will be the beaches themselves, so make sure you go early (or late) to beat the crowds. Don't even think about taking a car.
Until mid-October, there is another, very attractive transport option to the further beaches: an hourly boat shuttle service - the "batobus" - which runs between the Old Port and Pointe Rouge.
Started as an experiment in 2012, this boat shuttle, pictured, was originally aimed at, and is also used by, local commuters. It has proved a huge success and returned for 2013.
Near the lifeguard stations on the larger beaches are left luggage lockers, which you are strongly advised to use. Parents of small children can also get fluorescent bracelets for them here on which to mark their name and phone number.
Handicapped bathers should head for the southern Prado Beach, where there are disabled parking spaces, special toilet and shower facilities, signage for sight- and hearing-impaired visitors and marine wheelchairs (located next to the lifeguard station) to enable wheelchair-users to take a dip.
Note that, as the beaches of Marseille are north and west facing, they are particularly exposed to the Mistral, the fierce wind from the north-west that can blow up at any time of the year.
On such days, sun-worshippers might consider the beaches west of Marseille, which are accessible by the Blue Coast train.
Plage des Catalans
The first beach you'll come across on leaving the Old Port, the Plage des Catalans is down a flight of steps. It's sandy and equipped with volleyball areas, a lifeguard station, pizzeria and snack bar and has a good view across the bay to the Château d'If, but the main attraction is its proximity to the centre. However you'll have to arrive early on sunny days to be sure of a spot.
Formerly a private area with an admission charge, the Plage des Catalans became non-paying in 2006 and now gets extremely crowded (and littered) in summer and is currently not to be recommended. There are plans to expand the beach but meanwhile it's worth taking the bus to those beaches a little further out of town.
In June 2013 the city of Marseille passed a decree limiting the number of bathers at any one time to 1,000. Police are stationed at the only entrance to the beach to keep check on the numbers.
Because of its location, the Plage des Catalans is also especially subject to pollution and can be closed on days when this reaches unacceptable levels.
Dogs not allowed. About ten minutes' walk from the Old Port or bus 83.
The next long strip of the Corniche JF Kennedy (the coastal road) has no beaches proper but instead consists of a series of small creeks accessed down steps from the main road.
Essentially, these are rocky inlets from which it's possible to go swimming and include the Vallon des Auffes, the Vallon de Malmousque, the Vallon de la Fausse Monnaie and the Vallon de l'Oriel. Some have restaurants. Click here to read more about them.
Plage du Prophète
After the Vallons is the Plage du Prophète (pictured), another sandy beach down steep steps with volleyball areas, showers and a snack bar.
Protected by a breakwater and lifeguards during the day, it's a good spot for children and a lovely venue for picnics and barbecues on summer evenings.
Between May and September on Thursday and Sunday evenings, La Cantine du Prophète, a bar restaurant perched on the Corniche JF Kennedy above the beach, hosts the enormously popular Apéros du Prophète, at which you can sip a cocktail from sunset until very late while guest DJs spin deep house sounds. Bus 83 from the Old Port.
Parc Balnéaire du Prado
This large (26 hectare / 64 acre) park was landscaped in the 1970s using earthworks from the excavations for the new metro. It runs along the coast for about a kilometre (0.6 mile), around the point where the Corniche reaches the David roundabout. You can't miss this: it's graced by the surreal sight of a huge replica of Michelangelo's famous sculpture, erected in Marseille in 1952.
The Prado area of Marseille's beaches hosts very many cultural and sporting events throughout the year, starting with fireworks on New Year's Eve and continuing through the summer with various organised beach activities.
In September, these beaches are also the backdrop to the Fête du Vent (Festival of Wind). Most of the year the Marseillais curse the infamous Mistral wind. But for a couple of days in autumn they celebrate it with hundreds of colourful kites soaring above the Mediterranean.
The event is also likely to include demonstrations of kite art, children's workshops, kite battles and more, and attracts up to 100,000 artists, kite-flyers and visitors from as far away as China and India.
Pictured right and top left, the strip of Prado beaches is split into a series of separate areas. Bus 83 will take you from the Old Port to the beginning of the park. Bus 19, which you'll need to pick up at Castellane, metro line 2, runs all along it.
First up is the Plage du Roucas Blanc, set well back from the Corniche behind a high grassy ridge topped by a modern sculpture by Jean Amado dedicated to the poet Arthur Rimbaud.
The facilities here include a solarium, sailing and canoe centre, volleyball areas, a small playground, toilets and showers, a diving platform and a lifeguard post, The beach itself is short on bars, but there's a good line-up of watering holes on the other side of the main road.
Plage Planches à voile, also sometimes called the Plage des Véliplanchistes, is, as the name indicates, beloved by windsurfers and kitesurfers. It's a wide, sandy strip - one of Marseille's few original natural beaches - and somewhat prone to pollution on days when the Mistral wind is blowing: hence its local nickname, the Plage des Epluchures (Apple Peel Beach).
On a level with, and right by, the noisy main road, this is a spot to practise water sports, not really to snooze quietly in the sun. There are jetties and a first-aid point.
Across the road from the very popular Parc Borély, Plage Borély and Plage Bonneveine, pictured, are the places to go if you want to eat right on the beachfront: several dozen tourist bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants are clustered here.
Sun-loungers are available to rent, and there's a children's playground and carousel, volleyball area, toilets and lockers, a lifeguard station and a little skateboarding park. You can go fishing on the rocks or, in summer, take a ride on the Ferris wheel (la Grand' Roue).
Avoid the Red Lion, if you're looking for an English pub. Just across the road from the Plage Bonneveine, it serves no English beers and offers only French satellite television (Canal Plus).
At the far end of the park, Plage de la Vieille Chapelle, a pebble beach, is screened from the sea by a low rock wall and has water that's cleaner and shallower than at some of the other beaches. It's popular with local fishermen. In June 2012, a launch channel for kitesurfers was installed at the Plage de la Vieille Chapelle for the duration of the summer.
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Plage de la Pointe Rouge
The sea-front restaurants lined up on this small, crescent-shaped, sandy beach are much less commercialised than the glossy tourist diners in the Bonneveine area and a delightful destination for a meal out. Don't expect white linen tablecloths or gourmet dining: these places serve pizzas, grills and salad in a simple, idyllic setting.
Down a flight of steps, this beach boasts a swimming pool, showers, a lifeguard station and, next to it, a large marina with a Yachting Club. There is a launch ramp for jet skis and you can hire pedalos too.
Across the road is an arcade of banks and shops, including one selling fishing tackle. Pointe Rouge has been prone to erosion in the past but got a huge facelift in May 2013 when 3,500 square metres / 37,700 square feet of brand-new sand were deposited there.
Metro line 2, stop Castellane, then bus 19. Until mid-October, an hourly boat shuttle service - the "batobus" - runs between the Old Port and Pointe Rouge.
Right at the end of the 19 bus route, a few streets of shabby-pretty fishing cottages cluster around a minute sand and gravel beach, but the real reason to go here is to eat a bouillabaisse at Chez Aldo, a seaside restaurant much favoured by locals. Bus 19.
Just after Montredon, Mont Rose - a rocky stretch of coast rather than a beach proper - is the closest nudist beach to Marseille and one of the oldest-established (male) gay beaches in this part of France. Click here to read more about Marseille's gay and lesbian scene. Bus 19, then walk.
At the very end of a narrow, winding road, Les Goudes (pictured left), a scruffy, picturesque, isolated fishing port snuggled in a rocky creek has stunning views across to the islands and, inland, to craggy limestone rocks.
You'll also find a small gravel and sand beach and a marina with lots of bars. It has a homely, no-nonsense, authentically Marseillais ambiance that seems a million miles from the tourist traps nearer the city.
The detective hero of the novels by the popular thriller writer Jean-Claude Izzo had a summer cabin here and the name, apparently, is a corruption of "l'aïgo", or "water" in provençal.
Look out for the rusty remains of the pulleys for the téléscaphe, a bizarre underwater cable car that offered ten-minute rides along the sea-bed here for a year in the late 1960s.
Continue a little way along the coast and you're in Cap Croisette, a wild, remote, craggy bay. There's a minute, rocky beach and, opposite, the imposing mass of the Ile de Maïre. This is an excellent starting point for hiking.
Or visit the Baie des Singes, a fish restaurant that's another local haunt. Note that this involves a ten-minute walk up steps over the rocks to a promontory and is not suitable for people with limited mobility (though it's easily accessible by boat).
Metro line 2, stop Castellane, bus 19 to the end of the route (Montredon), then bus 20.