The Cannes Film Festival may be best known as the glitzy setting where Hollywood’s biggest names unveil their latest projects, but for every red carpet premiere, there’s an equally star-studded soiree gliding along the Riviera.

With the festival in full swing right now, glamorous guests are currently dropping anchor along the Croisette; but these floating playgrounds are not solely the preserve of the A-list. If you've always imagined seeing the coast of Cannes from a yacht, there are ways to bring a flash of luxury to your south of France travels, whatever your budget.

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Aerial of a group of people swimming in blue water near a yacht ©Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock
Chartering your own yacht means you can discover Cannes your way © Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock

Book in advance

It may seem obvious, but when the high season starts around May and the film festival, boats – and yachts in particular – are likely to be booked out, so make your reservation a few weeks before you want to go. At the higher end, Georgia Hutchinson of SuperYachtsMonaco recommends booking at least a year in advance so your broker can get you the best deal. “The later you book, the more compromises you have to make on the yacht specifications,” she explains. “All the good ones go early!”

Bookings are back stronger than pre pandemic times, with Georgina reporting: “ The pandemic gave rise to an intense appreciation for exploration, travel and discovery. Clients not only retained (postponed) their initial bookings made before the pandemic, but have chartered with increasing intensity throughout the following seasons.”

Think outside the high season

That’s July and August in the south of France, and while there is still some availability at these times, you’ll likely end up paying more than you would off-peak, and if you’re going for a yacht, you may struggle to find an accommodating berth at the crowded ports.

A smaller boat leaves the pier on the waters edge in the Carlton Beach Club © Philip Lee Harvey/Lonely Planet
Hiring smaller boats for a day trip is a great way to keep costs in check while living the high life © Philip Lee Harvey/Lonely Planet

On a budget? Take a day trip

Yachts are typically booked by week, but you can hire a boat that can take up to 7 people by the day for around €2000, fuel included. Chrissie McClatchie, an Australian now living in Villefranche-sur-Mer, rents a license-free boat with her husband for special birthday trips or on family visits.

“It's a fab day out,” she says. “Everyone can take turns steering, you can take a picnic and there’s a little bit of shade. The bay of Villefranche around to Cap Ferret is sublime – we would just drop anchor and spend a few hours jumping in and out of the water in the morning before coming back into port for lunch along the waterfront.”

Some boat rental companies like Boatsetter are flexible, letting you choose between boats at a wide range of prices that can be had for a day or longer periods, with or without a captain depending on your needs and how much you want to spend.

Sail Cannes in style

The small day boats are simple in design, with a classic open layout offering a deck for sunbathing, a seating area and a cover for shade, along with the steering wheel and life jackets. “These boats are very basic – there’s not even a toilet on board,” says McClatchie. “But it’s all you need for a really fun few hours on the water.”

The larger boats are often equipped with cabins and toilets, as well as indoor and outdoor dining and lounging areas. In the luxury models you can enjoy cinema rooms, spas, gyms, clubs and bars. Water toys are booming at the moment, and you can take your pick from inflatables and jet skis to electronic surfboards and even personal submarines.

Five people jumping from a sailboat into the ocean during summer ©DisobeyArt/Getty Images
The dress code on board is strictly barefoot © DisobeyArt/Getty Images

Bring the essentials

Swap hardshell luggage, which can be hard to store, for soft canvas bags. As well as the usual SPF and travel documents, in most cases for day rentals you’ll need to bring your own food and drink, so prepare a picnic to enjoy on the water. As for what to wear? “The uniform on board is bare feet,” says McClatchie. “Always!”

Consider whether you’ll need a licence

If you’re keen to take the wheel, a license is required to operate boats with a motor more powerful than 4.5 kilowatts or 6 horsepower. However, for most rentals, you won’t need a license, particularly if you’re only sailing for the day with a few friends or family members.

There are plenty of companies along the coast, such as Dark Pelican in Villefranche-sur-Mer, that specialize in small boat rentals, with or without a licence. For more information on applying for licences, visit the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing. When renting without a license, you’ll get a demonstration on how to use your boat before you set out, and the company will provide defined cruising limits.

If you want to go outside the specified navigation area, or you’re after a bigger boat, you can hire a crewed motor yacht. Companies such as 212-Yachts, which has a base in Nice, offer small yacht charters with skipper from €3,150 per day. Superyachts – defined as those measuring over 24m in length – start from €115,000 per week from companies such as SuperyachtsMonaco.

A luxury yacht floats on azure waters along a beautiful bay beach with Cannes in the background ©rochus/Shutterstock
Wish you were here? Turn your dreams into reality with our top tips for a yacht holiday in Cannes © rochus/Shutterstock

Plan your South of France route

Renting your own boat allows you to discover the coast away from the crowds. For day trips on licence-free boats, McClatchie recommends choosing a lesser-known departure port, such as Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu-sur-Mer and St-Jean-Cap-Ferret, or head beyond Cannes to Mandelieu-la-Napoule to explore the red rock mountains of the Massif Esterel.

“The best bits for me are the chance to drive a boat, which is great fun, and swimming in the cove of St Jean where the water is perfect, translucent turquoise,” she adds. “It’s pretty magical.”

If a member of your party has a licence, or if you’ve hired a skipper, McClatchie suggests dropping anchor between Les Iles des Lérins, a group of unspoilt islands off Cannes.

“On a superyacht, the whole coast is your playground,” she adds, “but the Porquerolles, St-Tropez (especially Plage de Pampelonne and Le Club 55, La Bagatelle and Nikki Beach bars), Cannes and Monaco are destinations that never go out of fashion."

A couple sail a licence-free yacht off the coast of Cannes on an achievable luxury holiday © Chrissie McClatchie
Chrissie McClatchie and her husband Keith Oxley hired a licence-free boat in Villefranche-sur-Mer © Chrissie McClatchie

Be conscious of additional charges

If you’re chartering a crewed yacht, you’ll have to pay extra for fuel and expenses such as dockage costs, snacks and drinks. This is all covered in the Advance Provisioning Allowance, or APA, which is paid in advance, usually a month before departure. It is generally calculated as a percentage of the charter fee, i.e. 20-25% if you’re chartering a sailing yacht and 30-35% for a motor yacht. If there’s anything left at the end, it will be refunded.

And don’t forget to tip

The number one rule of yachting etiquette? Tip your crew. The Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association recommends tipping between 5-15% of your charter fee. Hand it to the captain at the end of your charter, and they will split it between the crew.

This article was first published May 2019 and updated May 2023

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