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The first time my family of three set eyes on Sainte-Maxime, France, was in 2004. I’ll never forget the date or time — May 14, 8 am — because the sound of cannon fire nearly rattled the teeth out of my head. The early morning bang, it turns out, was the start of an annual two-day festival that pays homage to the village’s patron saint and military past and continues to be one of many only-in-France traditions that are both head-scratching and fun to watch. My daughter, Chloe, was just 6 years old, and little did we know then that this loud but quaint village on the French Riviera between Cannes and Saint-Tropez, in Provence’s Var department, would become our regular family memory-making place.
Less blingy than its neighbor Saint-Tropez, yet just a short and scenic ferry ride across the bay, Sainte-Maxime bustles with all the kid-friendly diversions that fuel summer excitement. The walkable village of pastel houses shelters ice cream shops, family-friendly restaurants and outdoor cafés. Boutiques selling beach toys and sunscreen spill into the narrow lanes. Across the street from the center of Sainte-Maxime, the sandy beach is crowded with candy-colored umbrellas and sunbathers of all ages, while kids bob in the calm waters of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez on giant inflatable plastic flip-flops or unicorns. It’s heaven for a young beach-loving family, including mine. My daughter is now 22, and we still return to Sainte-Maxime each year to relive the memories that are embedded in the sand and cobblestones, and make new ones too.
One thing we’ve always enjoyed is Sainte-Maxime’s ideal location from which to explore the French Riviera and Provence. Luckily, we have the perfect Sainte-Maxime villa rental to recommend for an unforgettable land-and-sea adventure along France’s fabled Mediterranean coast. And as a bonus, the village has earned the official national “Famille Plus” label, which identifies it as welcoming to children and adults — parfait!
With white-knuckle waterslides, inner tube floating and a giant wave pool, Aqualand, just a 5-minute drive (or local bus ride) from the center of Sainte-Maxime, is a wet and wild alternative to a beach day. For links lovers, Sainte-Maxime’s 18-hole Golf Blue Green golf course will check all the boxes, if not for the challenging course then for the most beautiful views of the Bay of Saint-Tropez. They also offer summer camps for kids between 7 and 18 years old.
Don’t miss the opportunity to play, or at the very least watch, pétanque, a traditional game of balls that’s deeply rooted in Provence and taken as seriously as afternoon naps. You can see it daily in the center of Sainte-Maxime, at La Boules Maximoise near the main beach. Ask at the little hut about lessons if you’re inspired.
Going to the market might not sound like fun, but in France it’s a different animal, and not a bad way to learn some local vocabulary too. Colorful displays of produce, spices, fish, candies, prepared foods, fresh meat and pasta, and a lot more are on display inside Sainte-Maxime’s Marché Couvert (covered market), just a stumble down the street from Ciao Bambino’s village house. You can also feast on divine fresh seafood in a spot tucked right at the back of the market. Sainte-Maxime’s outdoor market is held on Thursday mornings and winds through the streets in the center of town. Bring your own shopping bag!
If you’re up for an early outing, take the ferry, or Bateaux Verts, to Saint-Tropez and browse for food, clothing, homewares and secondhand items on Tuesday and Saturdays. It’s one of the most popular markets in the area for good reason. The Bateaux Verts also offer all-day excursions that depart right from the port in Sainte-Maxime. Don’t miss a trip to the idyllic isle of Porquerolles, with its renowned vineyards and turquoise waters. Or hop aboard for an outing to the Lérin Islands off the coast of Cannes, where you can visit a Cistercian abbey and a 17th-century fort mixed among the rocky coves and walking trails. If you want to personalize your sea odyssey, arrange a day out on a catamaran to explore the Mediterranean coastline.
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There are plenty of beaches to explore around Sainte-Maxime. Casino Beach, the sandy main beach, is a good choice for families with small children, especially since it’s an easy walk from the center of town. But for older kids and teens, the Plage de la Nartelle can’t be beat. This beautiful stretch of sand has public beaches and private clubs, some water sports and restaurants.
Beach clubs are de rigueur on the French Riviera, and some of the most famous ones are in Saint-Tropez along the world-famous Pampelonne Beach. Warning: In summertime traffic, it can be a chore to get there. For an easier day out at a casual spot that welcomes families, stick to Sainte- Maxime. Reserve lounge chairs on the sand and book a table for lunch at Prao Plage, where the staff are extra-friendly and the homemade food is as delicious as the view. There are restrooms and showers, too, plus valet parking (a bonus, trust us). A little farther east is the Plage des Elephants, a sandy public beach with more parking, restrooms and some restaurants.
In the summer, the heat makes midday hiking unbearable. But if you’re up at the crack of dawn or plan to travel off-season, you’re in luck. The Massif des Maures, the small mountain range behind Sainte-Maxime, hides cute villages and miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers. Grab a map at the Tourist Office in the center of town, pack your water bottle and go!
There is no shortage of quaint villages to wander, nature to explore, wine and olive oil to taste, world-class museums to visit and French fashion to find, all within easy reach of Sainte-Maxime. Here are our favorite day trips and their distance from town.
Sainte-Maxime is more or less 2 hours from both the Nice and Marseilles airports. The closest TGV stop is Saint Raphael. Taxi and private transport are the quickest ways to arrive.
While a car is nice to have, parking can be challenging during the summer months. There is a EuropCar office in the center of the village, which makes it easy to rent a car only when you need it. Reservations are essential and keep in mind that cars are standard transmission unless automatic is requested.
Staying in the heart of Sainte-Maxime is ideal and convenient, and it doesn’t get more central or easier than this elegant village house. Our Family Vacation Advisor team can book a stay for you upon request.
Editor’s note: Photos by Kimberley Lovato and Amie O’Shaughnessy.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.