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What's that spongy thing called again?

The matela,transat & other things you need to know about

photo: slim aarons

Planning a vacation?  Is the Cote d'Azur calling you? Here are a few handy words that you may find useful for a day at the beach.

Plage                                     beach

sable                                      sand

sable fin                                 fine/soft sand

galette                                pebbles (more like stones if your in St Jean Cap Ferrat!!)

matela                                   mattress

bains de soleil                      sunbeds

transats                                sunlounger

parasol                                 umbrella

a l'ombre d'un parasol         in the shade of an umbrella 

serviettes                             towels

vestiaire                               change room

douches                               showers

toilettes                                toilets

pmr                                      if you see this it indicates disabled access

plat du jour                          todays specials

carte                                    menu

boisson                               drinks 

1ère ligne                           1st row

gratuitement                       free,included

Now for the confusing bit

As we all know the English language is full of subtle differences that only English speakers understand and a similar thing happens with the French language. While it may be understood that a matela is a mattress,what you need to be clear about is whether they are talking about one thats "sur le sable"(on the sand) or "sur le transat" (on the sunlounger). 

The same thing occurs with "bains de soleil" (sunbeds) and "transats" (sunlounger). These sound exactly the same but the difference is down to mesh or plastic. It is really confusing. 

As a general rule of thumb you will find the matela on the sand in & around St Tropez. Now what seems fabulous at 10.00 am may turn into a nightmare after a few drinks so choose carefully. Rolling around like a beached whale trying to get up from your matela is never a good look, particularly at a chic beach club.

photo: slim aarons

Now to be brutally honest.....

Beach clubs vary wildly in ambience and service. To be honest, they are a real love or hate subject for us because we grew up on the beautiful free harbour and coastal beaches of Sydney. The idea that one has to pay to enjoy a day in the sun rankles just a little but we have had to swallow our socialist sunning tendancies to hit the beach in France with friends who love to see and be seen at all manner of beach clubs along the riviera.


Each club has a different clientele base they wish to attract.Family, laid back ,hipster, eurobucks, whatever. Which is fine ,but if you consider yourself a hipster family,  you are better off going to a family style beach club and not the latest hottest club around. It doesn't matter if you book a cabana, front row or pontoon seating, a chic club will place your family in the back rows because they don't want to promote a family appeal. It isn't fair but Beach Club Siberia is real. Only the famous, super rich, young and very beautiful get the best seats on the sand.

As for self catering at a beach club, don't even think about it. If you have a baby with you, go to a family friendly beach club because no mercy is shown to hapless parents wanting to feed baby their pre prepared meal. You will be humiliated and even asked to leave. I have seen this happen to a family with a young toddler. Their crime? They gave the kid an apple. Seriously.

Ordering lunch? No problem, just remember in the height of the season when you have ordered lunch for 1.00pm, so has everyone else. Look around you ,how many people are here, 100 or so? Now, imagine a kitchen the size of yours at home trying to get out all those covers. Expect your meal to be served some time around 3.00pm.

You don't have lunch at a beach club expecting haute cuisine. Burgers, pizza's pre made baguettes etc are the norm. Listen carefully and you will hear the microwave pinging like crazy.  You can find good, fresh food but it is really a matter of luck. Many clubs start out with good intentions but go the microwave route in no time at all.

Ordering a drink can also require the patience of Job. It is better to just go and get your own without waiting to be served by staff. I have seen all sorts of arguments erupt over a missing diet coke or a cold beer gone awol. Life is simply too short to hassle over things like this. 


photo: slim aarons

Cash is king at beach clubs. Many claim to accept credit cards but it is astonishing how many of them have broken card machines. Cash up at an ATM before you arrive and be prepared to tip big if you do want good seating. Even then you may find yourself pushed out for a megabucks regular or celebrity. Booking in advance does not protect you from this hierarchical system. You can complain as much as you like but management couldn't care less. They are only open for a relatively short time each year and want to make as much money as possible. If you don't shell out for expensive drinks every half hour or so, or don't have a last surname that is a global brand, then you will have to step aside. Sorry.

Before I forget.....
photo: slim aarons

Towels. You may think it a hassle to bring your own towel to a beach club but an inexpensive purchase once you arrive on the riviera can save you money in the long run. Many beach clubs charge extra for towels and some charge a lot. In St Tropez you can be fooled into thinking that you have hired a towel only to find you are charged 100 Euro for purchasing the damn thing. If you are spending several days or weeks on the riviera, consider purchasing a fold up matela from a convenience store or a garden store. They come in chic stripes, are lightweight and dry out more quickly than a towel.

So what are the positives ?

photos: slim aarons

The toilet. Yes, I said I was going to be brutally honest. The public toilets at the beach can be real shockers. I'm not kidding. There have been days when I have gone back to my holiday house or hotel just to use the loo.  Beaulieu Sur Mer, I am  talking to you! Having access to a clean, functioning toilet is one very good reason to visit a beach club, particularly if you are elderly or if you have kids.

To End


There are some excellent beach clubs along the coast with amazing staff to match but many of the family run businesses that focused on good service have been taken over by a new generation with different priorities. The clubs you see in the travel mags tend to be focused on running a 'scene' as opposed to providing a relaxed, friendly environment. If you want the latter, go off the main drag in these coastal towns and you will usually find an old school family run club with free parking, child minding and good, decent food.

Choose your beach with care. Read as many reviews as you can.It's your vacation and your cash. Beach clubs are rarely inexpensive and if you are planning to visit somewhere like Nikki Beach, be prepared to spend a lot or don't bother. It depends what you want and what you consider to be value for money. Good luck and remember to tan wisely!

For beach overviews & listings check out our website 

photo: slim aarons

yes,i have been on a bit of a slim aarons rampage!!!

Now for some random photos for you to peruse