Crime & Safety Issues
With a fascinating history, unique culture, delicious food, stunning architecture, and beautiful countryside, there’s no surprise that the French Riviera is one of the most visited luxury travel destinations in the world. You’ll notice that all of the villas have gates, high fences, and bars or shutters on their windows. These aren’t for aesthetics, they’re for safety.
It is important to remember that whilst in France, anyone who witnesses an accident and does not try to assist the victim – at least by summoning help – is committing a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to €75,000 and a possible prison term of five years. For assistance in any emergency situation, dial 112.
An Analysis of Crime on the French Riviera in 2020
The main type of crime in France tends to be property crime (villa invasions) which can amount to almost half of the reported incidents, despite security professionals estimating that 90% of breakins go unreported. Criminals have been known to use gas to sedate their victims before entering their villa and stealing everything of value — including the watches and wedding rings that the victims were wearing as they slept (more on this below).
Whilst burglary of luxury apartments in the region are nothing new, statistics of crime rates throughout the French Riviera provide unpleasant reading. According to the latest statistics from the département des Alpes-Maritmes region, within one year there has been an overall increase of 8% in robberies. This includes a total of 48 armed robberies and a further 1,545 “unarmed” robberies.
Other types of popular crime are petty theft in the form of pick-pocketing and vehicle theft; which is more concentrated around larger towns or cities. One less publicized yet frequent crime is the targeting of yachts and their crew. There have been a number of cases, particularly in Antibes, where crew have been mugged when returning to their yacht after a night out. Yachts moored in marinas throughout the French Riviera, where security tends to be lax, are sometimes boarded by thieves and have valuable items stolen.
Big events such as the Cannes Film Festival are targets. Cannes has become increasingly dangerous during the festival, with gangs of petty criminals looking for rich pickings. Hotel break-ins, purse snatchings and muggings have become commonplace.
Many criminals and prostitutes come to the area to profit from big events. Prostitutes often double as thieves, with groups boarding yachts and while the men are distracted, one excuses herself to go to the bathroom and instead goes from room to room stealing watches, passports, cash, and other valuables.
Violent crime such as incidents of sexual assault and gun crime are seen as being relatively low compared to other areas around the world when you look at population numbers, but it is on the rise, and according to a number of reports it is more dangerous the further south you travel. In particular the French Riviera cities of Marseille, Nice and Corsica have by far the highest crime rates (more about those cities below), where gun crime and gang killings are not uncommon.
While these incidents usually don’t directly affect travellers to the area, it is something to bear in mind as the organised crime gangs which operate have a distinct hierarchy, and most start at the bottom rung of opportunistic, petty crime and work their way up.
The Alpes-Maritimes, where the Riviera resorts of Nice and Cannes lie, saw an average of 48 murders per year over the last three years.
Villa Burglaries & Gassings
Reports indicate that villa burglaries on the French Riviera are a growing problem. While luxury villas are definite targets, even tourists in camper vans are being gassed and robbed. Organized criminals follow people who look wealthy and then use drones to case their villas. It’s often celebrities that get the news coverage, but this is happening to vacationers at all income levels.
The police have indicated that break-ins have become a growing problem in the region, with perpetrators gassing their proposed victims through the air conditioning units before breaking in and spending several hours stealing valuables — right down to removing the passed-out victim’s rings and watch.
It is thought the use of chemical gas in these raids goes under-reported because it is not obvious they have been targeted in this way. A security expert working in the south of France told Daily Star: “I would say around 90% of villa raids out here go unreported.” The situation has got so bad that the US Embassy in Paris warned American citizens of “recent trends” in residential burglaries by “well-organized burglary rings” — mostly Eastern-European crime groups.
“Everything from burglary and money laundering to vice is controlled by the Mob from former Communist countries. They’re into everything, from the Russian prostitute rings in resorts like Cannes and St Tropez to gassing tourists in their villa and stealing everything they’ve got,” a police officer told The Telegraph.
Issues with Crime Reporting
Tourists often don’t report incidents. Due to the region relying heavily upon tourism, it is well known that a high number of incidents go unreported and certainly do not get published into the public domain. It’s quite often the case where foreigners, usually tourists, are the victims of crime in the south of France. Viewed as being easy prey, foreigners are typically less familiar with their surroundings, are more relaxed in ‘holiday mode’ and rarely want to undergo the added hassle of reporting the crime to the French police. Hotels also often discourage tourists from reporting a crime, as they don’t want the crime to be on the record since they may be legally liable.
Those working in the tourism and real estate industries suppress information online. In online forums like TripAdvisor, locals (who are employed in industries that make money off foreigners) often pose as impartial commenters while they troll conversations about crime and deny that the area has any crime problem. Many Facebook groups are operated by those working in the tourism industry who have a financial incentive to suppress the truth about the risks, and when comments about crime are posted in their Facebook groups, they are often quickly deleted.
French police have a reputation for not taking crime seriously. In France, there are several issues that make the police ineffective. For one, it’s very difficult to get fired, even if you’re not doing your job. This is doubly true for government workers like police. Secondly, the police feel that there is little they can do to catch criminals (the laws in France restrict police to a point where justice suffers), so they discourage victims from officially reporting crimes. They don’t want their crime statistics to look even worse, since they know they won’t catch the thieves. The reputation is that police in France are slow to respond, refuse to speak English, and most of the time they tell you there’s nothing that can be done. This, of course, only serves to embolden and encourage criminals.
All this makes it difficult to ascertain a true reflection of the threat posed within certain regions, however, with that said, due to our local intelligence sources within certain regions we are able to highlight some of the main concerns and risks posed when travelling to and from certain areas around the southern coast.
Tips to Avoid Crime
The fact that the French Riviera attracts the wealthiest tourists from around the world is not lost on local con artists, who have come up with a number of scams to outwit travelers of their hard-earned cash. Knowing what to watch out for, and taking a few simple precautions that might not be necessary back home, can make the difference between a great trip and a fiasco:
- Be careful when on the move. The most common types of crimes are pickpockets who operate on public transport at times when it is very crowded. This has also been used against pedestrians walking with purses, bags or cameras slung over their street-side shoulder. As for personal safety on public transport, you should be aware that very late trains – approaching midnight – on the western side (Nice – Cannes – St Raphael – Marseilles) do not have a good reputation. Many stations are not staffed and trains run largely empty, so lone travellers may prefer to avoid late travel on these routes if possible. Be aware of any member of the public who appears to be pushing into queues to cause distraction as this is a popular technique used by gangs of pickpockets; as one member causes the distraction, the other member targets your belongings. The same technique is also used by thieves and pickpockets at popular tourist locations and at cash machines.
- Take sensible precautions to help protect yourself against street crime, keep important documents and valuables inside your bags by using inside compartments and carry your bag across your body rather than over your shoulder which will make it more difficult to steal. If the strap is short, carry your bag across your chest rather than on your shoulder. Don’t flash around any valuables or cash.
- You are strongly advised to keep copies of the identification page of your passport, as well as your birth certificate, driver’s licence, train or plane tickets and credit cards. Keep originals and copies in a safe but in separate places, preferable secure online. If possible, consider scanning these documents and saving the files in your email account or on an encrypted platform like Sync.com. This will ensure that your important details are always backed up and accessible to you.
- There is a high frequency of vehicle break-ins. Leave nothing in view in the vehicle and above all do not leave valuable objects, passports, money or credit cards in a vehicle. Never leave personal belongings unattended and use secure parking facilities, especially overnight. Be vigilant when renting automobiles, as rented vehicles are a target of choice. When driving be suspicious if individuals signal for you to stop, it is common for thieves to obstruct a road or distract the driver by flashing headlights with the sole purpose to get you to stop your vehicle. It is then, once you have stopped that they will seize the opportunity to steal a bag or other valuable objects. Be especially vigilant when stopped at traffic lights, as bags are often snatched from the front passenger seat by thieves travelling on scooters. Keep windows closed and doors locked at all times.
- If you’re using a rental car make sure to lock the doors while visiting tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations and airports. There is more advice regarding car rental in this guide, but be aware that there have recently been cases of “homejacking” – where thieves break into villas and, finding the car keys left on display, steal the rental car as well. Because the car was not “taken by force”, renters have found themselves not covered by rental insurance and liable for the whole replacement value of the car.
- Photocopies of travel documents and credit cards should be made, and kept separately from the originals with emergency telephone numbers maintained to contact banks if credit cards are stolen or lost. It is a lot harder to try to find this information after the event.
- Emergency numbers are, for fire/rescue (18), police (17), and medical emergencies (15). If you have any concerns it may be a good idea to programme them into your mobile phone before arrival There is also a European Union-wide emergency number, 112, that will connect you with an operator who speaks both English and the language of the country you are in.
- Unless you have a specific need for a car – for example, mobility/disability problems, renting in a remote rural location, or planning on touring the back-country – it is generally a mistake to rent a car in Nice for local travel. Parking a car anywhere in Nice is notoriously difficult, and equally so in many surrounding areas. People park everywhere, between trees, poles and on sidewalks. They routinely bump each other in order to get in and out of tight spaces. Traffic and parking tickets are doled out like sweets. The French Riviera has some of the worst traffic and one of the highest traffic accident rates in France, and the toxic mix of French car driving enthusiasm with many powerful motorcycles and youths on small scooters makes holiday motoring often an unrewarding experience.
- In a sidewalk café, put one purse strap under the leg of your chair, and don’t set your wallet or phone on the table or it could get whisked away in a blink of an eye.
- Beach grabs are on the rise: if you go for a dip, don’t leave your stuff unattended, and if you are sunbathing, better to use your purse for a pillow rather than have it just lying there, waiting to be plucked. Better yet, don’t take anything to the beach that would be a heartbreak if stolen.
- If you rent a villa, be alert and ensure the windows and doors are kept locked, especially at night.
- There are news reports of robbers posing as fake Police, using a blue flashing light on their car, pulling over drivers to then demand wallets, mobile phones, and other valuables. These thefts are occurring on motorways at night. Something to be careful of if you’re driving.
- Street robbers can use violence against their victims, with some even being killed as a result. Be cautious of gangs on the street corners (especially in Marseille and Nice) who are on the lookout for potential victims. If you are being robbed, give the robbers what they ask for. Nothing is worth losing your life.
All this advice is not intended to scare you off the South of France, but by noting it, you should enjoy a more stress-free holiday, and a less stressful one in the event of unexpected problems.
The key to having an incident free stay on the French Riviera is to stay relaxed but remain vigilant. Pay atenton to crime reports in the area and where possible, seek local advice from a trusted source. Always be aware of the locaton of your valuables whether it’s your passport, wallet, designer handbag or expensive watch. Remain in well-populated areas and don’t stray of the beaten track, especially at night. Most importantly, always put yourself in the mind of the criminal and ask yourself whether you’re presentng an easy target. If you are,
then do something about it.
The crimes highlighted above are certainly not exclusive to the French Riviera. Most of these crimes happen in many of the world’s major cites on a daily basis. Remaining vigilant and applying a litle common sense is usually all that’s needed to ensure that your stay is memorable for the right reasons.
Further Analysis: By City
Here is a detailed crime analysis of the most dangerous locations, broken down by city:
- Marseille: Crime rates are over 5 times higher than any other city in France, especially the murder rate.
- Corsica: The highest murder rate in Western Europe.
- Nice: Rife with pickpocketers and petty thieves.
- This website will let you drill down on the type and amount of reported crimes by area.
The Safest Area: Monaco
The safest city on the French Riviera (and perhaps in the world) is Monaco. With nation-wide video surveillance, three police stations, and more than one police officer per 100 residents, Monaco has safety standards so strict that it is known as the safest square mile in the world.
The 519 police officers, who must go through a two-year intensive training program. They don’t mess around: the rules are extremely strict and while Monaco’s sea-view prison is notoriously comfortable, the court system in Monaco almost always pronounces maximum sentences. So behave yourself!
Monaco has a system of 24-hour video surveillance spanning the entire surface area of the Principality, including the majority of residential building lobbies, a transmitting system worthy of the best armies in the world, the possibility of blocking all access in and out of the Principality in several minutes. And we mustn’t forget the surveillance teams inside of the Casino and in all of the gambling establishments and hotels.
This works well for residents and tourists, as you won’t need to worry about your diamond bracelet or designer bag being stolen, or your child going missing. If your child wanders off, the police will be able to track him/her with facial-recognition video tracking and find your child in a matter of minutes.