The French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur, is a dreamy French region that extends east along the coast from Menton and Monaco to Théoule sur Mer and up into the Southern Alps. The Riviera contains several cities (Nice and Cannes among them), 14 natural parks, Roman ruins, medieval villages and whale watching just off shore. Don’t think of the Côte d’Azur as just a summer locale, either. Sure, these cities heat up come July as the masses parade down boulevards and beaches, but winter is one of the Riviera’s best-kept secrets with snow falling just two hours north of the shore. Now I’m going to talk about summer, because the hot days are approaching, so why not to plan a trip there? Here’s how to make the most of your stay in the south of France.
There’s little doubt that the Côte-d’Azur and Provençal coasts are the most seductive: the dying sighs of the Alps dropping to the sea, unambiguous light, beautiful people. Here are both creeks – notably, along the Esterel and Maures corniches – and longer stretches with space enough for all of Europe’s towels. Note, though, that Nice’s beaches are all pebbles – you don’t go to the capital of the Côte-d’Azur to build sand-castles – and St Tropez’s ultra-famous, five-kilometre long Pampelonne beach is studded with private beach clubs. There’s an epidemic of these along the Côte-d’Azur. Should you wish to spend hundreds – thousands – dousing Russian models with Cristal Roederer, they are a boon. And for the rest of us…well, why renting a lounger and parasol for €20 per person or more (per day) when, inches away, the sands are free?
Water activities are available at almost all resorts, with Cavalaire particularly notable for diving and similar. The same is true of Porquerolles island, off Hyères. With little development, and no cars, Porquerolles is as the Riviera was before it started playing to the crowds. In the plage Notre-Dame – 25 minutes walk from the village – it has what may be the loveliest, commerce-free beach in France.
Menton is the thinking person’s Côte-d’Azur. As required, it has the lazy sunshine zest, two vast beaches of sand and shingle, unambiguous light and Alps dropping direct to the sea – but without the airhead assumptions of more ring-a-ding spots farther west. Wintering British nobles long ago set a tone, establishing gardens, good manners and Belle-Epoque elegance. These flourish on Mediterranean roots. The labyrinthine Latin old town climbs around Baroque churches steeply up its hill. Italy’s at the end of the Prom. Thus there is the best of all worlds – and art in the Jean Cocteau Museum, should the sand, sun and sea fail to supply an aesthetic challenge. Hôtel Napoléon is an English-owned boutique hotel by the beach in Menton which dazzles guests with sterling service and crisp, white-and-blue rooms.
Cavalaire-sur-Mer is as close to St Tropez as anyone needs to be, yet terribly different. The place has the same sea, sun and insouciance but with no A-list exclusivity or prices that challenge billionaires. Here families are to the fore, with a safe main beach you hardly see the end of, and every maritime activity known to man, bar buccaneering. Diving is particularly rewarding. Slightly farther along are creeks, more discreet beaches and a dramatic coastal trek to Cap Lardier, which underlines that the Riviera can still be wild and elemental. Directly behind, the Maures mountains whisk you away from sea-sidery to tougher times in the twist of a hairpin. Hotel Résidence Beach is off-centre, but near the beach (go for the second of third floor for best sea views), while Le Clos des Sept Palmiers is a colonial-looking chambres-d’hôtes inches from the beach at Bonporteau creek. Best bet for the family may be a campsite, and the best is the Camping de la Baie. Run by the same family for 60 years, it is, unusually, bang in the town centre (though you’d never guess once you’re in).
From the Côte d’Azur, you can wind up deep in Provence or in the heart of the Italian Riviera in just a few hours. Some of Europe’s most stunning canyons, Les Gorges du Verdon, are less than two hours away with the ride as scenic as the canyons themselves. Don’t have a car? You can still get around the region with the streamlined public transportation system. Here are some ideas for easier-to-reach day trips, other than just sunbathing on the beaches or walking around them.
Cruise the Capes: Between Monaco and Cannes you’ll come across a few scenic stretches of coastal paths, such as Cap d’Ail’s hour-long walk past the Belle Époque villas between the beaches of Mala and Marquet. One of the more popular excursions, the Cap Ferrat peninsula (also known as the millionaires’ peninsula) shows off views over the French coastline all the way up to Italy throughout nine miles of pedestrian paths. Covered in typical Riviera vegetation comprising of pines, myrtle and broom, Cap Martin with the coastal walk that goes all the way round the Cape named after the architect Le Corbusier is another interesting place to visit. By walkind down the path bordered by Aleppo pines that leads to the southern tip of the peninsula Antibes and Juan-les-Pins and its sanctuary, Notre Dame de la Garoupe, you’ll experience another one of Côte d’Azur’s Capes – Cap d’Antibes.
Visit a medieval village: Hike the hour-and-a-half-long Nietzsche path leading from Eze’s seaside up to the medieval village. Stroll the narrow streets lined with artisan shops and studios, stopping for a glass of wine on the terrace of 400-year-old Château Eza, built into the city’s thousand-year-old walls. The main attraction is this rocky little village itself, with small higgledy-piggledy stone houses and winding lanes (and plenty of galleries and shops), and the mesmerising views of the coast. The village gets very crowded during the day; for a quieter wander, come early in the morning or late afternoon. You’ll get the best panorama from Jardin Exotique d’Èze, a cactus garden at the top of the village where you’ll also find the old castle ruins.
//we’ve also visited the Fragonard Parfumerie but I’ll dedicate another article to it
The fortified village of Saint-Paul de Vence sits between Nice and Antibes, with the line 400 bus (1.50€ one-way) running directly from Nice’s city center on the hour-long journey. The village that once drew artists like Calder and Chagall still features many of their pieces at modern and contemporary art museum Fondation Maeght. Reserve a table well in advance for lunch at nearby La Colombe d’Or to dine in the spot these artists and others held court back in the ’40s and ’50s. Set high up on a hillside behind Cannes, the village of Mougins has become a prestigious area and is famous for its gastronomic excellence. There are fashionable bars andexclusive restaurants located around a delightful paved square.
Experience rush of French cities:
While this resort city is renowned for the glitz and glamour of the annual Festival de Cannes, hundreds of years of history lie within the city limits. Some suggest that Cannes was named after the canes that once crowded its shores, and that Napoleon camped on its dunes during his return from Elba. In 1834, the city began its transformation from quiet fishing village to resort town after the wealthy Lord Brougham rested in Cannes during a cholera outbreak in Nice. Captivated by the village, he built a luxurious villa and traveled back every winter for 34 years.
Highlights: Stroll the mile-long La Croisette, a coastal stretch of restaurants, hotels, and shops, stop in Le musée de la Castre, visit the Palais des Festivals, and hike the nearby Massif de l’Estérel.
I swear this is my most normal photo from the red carpet.
The seaport city of Nice is thecapital of Alpes-Maritimes département, located about 20 miles from the Italian border. Founded by a colony of Greek mariners around 350 B.C.E., the city is thought to be named in honor of a nikē, or victory, over a neighboring colony. Nice’s beautiful hills, busy harbor, and majestic ruins inspired famous French artists like Chagalland Matisse, who both lived in the city at one time, and whose works are housed in local museums.
Highlights: Wake up and smell the roses at the Cours Saleya flower market, discover the Roman ruins on Colline du Château(Castle Hill), stroll down the boardwalk at Promenade des Anglais, go shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, play around on Place Masséna and attend theCarnival of Nice.
I look weird – but COMPULSORY photo!
view from our hotel room
the hotel was located right behind the airport – but somehow we didn’t hear any one plane during whole night
- Saint Tropez
Pouting sexpot Brigitte Bardot came to St-Tropez in the 1950s to star in Et Dieu Créa la Femme (And God Created Woman; 1956) and overnight transformed the peaceful fishing village into a sizzling jet-set favourite. Tropeziens have thrived on their sexy image ever since: at the Vieux Port, yachts like spaceships jostle for millionaire moorings, and infinitely more tourists jostle to admire them.
Yet there is a serene side to this village trampled by 60,000 summertime inhabitants and visitors on any given day. In the low season, the St-Tropez of mesmerising quaint beauty and ‘sardine scales glistening like pearls on the cobblestones’ that charmed Guy de Maupassant (1850–93) comes to life. Meander cobbled lanes in the old fishing quarter of La Ponche, sip pastis at a place des Lices cafe, watch old men play pétanque beneath plane trees, or walk in solitary splendour from beach to beach along the coastal path.
Highlights: Have a morning coffee in historic Le Café, visit a chapel with collection of modern art influenced by Côte d’Azur’s light Musée de l’Annonciade, walk around historic fishing quarter la Ponche, visit the rich Vieux Port and enjoy sun and the views from Citadelle de St-Tropez.
touching this grass was the best feeling ever :DD
looook at that car
- Port Grimaud
Considered the most beautiful “watervillage” of France and often called “Venice of Provence”, this little seaside village located in Gulf of St-Tropez is definitely worth a visit, too. Bridges and canals, alleys and ‘fishermen’s houses’, each painted in a different colour, give it lots of charm. There is not a better way to explore Port-Grimaud than by cruising the waters: by electric boat, or on board of a sightseeing canal boat.
Highlights: Have a delicious paella for lunch, rent a boat in Les Coches d’Eau, look out the tallest building in town Church of St. Francis of Assisi, take a guided tour around the port, bath on pure and quiet Port Grimaud beach or take a hike to the medieval town of Grimaud and Grimaud castle.
forgive me the lack of photos from this village but we were just too hungry to go sightseeing 😀
Bask at a beach bar: Skip town when it comes to beaches in Nice and Cannes. The ones surrounding these cities are much better (and less crowded) options. Next to a long public section of one the most beautiful stretches of beach in France in St Tropez is Le Snack Ti’largo, a steel kitchen in a hut with rickety, hand-painted seats and a line of fairy lights that come on at sunset. In the summer, it’s open until midnight (or whenever clients want to leave). Next door is the posher Nioulargo restaurant for more substantial meals but Ti’largo is great for a swordfish brochette with ratatouille or a quinoa salad and has been serving iced rosé on the sand since 1984. After dark, they bring you fleecy blankets so you can comfortably watch the lost millionaires stumbling back towards Saint Tropez. A glass of pastis costs 5€, beer 4€ and a bottle of wine 18€.
A hidden cove, a respite from the flashy excesses of the Riviera near Monaco, Eden Plage is reached by a tricky headland path (closed when the sea is rough) or a long, stepped descent from the village. The restaurant-bar serves great seafood, burgers and chips with views of the steep cliffs of Saint-Laurent bay and the gently-lapping Mediterranean. You can rent a paddle board or kayak on the gravelly beach and head into the nearby grottos. There’s also a floating pontoon to swim to and red sunbeds under the parasols. You might be disturbed by a model from the boutique behind the bar showing off swimsuits, pareos or a macramé bag or just the waiter topping up your rosé (8€ a glass), but otherwise, it’s the most undiscovered beach resort on the Côte d’Azur.
Private beach restaurants and lounge bars take up most of the sandy coastline at Juan-les-Pins, serving the same fantastical cocktails, spicy grilled prawns and chunky seafood pizzas. There’s Le Ruban Bleu, Epi (Happy), Jazz, Jetty, and Juanita but pick of the bunch is Helios which has a coconut-matting roof, teak tables and thick white sand. Helios’s theme is Bali with beige parasols for the bar area and brown for the beach. Head plagiste (beach attendant) Guillaume lays out over 200 mattresses each morning for the early-risers. He says: “Here, we rake and clean the sand, sun-loungers have more space and we have a private pier for those who don’t want to be bothered by trinket-sellers.” Juices and sodas cost 5€, a steel goblet of strawberries 9€ and a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée, 290€.
Exploring foreign culture is always really giving and fun experience. I personally love exploring it by trying local meals. What about you? 🙂
Arid, sun-drenched land makes the Riviera the ideal location for growing olives, herbs, and wine-producing grapes. Add the richness of the sea and you have the delicious cuisine of southern France. Anchovies are used in pan bagnat sandwiches, pissaladière pizzas, and the salad named for the town of Nice, or are blended into a spread. Chickpea flour makes thin socca crêpes and the much thicker panisse. Brandade de Morue takes salt cod and potatoes and turns them into something special. Bouillabaisse, the iconic fish stew, does the same with the leftovers from the catch of the day. For sweets, chestnuts are candied into marrons glacés and fruits are preserved as jellies, jams, or candies.
The Riviera boasts a beach culture that emphasizes “culture”, with exceptional baroque, art deco, and modern architecture, and remarkable art museums dedicated to Chagall, Matisse, Léger, Cocteau, Picasso, and Renoir, among others. Extraordinarily opulent villas have been converted into regional museums along the entire coast. Temporary exhibits are installed regularly in museums, hotels, and on the street, featuring traditional art as well as music, dance, fashion, and cinema. Multiple opera houses, orchestras, large concert halls, small clubs, and popular music festivals feature every genre of music from across the globe in every season. International fireworks festivals end the summer with an explosive, light-infused bang.
Shopping has become something of a sport on the Riviera, with international luxury stores investing in extravagant shops to tempt the rich and famous in Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Monte Carlo. Weekly flea markets in Saint-Tropez, Nice, and Cannes draw bargain hunters from across the region, and well-stocked vintage shops thrive. Art galleries line the streets of Eze and Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Proud merchants at picturesque Provençal markets stock local kitchens with fresh products and offer an abundance of local treats that travel well: wine, honey, olive oil, jams, and candies. Local religious communities support themselves through goods like the herbal teas and hand-painted pottery available at the Monks’ Building in Le Thoronet Abbey.
and finally food, my favourite part of the article!
seaweed – an appetizer
dessert, in most of the restaurants included in the price of the main course
And finally, a few useful information for everyone who decides to travel there.
With perfect weather in July and August, the Riviera draws a huge crowd; it is, therefore, easier to navigate in June and September. Off-season, from October to April, is a good time to visit, but key tourist spots like Saint-Tropez and Èze literally shut down. International flights land at Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, and there is a high-speed train from Paris that runs several times a day. The region is well served by trains and bus routes, but the easiest way to explore is by car. The official language is French, but English is often understood (but believe it or not, in tobacconist’s and smaller supermarkets is English not accepted at all – French speaking people are sometimes even prioritized. The local currency is the euro. Tipping is not necessary, but it is common to round up to the nearest euro, never going beyond 5%. Many hotels offer free Wi-Fi. Electricity is 220–240 volts.
I hope I mentioned everything! I visited all these sites (except bars hehe and a few places I’ve mentioned in the so-called introduction to the article – I touched them on just to make sure you will really not miss anything important – information about them are gathered from a couple of leaflets and other articles – I think you can see from the amount of photos linked to each paragraph where I was and where I wasn’t 😀 all the rights from the downloaded photos go to their owners) with my bestie two weeks ago and it was definitely the most interesting trip of my life (yet!). We were spending nights in cheap budget hotels, the only money we spent were for transport and food. Two nights in hotel in Nice located not so far from the centre (ten minutes if you’re photographing every single detail of the architecture like me, hah) were 64€ per person (32€ for a night obviously), moving between the sites by buses was cheap, too (believe me or not, even cheaper than in Slovakia) and food…well…prices in supermarkets are as high as in other West-European countries and restaurants…when you’re not demanding too much from the meal, you’ll get quite solid lunch with a little dessert (probably compulsory because I saw it in each establishment we’ve visited) and a drink for under 15€ (not talking about McDonald’s nor other fastfoods). But when you want to try the local dishes…well, then you’ll have to pay extra a bit. But there’s a looot of restaurants focused on offering the typical Provençal food for prices under 20€, you just have to look for them. Don’t expect restaurants on the main rues to be cheap though, they’re usually located in smaller and more narrow streets. But all of those we tried were definitely worth of looking for. Entries to the most of the tourist attractions are free and if not, students under 21 have significant deductions or they get completely free entry. I think the only tourist spots we paid for were Jardins Exotique in Éze (6€), Citadelle de St-Tropez (1,50€) and viewpoint in Port Grimaud. So yes, travelling CAN be pretty cheap and accessible, even to the fancy regions like Côte d’Azur, you just have to know how to travel for a little amount of money. And that’s what I (kinda) described you a few moments before 🙂 And if you’re under 21…then don’t dream about visiting it anymore, just do it, because it’s really worth it.
Have a lovely day!
consider this photo a proper end for article about the sunny French Riviera