Few places are associated with glamour and elegance like the French Riviera. Jetsetters and celebrities have frequented this place to try their luck at the gaming tables and glide around on luxury yachts. What we call the Riviera, and as the French call it the Côte d’Azur, is the coastal strip that begins in the city of Hyères and stretches all the way to the eastern border where the Italian equivalent takes over. The road is lined with exclusive, cosy villages with Nice as the pulsating heart in the centre. With an average of 300 sunny days a year and fantastic gastronomy, it is no wonder that the Riviera is so popular with holiday-makers.
The Riviera begins in the pleasantly sleepy coastal town of Menton sandwiched between the region’s mountains and the picturesque pebble beach. The city is as far from Saint Tropez as you can get on the Riviera, both in terms of distance and atmosphere. Here you will instead find beautiful botanical gardens and a calm pace that is easy to fall into. According to local legend, Eve brought a lemon from the Garden of Eden and planted it in Menton. This is the popular explanation for why lemons are said to grow exceptionally well in the area. To draw attention to this, a lemon festival is held every year, which attracts around 200,000 visitors.
For nightlife and glamour, the neighbouring city, the Principality of Monaco, is a safer card. The legendary jet-set city is one of the world’s smallest countries and at the same time the most densely populated in the world, so it’s important to keep track of where you park your car. And since this trip is made by car, the best tip is to park it in the parking garage next to the casino, where it costs 2-3 euros per hour. If you arrive before midday, you can pay a visit to the legendary casino without having to rent a tailcoat or gown. In this little tax haven, you can stroll along the harbour and look at impressive yachts and try to see if you can recognize stars and royalty.
The distances between the iconic towns are relatively small and before you know it you’ll be in Nice. But before you roll into the centre of the Riviera, there are some places along the way you can’t miss (and why not start at the top?). The small mountain village of Èze at an altitude of 430 metres has an unbeatable panoramic view of the azure coast. Save a little of your admiration for Èze itself, which with its medieval houses and lush vegetation is a likewise a feast for the eyes.
Down by the water again is Villefranche-sur-Mer which, despite its picturesque fishing village façade, is one of the most exclusive areas in France. Along the harbour promenade, it is not uncommon to see celebrities like Tina Turner and Elton John stroll past. In Villefranche-Sur-Mer you can also trudge along one of France’s oldest streets, the arched rue Obscure while inhaling the scents of jasmine and lavender that permeate the entire city.
To the east of Villefranche-sur-Mer, we find the exclusive peninsula of Cap Ferrat which boasts luxury holiday homes, a postcard beautiful lighthouse and the authentic small community of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, which has managed to retain much of its old-world charm. The peninsula’s major attraction is Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild’s sumptuous villa, which in addition to the building itself includes seven magnificent gardens and a first-class collection of art and porcelain.
The heart of the Riviera is without a doubt Nice. The city comes second on the list of French cities with the most museums, so there is much to discover for those who are interested in culture and history (do not miss the fantastic Matisse Museum). If you want to experience the French ambience instead, you can stroll along the iconic Promenade des Anglais and look at port life and soak up the scents of the sea and market stalls before heading to the old town (Vieille Ville) and its many colourful buildings, lovely markets and beautiful churches. In Vieille Ville, you will also find many of Nice’s most popular nightclubs and restaurants. The people of Nice are proud of their food, and there are many classics from the area not to be missed on the menu, such as salad Nicoise, La Socca and plenty of fresh seafood.
Up in the mountains
Those who want a good dose of culture should steer their car away from the coast and up into the mountains to the small town of Saint Paul de Vence. During the 20th century, the small Provencal community unexpectedly became a centre for artists, writers and celebrities, many of whom fled here from occupied Paris during World War II. The city’s streets have been worn by greats such as Picasso, Matisse, Miró and Chagall (who also settled here permanently and are buried in the city’s cemetery). At Hôtel La Colombe d´Or you can look at unique paintings that the masters once exchanged for food and accommodation. Just outside Saint Paul de Vence is also the Fondation Maeght, which is considered one of Europe’s foremost museums of modern art.
Antibes and Juan-les-pins
Antibes is immensely popular for several reasons; sandy beaches, one of Europe’s largest marinas, a genuine city centre and a rich range of restaurants to name a few. Those who feel like shopping can head to the Marché Provencale market – or browse for lavender soaps, exclusive vintage clothes and other delights in the city’s small shops. At dusk, you can take the 20-minute walk to the neighbouring town of Juan-les-Pins to explore its bustling nightlife. Juan-les-Pins is also known for its annual jazz festival, which for ten days in July attracts both world stars and promising new artists.
Cannes is not only known for the film festival, which every year attracts the world’s greatest actors and directors to the city, but also for its old town Le Suquet and glamorous nightlife. At the Palais de Festival is the Allée des Stars, where you can follow in the footsteps of movie stars and compare handprints with celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, Gerard Depardieu and Meryl Streep. If you do not win a golden palm, you can instead stroll along the palm trees on the Promenade de la Croisette or enjoy a culinary taste experience at the two-star restaurant Palme d’Or, which during the festival is usually crowded with famous faces.
Sainte-Maxime, Saint Tropez and Huyères
After Cannes follows the famous stretch of road down to Sainte-Maxime which is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. Don’t forget to keep your eyes on the road as it meanders like a garland with sharp curves and dramatic hills. Sainte-Maxime, like its neighbouring towns of Port Grimaud and Saint Tropez, is the playground of the rich with lots of champagne, luxury yachts and sports cars along the streets. If you don’t want to burn your entire annual salary in one go, the neighbouring town of Hyères is recommended, where price levels are lower, the pace is slower and many beaches are free of charge. The so-called French Riviera also ends in Hyères. Continuing west, you will reach France’s second city Marseille and other parts of Provence.