Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d’Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Get Swept Away by Glamour in Cannes
Known internationally for its prestigious film festival, Cannes oozes glitz and glamour. During the festival in May, celebrities flock here to walk the red carpet and soak up the sophisticated atmosphere. Even outside of festival season, Cannes maintains an air of luxury that is hard to match. From superyachts docked in the marina to designer shops lining the streets, Cannes is the epitome of French chic.
Wander along the seaside promenade of La Croisette and you’ll see Ferraris parked beside the beach while fashionable locals sip rosé at seaside cafes. Stop into the iconic Hotel Carlton to experience the lobby’s old-world opulence and palm-filled courtyard. Or relax on the terrace at Five Seas Hotel Cannes and take in panoramic Mediterranean views. Luxury accommodation abounds in Cannes for those looking to live like the stars.
Beyond glitzy hotels, Cannes offers plenty of ways to indulge. Laze on a sun lounger at one of the many private beaches or book a treatment at a lavish spa. For retail therapy, the streets off La Croisette feature designer boutiques like Chanel, Dior and Saint Laurent. Stock up on the latest fashions or invest in some fine jewelry or watches.
In the evenings, enjoy people watching from a prime table at a beachside restaurant along the Croisette. Choose from classic French fare, seafood caught fresh that morning or cutting-edge cuisine from talented chefs. After dinner, head to the casino to try your luck or enjoy a cocktail at the bar atop the JW Marriott hotel, soaking in sparkling nighttime views.
No trip to Cannes is complete without experiencing a film screening. The iconic Palais des Festivals is open to the public outside of festival season. Seeing a movie premiere in the Grand Auditorium is a bucket list experience. Or take a guided tour of the Palais to go behind the scenes and walk the famous red carpet steps.
Cannes also hosts musical performances and art exhibitions in the Palais des Festivals, bringing culture to the masses. The city celebrates the richness of cinema history at the Musée de la Castre, set within a 12th century castle high above town. Here you can view famous memorabilia, innovative set designs and costumes from acclaimed films.
What else is in this post?
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Get Swept Away by Glamour in Cannes
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Experience Scenic Coastal Drives Along the Corniches
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Savor Mediterranean Cuisine and Local Wines
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Explore Charming Seaside Towns like Saint-Tropez and Antibes
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Marvel at Impressive Art Museums and Historic Sites
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Indulge in Luxury Accommodations with Stunning Sea Views
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Enjoy Thrilling Water Sports and Activities
- Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Plan Your Perfect Côte d'Azur Itinerary
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Experience Scenic Coastal Drives Along the Corniches
One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of the Côte d’Azur is by taking a drive along the winding corniche roads that hug the coastline. Corniche means “coastal road” in French, and the routes here are some of the most scenic in Europe. Admire steep cliffs plunging into the azure Mediterranean as you cruise around hairpin turns and soak up nonstop sea views.
The Lower Corniche is the closest to sea level and offers the most thrilling drive. Also known as the Basse Corniche, this roadway travels from Nice to Menton with plenty of places to stop along the way. In Nice, pull over at Castle Hill for panoramic views over the Baie des Anges and the city. Further along, the medieval village of Eze clings spectacularly to a narrow rocky peak that plunges 1,400 feet to the sea. Take time to stroll the ancient stone lanes and visit the exotic garden built into the cliffside.
The Middle Corniche, or Moyenne Corniche, runs higher up on the hillsides with a slightly less vertiginous route. The village of La Turbie sits prettily on this road, home to the impressive Roman ruins of the Trophée des Alpes. Dating to 6 BC, this monument celebrated Roman victory over the Celts. Beyond La Turbie lies the microstate of Monaco, where stops like the Oceanographic Museum and Casino de Monte-Carlo beckon.
The Upper Corniche, or Grande Corniche, loops along the highest sections of the coastline. Traveling from Nice to Menton, it passes through picturesque villages like La Colle sur Loup, L'Escarène and Sainte-Agnès. With an elevation around 1,500 feet, views from the Upper Corniche stretch all the way to the snow-capped Alps on clear days.
Each corniche road has its own unique charms, making it worth driving one on the way to your destination and another on the way back. The Lower Corniche provides the most seaside thrills while the cooler, quieter Upper Corniche showcases charming hill towns.
The roads date back to the early 19th century and it’s worth remembering that they lack modern features like barriers. Drive slowly and cautiously along these cliff-hugging routes and use turn-outs to let faster traffic pass. Also watch for falling rocks after rains.
While the three corniches follow roughly the same route, some destinations like Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer sit between them. A perfect day can be spent sightseeing in resort towns along the coastline and then driving from one corniche to another using small roads as links.
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Savor Mediterranean Cuisine and Local Wines
The sunny climate and fertile terroir of the French Riviera make it a food and wine lover's paradise. Savoring the region's Mediterranean cuisine and sampling local vintages is a highlight for many travelers. The flavors reflect Provence's position along the coast, with dishes focused on seasonal, often organic produce, seafood caught that morning, and quality olive oils and ingredients. Meals regularly last for hours, emphasizing taking time to appreciate each bite and sip.
Start your days like the locals with a crisp croissant and silky cappuccino at a sidewalk cafe, soaking up the warm southern sun. Linger over buttery pains au chocolat, flaky crepes, or custardy tarts. bakeries in seaside towns sell treats bursting with fruity jams, rich chocolate, and airy meringues. Stop at small markets to try regional cheeses, cured meats, vibrant seasonal produce, and artisanal breads. Don't miss the myriad olive varieties that grow abundantly in Provence, from pungent, herbaceous Niçoise olives to purple, buttery Lucques olives.
Lunchtime means platters of charcuterie, cheeses, and salad dressed with fruity olive oil. Tuck into pan bagnat, a Niçoise tuna sandwich bursting with vegetables, hard boiled eggs, and anchovies. Other menus showcase pissaladière, the Provencal version of pizza with caramelized onions, olives, and anchovies on a crisp dough. Salade Niçoise also appears frequently, piled with tuna, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and herbs.
Dinner menus emphasize seafood, with dishes like bouillabaisse stew brimming with the catch of the day. Grilled whole fish like sea bass or bream are popular, served with ratatouille or other seasonal sides. Other classic dishes include bourride, a creamy fish stew thickened with garlic aioli, and soup de poisson, a rich, saffron-infused fish soup. Meat lovers can indulge in daube de boeuf, a tender Provencal beef stew braised in red wine.
The Côte d'Azur provides a tasting journey through the wines of Provence. Rosé reigns supreme, imbuing meals with dry, fruity notes ranging from pale pink to salmon. Top appellations like Côtes de Provence showcase the region's signature grapes of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Reds and whites have their place too, including earthy reds from Bandol and crisp, herbal whites from Cassis.
Wineries near the coast give a refined taste of Provencal wine culture. Château de Berne in the Var offers wine tastings, tours of its cellars carved from natural rock, and fine dining overlooking the vines. Domaine de Terrebrune near Bandol provides an intimate experience in an ancient olive mill amid rugged, unspoiled terrain. Even high in the perched village of Eze, Château Eza's cliffside vineyards produce elegant rosés to savor while soaking up Mediterranean views.
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Explore Charming Seaside Towns like Saint-Tropez and Antibes
Beyond the glitz of Cannes lies a stretch of idyllic seaside towns and fishing harbors well worth exploring. Quaint stone villages hug rocky shores and coves while yachts sway in small marinas, epitomizing the relaxing vibe of the French Riviera. Two destinations shine as quintessential Riviera hot spots: Saint-Tropez and Antibes.
Saint-Tropez attracts jetsetters and celebs to its sunny squares, picturesque port, and legendary nightlife. Meandering cobblestone lanes weave through the old town, leading past cozy cafés and boutiques selling fine linens, espadrilles, and designer fashions. At the hilltop citadel, soaring sea views accompany wandering through quaint artist workshops and snapping photos of the colorful fishing fleet in the harbor below.
By day, Saint-Tropez's Place des Lices provides prime people watching and proximity to attractions like the Maison des Papillons butterfly museum. Come evening, the square transforms into the place to see and be seen, with crowds mingling at terrace bistros and bars. For Riviera glamour, snag a table at Senequier Café, a Saint-Tropez institution since 1887, and order a round of kir Royales. Or slip away to the small port for quieter outdoor dining and live music venues rocking late into the night.
Beyond its fancy facades, Saint-Tropez also offers an authentic dose of Mediterranean culture thanks to its seafaring past. At the Annonciade Museum, works from post-Impressionist painters like Matisse and Signac reflect the alluring light that captivated artists in the town. And walking the ramparts of the 16th century citadel rewards you with stunning panoramas of terracotta rooftops and the sapphire bay dotted with sailboats.
Just along the coast, Antibes charms with its blend of old world harbor town and modern artistic flair. Like Nice, it served as a wintering spot for European aristocracy in the late 1800s. Today an easygoing vibe prevails in Antibes, where local families and visiting yachts share the shores and streets.
Stroll the ramparts and the centuries-old covered food market near the harbor before admiring luxury vessels moored in Port Vauban. Then make your way up to Old Antibes, a maize of tight alleyways and shady squares surrounded by 16th century walls. At the excellent Picasso Museum in the medieval Château Grimaldi, admire paintings and ceramics from the famous artist's time spent living in Antibes.
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Marvel at Impressive Art Museums and Historic Sites
Beyond breathtaking scenery, the French Riviera entices with an array of world-class art museums and historic sites. Tracing the evolution of creative movements that flourished here, these cultural attractions provide fascinating insight into the region. For art aficionados and history buffs alike, several museums and landmarks on the Côte d’Azur deserve a spot on your travel itinerary.
In Nice, the Matisse Museum presents an extensive collection devoted to Henri Matisse in the 17th century Villa des Arènes. Works range from paintings and sculptures to drawings, prints, and illustrated books. Wander through themed rooms showcasing different periods in Matisse’s career, from his early realist pieces to later collage creations. Don’t miss viewing actual objects that inspired Matisse, like ceramic vases and woven textiles, alongside the finished artworks. Beyond the permanent collection, excellent temporary exhibits complement the museum’s focus on Matisse’s oeuvre.
Over in Antibes, Picasso Museum occupies the medieval Château Grimaldi, which overlooks the sea. Pablo Picasso utilized studio space here in 1946, creating an outpouring of works during his time in the castle. The museum displays an excellent range of Picasso’s creations from 1925 to 1972, including paintings, drawings, ceramics, and sculptures. Highlights include his lively, colorful paintings crafted in Antibes like ‘La Joie de Vivre’, reflecting his newfound sense of joy after World War II.
In Saint-Paul de Vence, Foundation Maeght stands out for its blending of art and architecture. Modern sculptures, fountains, and mosaics are integrated harmoniously into the hilltop site. Inside, paintings cover the 20th century with works by masters like Chagall, Giacometti, and Léger on display. The power of the setting underpins the experience, with natural light streaming into the chapel and galleries opening onto tranquil gardens and fountains.
Venturing slightly inland leads to museums showcasing historic artistic legacies. In Arles, the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation highlights the painter’s prolific period creating 200+ works here in under 15 months. View Van Gogh pieces alongside works he admired at this small yet worthwhile museum. Meanwhile in Avignon, the Petit Palais houses a permanent collection focused on Italian and Provençal art from the 13th to 16th centuries. Beautiful frescoes and paintings provide insight into Avignon’s Renaissance heyday as a center for the arts.
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Indulge in Luxury Accommodations with Stunning Sea Views
The stunning azure waters and sun-drenched coastline of the Côte d’Azur seem designed for admiring sea views while relaxing in luxury. Along this fabled stretch of the French Riviera, world-class hotels and villas cater to discerning travelers seeking exceptional accommodations and sublime vistas.
In Cannes, Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes provides a taste of the region’s glamorous side with an idyllic location on the Croisette. Spend the day lounging by the cliffside pool overlooking golden sand beaches and boats bobbing in the bay. Dine on Mediterranean cuisine at the beachfront restaurant before retiring to your sea view room to enjoy panoramic sunsets from your private balcony. Just down the road in Juan-les-Pins, the legendary Hotel Belles Rives exudes 1920s elegance. Sip cocktails on the terrace where F. Scott Fitzgerald penned Tender Is the Night. Then dine seaside under the stars on nouvelle French cuisine.
Further along the coast in Monaco, opt for Michelin-starred dining and an infinity pool at the Fairmont Monte Carlo, showcasing sublime sea views. Or check into the lavish Hotel Metropole, set on the glitzy Place du Casino with front row views of superyachts lining the harbor. High above in the old town, Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo provides a calmer retreat while still boasting impressive vistas over Monaco and the Med.
In Cap Ferrat, Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat oozes Riviera refinement in a 17-acre private peninsula domain. Lounge by the cliffside pool or rent a cabana on the beach to soak in serene surroundings, with water vistas stretching as far as Nice on clear days. Nearby in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Hotel Résidence de la Réserve entices with apartment-style luxury right on Plage Petite Afrique, named for its dazzlingly clear turquoise waters. Dine on seafood at the private beach club as waves lap ashore nearby.
For a relaxed take on luxury, Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez blends modern style and Provençal spirit near Pampelonne Beach. Savor sunset views from your private balcony before sampling Asian fusion specialties at the alfresco restaurant. Or escape to Breil-sur-Roya near the Italian border to experience the eco-luxury of La Roya, set on an olive grove surrounded by craggy Alpine peaks plunging into the sea. Indulge in farm-to-table Provençal cuisine made from ingredients harvested onsite.
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Enjoy Thrilling Water Sports and Activities
With its stunning azure waters and abundance of sunshine, the Côte d’Azur serves as a playground for aquatic adventures. From swimming and sailing to parasailing and scuba diving, the range of water sports here rivals any tropical destination. Adrenaline junkies can get their fix while leisure travelers have ample options to just dip their toes in and still bask in the region's aquatic beauty.
For water sports enthusiasts, Nice provides an ideal home base with its prime location on Baie des Anges. Here you can sail into a Mediterranean sunset aboard a private yacht chartered from Dream Yacht Charter. Their fleet ranges from sleek catamarans perfect for couples to spacious cruisers carrying up to 12 passengers across the sea in style. Prefer a faster ride? The Baie des Anges becomes your personal water park with Jet Ski Safari. Zooming alongside the coastline dangling above crystalline waters provides high-thrill adventure. Parasail Nice lifts you gently skyward for panoramic views floating 400 feet up as schools of fish swim below your feet.
Windsurfers and kitesurfers flock to Lac de Saint-Cassien, where steady winds power their colorful sails and kites across the inland lake. For diving expeditions, staff at Palmes du Blue guide you to underwater treasures off the Lérins Islands near Cannes. Shipwrecks, coral reefs and schools of barracuda lie 40 feet down as you drift weightlessly through this ethereal world.
Over in glitzy Monaco, Directions Monaco Tours arranges custom luxury speedboat tours along the coast. Feel the sea breeze whip through your hair as you cruise from Villefranche to San Remo reaching speeds up to 60 mph. For landlubbers, local outfit Azurea Paddlesports provides stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals to gently explore the harbor and coastline of Monaco at your own relaxed pace.
On the Saint-Tropez peninsula, riding waves becomes an artform with the experts at São Wavesurfing and Kitesurf School. Their patient passionate instructors teach all levels to harness the wind's power and glide effortlessly over the sea. At Plage de Gigaro beach, kids and families also have a blast on banana boats and oversized inflatables towed speedily through swelling waves.
Soak Up the Sun and Scenery on the Côte d'Azur: The Ultimate French Riviera Travel Guide - Plan Your Perfect Côte d'Azur Itinerary
With its glittering coastline stretching over 100 miles, planning the perfect French Riviera getaway takes some strategy. This sun-soaked slice of southern France entices at every turn, making it easy to cram an ambitious itinerary to the point of exhaustion. Savvy travelers find success sticking to a relaxed region or two for deeper immersion into the local scene. plotting your route in advance helps maximize your time on the Côte d’Azur.
For a quintessential Riviera experience, base yourself in glitzy Cannes or laidback Antibes to soak up seven miles of golden beaches flanked by belle époque mansions. Meander the boutique-lined boulevards of Cannes and snap sunset photos along the seaside promenade before enjoying a ritzy dinner on the harbor. In Antibes, wander the ramparts of the Old Town and take in modern art at the Picasso Museum, indulging laidback luxury by the sea. Day trip 20 minutes down the coast to Juan-les-Pins to meander pine groves dotted with Art Deco architecture. Come evening, live jazz and tasty cocktails await in a Riviera institution: a beach hut on the sands.
The stretch from Monaco to Menton captures the essence of the Côte d’Azur, where mountains plunge into the sea. Base yourself in Nice to experience Belle Époque bliss close to the airport and train station. Spend lazy afternoons strolling the seaside Promenade des Anglais and exploring the endless lanes and cobbled squares of Old Town. Day trip along the thrilling Lower Corniche road to Monaco to try your luck at Monte Carlo’s legendary casino and ogling at luxury yachts. Venture further east to the perched village of Eze, where exotic gardens and sweeping Mediterranean vistas will lure you. End the day sipping rosé at a café in Villefranche-sur-Mer, admiring its pastel-hued harbor.
For peaceful Provençal charm and fewer crowds, make your base in Vence inland or Menton near the Italian border. In spirited Vence, wander the historic core’s artsy lanes and dine under plane trees on the photogenic Place du Peyra. Nearby, discover Matisse’s artistry at the Fondation Maeght and take in panoramas from Saint-Paul de Vence’s medieval walls. Down in Menton, Italy’s influence prevails with trompe l’oeil facades, lemon groves, and an amazing March lemon festival. Relaxation comes easy at Menton’s Beach du Soleil with lounge chairs lining the rocky yet swimmable shore.