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The French Riviera, or as the French so fancily put it, the ‘Côte d’Azur’, is a dreamy stretch of coastline along the South of France, overlooking the dazzling Mediterranean Sea.
Between its favourable Mediterranean climate, the incomparable beauty of its Provence landscape, and its enviable mansions (both 19th century and modern day) overlooking the sea, it’s no surprise this part of the world has drawn the rich and famous to its shores for the past few hundred years.
Yet each village, town and city along the riviera has its own draw, whether it be the abundance of art in Nice, the abundance of yachts in Antibes, the abundance of luxurious beaches in St-Tropez, or the abundance of high-end stores in Monaco.
But whether you have the cash to splash on the finer things or not, the Côte d’Azur is definitely worth a visit, for its glamorous allure unlike any other in Europe, if nothing else. In this article, we take you on a journey along the French Riviera from east to west, showing you the best destinations along the way, so you can find out which ones allure you the most.
Said to date back to 600 BC as a major trade port, Marseille is France’s oldest city and therefore, it’s packed with impressive historical architecture. The Château d’If is an astonishing 500-year-old island fortification just off the coast, and the Notre-Dame de la Garde is a stunning Roman-Byzantine cathedral that overlooks the city from atop its tallest hill.
Marseille is still a bustling port city to this day, and boats line the harbour from the old town to the new. Overall, the city is refreshingly more modest than many of its neighbours along the riviera and what’s more, it’s neighboured by the breathtaking Calanques national Park.
Sitting pretty on a peninsula, Saint-Tropez has gone from bustling fishing port to glitzy Hollywood retreat. Why? Well, the town happens to have some of the smoothest, sandiest, and prettiest beaches along the Côte d’Azur which, with thanks to its star-studded list of visitors, offer elegant and luxurious beach clubs.
During the day you can laze on a curtained day-bed under the Mediterranean sun with a chilled beverage in hand, and at night you can delve into the town’s reputable gastronomic scene suited most to those with sophisticated taste buds. With fishermen trawling in fresh fish every hour, you’d be remiss not to indulge in a harbourfront seafood dish.
Grasse is stepped back from the sparkling teal waters that define the French Riviera, so you can enjoy the peace of the Provence countryside whilst being able to get your fill of the enigmatic energy that fills the promenades below.
With wafts from the surrounding olive, cypresse, rose and lavender fields, Grasse’s fragrant air might put you under a spell. No wonder it’s the world’s perfume capital. You can tour the lavender fields and learn how the plant is turned into perfume, make your own concoction at a perfumery, and even learn about the history of perfume at the International Perfume Museum.
Cannes rose to fame in 1938 when it became host to the world’s most glamorous and coveted film festival. In May of each year, the resort town is flooded with film stars and directors to celebrate the release of their latest films.
As exciting as this event is, Cannes is so much more than the sum of its celebrities. La Croisette promenade and Old Port dominate the seafront, along with fancy restaurants, hotels and beaches, while historic architecture, like the Notre-Dame D’Espérance and Musée de la Castre, dominate its skyline. Cannes’ four small islands across the bay also offer wonderfully French history, culture and adventure.
As the second largest town along the French Riviera, Antibes has everything from medieval fortifications to Michelin-star restaurants. Although, the town is perhaps most well-known for having Europe’s largest marina, Port Vauban, where some of the world’s most impressive yachts moor.
You could spend all day walking the docks and gawping at the floating palaces, but the town has much more to offer. Why not gawp at original Picasso paintings at his old castle, turned art studio, turned museum? Or enjoys nature’s paintings on a scenic coastal hike around the peninsula? That being said, there’s nothing more relaxing than meandering through Antibes’ rustic old town and its famous Provencial market.
Nice is one of the bigger destinations on the French Riviera with the stunning Promenade des Anglais spanning seven kilometres along the sparkling seafront, overlooked by 19th century mansions. This impressive promenade is best seen from the hilltop of Parc de la Colline du Château.
The city’s beauty has long been an inspiration for respected resident artists, including Henry Matisse and Marc Chagall, whose work is on display in Nice’s many museums. Although much of Nice is now shiny and modern, the best of its character can be found in the old quarter, Vieille Ville, a cobblestone neighbourhood with the city’s best glaciers, crêperies, cafes and markets.
Èze is a quaint medieval hilltop village some 700 metres above sea level between Nice and Monaco. Now, the French Riviera offers some incredible views, but none are more astounding than those you can find here. The best way to soak up the scenery is by sitting on a rustic restaurant terrace overlooking the coastline and indulging in fine French cuisine.
The 14th century village will take you back in time with its steep and narrow cobbled steps and low archways that web together between the matching cobbled houses. To reach the sea shore, follow the Nietzsche Path from Èze down the hillside and sample the beautiful Provence nature along the way.
Monaco is every bit as glamorous (and expensive) as you think it will be. The locals are extremely well-dressed, the cars are extremely fast, and the yachts are extremely huge. And as long as you win the big bucks at Monte Carlo casino, you’ll fit right in. Casino Square itself is also a spectacle to behold with a perfectly pruned garden, lined by a number of designer fashion and jewellery stores, and the famous Hotel de Paris. Meanwhile, the legendary Prince’s Palace draws crowds to the other end of the gleaming harbour, from which you can soak up the best views of Monaco and the azur sea.
Menton is the final stop along the sensational Côte d’Azur, as it neighbours the Italian border. Due to its proximity to its pizza-loving neighbours, this colourfully painted town has an intriguing mix of French and Italian architecture, food and culture – unlike anywhere else on the French Riviera.
Rising from the harbour to the hills above, Menton’s sleepy medieval streets hide some fantastic boutiques and local-style restaurants. However, the best can be found at the top of the town – Mirazur, a Michelin-star restaurant with panoramic sea views. Perhaps the most alluring thing about Menton though is its sub-tropical microclimate, allowing the sun to shine all year round.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile,with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.