The French Riviera is known the world over for its glamour and beauty—but these spots take it to a whole new level. From the see-and-be-seen beaches and boardwalks of Cannes and Monaco to the lavender fields of Grasse and the medieval villages of Èze, there’s a whole host of places to explore throughout the summer and beyond. Keep reading for the eight must-see destinations to add to your next trip.
The town of Menton has all the beauty of the better-known coastal villages, but a fraction of the crowds. Its half-dozen beaches are all but empty in the off-season, and boutique-filled alleyways are relatively free of bargain-hunting tourists. With over 316 days of sunshine a year, exceptional gardens, and quality Italian cuisine due to its position on the Franco-Italian border, it’s an ideal spot for a day trip. (For an unparalleled Provençal gastronomic experience, however, head to Mirazur, chef Mauro Colagreco’s triple Michelin-starred spot that earned the number one title in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2019.)
Pro tip: In February, the town goes all out with its Lemon Festival, a celebration of spring and a throwback to the town’s past, when it survived principally on citrus production.
Beyond the megayachts and picture-perfect beaches, Antibes is a draw for its literary and artistic history. It was at the Villa Saint Louis (now the popular hotel Belles-Rives) on the Cap d’Antibes that F. Scott Fitzgerald took up summer residence with Zelda and his daughter Scottie in 1926 and began his work on Tender is the Night. The enclosed mansions and dramatic villas lining the shore that once fascinated Fitzgerald are still very much a part of the landscape, but there’s local charm to be found, too. Stroll around old Antibes, through the Cours Masséna, a Provençal food market, and up to the Musée Picasso, the first museum dedicated to the artist. Formerly the Château Grimaldi, the stronghold was Picasso’s home and workshop in 1946 and remains one of the commanding cultural draws in the resort town.
La Colline du Chateau, Nice
Any trip to the Côte d’Azur should begin with a stop in Nice, overlooking the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. Start with a climb up to La Colline du Château (Castle Hill) to see what the the fuss is about: Once you get to the top, panoramic views of the Baie des Anges, Old Town, Nice’s boardwalk, and the city’s varied and vibrant architecture abound. And while a few crumbling walls are all that remain of the namesake castle on the hill, there is a verdant park that’s perfect for a picnic after a full day of sightseeing.
Old Town, Nice
Nice’s colorful Vieille Ville, or Old Town, is a delightful maze of narrow streets full of lively restaurants, galleries, and shops. There are cafés dotted all around the Old Town’s many squares, so take the opportunity to sit down, coffee in hand, and people-watch the day away. For a more active visit, spend some time strolling along the near-mile Promenade du Paillon, the city’s public park and botanical garden that links the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (also worth visiting) and the Promenade des Anglais.
Long before it was synonymous with the International Film Festival and earned its reputation as a playground for the world’s dizzyingly well-heeled (and home to excess in everything from luxury cars to haute couture fashions), Cannes was a shimmering, seaside destination made for resting and people-watching—something that remains true. But it also offers extraordinary views and culture. Climb the winding staircases and pass the pastel-coated homes in Le Suquet, the city’s old quarter, and you’ll end up at the Musée de la Castre, a home for ethnographic art in a medieval fortress overlooking the marina and the Croisette. For restorative beaches and landscapes free of crowds, take a 15-minute ferry ride to two of the Lérins islands off the coast: Ile St. Honorat, known for its working monastery and forest groves, and Ile Ste-Marguerite, the spot for hidden coves and beaches.
In craggy cliffs high above the sea, the medieval village of Èze is a delightful step back in time—and blissfully calm for the Riviera. The well-preserved stone buildings, winding alleyways, 14th-century chapels, and dramatic Mediterranean backdrop make this tiny village seem like a movie set. The dramatic views are best earned by taking one of the many hiking trails, like the famous Nietzsche path, that connect the the town and the summit, which sits 1,400 feet above sea level. At the top, you’ll discover the town’s medieval fortress, which you may recognize from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, surrounded by the Jardin Exotique, a desert garden brimming with succulents and exotic florals.
Grasse is a quiet, pretty medieval village that also holds the distinction of being the world’s perfume capital. While famous perfumeries like Fragonard offer free tours of their factories, the real reason to come here is to take in the near-endless fields of lavender that dominate the area’s hilly landscape. Come August, the town plays host to the Jasmine Festival, a three-day celebration of jasmine, one of the two flowers to have dominated local perfume production (the other is Damascus rose). Expect homes to be draped in garlands, people dancing in the streets, parades, and jasmine petals everywhere. Grasse is conveniently located between Cannes and Nice, so a quick stop here is worth your while, if only to pick up a few bottles of perfume and stop to smell the lavender.
Bordered by France on three sides, the petite principality of Monaco is a bastion of glitz and glamour. While it’s typically known as a playground for the ultra rich, those short on cash can still enjoy themselves here: excursions to stately sights like the Prince’s Palace, Fort Antoine, and Monaco Cathedral are all worthwhile and won’t break the bank. Take some time to observe the luxurious yachts at the harbor (or, even better, make friends with someone who owns one), and wrap up your trip with a spin at the Monte Carlo casino.
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