Stretching from Menton through to Cassis, the French Riveria – or Côte d’Azur – is an area of Southern France, known for its palm-lined beach resorts, scorching climate and mountain-peaked backdrop.  Its glamorous aspersions are well-known, from the glittering Cannes Film Festival which draws in the biggest names in the entertainment industry to the multi-million-pound yachts which line the harbours.  It’s easy to see why celebrities are drawn to the area, but rest assured, this is not just an area for the rich and famous! 

It’s an area I’ve visited several times with family over the years, and in 2019 I visited again, this time with the added benefit of a hire car.  Although most towns on the Riviera can be easily reached by public transport, being able to zip about at our own pace gave us great freedom to explain places which might otherwise have fallen off the radar.  I’m now more convinced than ever that everyone should experience this beautiful part of the world at least once in their life – and y’know what?  It doesn’t have to break the bank either.  

Here’s a few suggestions for things you won’t want to miss when exploring the French Riviera:

Breathing in the fresh mountain air of Gourdon

An absolute must on the French Rivieria is the hilltop village of Gourdon.

This Medieval charmer is well worth the steep, winding drive up into the mountains. With its half-timbered houses, fortified gate and twisting maze of cobbled lanes, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you’d fallen back a century or five.

As well as offering stunning views down towards the coast and villages below, Gourdon is sprinkled with wonderful independent boutiques, selling everything from jewellery to perfume and hand-carved soap.

It’s a beautiful place to stop for lunch or an espresso in the sun.

Visiting Picasso’s Studio and Museum in Antibes

Did you know that Picasso spent a portion of his career in Antibes?  Neither did I!

We discovered this little fact while looking at things to do before heading to the town, and were super keen to check out the museum dedicated to the artist.  The Musee Picasso is housed in the former Château Grimaldi, built upon the foundations of the ancient Greek town of Antipolis.  The artist rented a studio here, and later went on to donate several of his works when the building went on to become a public museum.  Today, it holds over 300 of his pieces, which range from large-scale paintings to sketchings and painted pottery.  It’s a beautiful museum and the perfect place to cool off for an hour or two before delving into the gorgeous backstreets of Antibes’ old town, or heading back to the beach.

Exploring the cobbled backstreets of Nice’s Old Town

For many people, Nice will be the start and end point for their time on the French Riviera, with the second busiest airport in France seeing some serious traffic through its runways.

This big, bold beach resort has been popular with sun worshippers since the 17th Century, when holiday makers would have clip-clopped down the Promenade des Anglais by horse-drawn carriage.

Today, it’s a lively, thriving town with a seemingly never-ending beach, string of stunning hotels and arts festivals peppered throughout the year.

I was really glad we took the time to head off the main esplanade and into the back streets beyond. Nice Old Town feels a million miles away, with its narrow cobbled streets, historic squares and church bells tolling gently in the background. It’s a stunning place to explore, and if you find yourself overheating in the afternoon sun, you can always unleash your inner child and cool off with a run through the famous fountains.

Dining out in Valbonne

This pretty village sits a cool 20 minute drive from Nice and is the perfect place for a spot of al fresco dining. The town is built around a bustling main square somewhat reminiscent of an Italian piazza, with pastel-toned townhouses looking down on the hubbub below and narrow closes leading off, each home to secret cafés and petite shops.

Valbonne is great to visit any time of day, but really comes to life at night when the restaurants spill out onto the street and children play upon the cobbles as the grown-ups watch casually on, glass of rose` in hand. Absolutely my kind of place.

Topping up the tan levels

A trip to the French Riviera wouldn’t be complete without a day at the beach!  Thankfully, there are countless stretches of sand to choose from.

Head to Nice if you fancy splashing a bit of cash to bag yourself a squishy sun lounger with added bonuses of table service and watersports nearby.  Cannes is equally glamorous, while the beaches of Antibes, Menton and Cassis are perhaps a little more chilled and the ideally place to set yourself up for a quiet afternoon of sunbathing with your own picnic in tow.  Whichever beach you choose, you will be guaranteed warm, azure waters and stunning mountain views.

 

Exploring the spooky Grotte de Saint Cezaire

If you fancy something a little more adventurous, try heading to the eerie but fascinating caves at of Saint Cezaire, a short drive from the town of Grasse.  Reaching a depth of 40 metres below ground, this winding labyrinth takes a good hour to explore, but is home to some seriously impressive underground riches – from towering stalactites to starry concretions.  It’s a beautiful place, but does involve negotiation through some narrow natural tunnels and definitely wouldn’t be recommended if you’re not a fan of tight spaces…or bats…

Walking in the footsteps of the rich and famous in Cannes

With its world-famous film festival, yacht-lined harbour and pristine boulevards of designer stores, it’s no wonder that the name Cannes continues to draw aspersions to the rich and famous.

Definitely the glitzy resort town is a popular stomping ground for A Listers looking to top up on their vitamin D, but that’s not to say us mere mortals are unwelcome too!

Cannes is a super-fun place to be on a sunny day, with a gorgeous sandy beach, hazy views out to the mountains beyond and a marina which’ll have you lusting after a sailing trip in no time.

Have a dip in the sea, cool down with an ice cream on the promenade, visit the Palais des Festivals and watch out for well-known names along the walk of fame. After all, it’s fun to see how the other half live, even if just for a day.

Kayaking down the Gorge du Verdon

A winding drive into heart of the lower alps will take you to the gorgeous village of Castalene and the nearby Gorge du Verdon – one of Europe’s most staggering river canyons.  The natural beauty around here is unrivalled, with lush, sprawling forests, naturally perfumed air and glacial-blue waters just calling out for adventures!  Head to the northern tip of Lac de Ste-Croix and you’ll find a few companies which offer kayak hire; trust me, there’s no better way to explore this area than from the calming aqua river itself.

Exploring the galleries of Saint-Paul-de-Vence

It’s easy to see why artistic personalities like James Baldwin, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse have long been drawn to Saint Paul de Vence.

This gorgeous hilltop commune dates back to the 15th Century, and it’s historic belltower and fortress walls stand powerful to this day. The village is an absolute labyrinth of French creativity, with cafés, galleries and craft stories built into every feasible nook and cranny.

It’s an absolute dream to explore, and you could easily lose a whole day drifting dreamily through the cobbled Old Town.

We were lucky enough to bag a table at the stunning La Sierra restaurant, and it was well worth the extra stroll to find a haven away from the crowds with unbeatable views out over the French Riviera below.

Visiting the home of perfume 

With lavender fields and wildflower stretching as far as the eye can see, it’s no wonder that the Grasse region has become famed for its perfume production; in fact, many consider the city itself as the home of perfume.  Grasse itself is a colourful town and well worth a visit, but even if you’re short on time you should stop by the famous Parfumerie Fragonard where you can learn about the history of perfume, dabble in making your own scent and enjoy the pretty views out over the valley below.

Have you been to the French Riviera before?  What would be your top tips?

 

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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