Amazing Côte d’Azur

Glitz, glamour, crystal-clear waters and stunning views – the French Riviera is one of the world’s most beautiful holiday destinations

Amazing Côte d’Azur

by Zoe Bishop |

Why go?

Often referred to as the Côte d’Azur, the south coast of France has been a home from home for the rich and famous for decades. Its gorgeous beaches and coastal resorts, such as Saint-Tropez, Nice and Cannes, are the big draw, but many lesser-known idyllic places, like Gigaro and Vence, are also worth exploring. Plus, its year-round sunshine and warm climate ensure it’s enjoyable whatever the season.

Jewel of the south

 Promenade des Anglais
© Promenade des Anglais

Journey along the 75 miles of the glorious coastal highways and you’ll discover long stretches of golden sand, pretty villages, and chic resorts, including ever-popular Nice. It’s the biggest of the Riviera and offers so much. Enjoy a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, taking in the art-deco hotels and passing local street vendors as you head towards the old marina. Explore the city and marvel at the views with a walk up Castle Hill and the Bay of Angels, with its sparkling blue water that gave the Côte d’Azur its name. There’s plenty of culture and galleries, but if you’re only able to see one, then the Matisse Musee, dedicated to Henri Matisse, up on Cimiez Hill is a must. The artist lived in the area for most of his life, and the museum showcases some of his most famous works of art. Nice also boasts lots of colourful markets – the one not to miss is the beautiful flower market in Cours Saleya.

Glamour and beaches

St Tropez
©St Tropez

Next stop is Cannes, probably best known for its annual Film Festival, which is usually held in May, when the Jet Set descends. Take a walk along the La Croisette promenade, browse the boutiques, then eventually you’ll come to the Palais des Festivals where the film festival is held. Follow the footpath of celebrity handprints, starting with Meryl Streep in front of the tourist office. At the old port, you’ll find rows of luxury yachts, while nearby, in the Rue d’Antibes, there are designer shops and casinos. For a taste of old Cannes, head to Le Suquet and the Forville market for fresh fruit and veg, and a tempting cheese selection. Cannes also has the Riviera’s best beach – a seven-mile stretch – backed by the promenade. It’s perfect for families as it slopes gently into the sea. A close second is Eze Beach, while the strand at Fréjus boasts a lovely marina. And for luxury, you can’t beat the soft sands of St Tropez further along the coast. Once a humble fishing village, the town is now home to millionaires whose yachts sit in the harbour, but you don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy this place as the beaches and sunshine come for free!

Hidden cities

Hidden cities

A short drive away is Gigaro. As well as having beautiful beaches, it marks the start of a walking trail that stretches over six miles through pine forests and around rocky bays. It’s not as glam as St Tropez, but its natural beauty is unrivalled, and the beach restaurants serve amazing seafood. On the other side of St Tropez is Port Grimaud, a seaside town with colourful buildings along a series of canals. Situated in the hills to the north of Cannes is the town of Grasse, which is known as the world’s fragrance capital and is home to three of the best perfumeries – Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard – which make and supply some of the finest fragrances. Each offers perfume tours, so you can have a glimpse into how your favourite scent is made.

Rivers and bays

Adrenaline junkies should head north-east to the Verdon Gorge – a river canyon perfect for kayaking, whitewater rafting, canyoning, mountain biking, bungee jumping and paragliding. Nearby, man-made Lac de Sainte-Croix offers sailing, waterskiing and windsurfing. Or head to the small independent state of Monaco, known for its casinos, yacht-lined harbour and the Grand Prix that runs through the streets once a year in May. Monte Carlo, its main town, is home to the elegant Belle Époque casino, luxury hotels, boutiques, nightclubs and restaurants.

Need to know

• Stay at the Hôtel Le Petit Palais, Nice, from £129 per night for two people in a double room. Breakfast costs £13 each with Booking.com.

• If you’re planning on a lot of sightseeing, then pick up the Côte d’Azur Pass from €45/£38 for an adult or €35/£30 for a child for three activities across the region.

• If you plan on staying in just one spot, like Nice or Cannes, don’t worry about renting a car. These towns are pedestrian friendly, so you can walk almost anywhere or jump on a tour bus if you want to go further afield. Some beaches in the area are private, so check in advance as some of the bars will charge you to use their sunbeds.

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