Moon French Riviera
Nice, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, and the Hidden Towns in Between
By Jon Bryant
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- Flexible itineraries including 1-2 days in Nice, 2 days in Monaco, and 2 days in Cannes
- Strategic advice for art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, film fans, sports car aficionados, and more
- The top activities and unique experiences: Gallery hop along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and catch a live jazz performance. Relax on the golden sand in Juan-les-Pins and sip rosé at a beachside bar in Saint-Tropez. Try your luck at the Place du Casino in Monaco, spot celebrities in Cannes, or attend the locally-loved lemon festival in Menton. Bike along the Corniches between Nice and Monaco and into the Arrière-Pays, or test perfumes in Grasse and shop for local honey and lavender soaps from nearby Provence
- Expert insight: Journalist and longtime Nice local Jon Bryant shares his favorite spots
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Focused coverage of Nice and Les Corniches, Monaco and Menton, Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, and more
- Thorough background information on the landscape, wildlife, history, government, and culture
- Handy tools including a French phrasebook, customs and conduct, and information for LGBTQ, female, and senior travelers, as well as families and travelers with disabilities
DISCOVER French Riviera
9 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
Best of the French Riviera
BEST WATERFRONT DINING
THE RIVIERA’S BEST HIKES
Mentioning the French Riviera conjures up visions of seafront promenades, film festivals, sports cars, sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and superyachts steered by cigar-smoking tycoons. That’s not too far off—except it’s also at the forefront of contemporary culture in France, a global center for high-tech development, and a pioneer in eco-friendly practices.
As a tourist resort for over 100 years, the Riviera’s urban landscape has reflected the changing tastes of a wealthy clientele, with some spectacular examples of Belle Epoque, art deco, art nouveau, and modernist architecture. Nice, Antibes, Monaco, and Cannes show off their medieval fortifications beside stuccoed white palace hotels and state-of-the-art shopping arcades and sports arenas.
Eternally attractive to writers and artists, the Riviera has more than 30 art museums, Renoir’s hillside mansion, Matisse’s Genoese villa, Picasso’s studio in a seafront château, and everything from contemporary art centers to underground galleries.
Art is a huge pulling factor for the region’s tourists, but then there’s the food. It’s always market day somewhere—stalls of fresh fruit, fish, wine, cheese, truffles, ripe tomatoes, and local specialities like olives, basil, and honey fill village squares and are all gone by lunchtime. The Riviera benefits from having Italy on its border and the island of Corsica a short sail away, adding their enriching traditions to the style and cuisine of the Côte d’Azur.
The French art de vivre is about enjoying life, a kind of “slow travel” experience: eating local produce, living in the moment, sharing experiences, learning about customs and the traditional way of doing things, and appreciating the French terroir—the unique character and quality of the land.
There are other, lesser-known sides to the Riviera that are just as memorable as its beaches and nightclubs: its stunning landscapes of pine forests, gorges, cliff-top coastal walks, and nature reserves. The Riviera is a fabulous location for cycling, biking, hiking, and watersports, and some of Europe’s best ski resorts are within driving distance. When it does turn a little gray in February, it’s time for Nice’s Carnaval and Menton’s Lemon Festival, and the Monaco Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival in May mean a celebration is never far away.
Outside of the high season, life for most people on the Riviera is unexpectedly simple. Locals enjoy playing card games on café terraces, chatting about the Tour de France, and having a game of boules in the village square, and they are always very happy to play a visitor.
9 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Seeing and being seen while strolling down the Riviera’s famous seafront walkways, from Nice’s promenade des Anglais to Cannes’s promenade de la Croisette.
2 Rolling the dice at the Casino de Monte-Carlo (or maybe just stepping inside), imagining yourself James Bond for an evening.
3 Getting familiar with the Riviera’s sublime architecture, from Belle Epoque villas to modernist beachside cabins.
4 Mountain biking and hiking in the incredible geological surroundings of the Golfe de Fréjus, from the striking Rocher de Roquebrune to the rust-red Massif de l’Estérel.
5 Attending a show at the jazz festival in Juan-les-Pins, sister city to New Orleans in the United States.
6 Dining al fresco by the sea: Whether it’s gastronomic delights or the day’s catch, you’ll be enjoying the best food the south of France has to offer, with some incomparable views to go with it.
7 Stepping back in time into some of the Riviera’s medieval villages, like Bormes-les-Mimosas, Haut-de-Cagnes, and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
8 Discovering the Riviera’s Roman past at La Trophée des Alpes in the hilltop village of La Turbie.
9 Relaxing on France’s most famous beaches, such as Plage de Pampelonne near Saint-Tropez or Plage Mala in Cap d’Ail.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Nice and Les Corniches
Nice, capital of the Côte d’Azur, is a fun, modern, sculpture-filled, eco-friendly city invigorated by recent development, including a new tramway that allows direct, cheap travel to the city center or port from the airport. The promenade des Anglais, Nice’s celebrated seafront walkway, is a constant flow of cyclists, noisy locals, rollerbladers, honeymooners, hikers, and holidaymakers. Strolling along the promenade at dusk above the stony beach is a magical experience. You could easily spend a month in Nice and still not see half of what’s on offer. The flower market on cours Saleya, the Musée Marc Chagall, and MAMAC contemporary art gallery are all unmissable places to visit.
Heading east you’ll find some of the Riviera’s oldest, most glamorous resorts: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and Saint-Jean-cap-Ferrat, classic, cosmopolitan locales of casinos, luxury hotels, rose gardens, tennis clubs, and some of the most expensive villas in the world. Even if you don’t quite qualify as a member of the jet set, a drive along Les Corniches, three thrilling coastal roads twisting through the mountains east of Nice, stopping here and there at a beach or café, is a sheer delight.
Monaco and Menton
There’s nowhere else in the world quite like Monaco. There’s no graffiti or litter, just a lot of police officers making sure millionaires get home safely to their yachts or micro-apartments. For the visitor, Monaco is an amazing spectacle with high-rise buildings soaring over some of the world’s most prestigious art galleries, museums, jewelers, and real estate. Everyone should pay a visit to the Monte-Carlo Casino, even if just on an afternoon tour.
Heading east toward Italy brings you to Menton, the last town in France before Italy, boasting the country’s sunniest climate, a breathtakingly beautiful seafront, a famous annual Lemon Festival, and a wealth of ornamental parks and gardens.
Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, and Cagnes-sur-Mer
The coastline west of Nice is famous for its glassblowing and ceramics, but it has also become the sailing hub of the Mediterranean. Antibes has the largest pleasure-boat marina in Europe and hosts the Voiles d’Antibes regatta in June. It’s a great place to spend a few days, with a Provençal market, interesting shops, lively nightlife, and the Musée Picasso occupying a fortified seafront château. Waterskiing was invented in Juan-les-Pins, Antibes’s close neighbor, which also boasts some of the best beach bars on the Riviera and a famous annual jazz festival that has been running since 1960.
Cagnes-sur-Mer was home to the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and a whole village of writers and painters settled in neighboring Haut-de-Cagnes. Their legacy lives on in art studios and design workshops to discover all over the medieval village.
Cannes and the Golfe de la Napoule
Famed for its annual film festival, superyachts, nightlife, and sandy beaches, Cannes feels like a dreamed-up fantasy of a Riviera resort. Its seafront promenade, La Croisette, is lined with Belle Epoque villas and designer boutiques, a foil to Le Suquet, its cobbled old town, set on a steep hill overlooking the pleasure boat marina. At the port nearby, visitors can catch passenger ferries to one of the Îles de Lérins, perfect for a relaxing day among the pines and eucalyptus or tasting wines from the vineyard of a 5th-century monastery.
Heading west along the seafront you’ll reach Mandelieu-la-Napoule and its fairy-tale seaside château, the life work of an eccentric American couple, and finally Théoule-sur-Mer, where the coastline dramatically changes color to a deep rust red, a dream location for hiking and cycling.
Golfe de Fréjus and the Estérel
Fréjus is the least glamorous of the Riviera towns but boasts some of France’s best Roman ruins and an unpretentious atmosphere—meaning cheaper hotels and restaurants. Though less visited, its beaches are really some of the region’s best, and it’s a great base for exploring the Massif de l’Estérel and Massif des Maures mountain ranges, on foot or by mountain bike. Allied troops landed on the beaches east of Fréjus in 1944 to liberate France, and it’s still possible to see relics of their landing craft at Le Dramont’s beaches.
Saint-Tropez, Hyères, and the Western Côte
Undeniably glamorous and often unbearably crowded, Saint-Tropez is the poster resort for the whole Riviera, worth visiting even if just for a couple of hours by the ferry from Sainte-Maxime, its less-crowded and less-expensive sister city across the Golfe de Saint-Tropez. You can leave the superyachts and bars of Saint-Tropez’s Vieux Port behind with a short ride to the paradisiacal white sands of the Plage de Pampelonne.
More down-to-earth is Hyères, the oldest and most distinguished resort on the Côte d’Azur and farthest west of the Riviera resorts. Its modernist Villa Noaille contains Europe’s first indoor swimming pool and is now an arts center. To the south, you can take a boat to the Îles d’Or (Golden Islands) for a few days of cycling and swimming, or head inland to the medieval villages of Ramatuelle, Bormes-les-Mimosas, and Grimaud, redolent of the traditions of a bygone France. On the remote coastline of the neighboring Cap Bénat is the Fort de Brégançon, surrounded by glorious beaches, where French presidents take their summer holidays.
When to Go
As long as you don’t want to spend all your time on the beach, spring is the best time to visit the Riviera. The sun is shining, the skies are bright azure, and the temperature can reach the mid-20s Celsius (high 70s Fahrenheit). Hotels, restaurants, and beach bars that closed for winter begin to open in April with a fresh coat of paint and cheerful staff. In May, there’s the Cannes Film Festival, Saint-Tropez’s La Bravade, and the Monaco Grand Prix, some of the highlights of the Riviera year, but as it’s not yet high season, hotel prices will generally be cheaper.
The period between mid-July and mid-August is the hottest and busiest along the Côte d’Azur: the beaches are full, the prices are their highest, and, it’s fair to say, the number of smiles on the faces of restaurant and hotel staff tends to decrease. If you’re visiting during the Riviera’s busiest season, it’s worth traveling and sightseeing early in the morning or late in the afternoon, since the midday sun can be oppressively hot and tourist attractions very crowded. However, though temperatures can top 35°C (95°F) on the Riviera in midsummer, there’s always a sea breeze to make things bearable. Though it can be sweltering, overpriced, and overcrowded, it’s all part of the Riviera experience.
June 21 is the Fête de la Musique, with free concerts all over the Riviera, and Bastille Day (July 14) is celebrated with spectacles and firework displays along the coast. The Jazz Festivals in Nice and Juan-les-Pins in mid-July are unmissable.
The last two weeks of August are quieter and prices in hotels sometimes reduced, but be prepared for the bittersweet feeling of the end of the season as some shops begin to close up for the year.
In the fall, temperatures are still in the low 20s Celsius (low 70s Fahrenheit), so it’s a great time of year for outdoor activities, like hiking and cycling. September and October see the Voiles de Saint-Tropez sailing regatta and the Journées du Patrimoine, a weekend of free access to France’s top heritage buildings. The roads are quiet, making it easier to travel from site to site; the car parks are often free; and the whole area turns shades of russet and gold as the leaves begin to fall and the grapes are harvested. If you choose to visit in the fall, it’s best to do so well before October, which has the region’s highest annual rainfall: 11 centimeters (4.3in) during that month, compared with 1 centimeter (0.3in) average rainfall in July.
Nice, like most of the Côte d’Azur before the First World War, was known primarily as a winter resort. It is still mild enough to eat outside on Christmas Day and possible to spend the morning on the beach and the afternoon skiing in the mountains. Christmas decorations go up at the beginning of December, followed by Christmas markets, open every day, which run until early January. The temperature rarely dips below 10° C (50°F) on the coast. Away from the sea, the perched villages can be very quiet during the winter, and many of the hotels and restaurants close in Saint-Tropez, but it’s still warm enough for hiking and cycling, and the roads and tourist hot spots are empty. February is festival season: in Nice, the Carnaval runs for a fortnight; Menton celebrates its Lemon Festival; and Bormes-les-Mimosas honors its namesake with its Grand Mimosa Procession.
Know Before You Go
Most travelers will arrive in Nice Airport, which has regular scheduled and low-cost flights to all major destinations in Europe.
For transatlantic passengers, Nice Airport has direct flights with Delta and La Compagnie from New York JFK and Newark airport, and Air Canada and Air Transat fly direct to Montreal.
For other North American destinations, travelers must fly to major European hubs, such as Paris, London, Frankfurt, or Amsterdam, and take a connecting flight to Nice.
Alternatively, North Americans can fly to Marseille-Provence Airport, where Air Canada and Air Transat also run direct flights from Montreal. Marseille is just over two hours to Nice.
For Australians, the easiest way to get to the Côte d’Azur is to fly to Dubai and then with Emirates Airlines to Nice. Alternatively, there are direct flights to Nice from Beijing and Doha.
There are no direct flights to the South of France from South Africa. South Africans need to fly to London, Amsterdam, or Paris and pick up a connecting flight.
Toulon Airport, near Hyères, has seasonal flights to and from Southampton in the UK with Flybe, Geneva in Switzerland with Swiss International Airlines, and Rotterdam in Holland with Transavia.
Fast, direct trains from Paris to Nice leave several times a day, with journey times running just under six hours, and one-way tickets from around €50. Some routes make a stop in Marseille (about three hours from Paris), where you must then switch to the slower, coastal track, which also stops at all the major cities along the Riviera except St. Tropez. The train from Marseille to Nice takes about 2.5 hours and tickets start around €25.
Interrail (www.interrail.eu/en) offers monthly and 10-day rail passes for travel throughout Europe, as well as an eight-day pass for France alone, that may make sense if you plan to travel a lot by train, depending on the length of your trip.
For those coming from the UK, Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) operates a weekend service from May to mid-October from London to Avignon, from where passengers can change to a train to Nice (3.5 hours from Avignon). The return journey requires getting off the train at Lille for passport control.
Eurolines (www.eurolines.fr), Ouibus (www.ouibus.com), and Flixbus (www.flixbus.fr) operate long-distance bus routes between all major towns in France. They are usually cheaper than traveling by train, but can be very slow, with lots of stops and waiting time. They do have Wi-Fi, toilets, and reclining seats.
The A7 autoroute is the fastest way to drive south from Lyon, Avignon, or Paris. The A7 intersects with the A8 autoroute just west of Aix-en-Provence, from where it takes around 1 hour 45 minutes to reach Nice. Driving from Italy, the Italian highway E80 becomes the A8, and the Italian coast road SS1 becomes the M6007 at the border with France. It takes around three hours to drive from Genoa, Italy, to Nice (194km/120mi). The journey from Spain involves driving along the southeastern coast of France via Perpignan and Montpellier. Driving time from Barcelona in Catalonia to Nice is around seven hours (663km/410mi).
Driving is generally a pleasure in the south of France, with picturesque routes across its varying landscapes. The A8, known as the La Provençale, runs for around 220 kilometers (136mi) from Aix-en-Provence to the Italian border. It serves all the main towns and cities along the Riviera, passing alongside the Massif de l’Estérel between Saint-Raphaël and Cannes and the Massif des Maures west of Fréjus. It has regular aires de répos (rest stops with toilets and places to sit) and aires de services (petrol stations).
Along the French Riviera section of the A8 autoroute there are four péages (tolls), which take cash and credit cards. The toll from Fréjus to Nice (64km/40mi) is €5.90 and from Nice to Monaco (22km/14mi) the toll is €2.40. The road can be extremely busy from June to September, with lengthy delays and traffic jams, particularly on the sections between Monaco and La Turbie and between Cagnes-sur-Mer and Antibes. For short journeys, the coast road (M6098) is a more attractive alternative, but that also can be slow in the summer.
The TER rail network (www.oui.sncf) runs along the Riviera linking Marseille with Ventimiglia just across the Italian border. It services all the major towns, with the exception of Saint-Tropez, the nearest train station there being in Saint-Raphaël. Tickets can be purchased at all stations or online. It is easy, relatively quick, and fairly cost-effective to travel the French Riviera by train.
The Riviera is very well serviced by local bus networks. Each town has its own network (single journeys cost between €1-3), with connections to the countryside beyond. Bus service on Sundays is usually poor or even non-existent.
Passports and Visas
Nationals of the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand can enter France and stay for up to 90 days without a visa. Stays of more than 90 days require a visa and proof of income and medical insurance. South African nationals require a short-stay visa for visits up to 90 days, and a long-stay visa for stays of more than 90 days.
Visa requirements can be checked on the France Diplomatie website (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france). The site has a visa-wizard page explaining all visa and additional document requirements.
Citizens of EU-member states who have a valid passport or national identity card can travel freely to France. Due to the ongoing process of the United Kingdom exiting the European Union (Brexit), the situation for British citizens remains unclear at the time of writing.
Best of the French Riviera
The entire French Riviera runs for only 180 kilometers (111mi), less than a day’s stage in the Tour de France cycling race, but it is packed with amazing scenery, museums, Roman ruins, medieval churches, pleasure-boat marinas, rocky coves, and sandy beaches. The 10-day itinerary below is designed to take visitors to the Riviera’s hot spots and give an idea of the region’s flavor both in and out of season: though the beaches covered in this itinerary will be nicest in summer, there is plenty to do if it’s too cold for any seaside lounging.
Begin in Nice along the promenade des Anglais and visit some of the city’s best art museums. Head east for a day exploring Monte-Carlo, then spend another day at the perched village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, with its 10th-century château. Another day is spent in the old town of Antibes, one of the great boating capitals of the Mediterranean, before a day on the beach or waterskiing in Juan-les-Pins next door (incidentally where the sport was invented). Two days in Cannes is no time at all, but enough to gain a feeling for the glamorous resort, with some time spent discovering one of the Lérins islands. Then it’s off to Saint-Tropez for some sunbathing, shopping, and wine-tasting.
Base yourself in Nice for the first four days, with day trips to Monaco, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, and maybe an excursion across the border to Italy. Move on to Antibes and end the trip in Saint-Tropez with a day on Plage de Pampelonne, France’s most famous beach. Hire a car for convenience, but if not, travel by train—it’s cheap, punctual, and air-conditioned. For the last leg of the tour, VarLib bus 7601
- On Sale
- Feb 4, 2020
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Moon Travel