The French Riviera: 8 Must-See Spots on the Côte d’Azur

St. Tropez is just the beginning

The Cote d’Azur. By hearing the name raises up images of sparkling azure waters, exclusive beach clubs decorated with candy-colored sun loungers, star-studded film premiers, and all the famous, moneyed types who’ve vacationed here over the years: Brigitte Bardotand  Salvador Dalí to name a few.

Given the region’s richness of scenery (natural and otherwise), you might question yourself where to go and what to see first? To jump-start your trip-planning, we’ve put together a complete guide to the French Riviera with recommendations for hotel, restaurant, and sightseeing in six of the region’s most standout spots, from the all-time favorite Cannes and St. Tropez to the sleepy medieval village Èze.

ST. TROPEZ

This ritzy beach town is where Brigitte Bardot was first discovered in the 1960s, and where celebs like Beyoncé, Gigi Hadid, and Sir Elton John can be spotted partying at day beach club Nikki Beach and dining under tamarisk trees at the iconic beach bar Club 55.

If you don’t have keys to a private yacht, a stay at the storied Hôtel Byblos (where ‑ fun fact ‑ Mick Jagger proposed to his first wife, Bianca) promises to be just as much of a scenery affair. The property is nestled in a hill overlooking the leafy Place des Lices and offers a Sisley Spa, an Alain Ducasse eatery, and the legendary discotic (dare we say the most famous in all of France), Les Caves du Roy. Break up languorous afternoons spent celeb-spotting, and sun-bathing by scooting out to Domaine Bertaud Belieu to sip rosé and tour the vineyard’s bucolic 160 acres.

CANNES

This sun-kissed, swanky locale is an A-list destination year-round, however no more so than in May, when the who’s who of Hollywood descends on the town for the Film Festival. Spot some of the industry’s major players on Promenade de la Croisette, a glittering boulevard along the Mediterranean coast, where there are views of big-name boutiques like Dior and Dolce & Gabbana, and sun lounger-striped shores on one side on the other.

Your hotel, the impossibly glamorous and not to be missed InterContinental Carlton Cannes. This hotel has a prime perch right on the boulevard.  If you want to escape the maddening crowds, then head to your guestroom’s private sea-view terrace. Once you’re rested up, rub shoulders with the glitterati at The Carlton Bar and Terrace – a popular film festival hangout with killer Aperol spritzes (my fav)– then it’s off to the upscale Le Relais des Semailles eatery downtown in Old Town of Le Suquet, to feast on modern Provençal dishes like roast veal with artichokes and summer truffles.

 

MONACO

James Bond, Formula 1 Grand Prix and Princess Grace. Monaco’s associations with the glamorous, jet-set crowd just don’t stop.

Get caught up on the country’s impressive history at majestic spots like the Prince’s PalaceMonaco Cathedral, and Fort Antoine, an amphitheatre that dates back to the 18th century.

Check-in at the opulent Hôtel Metropole. Afternoon tea is served daily in the lobby; when the dessert trolley comes around, reach for the praline truffles, warm chausson aux pommes, and citrus guimaves. Come evening, slide into your gown or suit and head for the legendary Monte-Carlo Casino, the lavish Belle Époque house that dates back to 1863, and has appeared in classic films like Never Say Never Again  and To Catch a Thief. Try your luck with a high-stake game of French Roulette, and order a martini – shaken, not stirred, just said.

 

ANTIBES

Asking yourself why artists like Picasso, Monet, and Boudin were drawn here? One glance at Antibe’s sparkling azure seawaters, narrow, cobblestone streets, and bobbing boats in the harbour, and it’s easy to understand.

Learn all about the seaside town’s influence on Impressionism at The Picasso Museum in Château Grimaldi, where Picasso himself lived for six months in 1946. Or, stroll along the Promande des Arts to see modern Catalan artist Jaume Plensa’s Nomade, the 25-foot sculpture of a man looking out to sea.

The grand 19th-century Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, in nearby Cap d’Antibes, is arguably the most luxurious place to stay in all of the Cote d’Azur. Tuck into roasted sea bass and lobster with tarragon at the restaurant of Eden-Roc, take a dip in the heated, saltwater swimming pool – you know it from that famous Slim Aarons photograph—or just take in all the action from the ocean-liner-like terrace. You probably may never want to leave.

NICE

Nice is the unofficial capital of the French Riviera, that offers the typical Cote d’Azur experience — glorious architecture, year-round sunshine, outstanding food—and is a great starting point for discovering the rest of the region.

Rent a bike and pedal along the Promenade des Anglais, the city’s main drag, until you reach the castle ruins of Colline du Chateau, which has impressive views of the town and sea. From this place, walk west to the outdoor markets along the Cours Saleya to browse stalls of flowers, spices, produce (try the fresh figs) and antiques (brocante to the max).

There are plenty of budget-friendly accommodations in town (we’d recommend the water-facing Hôtel Suisse), but if you’re willing to splurge (and venture a half-hour outside town), nothing beats the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel. Set on 17-acres of manicured grounds embowered in pine trees and boxed hedges, the historic property evokes the elegance and grandeur of yesteryears. Other not to be missed highlights of the hotel: spectacular views of the Mediterranean, an Olympic-sized saltwater swimming pool, and a Michelin-starred restaurant

ÈZE

Unquestionable, the Cote d’Azur is primarily known as a playground for the rich and famous, however,  if slow-paced village life is what you seek, the region can offer that, too.

Enter Èze, a charming, hilltop town in between Nice and Monaco. The village’s centrepiece is Jardin Exotique d’Èze, a picturesque cactus garden that overlooks the village and the old castle ruins. Hang back there to study the garden’s exotic vegetation, then set out to wandering the cobbled medieval streets and charming storefronts for which Èze is best known. Picture-perfect guaranteed.

La Chevre d’Or, a Relais & Châteaux chateau that is situated on a cliff edge, is a satisfactory place to hang your hat. Enjoy a glass of sauvignon blanc and a belly-filling Mediterranean feast in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, then retire to your guestroom, where exposed stonework, sea views, and wide terraces only add to the romance.

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