With over 300 days of sunshine each year, the alluring Côte d’Azur in the south east of France attracts artists, celebrities and sun-seeking tourists in their droves. Also known as the French Riviera, the diverse coastline offers uninterrupted stretches of sandy beaches, sheltered coves and idyllic islands interspersed with traditional fishing villages, chic resorts and tranquil hilltop towns.
One of the main draws of this stunning region is its enviable climate – temperatures rarely drop below 20°c and hover around a lovely 29°c during July and August. If lying on a beautiful sandy beach soaking up the sunshine is your idea of the perfect way to spend a day (or more) then the Côte d’Azur will spoil you – there are numerous sandy spots to relax on, and then the warm, clear Mediterranean sea to cool off in. Must-see Riviera resorts include the exceptional principality of Monaco, glamorous Cannes and equally glitzy St Tropez. Smaller, yet no less charming are the Provençal villages of Antibes, Fréjus Saint-Raphaël and Port Grimaud. Inland you can explore the Estérel forest and spectacular Gorges du Verdon.
Nice to Monaco
Nice is the capital of the French Riviera, a fashionable but relaxed city. The old and new towns combine to create a city with plenty to offer – fantastic shopping, architecture and museums. One of the best is Musée Matisse, located in the bourgeois district of Cimiez. This vast museum showcases the innovative art of Henri Matisse inspired by the surrounding city.
Travel east from Nice and you’ll reach the independent sovereign state of Monaco – the world’s second smallest country (after the Vatican city). Monaco has an area of just 1.95 km sq and a population of 36,000. One of the best ways to enjoy the city is with a ride on the city’s tourist train which takes you to every corner of this fascinating place. You’ll see the palace, the port and Monaco’s most famous district Monte Carlo – a playground for the rich and famous.
Cannes, which 150 years ago was nothing more than a sleepy fishing village, has become one of the best known towns on the French Riviera, famous for its international film festival and the glamorous celebrities it attracts. Tickets are strictly reserved for industry insiders but there’s plenty of atmosphere to soak up from street level – don a pair of sunglasses and indulge in some celeb-spotting. The film festival takes place from the 13 May to 24 May 2015.
Scents and scenery
North of Cannes, high in the hills and surrounded by lavender fields is the charming town of Grasse. World famous for its perfume distilleries, it is the birthplace of Chanel No. 5. Many ‘noses’ are trained or have spent time in Grasse and it produces over two-thirds of France’s natural fragrances. Three of the perfumeries are open to the public – Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard. Here you can take a tour, sample the scents and even blend your own perfume.
For dramatic scenery, Gorges du Verdon is a must-see. The largest canyon in Europe slices through chalky limestone mountains, 25km long and up to 700m deep, it is formed by the Verdon River which flows below. The canyon’s most distinguishing feature is the startling turquoise-green colour of the water. Tourists can drive around the rim for magnificent (if dizzying) views or opt for some adrenalin-fuelled fun such as paragliding, white-water rafting and rock-climbing.
Port Grimaud to St Tropez
Port Grimaud is a pretty waterside village, built in the 1960’s from the idea of building a town similar to Venice – pretty houses on canals with space for every owner to moor their boat. Every house is unique and is painted in traditional Provençal pastel shades and adorned with shutters and wrought iron balconies. The village hit the brief and has since been dubbed ‘Venice of Provence’. From Port Grimaud you can hop aboard a boat to soak up the vibrancy of St Tropez.
St Tropez is one of the most stylish and flamboyant resorts on the Riviera. Artists, writers and painters were drawn to the quiet fishing port in the 1930s and Hollywood soon followed. It was in 1956, that this town was put on the map when Brigitte Bardot starred in Et Dieu Créa la Femme (And God Created Woman) in the heart of St Tropez. Suddenly it was the pinnacle of chic and everybody wanted to be there. Today, stars, paparazzi and tourists turn up every summer in ever increasing numbers.
St Tropez has a number of high profile beaches and one of the most celebrated is Plage de Pampelonne. The fine white sand, crystal clear water and private beach clubs are a magnet for celebrities who pull in on their super yachts. The beach is fringed with bustling bars and street cafés – great for watching the world go by. However, be careful of the infamous nudist sections or you may see a little more of the beautiful people than you’d anticipated.
The Côte d’Azur is a truly impressive destination with wide appeal. While artists are drawn to the inspiring views and celebrities come to pose in VIP clubs, the rest of us simply love the sun, sea and spectacular Riviera lifestyle.
If you feel that the Côte d’Azur is the perfect fit for your next holiday, then check out our guide to Camping in the Côte d’Azur .