Here are the most beautiful places to stay and visit on the French Riviera. This dreamy region is famous worldwide for charming towns like St Tropez, Cannes, and Nice. However, there is more to the French Rivera than that. As one of the most alluring regions in France, it’s the perfect destination for travelers in search of extraordinary food and wine combined with fascinating history and culture. The French Riviera also has charming towns and villages and a highly regarded art and culture scene.
And given the region’s abundance of scenery, the question becomes where to go and what to see first? From seaside cities, villages perched high in the hills, and seaside resort towns, here are the 10 best places to visit on the French Riviera.
Where Is The French Riviera?
The French Riviera (known in French as the Côte d’Azur) is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. It covers about 550 miles and acquired the nickname Cote d’Azur or Blue coast in 1887. This nickname comes from the turquoise Mediterranean sea, and the word Riviera means coast in Italian. If there is no official boundary, the French Riviera is usually considered to extend from Cassis, Toulon, or Saint-Tropez on the west to Menton at France–Italy border in the east, where the Italian Riviera joins. The coast is entirely within the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. Situated where the Alps meet the Mediterranean, it is an area that enjoys a wonderfully mild to warm climate year-round.
Why Is The French Riviera So Popular?
The French Riviera is famous for its beaches, views, picture-perfect water, yachts, and playground for the wealthy. But has it always been like this? Well as a matter of fact, yes it has. Originally, at the end of the 18th century, the Riviera was one of the first modern resort areas and served as a winter health resort for the British upper class. With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, it became the playground and vacation spot for British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, and King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales.
In the first half of the 20th century, it was frequented by artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Francis Bacon, as well as wealthy Americans and Europeans. But it became a really popular tourist destination after World War II, with many famous artists, movie stars like Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, and Romy Schneider, and celebrities that cemented the French Riviera at the top of the list for luxury travel.
10 Best Places To Visit On The French Riviera
Nice, the largest city and the unofficial capital of the French Riviera, is a very picturesque city with an idyllic coastline and the azure Mediterranean Sea. The best way to enjoy the views of the sea is to walk down the 7 kilometers long Promenade des Anglais. While strolling down it, you’ll get to the Musée Masséna, the architectural jewel of the Promenade. You can also visit the Musée Marc Chagall, a museum featuring many of the famed painter’s works inspired by the Riviera region itself.
Besides exploring the Promenade, you should walk down the streets of the Old Town (le Vieux Nice). Then head to Castle Hill for impressive views overlooking the city. Then, walk to the outdoor markets along the Cours Saleya to browse stalls of flowers, spices, produce, and antiques. Sun, swim, and people-watch at the Baie des Anges. And enjoy a sunset cocktail overlooking the ancient city and waters beyond.
Cannes is a real jewel of the French Riviera, and it’s one of the most glamorous resorts. It is famous for its annual Cannes Film Festival, and it is probably one of the reasons you’d want to visit it, but there’s more. The architecture in this gorgeous city is remarkable, and very picturesque, especially at night. Its long, boardwalk and beachfront, La Croisette, is one of Riviera’s most popular places to stroll, jog, enjoy a sunset cocktail, or leisurely seafood lunch, not to mention see and be seen. Also, you must visit Musée de la Castre, an old fortress, and Notre-Dame D’Espérance, a stunning church, both in Le Suquet.
Cannes is full of beautiful beaches and beach bars where you can have a nice cocktail and enjoy the sunshine. One of the best activities in Cannes is to visit Iles de Lerins, four islands that lay just a 15-minute ferry ride from the mainland. Here you can find fantastic beaches and bays that are hard to find anywhere else in the world.
Saint-Tropez, a small seaside resort town set on the French Riviera, has it all: celebrities, glamour, yachts, exclusive clubs, and some of the best beaches ever. And this iconic destination remains a tourism hot spot today. Spend a day or two exploring its iconic Pampelonne beach – the one you know from Brigitte Bardot’s movie “And God Created Woman”.
For a break from the beach, visit its picturesque Citadel of Saint-Tropez and the Museum of Maritime History that it houses. You’ll learn about the history of this former fishermen’s village. Also, don’t miss the town’s central square Place des Lices, and savor a slice of Tarte Tropézienne at Le Sénéquier. Watch the locals play pétanque while sipping a pastis or a café. Finally, don’t forget to walk along le Vieux Port! Admire its statuesque boats and yachts, and if you wake up early enough, you can catch the fishmongers at the daily fish market.
Antibes, located between Nice and Cannes, is a famous resort destination that is surrounded by fortified walls overlooking the sea. And, beyond the megayachts and picture-perfect beaches, Antibes is a draw for its literary and artistic history. It was at the Villa Saint Louis (now the Hotel Belles-Rives) on the Cap d’Antibes that F. Scott Fitzgerald took up summer residence and began his work on Tender is the Night. Also, formerly the Château Grimaldi (also known as the Picasso Museum), Picasso’s home and workshop in 1946. Now, it remains one of the commanding cultural draws in the resort town.
You can stroll through the streets of the historic old town, then peruse the Provencal food market (Marché Provençal) to shop for seasonal fresh produce. Besides exploring the rich history of the small town of Antibes, you must enjoy its wonderful beaches.
Menton is a small picturesque town located between Monaco and the Italian border, sitting against the backdrop of the Alpes Maritimes mountains. Prized for its breathtaking gardens, well-preserved old town center dating to the 13th century, and stunning waterfront, it’s simply one of the most picturesque spots on the French Riviera. The town is also home to La Citronneraie, a citrus grove that consists of 450 trees of the “Citron de Menton” variety. A good time to visit this beautiful town is from mid-February to early March when the popular La Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) takes place. Don’t forget to visit the Palais Carnolès, formerly the summer residence of Monaco’s princes.
Although not strictly on the Riviera (because it’s a separate country), Monaco still deserves a mention. A visit to Monte Carlo offers gorgeous beaches, waterside paths with dramatic views over the water and rugged mountainous surrounds, and vibrant nightlife. Visit famous sights such as the Monte-Carlo Casino. The lavish Belle Époque building dates back to 1863 and has appeared in classic films like To Catch a Thief and Never Say Never Again. Then, visit the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, and explore Monaco’s museums including the Musée Oceanographique. Don’t forget to visit the Princess Grace Rose Garden, which was created by Prince Rainier III in the memory of his wife, Princess Grace.
Just a short distance from Nice, Èze is one of the most beautiful places on the French Riviera. It’s a beautiful cobblestone street-filled village perched overlooking a cliff thousands of feet above the Mediterranean. Visit the Jardin Exotique d’Èze, which is housed in a former medieval fortress (which you may recognize from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief), to experience incredible panoramas of the French Riviera. Then, set out to wander the cobbled medieval streets and charming storefronts for which Èze is best known. Stop to admire sights such as the 14th-century Chapelle de la Sainte-Croix, once used as a meeting place for those who came to the aid of plague victims in the Middle Ages.
8. Saint-Paul de Vence
One of the oldest medieval towns in the region, the walled town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, looms high on a rocky spur on the Riviera’s Eastern edge. This beautiful village offers sweeping views of the French Prealps and the Mediterranean Sea. Its reputation as an artist’s haven helped the destination attract several famous painters, including Marc Chagall, who lived in St-Paul and is buried in the village’s historic cemetery. Also, Pablo Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir were among the artists and intellectuals to frequent the village, its restaurants, and bars during the 20th century. Just spend some time wandering through its cobbled medieval streets. And stop at one of the village’s many art studios and galleries or shop for Provencal specialties.
Once a quiet fishing village, Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat has become one of Riviera’s most coveted spots for vacationers and locals seeking a bit of old-fashioned chic. Once favored by the European aristocracy, this pretty peninsula is home to countless striking bits of architecture. The town features five public beaches dotted around the peninsula. The most popular one is Paloma Beach thanks to famous figures such as Henri Matisse, Sean Connery, and Elton John. In town, explore the old Port and 11th-century Saint-Hospice Chapel. Also, consider taking a drive to admire some of the area’s legendary, lavish villas, including the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
10. Porquerolles Island
If you are looking to escape the excess of the Côte d’Azur, Île de Porquerolles is one of the best places on the French Riviera where you can do just that. Just a 10-minute boat ride off the coast from the Riviera town of Hyères, Porquerolles Island is a little-populated oasis boasting pristine sandy beaches and turquoise waters, varied hiking trails, dramatic cliffsides, and meandering maritime creeks.
In 1912, Belgian explorer François Joseph Fournier bought the entire island, apparently as a wedding present for his wife. In 1971 the French government bought 80 percent of the island to preserve it from development. That’s why Porquerolles has remained throughout this time, unspoiled. Porquerolles offers a few sandy beaches for you to choose from: Plage Notre Dame, La Courtade, and Plage d’Argent.
Et voilà! I hope you enjoyed this tour of the best places on the French Riviera! And that it’ll inspire you to plan your future trip to the South of France.
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Bonjour and welcome to Leonce Chenal, a modern lifestyle platform created and curated by a French woman for lovers of everything French. I’m Leonce, born and raised near Annecy, France. Through this website, I want to share with you the passion I have for my home country and for the French art de vivre. Merci for visiting and à bientôt! —Leonce