Mention the Cote d’Azur - or French Riviera - to someone and it conjures up a picture of beautiful beaches, stylish resorts, movie stars and luxury yachts. This part of the French coast, which stretches between Toulon and the Italian border, is home to some of France’s most famous resorts and most beautiful beaches.
Most visitors to the Cote d’Azur concentrate on the larger resorts of Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo. Many people begin their trip in Nice which has the region’s largest airport and easy access to the rest of the Cote d’Azur, as well as nearby Italy.
For those of us who aren’t movie stars, Nice is a little bit less glamorous – and less expensive – than some of the other resorts. The main attraction in Nice is the old town with its narrow winding streets, colorful eating places and the weekly flower market.
Cannes is famous for its annual film festival and its beautiful curving seafront, known as the Promenade de la Croisette, lined with flowers and palm trees. Cannes also makes a good base for taking a ferry ride to the nearby Lerins Islands, on one of which you can see the cell where the “Man in the Iron Mask” was imprisoned.
The principality of Monaco is one of the richest square miles on earth and the second smallest country in Europe. The most famous attraction is the casino, where huge fortunes have been won and lost over the years. Monaco also has an excellent museum of oceanography – with over 90 tanks, its one of the best in Europe.
The above-mentioned towns can be extremely crowded during the summer, and you can often find a more relaxed atmosphere in some of the smaller towns and villages along the coast. If you visit during the spring or fall the beaches are noticeably less crowded too.
Antibes is a charming town which sits on the site of a 4th century BC Greek city and the excellent museum of History and Archaeology displays Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts. There is also a Picasso museum, paying tribute to the painter who lived in the town during the 1940s.
Another small town worth a visit is Villefranche-Sur-Mer with its narrow cobblestone streets, castle overlooking the town and bustling waterfront. A highlight of any visit here is a trip to the Chapel of St Pierre with its spectacular interior.
The Cote d’Azur is justifiably famous for its beaches. But if you venture inland, you’ll discover some of France’s loveliest scenery. There are many charming villages in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean that are worth a visit. St. Paul is full of shops selling work by local artists and craftsmen; Vence has a bustling daily market and a cathedral with lovely stained glass windows.
People have been flocking to the Cote d’Azure for over a century for the glamour - and simply to see and be seen. But away from the expensive yachts and boutiques, you will find one of the loveliest parts of France – it’s no wonder that many of the greatest artists of all time, including Matisse, Picasso and Chagall chose to paint here.