Does one really need a reason to travel to the French Riviera? Well, if only for its outstanding scenery and excellent beaches, it is an attractive choice on a trip to France.
Let’s throw in more reasons to visit the French Riviera, also known as the Cote d’Azur. It has attracted writers, artists and celebrities over time, and if good enough for them, then it should be good enough for us, the average travellers. But let’s also mention the art galleries, museums, fine dining, nightlife, festivals, and shopping; plus, the Riviera consists of several cities, 14 natural parks, Roman ruins and medieval villages.
Because the French Riviera is protected by hills and the Southern Alps, it experiences a relatively mild climate year-round and boasts around 300 days of sunshine. You will find sunny hot dry summers and definitely mild winters. If visiting in the winter, forget the beaches unless you are very hardy. However, it is a time of many festivals and carnivals. If you want to see as much as possible of the Riviera on a trip to France, there are lots of trains and buses linking the various towns and resorts. Here are some of the principal destinations to consider.
Nice is the fifth largest city in France and the second largest French city on the Mediterranean coast. You don’t necessarily head there for the swimming or sunbathing as the beaches here consist mainly of pebble. It has been called the “Grande Dame of the Riviera” and has been home to some outstanding painters whose works can be found in the city’s museums. The Marc Chagall National Museum, with the world’s largest collection of his works, should not be missed, nor the Matisse and Picasso Museums. There are several other notable museums dedicated to well-known artists’ paintings including the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Nice (Fine Arts Museum) which features works of great Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists including Monet, Renoir, Duffy, and Sisley. The extensive Promenade des Anglais is a great place to stroll along on France tours, oozing grace and elegance, plus it is a great place to observe spectacular sunsets as well as dine or sip a drink at one of the outdoor cafes. There is also an old quarter to explore called Vieux Nice, featuring an outdoor market called the Marche aux Fleurs where fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers can be purchased at reasonable prices. You can climb up Castle Hill via a maze of winding paths to the former citadel where the town originated. Another attraction is the Russian Cathedral, with its onion-shaped dome completed in 1912, just prior to the Russian Revolution.
I suppose the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Cannes is its world-famous film festival. But that’s not the only reason why you should visit this destination on a trip to France. There is an air of elegance about Cannes, starting with La Croisette, a long palm tree-lined boulevard that stretches along the seafront for quite some distance. From here, you can ogle the sailboats of the rich and famous moored at the marinas. You can also enjoy upscale boutiques, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and beautiful villas on the land side. The beaches in Cannes are situated mostly along La Croisette and are divided into two types, private and public. The private beaches can be used for a fee. Then, there is the Old Town district set on a mountainside overlooking the sea. It is a picture-perfect neighbourhood offering exciting views over red roofs, narrow alleyways, courtyards, and ancient walls… and it is traffic-free. An even better panoramic view can be had from the top of the 11th-century Tour du Mont watchtower. In the Old Town are boutique shops as well as flower markets, and on Mondays, there is an antiques flea market.
The city of Monte Carlo is located in the Principality of Monaco, known as the second smallest country in the world. It is a haven for the rich and famous who wish to avoid paying taxes, being an independent state. A large and busy harbour dominates the seafront and is packed with all types of sailing boats. The backdrop of Monte Carlo is a series of rising hills containing many apartment buildings and homes. In between, you can find the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo, designed in the belle epoque style of architecture. One of the major sites is the Prince’s Palace which was built originally as a fortress on top of a promontory. It is the private residence of the ruling Grimaldi family where every day at noon, the changing of the guard takes place. Most of the palace is private but you can visit the state departments which contain antique furniture and priceless works of art collected by the family over centuries. Another building of note is the Oceanography Museum, dramatically located on a cliff and featuring an aquarium with 450 different Mediterranean tropical fish. There are great views of Monte Carlo from here. Also worth visiting are the Monaco Cathedral, the Napoleon Museum, and the museum with a collection of old cars amassed by Prince Rainier, with over 100 classic automobiles. The famous Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place here in late May when all the streets are closed for the race.
Exquisite Beach Resorts
On your trip to France, you’ll have a choice of a number of other extraordinarily attractive resorts to enjoy on the French Riviera. Some of the main ones include the following. Saint Tropez is a fashionable resort with excellent beaches and also has some attractive narrow streets. The Citadel here dates back to the 17th century, with its ramparts offering spectacular views of the bay. Juan-Les-Pins is a resort popular with jet-setters. Attractions include its casino, nightclubs, several museums, an annual jazz festival, and sandy beaches. The town of Saint-Raphael is backed by magnificent red rock mountains and boasts large sandy beaches, a yacht marina, and good restaurants. Antibes is a resort built in the 19th century around a 16th century town on top of the Greek city of Antipolis. Here you can find ancient artefacts in the Archaeology Museum, discovered from local excavations. There is also a Picasso Museum, a Naval Museum with a collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, and some beautiful exotic public gardens. With views stretching as far as Corsica and being a perfume-manufacturing town, Eze is a special medieval village with a history dating back to 2000 BC. It has a good selection of shops, art galleries, and restaurants to be enjoyed on a France vacation.
You would be wrong to assume that all the beauty and interesting places are on the Mediterranean Coast. Not very far inland are two towns well worth making a detour for on a trip to France. Up in the hills to the north of Nice is the quaint town of Grasse, which has been the centre of the French perfume industry since the 16th century. Today, there are over 30 perfume factories. Naturally, there is the International Museum of Perfume, housed in an 18th-century mansion detailing the history of perfume over 3000 years. Another town is Vence, with its historic and medieval walled village offering some interesting sights and monuments. There is a castle, a modern art museum, a 4th-century cathedral with a mosaic by Chagall, and an attractive square with cafes and restaurants.