What to do & Where to go in the French Riviera
If you are wondering what to see and and where to go in the French Riviera, this summer, here are some great tourism ideas for you to try out.
The French Riviera has a total population of over two million and is home to 163 nationalities and 100,000 foreign residents. Important towns and cities along the French Riviera include Menton, Nice, Cannes, Sainte-Maxime, Frejus and St Tropez. The French Riviera also includes the principality of Monaco.
Where is French Riviera?
The French Riviera or the Cote d'Azur as it is referred to France, is in the South East corner of France, running along the Mediterranean coastline. The French Riviera encompasses the French departments of the Var and Alpes-Maritmes, and includes the popular tourism destinations of Nice, Cannes, St Tropez, Monaco, Grasse, Frejus, Menton, Antibes and Villefranche-sur-Mer. The French Riviera extends from the Italian border in the East, through to Cassis, Toulon and Hyéres in the West.
The French Riviera contains the popular seaside resorts of Cap-d'Ail, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Théoule-sur-Mer, Saint-Raphael, Saint-Aygulf, Le Lavandou, Cassis, and Bandol.
The French Riviera is a major yachting and cruising centre with several marinas along its coast. Each year the Riviera hosts 50% of the world's Super-Yacht fleet. As a tourist centre it benefits from 300 days of sunshine per year, 115 kilometres of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and over 3,000 restaurants.
What is the French Riviera famous for?
The French Riviera was one of the first modern vacation resorts. The French Riviera began as a winter health resort for the British and European aristocracy at the end of the 18th century. The mild winter climate in the French Riviera, attracted wealthy individuals from colder countries.
With the development of the railways in the 19th century, the French Riviera became the favourite vacation spot of British, Russian, and other aristocrats, including Queen Victoria and King Edward VII (who she stayed in Menton in 1891 and spent several years at the Grand Hotel at Grasse)
King Leopold of Belgium built a famous Villa in Villefranche-sur-Mer and Tsar Nicholas regularly stayed in the French Riviera to escape the cold Russian winters.
In the summer, the French Riviera also played home to many members of the Rothschild family. In the first half of the 20th century, the French Riviera was frequented by many famous artists and writers, such as Picasso, F Scott Fitzgerald and Henri Matisse - all of whom were attracted to the hot summers and bright light and scenery in the Cote d'Azur.
Beautiful places French Riviera: Villefranche-sur-Mer
The popularity of the French Riviera helped to turn around the fortunes of former fishing villages. This for example, Villefranche-sur-Mer developed very quickly either side of the Second World War. The deep bay off Villefranche was exploited by the French and American navies for many years and is now a popular mooring point for cruise liners.
The old town and the bay have been used as the setting for many famous films, including Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery, The Jewel of the Nile with Michael Douglas and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin.
The beaches around Villefranche-sur-Mer are popular with snorkelers and divers (there are plenty of rocky inlets to explore). The beaches are lined with some nice cafes and shops.
The Rolling Stones recorded their album Exile of Main Street (1972) at a mansion near Villefranche sur Mer. Tina Turner, owns a property, Villa Anna Fleur, at Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Places to visit French Riviera: Nice, the largest city
Nice, is the largest city on the French Riviera, with a population of 500,000. Nice is also home to Nice Cote d'Azur Airport, the third-busiest airport in France (after Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport and Paris-Orly). Nice is also one of the main railway hubs in the South of France, with trains serving the coastal region and inland to Grasse. The TGV Sud Est service reaches Nice in five hours and a half from Paris.
With its broad avenues, wide sweeping bay and golden beach it is not difficult to see why some 3 million people flock to Nice every year. Only Paris rivals it as a tourist attraction. With the famous Promenade des Anglais, over 17 museuls (including the Matisse museum), the Russian Cathedral and Vieux Nice, there is so much to do and see.
Nice is also home to a celebrated Jazz festival. In actual fact, Nice held the very first jazz festival in the world in February 1948. Over the years the Nice Jazz festival has been attracted all the great Jazz musicians of the age including Louis Armstrong, Miles Davies, Charlie Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. The 2021 Nice Jazz festival will be held from 17 to 21 July 2021 (see Nice Jazz Festival 2021).
The enormous Nice carnival procession takes place over 15 days during the Mardi Gras. The 2021 Nice carnival will take place from 15-29 February 2021 (see Nice Carnival 2021 for more information).
Also, during December, the Nice Christmas market ("Le Village de Noel") takes over the central Jardin Albert 1er and incorporates an ice rink, a Ferris wheel and a lot of Christmas related food and drink (see Nice Christmas market).
What to do in French Riviera: Cannes the cultural & events capital
Cannes is an important exhibition centre. The Cannes Film Festival was launched in September 1946, marking the return of French cinema to world screens. The Festival Palace was built in 1949 on the site of the old Cercle Nautique. If you're visiting the Film Festival, check out our selection of apartments in Cannes.
The French coastal city of Cannes is always associated with its celebrated film festival which has been running continuously for 70 years. The 2021 Cannes film festival will be held from 11-22 May 2021. You might think that once the swarm of Actors, Producers and Paparazzi have left town, that Cannes will return to normal. But there is no real 'normal' time for Cannes.
There is actually more going on in Cannes than just the the red carpet. The city holds 12 important events and conferences throughout the year including the International TV and media festival MIPTV, an international property show called MIDEM, various fashion and shopping events, as well as a number of major sport festivals and regattas. In fact there is not a month goes by when the City is not preparing for the next big event.
Although Cannes does not have it's own airport (Nice Cote d'Azur airport is only 30 kms away), it is definitely a destination I would head to in South France. Cannes has a beautiful central boulevard (Le Croisette) which bends around the Bay, it is a great centre for shopping and it has a number of good beaches.
Also on the coastline surrounding Cannes you will find some delightful places to stay, such as Antibes, Theoule-sur-Mer and Mandelieu La Napoule.
The painter Pablo Picasso, stayed at many places along the French Riviera, but he settled in Mougins a small village above Cannes, where he lived for many years and died here. Picasso's long time friend, Henri Matisse, lived on the French Riviera, mainly at Hotel Regina in Cimiez, a suburb of Nice.
But for me, the beauty of Cannes is to just mooch about the Old Town, waling along the beach front and just gazing out at the horizon over the wonderful bay area.
Best weather in French Riviera: Menton
Menton is located in the far eastern corner of the French Riviera, right next to the Italian border on the Mediterranean coast. During it's history, Menton has been under both French and Italian (Sardinia) rule.
Menton is famous in France for the production of lemons and citrus fruits and there is a marvellous Lemon Festival held in the town each year (usually late February). The Lemon production in Menton is helped by the town's unique micro-climate, which helps make Menton one of the warmest and driest places in the whole of the France. The temperature in Menton is always a couple of degrees warmer than neighbouring resorts on the French Riviera, (read The Weather in Menton for more information). With hot summers and mild winters, Menton is the perfect French town to visit all year around.
The French artist and film producer, Jean Cocteau, stayed in Menton for a long period of his life and there is an excellent museum in the town dedicated to him. Other famous residents of Menton include the Irish poet WB Yeats and the founder of the sport of Rugby, William Webb Ellis, who lived and died in Menton during 1872.
There is always something going on in Menton and you should not miss the Christmas festival, Lemon festival in February, Menton Tango dancing festival in September and the Classical Music festivals in July and August. Menton is also an excellent spot to stay in during the near-by Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
Menton is also home to some good restaurants, including the fabulous Mirazur restaurant run by Chef Mauro Colagreco. The Mirazur is officially the Best restaurant in the World and has gained plaudits and 3 Michelin stars since it opened in 2006.
Monaco - where the rich & famous live in French Riviera
The marriage of American film actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco on 18 April 1956, attracted world attention to the once forgotten small sovereign state of Monaco. The wedding was viewed on television by 30 million people.
Although Monaco isn't strictly part of France, it should feature on any list of places to visit in the French Riviera. This tiny but incredibly wealthy Principality, covers just one square mile and it is the World's smallest Sovereign state after the Vatican. Monaco has an income tax rate of zero and it has one of the highest per capita GDP in the World. However, it was not always like this.
In 1848, when the principality was faced with bankruptcy, the then Prince of Monaco (Charles III), decided to open a casino. The profits of the famous casino soon proved to be so large that all taxes were abolished and the grateful citizens renamed the hill by the casino 'Monte Carlo' (Mount Charles).
Today it is a glitzy place, home of not just the rich and famous but also a legendary Grand Prix. If you get beyond all the enormous yachts and showy jewellery shops, I have always found Monte Carlo quite pleasant to walk around and not too expensive. The view from the top of the Monte Carlo hill up near the castle is absolutely amazing.
Today, Monaco is home to many rich and famous residents including: the musicians Shirley Bassey, Ringo Starr and Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall; Formula One drivers Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg; Tennis players Novak Djokovic, Bjorn Borg and Caroline Wozniacki. The U2 frontman, Bono, owns a beach front property in the nearby location of Eze-sur-Mer, as does the band's guitarist 'The Edge'.
Stunning scenery French Riviera: Cassis
In my opinion, the stretch of the Mediterranean coastline around Cassis (30 mins east of Marseille) offers perhaps the most dramatic coastline you will find in the South of France. There is a beautiful inlet near Cassis, called Les Calanques. With crystal clear water and the dramatic cliffs plunging into the sea, the Calanques is a spectacular location.
It is not easy to get to and in actual fact the easiest way to arrive is to take a boat from the port in Marseille. Failing that, you are faced with a 20 minute walk and steep descent from the main public car park in Cassis itself.
The town of Cassis is sheltered from the Mediterranean sea by a small curve in the coastline. Cassis is surrounded by white chalky cliffs, in which the sea has carved 20 inlets or calanques. The most famous of these is Calanques de Port-Miou, which is a 35 minute walk from the centre of Cassis. This sheltered inlet was once a limestone quarry, but it now forms the perfect setting for a marina. At the end of the inlet there is a small rocky beach which provides fantastic views out to sea. It is also popular with scuba divers, kayakers and tourists taking pleasure boat trips from nearby Marseille (just 30 mins up the coast).
Further around the coast,there is the sister inlet of Calanque de Port Pin and the beautiful Calanque d'en Vau. Both of these inlets enjoy the same turquoise clear waters and small rocky beaches. At the highest point, the cliffs that frame the inlet reach up to 500 ft and these are popular spots for local teenagers who plunge down into the waters below.
Best beaches French Riviera: head to Cap d'Antibes
There are 48 beaches along the 25 km of coastline that surround Antibes and Juan les Pins. Cap d'Antibes has had a long association with the rich and famous. Since 1870 the glamorous Hotel du Cap high up on the dense tree covered cliff has been one of the most luxurious resorts in the world. Guests who have stayed there included Marlene Dietrich, Winston Churchill and the actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who conducted an affair and honeymooned there.
In 1936, King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, stayed at the Villa Lou Vieie in Cannes. After his abdication, the Duke of Windsor (as he became) stayed at the Villa La Croe near Antibes.
Pablo Picasso came to the town in 1946 and was invited to stay in the castle. During his six month stay, Picasso painted and started his fascination with ceramics and tapestries. When he departed Picasso left a number of his works for the municipality. The castle has since officially became the Picasso Museum (see 10 Best art museums in South France).
Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club has a palatial mansion in Cap d'Antibes
The main public beaches in Antibes are La Salis, on the edge of Le Cap d'Antibes and Plage du Ponteil. The bay of La Garoupe has some beautiful soft sand beaches and provides a magnificent view of Antibes. This is also a popular spot for snorkelers, attracted by the clear blue water.
Classy (and expensive) beach clubs occupy most of the beach spaces, the coolest ones reportedly being Plage Keller and Plage Joseph. But be warned, the beaches around Antibes are usually very crowded in the summer time.
St Tropez: the glitzy heart of French Riviera
Glitzy, chic, relaxed, rich, sunny, beautiful. Whatever adjective you use to describe St Tropez, it still does not satisfactorily sum up this top South of France resort. In 1958, Brigitte Bardot withdrew from the bright lights of Paris and Hollywood to the seclusion of Southern France, where she bought the house La Madrague in Saint-Tropez. This propelled the sleepy fishing village of St Tropez into the international limelight.
St Tropez continues to be the summer home of the rich, famous and beautiful. St Tropez's beaches (see 4 best beaches in St Tropez) are among the best in the world and its harbour only loses out to Monaco for the impressive array of yachts on show.
The actor Johnny Depp lived in a villa in the village of Plan-de-la-Tour, near Saint Tropez. Also shortly before she died, Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed spent their last few days together on his father's yacht off Pampelonne Beach near Saint-Tropez.
The supermodel Naomi Campbell is known for visiting St Tropez every summer, along with other famous celebrities including Kate Moss; and she always makes a bee-line to the VIP Room a famous St Tropez night club.
Saint Tropez is located on a small bay, close to the major resort town of Sainte-Maxime. The city of Toulon is 50kms to the West and Cannes is 70kms to the East. The town itself looks quite normal. It is only when you look closer that you realise that the little boutique shops located in former Fishermen's houses actually belong to Prada, Hermes and Channel. The restaurants are not crazily expensive, but the private beach bars on the St Tropez beaches can be a bit steep.
If you are looking at staying in St Tropez, I would probably advise you to consider some of the surrounding villages such as Cogolin, Port Grimaud, Ramatuelle, Gassin or La Croix Valmer. The reason being is that you can still access St Tropez, but in the height of summer this part of South of France can grind to a halt with traffic. These places can offer the best of both Worlds, some peace and quiet, as well as a short drive to all the craziness. You can see some examples of our places to stay near St Tropez here: St Tropez villas and apartments
Most beautiful part of French Riviera: Hyeres and Porquerolles Island
The French Riviera has been home to many famous people. The Pulitzer Prize novelist Edith Wharton, wrote The Age of Innocence (1920) at a villa near Hyéres, just outside Toulon. The coastline surrounding Hyeres, is blessed with turquoise blue waters and golden sands. The dense woodland which encircles this part of the coast, provides an interesting visual contrast to the golden coulour of the beach and the blue of the Mediterranean sea.
Just offshore from Hyeres, less than a half-hour by boat, are a cluster of three gorgeous islands with spectacular beaches that are popular with the French and are busy at the height of the season. Collectively referred to as the Ile de Hyeres or Golden Islands, you will find some excellent beaches to visit.
Porquerolles Island is the largest of the Golden islands and has one of the best beaches in France. The crescent-shaped Plage de Notre Dame on the north-eastern coast, is fringed with pines and ecalyptus trees. The French state acquired Porquerolles Island in the 1970s and turned it into a national park and conservation area. Cars can not be brought over and buidling development is prohibited. There is only one village on Porquerolles Island, dating to the early 19th century.
In many ways, Porquerolles Island recalls the bygone days of the French Riviera, when the shoreline belonged to wild herbs, fig and olive groves, oak and pine trees, and a vast array of small undiscovered inlets.
Sandy beaches on the French Riviera: Saint Raphael
The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald first visited the French Riviera with his wife Zelda in 1924, stopping at Hyéres, Cannes and Monte Carlo. Eventually he setted in Saint-Raphael, where he wrote much of The Great Gatsby and began Tender is the Night.
Saint-Raphael is a popular beach resort on the French Riviera. The 30kms of Cote d'Azur coastline around Saint Raphael boast around 25 different beaches to choose from. These vary from golden sandy beaches to rocky inlets.
The best St Raphael beaches are located to the east of the town, in the direction of Agay. The 3 best beaches to head for (if you have a car or use the public buses) are Plage du Tortue, Tiki Plage and Plage de la Pescade.
Best beach resorts French Riviera: Roquebrun-Cap-Martin
The French fashion designer, Coco Chanel, made sunbathing fashionable whilst staying on the French Riviera. She acquired a deep tan during her stay in the summer of 1923, and tans then became the fashion in Paris. She later built a villa in Roquebrun-Cap-Martin in 1928.
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, is beautifully situated on the French Riviera and enjoys spectacular views of the bay of Menton and the Italian Riviera. This pretty French Riviera vacations resort is one of the most picturesque places to visit on the Cote d'Azur.
Roquebrun Cap Martin is a beautiful wooded peninsula on the Mediterranean coast, just below the village of Roquebrune. Cap Martin has some of the most expensive real estate along the French Riviera and you will find plenty of sumptuous villas here, some dating back to the late 19th century. Roquebrune-Cap-Martin has been one of the most sought-after locations on the French Riviera, by both artists and the aristocracy. The 'Belle Epoque' era, or golden age of Europe (from 1871 to World War 1) witnessed significant development of the French Riviera coast. The peace and prosperity in Paris spilled over into the South of France, as many artists and wealthy citizens discovered the French Riviera and took winter vacations in newly built hotels and villas.
The medieval village of Roquebrune, just above the resort of Roquebrune Cap Martin, is perched on rocky cliffs high above the Mediterranean. Its location provides some amazing views over the coastline. In the heart of the old town, there is a Medieval castle and an impressive 12th century church and its picturesque narrow stepped-streets are great to stroll around. There are also lovely little squares and fountains and charming buildings with wrought-iron balconies. In the evening this is a great place for people-watching whilst you wait for the sun setting over nearby Monaco.
The beaches around the Roquebrun Cap Martin are stylish and chic, offering visitors a true taste of the Riviera lifestyle. Roquebrun Cap Martin's proximity to Monaco ensures that it is very popular with visitors throughout the tourist season.
One alternative to the public beaches is the Monte Carlo private beach club. This is situated in a stunning location, looking out over a beautiful Côte d’Azur bay on Cap Martin. This luxurious beach is family friendly, offering a kids’ club, an ice-cream bar, beach volleyball, ping pong, baby foot and WIFI access. There are 200 tents, 120 cabanas and 30 solariums for those wanting additional privacy.
Best views in French Riviera: Theoule-sur-Mer
Théoule-sur-Mer is an idyllic small town located in a prime spot on the French Riviera overlooking a Bay between Cannes and St Tropez. French Riviera. The town is a favourite holiday destination for the rich and famous, seeking some seclusion from the crowds. It also enjoys one of the best views in the French Riviera towards, Cannes and Antibes.
Theoule-sur-Mer is tucked away in a small inlet among the rocks of the Esterel Mountains. It is one of the most beautiful coastal resorts on the French Riviera. Since medieval times, the Theoule-sur-Mer has been dedicated to fishing and it retained its air of a small town, despite its rich and famous residents.
Théoule-sur-Mer provides a number of public and private beaches, together with a Marina and provides the ideal base for a beach holiday in France. Theoule sur Mer possesses some excellent sandy beaches, often set into small bays carved out of the red rocky coast. With the clear turquoise waters and fine beaches, fish restaurants and truly beautiful private beaches and luxury hotels, Theoule sur Mer is the perfect place for a beach holiday in France.
Most expensive place French Riviera: Cap Ferrat
Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat is one of the richest areas to buy property in the whole of Europe. It rivals Monaco for more millionaires per hectare. Cap Ferrat first became the destination of the rich and famous just after the First World War, when King Leopold II of Belgium, started the trend for building magnificent villas.
The English playwright and novelist Somerset Maugham also became a resident in 1928, buying the Villa Mauresque toward the tip of Cap Ferrat, near Nice. He lived in Cap Ferrat up to World War II and returned shortly afterwards. Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, also owned Villa Maryland in Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat,
Current famous residents include the musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and (allegedly!) Russian President Vladimir Putin. Elton John and his husband David Furnish, own a stunning villa on the top of Mont Boron, near Cap-Ferrat, one of the most expensive property locations in the French Riviera.
Just below the classy village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat you will find a tree lined stretch of sand with a shallow bay. The water is crystal clear and you can get a wonderful view of the palatial mansions by swimming out into the bay. The beach of Paloma Plage is popular with divers (on account of the clear water). The public stretch of beach at Paloma Plage can be found by heading towards Paloma point and walking down the short footpath to the beach.
Tags: French Riviera, Cote d'Azur