A French Riviera Essential Travel Guide
French Riviera or Côte d’Azur?
It is in the center of Europe. We know it as a playground for the rich and famous. People all over Europe and even the world flock here for a one-of-a-kind feel. One word describes it: pleasure. The nickname Côte d’Azur (or the Blue Coast) comes from the turquoise water of the Mediterranean. The word Riviera means coast in Italian. French Riviera is a gem for visitors. This essential travel guide gives a preview of what to see in this amazing place of French Riviera.
It set between the Southern Alps and the Mediterranean. We can say that it is the beating heart of Europe. It is within the Alpes-Maritimes département. There is no official boundary. It usually begins on Cassis or Toulon west of France. The France-Italy border is on the east. Nice, a piece of jewel on the south-east coast of France, serves as the capital. It is also the largest city in the region. For more information about the French Riviera towns’ Tourism Offices, please go here.
Some notable places
- Cannes: It is known for the annual Film Festival, posh hotels, and white-sand beaches.
- Nice: It is the Riviera’s sprawling center, rich in heritage and culture. It is home to the famed Promenade des Anglais.
- Monaco: It is the second smallest city-state next to the Vatican. Known for its yacht festival, F1 Grand Prix race, exclusive casinos, and exhibits.
- Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer: The sun warms these small towns set in tranquil backgrounds.
- Cap Ferrat: It is a forested peninsula with sea views and rocky Provencal coastline. Cap Ferrat is well-placed between Nice and Monaco.
- Eze-le-Village: This top-of-the-cliff town grants excellent perfume stores and high-class shops. It calls itself the “village of art and gastronomy.”
- Inland Riviera: Its main attraction is the view of Grand Canyon du Verdon. It is home to the perfume capital of Grasse.
- Antibes: The Picasso Museum, laid back beach towns, and medieval centers draw tourists yearly.
- St. Tropez: This lovely port town is a center of leisure in the further west of Riviera.
The Corniche Drives
One of the most exhilarating experience when visiting the French Riviera is the scenic view in the Corniche (kor-neesh) Drives. From fashionable residential capes. belle époque resorts, Roman ruins, and picturesque hills with villages from medieval times, the Corniches don’t lack anything when it comes to dramatic settings and breathtaking views. The Corniches are three roads that traverse the lower hills of the Alps and Côte d’Azur. They go down to the sea between Nice and Monaco. The Corniches links Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Monaco. The term came from the word ‘cornice’ or the decorative frieze that runs along the top of a building. They are rightly called so for the line the mountainous part of French Riviera along the Alps. There are three Corniches: The Low (Corniche Inférieure or the Basse Corniche), the Middle (Moyenne Corniche), and the High Corniche (Grande Corniche).
THE GRANDE CORNICHE (HIGH)
The road has the highest view and extends up to Menton, the last city of the French Riviera. It is accessible through Roquebrune, To conquer the west the Romans used this route they called Via Aurelia or Via Julia Augusta, The road was built by Napoleon and a crowning achievement for him in terms of road construction. It caps the cliff almost 1600 ft in height above the sea level. Enjoy distant views extending from the sea and the land inwards. The most advisable spot to do this is on the Col d’Eze, where one can also enjoy the scene among the oaks. A drop off worth visiting through Roquebrune going to Menton is La Trubie. Its most visited part is the Tropheé des Angles. It was built by Emperor Augustus to commemorate Roman’s victory over various tribes who oppose their road-building between Rome and Gaul.
THE MOYENNE CORNICHE (MIDDLE)
An intense contrast between the cliffs and the sea is what this road offers. It is also the most impressive and stylish among the three corniches, albeit being the shortest. The first view to greet any visitor from Nice is Mont Alban and its extension from the sea, Mount Boron. A fortress with a citadel, Fort du Mont Alban among the woodlands is one of the major attractions. Also, through here you can pass by the beautiful medieval village perché of Èze, with its Le Jardin Exotique where a chateau was once standing. The road skirts down to Monaco and exiting to Roquebrune but not before one can enjoy the view from Cabbé. Driving upward from Villefranche-sur-Mer, one can have a picture of yellow mansions contrasted with lush gardens covering the hilltops of Cap Ferrat.
THE CORNICHE INFÉRIEURE (LOWER)
It is called Corniche du Littoral or the Basse Corniche. This road snakes through the coast passing through villas, harbors, and headlands. It passes through the historic port of Villafranche-sur-Mer, with an open view of Cap Ferrat. Also, there is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild with its themed garden, some Gothic architecture, and medieval sculptures. The elegant town of Beaulieu-sur-Mer is next featuring the typically idyllic Riviera scenes that include morning fruits-and-vegetables market and quaysides lined with bars and restaurants. The reconstruction of an idealized Greek villa, Villa Kerylos, is a must-see in this town. Before the road construction, there was zero population between Villefranche and Monte-Carlo. Now, this coastal road is heavily congested with locals and tourists.
It has a perfect Mediterranean climate. Mild winters balance sunny, hot, dry summers. There are almost no days of frost. There are rainy days but on the right amount. Thunderstorms come between late summer up to autumn, but never in excess. Expect varied weather in different locations. The surest thing is the presence of sunshine all year round, with 300 days of summer every year.
A Play of Colors
The stucco-style houses prove the age-old tradition. It gives a wonderful contrast with greeneries in many places. The blue Mediterranean water with the white backdrop of the Alpes-Maritimes is a charming view. Red sandstones, grey rock-splits, and verdant forests and gardens give a natural blend of hues. The southern sun gives a wondrous ray of brilliance everywhere. It stirs deep emotions to artists that made them create their masterpieces.
History, Architecture, and Heritage
Power struggles among rulers of France’s Provence and Italy’s Comte de Nice shaped its architectural heritage. But its history reaches back to the Romans, Phocean Greeks, and even cave dwellers whose remains are still present. Castles and forts attest to the conflicts in medieval times. Cathedrals and baroque churches are proofs of religiosity of the place.
Latter visitors began Rennaisance structural changes. Palace-like hotels and lavish villas arose. Neo-Gothics Anglican Churches and exotic domed churches of the Russian Orthodoxy shows the evolution of both faith and art. Then there are the striking gardens with tropical plants from the five continents.
Aside from the growing high-rises, there are still many modern architectural wonders to see. Examples are the Musee Chagall in the Promenade du Paillon in Nice and the Cocteau Museum in Menton.
An overview of the population
With the département‘s 109,856,000 (2014 figure), expect a spiraling trade of culture from locals and tourists. Italians are primarily numerous. Then there are the French. The foreign population includes Britons, Spaniards, Portuguese, Germans, Russians, and eastern Europeans. Modern middle-eastern monarchs and nouveau-riche also want the taste of luster and wealth of French Riviera.
The official language is French, but one can catch a talk of Nissart or Provencal dialect of Occitane origin. Troubadours speak in Low Latin. Street signs are mostly bilingual on the Old Towns.
Locals, immigrants, and foreigners enjoy the traditional games of Petanque and Boulet. Herbs, anchovies, and olives give delight to local cuisine. There are century old festivities. People of St. Tropez celebrates Saint Torpes with the Bravades on May for 500 years. Local Monaguesqe still celebrates St. Devota’s day by burning its boat. There are also carnivals in different cities for everyone to enjoy.
An Authentic Mediterranean Gastronomy
For every mood, occasion, or budget, there is plenty of places to dine. The linen-covered tables, silver cloches, and the horde of servers make dining one of the greatest pleasure there. Beach restaurants have their tables in the sand. DJs and the sea view equals the delightful cuisine.
Olive oil and olives are in every dish. Most are Mediterranean dishes. Cornucopias of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onion, garlic, and other vegetables give palette of colors. Most dishes are base on vegetables. Enjoy the sumptuous salade Nicoise and ratatouille. Local markets sell fresh local products like fruits and vegetables every day.
The great coastline gives a bounty of seafood. One can have dishes of red mullets, sea breams, tunas, squids, and mussels commonly served at beach restaurants. Salt cod and sardines are usually marinated or grilled. Boullabaise fish stew is in two courses. First comes the saffron-colored soup with rouille. Next is the serving of boiled potatoes and fish.
Beef is also present and can be served as a stew on red wine and herbs with a touch of orange zest. Steak Frites are in very brasserie’s menu. Rabbits are cooked with white wine, olives, and tomatoes. There are also lamb dishes.
Local cheese and bread are in every pastry stores for connoisseurs. Local wines add cheer to meals. Never miss socca, pissaladiere, and pan bagnat. Many regards petit farcis as the most characteristic of all Nicoise dishes.
What to do in French Riviera?
- Shopping is a favorite thing in the region. There are boutiques, souvenir-shops, arts-and-crafts galleries in many centers. Many sell designer clothes, haute-couture, and lavish accessories. Designer brands are available in designer label stores.
- Never miss the beaches.
- Don’t forget to see the museums and art galleries.
- Take a taste of local food and wine.
- Play at the casinos. Dance at the night clubs. See an opera at the theaters. Watch films in open-air cinemas.
What to try in French Riviera?
- Have a glass of rosé on Cours Saleya in Nice.
- Sight-seeing and touring the Old Towns and gardens.
- Admire the super-yachts in Antibes, St. Tropez, Cannes, and Monaco.
- Stroll down La Croisette in Cannes and Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
- Try the perfumes in Grasse.
- Take a cup of Coffee in Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo.
- Spend an afternoon at a private beach.
How to Travel to and around
One can travel through the links of railways and roads. It is good to enjoy the sights around while moving on land. Nice has the second busiest airport in France next to Paris. For more information about the French Riviera towns’ Tourism Offices, please go here.
- By plane: The Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur is the main hub of French Riviera. Delta Airlines is the only one with direct flights from the US.
- By road: The A8, known as “La Provencal,” connects the regions from east to west that runs for about 950 km (590 m). It takes about eight hours to travel from Paris to Nice.
- By train: Railways links to major European cities. It will take around five-and-a-half-hour ride to Nice coming from Paris on the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, “high-speed train”).
- Touring around: One can use Regional Express train that connects major coastal cities. Most stations are walking distance of the town center. Machines sell tickets in stations and validation machines stamp them. Bus rides in towns with Ticket Azure cost (1.50€). There are also exclusive movers like luxury jets, cruises, liners, limos, helicopters, and other luxurious modes of transport.
Top Tourist Attractions
- Promenade des Anglais: Affluent buildings and nearby cultural and historic attractions in this famous street along the curve of Baie des Anglais.
- Saint Tropez: Once a simple fishing village, this scenic harbor is now a haven of luxury yachts. Experience an authentic Provencal air despite the deluxe boutiques and restaurants.
- Monaco: This independent micro-state has a special status in Côte d’Azur. See luxury yacht shows and luxury and business exhibits, including the Monaco Grand Prix and Monte Carlo Fashion Week.
- Èze-le-Village: It is hill-top medieval village is high above the Mediterranean Sea. This “village perché” grants a 180 -degree view of the coastline from Italy to St. Tropez on a clear day.
- Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens, Cap-Ferrat: This place has grand villas with French, Spanish and Japanese gardens. Cap-Ferrat is the second most costly residential area next to Monaco.
- Menton: It has a distinct Italian sway. The mild climate gives a bounty of vibrant flowers and citrus fruits. It also has fine gardens with exotic tropical plants and trees.
- Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer: These two seaside villages have vivid waterfront buildings with palm trees and vibrant flowers.
- Ile de Porquerolles: Enjoy sailing, snorkeling, and scuba diving in this dreamy, tropical place. Its northern side has fine shores while the southern side has cliffs and hiking trails beside creeks.
Some Top Beaches
- Beaches of Antibes: Private and public beaches line its sunny shores known for their pristine nature and sandy shores. Groves of pine trees also grow in the region.
- Beaches of Cannes: Cannes boasts its white sandy beach that rivals others’ pebbled shore.
- Beaches of Saint-Tropez: One of the top destination of showbiz A-listers.
Some Unmissable Events
- Jazz à Juan Festival: This reputed event happens in Antibes every July. It draws great performers and emerging geniuses.
- Cannes Film Festival and Yachting Festival: See the glitz and glamour in the famous red carpet. It is packed with celebrities and film industry’s big-shots. The yacht show is the biggest in French Riviera and in Europe.
- Monaco Grand Prix and Yacht Show Witness premier racing and wonder at super luxury yachts.
- The many local festivities and carnivals give genuine local experience to every tourist.
This essential travel guide about French Riviera offers only a sneak-peak. Find more here in Iconic Riviera. Have a grand vacation in this wonderful spot in the Mediterranean!
Click this link to see the Tourism Offices information.
Visit French Riviera’s Official Tourism Portal