Most of us can only dream about where we’d like to visit next however I would encourage you to do more than just dream. Plan and prepare for when we can all travel again. I’m conscious that many of you only have a few days to spare for my part of the world, so where would I encourage first-time visitors to the French Riviera to go?
These places are in no particular order and can all be easily reached using public transport – train, tram bus.
Obviously I would have to say start with Nice, an all year round destination, about which I have already written one or two (slight understatement) posts. It overlooks the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. Start with a climb up (or take the small train) to La Colline du Château (Castle Hill) to see what I’m talking about. Once you get to the top, you’ll have panoramic views of the Baie des Anges, the Old Town, Promenade des Anglais and the city’s varied and vibrant architecture. And while a few crumbling walls are all that remain of the namesake castle on the hill, there is a verdant park that’s perfect for an al fresco picnic lunch.
Any sightseeing should include a trip to Nice’s colorful Vieille Ville, or Old Town, which is a delightful maze of narrow streets full of lively restaurants, galleries and shops. There are cafés dotted all around the Old Town’s many squares, so take the opportunity to sit down, coffee (or rosé) in hand, and people-watch the day away. For a more active visit, spend some time strolling along the Promenade du Paillon, the city’s public park and botanical garden that links the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art with the Promenade des Anglais.
The town of Menton has all the beauty of the better-known coastal villages, but a fraction of the crowds. Its half-dozen beaches are all but empty in the off-season, and boutique-filled alleyways are relatively tourist-free. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, exceptional gardens, and quality Italian cuisine due to its position on the Franco-Italian border, it’s an ideal spot for a day trip. (For an unparalleled Provençal gastronomic experience, however, head to Mirazur, chef Mauro Colagreco’s triple Michelin-starred spot that earned the number one title in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2019.) In February, the town holds a magnificent Lemon Festival, a celebration of spring and a throwback to the town’s past, when it survived principally on citrus production.
Beyond the megayacht boat porn and picture-perfect beaches, Antibes is a draw for its literary and artistic history. It was at the Villa Saint Louis (now the popular Hotel Belles-Rives) in Juan-les-Pins that F. Scott Fitzgerald took up summer residence with wife Zelda and his daughter Scottie in 1926 and began his work on Tender is the Night. The enclosed mansions and dramatic villas lining the shore that once fascinated Fitzgerald are still very much a part of the landscape, but there’s local charm to be found, too. Stroll around old Antibes, through the Cours Masséna, a Provençal food market, and up to the Musée Picasso, the first museum dedicated to the artist. Formerly the Château Grimaldi, the stronghold was Picasso’s home and workshop in 1946 and remains one of the commanding cultural draws of the resort town.
Long before it was synonymous with the International Film Festival and earned its reputation as a playground for the world’s dizzyingly well-heeled, Cannes was a shimmering, seaside destination made for resting and people-watching – something that still remains true. But it also offers extraordinary views and culture. Climb the winding staircases and pass the pastel-coated homes in Le Suquet, the city’s old quarter, and you’ll end up at the Musée de la Castre, a home for ethnographic art in a medieval fortress overlooking the marina and the Croisette. For restorative beaches and landscapes free of crowds, take a 15-minute ferry ride to two of the Lérins islands off the coast: Ile St. Honorat, known for its working monastery and forest groves, and Ile Ste-Marguerite, the spot for hidden coves and beaches.
Nestled into craggy cliffs high above the sea, the medieval village of Eze is a delightful step back in time. The well-preserved stone buildings, winding alleyways, 14th-century chapels and dramatic Mediterranean backdrop make this tiny village seem like a movie set. The dramatic views are best earned by taking one of the many hiking trails, like the famous Nietzsche path, that connect the the town and the summit, which sits over 150 metres (1,400 feet) above sea level. At the top, is the town’s medieval fortress, which you may recognize from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, surrounded by the Jardin Exotique, a desert garden brimming with succulents and exotic florals.
Grasse (visit write-up coming soon) is a quiet, pretty medieval village that also holds the distinction of being the world’s perfume capital. While famous perfumeries like Fragonard offer free tours of their factories, the real reason to come here is to take in the near-endless fields of flowers that dominate the area’s hilly landscape. Come August, the town plays host to the Jasmine Festival, a three-day celebration of jasmine, one of the two flowers to have dominated local perfume production (the other is Damascus rose). Grasse is conveniently located between Cannes and Nice, so a quick stop here is worth your while, if only to smell the flowers.
Bordered by France on three sides, the petite principality of Monaco is a bastion of glitz and glamour. While it’s typically known as a playground for the ultra rich, those short on cash can still enjoy themselves. Its easy enough to walk around to view stately sights like the Prince’s Palace, Fort Antoine and Monaco Cathedral. Don’t forget to take some time to observe the luxurious yachts in the harbour (or, even better, make friends with someone who owns one), and wrap up your trip with a spin at the Monte Carlo casino.
I hope I’ve provided you with some inspiration for your next trip to my part of the world.