See our favourite beaches, the most gorgeous cities, boutique hotels and villas, as well as quieter, hidden away spots you won't want to share with anyone else.
See our favourite beaches, the most gorgeous cities, boutique hotels and villas, as well as quieter, hidden away spots you won’t want to share with anyone else.
Glamorous holiday destination, playground of the rich and famous, and inspiration behind more than one of this year’s catwalk collections, the French Riviera – a twisting, turning 160km of coastline – is a
place to be seen as much as to see itself. However, despite the hoards of tourists, the expensive hotels and packed beaches, there are plenty of uncovered gems to be discovered, as well as world-famous spots every woman should visit once during her lifetime.
Read on for our favourite beaches, the most gorgeous cities, boutique hotels and villas, as well as quieter, hidden away spots you won’t want to share with anyone else.
With its pebbled beaches and arty museums, Nice is a great place to while away a long weekend. If you’re staying with friends or have a villa nearby you want to spruce up, pay a trip to the daily flower market and splurge on some seriously stunning blooms. For a spot of culture, drop by the Matisse or Chagall museum and then enjoy a long, meandering waltz along Nice’s famous promenade, with plenty of ice cream and wine stops along the way.
Known as the ‘perfume capital of the world’, Grasse enjoys an enviable and lofty spot in the hills above the Côte d’Azur. Surrounded by Provencal countryside, it might not have the beaches, but it more than makes up for it with the picture-postcard views. Stop by the Fragonard Perfumery to see how fragrances are created, then enjoy a slap-up meal at one of the city’s many restaurants. Make sure you leave room for La fougassette – the orange-scented pastry is one of the region’s specialities.
For more information and accommodation suggestions, visit www.grasse.fr.
Famous the world over thanks to its annual film festival, Cannes hardly needs its own introduction. Glamorous, glitzy and with more million-dollar yachts than Abramovich’s private boathouse, everyone should visit at least once. Unless you’re a film star yourself, or a journalist, avoid Cannes during May’s film festival, where hotel beds are harder to come by than deckchairs and rates go through the roof. During July and August, it’s equally expensive so, instead, book your flights for April, June or September.
A guide to the French Riviera wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the Cannes Film Festival. Ever since 1953, when Brigitte Bardot in a skimpy bikini caused pandemonium on the beach, up to a very pregnant Angelina Jolie walking the red carpet there with Brad Pitt in 2008, it’s been a paparazzi dream fest. Luxury brands like Chopard and Jimmy Choo take over lavish suites at the most exclusive hotels, to woo stars into wearing their offerings, while journalists from around the world spend hour after dark hour in cinemas watching the latest avant-garde film releases, and then interviewing the leading men and ladies afterwards. Of course, you don’t have to have a film in the official competition to screen it there; blockbusters like Troy and Ocean’s Thirteen have been given their world premieres during the festival, ensuring worldwide press coverage (and guaranteed sun on the red carpet!)
For this year’s official Cannes Film Festival selection, visit www.festival-cannes.com.
If you’re in the mood to shop, but don’t want the ubiquitous designer boutiques of St Tropez or Cannes, head to Antibes (or Antibes Juan-les-Pins, to give it its full name) instead, and its famous covered market. Slightly easier going than some of the other cities on the coast, its old Roman fort and sea-front ramparts make it a great place for picture opportunities, too.
In June, tourists can watch hundreds of decorated floats and marching bands celebrate the Battle of the Flowers, while one month later the Festival of Saint John sees couples jumping over bonfires in the hope of a successful marriage within the year!
Credit card at the ready? It’s time to hit St Tropez. On the beach, sun beds don’t come cheap, but you’ll be rewarded with a chic little umbrella and waiter service all day long. If you don’t have your yacht moored in the harbour and Bill Gates or Roberto Cavalli haven’t invited you aboard theirs (so selfish), check into Hotel Benkirai instead. Just five minutes’ drive from the city, it’s modern and contemporary, with a great pool and landscaped gardens. If you’re star spotting, Le Club 55
is the place for lunch and Le Byblos the nightclub of choice. www.hotel-benkirai.com
Gorgeous, unique hotels are a hallmark of this gorgeous region of France. Favourites of ours include?
Hotel du Clos in Le Rouret
This inexpensive, but supremely chic, renovated 17th-century farmhouse is just the place for those looking for some authentic French flavour to their holiday.
La Maison du Frene in Vence
The ideal spot if you’re into your art, this old stone townhouse is packed with original pieces, including work by Hockney and Gilbert & George.
For more boutique hotel recommendations, and to read full reviews of all these properties, visit i-escape.com.
Home to Liza Minnelli during the Cannes Film Festival, this 400-year-old building provides a truly unique hotel experience. You’re some way from the beach, but as a superior retreat, it really works.
For more boutique hotel recommendations, and to read full reviews of all these properties, visit i-escape.com
Hiring a villa is one of the best ways to see the French Riviera, providing you with the perfect place to base yourself as you explore the coast. Plus, if you take friends, it’ll be a whole lot more fun (and, quite possibly, cheaper).
At the Cap d’Antibes, near Keller Beach, you’ll find La Maison Moderne, a contemporary, white-walled villa, which sleeps between six and eight.
Slightly more pricey, but worth the money, is La Villa Mauresque, in Boulouris. Great for family holidays, or large groups (the two villas sleep up to 20), it’s right on the beach and features some seriously stunning Moorish-inspired architecture.
For more villa recommendations, and to read full reviews of all these properties, visit i-escape.com
The Cote d’Azur might be France’s most glamorous coast, but you can still get back to nature if you want.
The Orion B&B is a fabulous quartet of wooden tree houses just outside St Paul de Vence near Nice and the perfect place to escape the razzmatazz of the Riviera’s chic cities.
There are also hundreds of campsites dotted throughout the region. Head to CanvasHolidays.co.uk for some family-friendly recommendations.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants in this region. Be prepared to pay extra for sea views and to drive to out-of-the-way spots for real gastronomic experiences, but always safe in the knowledge that tomorrow a stick of baguette and a smear of brie will be a cheap and delicious lunch.
For a real foodie treat, head to La Bastide de Saint-Antoine in Grasse. Housed in an ornate 18th-century country house, although guests are usually served under parasols outside, people come from miles around to savour the food on offer. Make your reservation at www.jacques-chibois.com.
For beautiful food in hallowed surroundings, La Colombe d’Or in St Paul de Vence (www.la-colombe-dor.com) requires advance booking but is worth the forward planning. Afterwards, work off lunch with a walk up the hill to modern art destination La Fondation Maeght and its sculpture-studded gardens.
If you can drag yourself away from the beach, the numerous five-star hotels along the Riviera mean there are plenty of spas to choose from. The Spa at the exclusive Cap Estel, in-between Nice and Monte Carlo, is particularly renowned (see pictures at www.capestel.com), while The Fermes de Marie at Villa Marie (www.villamarie.fr) just outside St Tropez, uses homemade products from the French Alps.
The most famous spa in the region is probably at The Four Seasons in Provence, where even seasoned spa goers will be truly wowed by what’s on offer. Check out www.fourseasons.com/provence for the full spa menu and photographs to make your mouth water!