Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera)

French Riviera is one of the ultimate seaside playgrounds, replete with interesting destinations. We have made several multi-day stays on the coast, most recently in the summer of 2022, focusing on different areas each time, with only Nice and Monaco featuring on the itineraries more than once. Those two have their own entries on these pages, while the rest is described here.
St-Tropez


Villefranche-sur-Mer

Easily our favorite place on the Riviera, Villefranche-sur-Mer ♥♥♥ is colorful, picturesque, not over-commercialized, and offers magnificent views from many vantage points. Its Old Town is compact and pleasant, supplemented by the amiable waterfront. Église Saint-Michel ♥ is worth a look as any main town church would, with several interesting features. Rue Obscure, a long covered passage, is not so much interesting as fairly unusual in these environs. St-Pierre Chapel ♥ on the waterfront is another point of interest, decorated by Jean Cocteau in his fairly unique painting style (no photography allowed). Citadelle St-Elme is an art museum with several exhibitions which we did not fit it into our schedule. There is a market on Saturdays at Jardin Francois Binon.

Last visited: 2022.

Beach

The long beach at Villefranche is one of the few sandy beaches on the Riviera.

Places to Eat

Having Villefranche-sur-Mer as our base for a week-long stay gave us the opportunity to have meals at several establishments in the town core. Some are more expensive than others (mainly on account of not having a vin de maison option), but you can hardly go broke or go wrong by selecting one at random. Le Caravelle ♥ is among the busiest and highly rated. La Tavola ♥ is a reasonable Italian fare. Loco Loco ♥ offers an interesting Mediterranean menu and a more local vibe. Le Cosmo ♥ is a good choice in the center of the main open waterfront plaza.

For a “European” breakfast – i.e., coffee and croissants – Bakaro ♥♥ became our go-to choice.

Car Parking

Parking Wilson at the port area of the Old Town worked really well at the end of August-beginning of September. It has under 100 spaces, so at busier times is probably more frequently full.

Lodging

In the summer of 2022, we rented an amazing apartment at 105 Av Leopold II (the complex is called “Le Brasilia”) ♥♥♥ (link). All amenities, modern and well-stocked, with entirely unparalleled views over the bay. A dedicated individual parking garage requires some maneuvering to get in and out but is certainly a great bonus. There is a saltwater pool on the premises. Nearest shops and eateries are 182 steps plus several ramps down in the village core, and the Nice-Monaco Corniche goes by under the windows, so in the daytime, it is reasonably noisy under the balcony (not at all at night, and you do not hear it too much with the balcony door closed), but these small drawbacks do not outweigh the awesome features. If you choose to walk to the village or the beach, it is about 10 minutes on foot; or you can reach the aforementioned Wilson Parking in under 5 minutes by car.

Beaulieu-sur-Mer and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Unlike the neighboring Villefranche, Beaulieu-sur-Mer ♥ has an extensive pass-through waterfront, with a lovely Église du Sacré-Coeur ♥ and a few eye-catching Art Nouveau buildings. We did not check the historic core, assuming it to be a bit flatter than that of Villefranche.

The top attraction in Beaulieu is Villa Kerylos ♥♥, an early 20th-century recreation of an ancient Greek villa; interesting and at times truly impressive, especially the Peristyle and the marble room.

Cap Ferrat separates Villefranche and Beaulieu bays. At one of its highest points, there stands Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild ♥♥♥, a gorgeous grand mansion full of impressive furniture, decoration, and art. The gardens are no less impressive, designed in several varieties. “Summer Nights” events are run at the villa throughout the summer season, with musical and dance performances; the start time of 8 pm, coupled with limited garden illumination, makes it challenging to fully enjoy the gardens if you only come for the evening event. Parking is extremely limited, and legal street parking is a good kilometer away – golf carts provide regular shuttle service, but you may need 20-25 extra minutes at each end of the visit (this may not be a significant problem for a regular midday visit).

If you decide to go for a boat tour experience ♥ on the Riviera (there are many options), the chances are that you will depart from the Nice port but spend most of the time around Cap Ferrat and the adjoining bays.

There are also several options for watersports, such as jet ski rentals, around the area. One company we used, Cap Ferrat Watersports is located at the edge of Beaulieu beach.

Last visited: 2022.

Beach

The beach at Beaulieu is not too big, with a couple of “club” sections (with artificial sand) and plenty of free areas that are pebbly in the way that can be called neither truly pebbled nor sandy.

Places to Eat

Les Voisins ♥♥ in Beaulieu-sur-Mer next to the casino is probably the most refined restaurant we ate at on Riviera in 2022. Great understated service, great food, and a nice overall atmosphere. Three-course prix-fixe costs €39.

Èze

The core of the village of Èze ♥♥♥ is small and can feel quite crowded. It is very picturesque, with a number of art galleries of interest. Jardin Exotique ♥♥♥ is the killer feature, both for various species of plants and for the views from the castle ruins at the top. Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption is worth a look.

Below the historic village walls, on the main thoroughfare, both Fragonard and Galimard perfume brands have small factories that offer free guided visits. We chose Fragonard ♥, where the most interesting part of the visit was an attempt to determine sources of smells of different essences.

Last visited: 2022.

Car Parking

Parking is challenging close to the village walls. We got lucky in the nearest lot, getting the last available spot. There a lots some distance away with shuttle service – large crowds at the bus stops did not suggest that to be a pleasant add-on. Big underground lot construction is currently in-flight, which will definitely help.

Places to Eat

Dining options within the walls of the historic village are surprisingly limited. That includes a couple of hotel restaurants that are highly rated but also significantly overpriced, most likely demanding a premium for the views from the dining room.

We ended up having lunch at Pinocchio below the walls, right next to the nearest parking lot; it is definitely touristy, but the extensive menu turned out several pretty good choices.

Beach

It is kilometers away from the perched village, but has the same name, differentiated on the road signs as Èze-Bord de Mer ♥♥. On our visit, it presented my ideal beach – pebbled, clean, refreshing, reasonably calm, not shallow. There are paid “club” sections with amenities and free public sections; showers were seemingly accessible by the non-paying public as well. A well-rated eatery, Anjuna, is right on the beach.

St-Paul-de-Vence

Another perched village, St-Paul-de-Vence is simply a gorgeous medieval little town, full of art galleries. The fountains were turned off due to the official draught at the time of our visit, otherwise, the picturesque quotient may have been off the scale. Collégiale Saint Paul is worth a look, as well as the ramparts . The cemetery’s headline spot is the tomb of Marc Chagall. A minor curiosity for some is the Cave of St-Paul, a wine cellar where tasting by the glass can be effected with a sort of table service in the courtyard, given time and no kids in tow.

Last visited: 2022.

Places to Eat

La Terrace not far from the main fountain offered menu du jour with soup de poisson as an option, which is all we needed. Nice service, good valley views from the actual terrace, and affordable as only a prix-fixe French meal can be.

Cagnes-sur-Mer

This town is home to Musée Renoir which offers a good insight into the painter, his life, his work, and his family via the audio-guide tablet. The rooms are sparsely furnished and most paintings are not by Renoir himself. There are less than a dozen of his own (lesser quality) paintings, although a separate floor has a good collection of his sculptures. Serene grounds invite contemplation. On balance, the place will primarily appeal to those who expressly hold Renoir in especial esteem. Rarely found elsewhere, the gift shop has a large selection of nice children’s books on the subject of Impressionist art.

Menton

Menton is mini-Nice – busy, lively, not without visual highlights, short of being exceptional. The stairs St-Michel and the ensemble of two churches at the top is one such highlight (the timing worked against us for seeing the churches’ interiors). Salle des Marriages , decorated by Jean Cocteau in his unique painting style, is worth a visit; the descriptive narration, in either French or English, lasts about 10 minutes, which is more than enough; you have to go into Hotel de Ville in order to be escorted to the marriage hall. Museum of Cocteau at the Bastion is primarily about his work as a film director, of interest to connoisseurs only. The covered Marché des Halles is as fun as any such establishment.

Last visited: 2022.

Beach

The beach at Menton is a couple of kilometers long, pebbled, with islands of “club” amenities in between free public zones.


Sainte-Agnès

High in the mountains above Menton, Sainte-Agnès carries the designation of one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Like many such hamlets, it is a fairly compact cluster of houses with various picturesque corners, mountain vistas, and an intimate Église de Sainte Agnès. There are also castle ruins high up the hill (didn’t go) and an old military fort (limited guided access which did not coincide with our visit).

Last visited: 2022.

Cannes

On our one day-trip excursion to Cannes, we were rather underwhelmed. Despite the fact that our visit happened just days before the famous Film Festival, the town was largely deserted and unexciting. The glamour apparently arrives just a couple of days before the festival and leaves soon thereafter.

We strolled up and down Croisette ♥, a grand waterfront boulevard that separates luxury boutiques and hotels from the beaches; looked into the rose garden at the far end of the promenade; stopped by the Palais des Festivals, where French movie stars have their names etched into the pavement akin to the front yard of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in LA; took an around-the-town excursion on a mini-train (less than ideal narration); and left for the livelier Nice.

It occurred to us later that the Old Town is a bit farther away from the shore, and we did not see it at all. Among attractions there is Notre-Dame de l’Espérance and the Musée de la Castre. A potentially interesting excursion to Iles de Lérins can be undertaken from the Old Port.

Having heard considerably more positive comments than our own impressions from our friends, we will probably try again in the future.

Last visited: 2002.


Grasse

Grasse has been the capital of the world’s perfume industry since the 16th century, and its main attractions are all about parfumerie.

The best place to learn about the craft is the Musée Internationale de la Parfumerie ♥, but visiting Fragonard museum and factory ♥ was also quite interesting, with a great presentation on traditional ways of making perfume and an extensive “sniffing” session.

We also walked around the unspoiled pedestrian squares and arcaded streets. Very charming. Cathédrale de Notre-Dame-du-Puy might be worth a look. Anyone interested in Fragonard the artist may want to visit his Villa-Musée.

Last visited: 2002.

St-Tropez

St-Tropez Port ♥ is the prime gawking location, what with sleek and luxurious yachts of all sizes. The streets of the Old Town ♥♥ are not too crowded – because most of the visitors stay glued to the marina and its assortment of lively cafés and shops – and make for a pleasant walk. There are many corners that evoke a quintessential Mediterranean feeling.

There are several attractions potentially worth visiting, such as a 16th-century Citadelle, an Italian Baroque Église, a good paintings collection at L’Annonciade, and 5,000 species of butterfly at Maison des Papillons. We eschewed them all in favor of a leisurely stroll around town.

Last visited: 2008.

Places to Eat

An arbitrary choice made during our stroll saw us having lunch at L’Eau a la Bouche ♥, a Lao-Thai restaurant on Rue du Portail Neuf. Standard Mediterranean dishes are all on the menu, the service was fast and the meal was quite pleasant.

Transportation

Driving into St-Tropez is not recommended if you are not staying there overnight. A boat from Ste-Maxime departs every 15 minutes or so, and is a much more pleasant way to reach St-Tropez on an intraday trip.


Ste-Maxime

We went through this bustling resort town on our way to and from St-Tropez and also on a couple of other occasions, never exploring more than the central stretch of the main seaside artery, Promenade Simon-Lorière.

Last visited: 2008.

Fréjus

The town of Fréjus repeatedly repelled our forays with traffic and parking difficulties. We planned to see its Roman Amphithéâtre and its reputedly impressive Groupe Épiscopal, but never managed it. A walk around town streets in conjunction with a local market led us into several pleasant corners, though.

Among leisure attractions in town is Aqualand water park. It is full of great rides, but is horribly organized (no lockers – you leave your belongings in a cloakroom and have to endure a line every time you need to get something, such as money for lunch, for instance) and is prone to long queues everywhere.

We also planned to take kids to the amusement Luna Park, but it only opens at 8 pm, even in the peak season.

Last visited: 2008.

St-Raphaël

Another busy seaside resort town, which we actually explored a bit. The pleasant central harbor area is the usual mix of cafés and shops. There is a number of grand and exotically decorated historic villas on adjoining streets. The beach is fine and sandy, bordered by a boardwalk that ends with a small elevated park by the marina.

The formidable Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire-de-Lépante ♥ that towers over the city is more impressive on the outside than on the inside but is still worth checking out.

Last visited: 2008.

Places to Eat

L’Envie D’Ailleurs ♥, located where seafront Promenade René-Coty becomes Boulevard du Général-de-Gaulle, is in the row of restaurants close enough to the central marina area to be easily reachable, yet far enough to be less crowded. Soupe de poisson that we all had there, is exactly what I expect from this provençal staple.

Car parking

Bonaparte is a large underground lot right by the marina. There is not a better place to park in town.


Les Issambres (beaches)

The beaches at Les Issambres, several kilometers northeast of Ste-Maxime, were the ones that we frequented during our two-week stay on the Riviera in 2008. They are mostly small and alternate between sandy ones and largely unswimmable rocky ones. The sandy stretches get fairly crowded in season, due to numerous resorts lining the seashore. The sand is not great, often mixed with tiny pebbles. The sea is usually calm and warm; the seafloor goes down at a steep angle – little kids have a very narrow band of water to play in.

Last visited: 2008.

Roquebrune-sur-Argens

The village of Roquebrune was our base for the two-week stay in August of 2008. Located several miles inland, it does not get heavy tourist traffic even during the peak season. There is a fair number of vacationers around, but the atmosphere of a true southern French village remains.

The historic pedestrianized core of the town up the hill is an agreeable quarter of narrow and winding streets, adorned by fountains, with a number of galleries, shops, and eateries. There is an interesting church, Église St-Pierre-St-Paul, and several attractive buildings.

The village holds numerous markets ♥ during the summer season, not just produce, delicacies, souvenirs, and clothes, but also diverse arts and crafts. There are several wineries and cooperatives for those interested in wine tasting.

The river Argens has a middling beach – although the water is clear and warm and the views of the surrounding rocks are great; renting a waterbike ♥ with a slide is an activity that always goes well with children.

Places to Eat

Le Gaspacho ♥ sits on the main road that goes through Roquebrune, with a large outdoor seating area. A very popular place, it fills up very quickly on summer nights. Varied menu, prompt service, good food. Several prix-fixe combinations: €11.50, €16, €21.

Le Sainte Candie ♥ is next to Le Gaspacho, but facing the square away from the main road. The menu is not as varied, but satisfactory. The food is pretty good, although mixed grille, as in many other places, is no more than ok. Prix-fixe is at €19.


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