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French Riviera/South of France

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Did You Know … ?

  • The prisoner fictionalized in “The Man in the Iron Mask” was held on Ste. Marguerite Island off Cannes.
  • Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald worked on “The Age of Innocence” and “The Great Gatsby,” respectively, while living on the Riviera.
  • Grasse counts about 30 perfume manufacturers.
  • France’s Riviera sees half the world’s large yachts each year.
  • When Queen Victoria came to the Riviera, she brought her own bed and food.

The Azure Coast

The South of France, which encompasses Carcassonne, Marseille, the Rhone wine region, the villages of Provence and more, draws visitors by the millions, but climate made the easternmost stretch of France’s Mediterranean coastline, the Cote d’Azur — the Azure Coast, aka the French Riviera — the most popular of all.

It has the mildest weather because it is protected by the Southern Alps, and that was enough to make it the preferred seaside destination for 19th century aristocracy. The blue bloods were followed by artists and writers, movie stars, the anonymous rich and all the rest of us in large numbers.

With a stunning blue sea in the foreground, mountains as a backdrop and, in between, stately 19th century hotels and villas, medieval hilltop villages and rich art collections and gardens, the Riviera is a beautiful place to play.

It is a good area for food, too, a place where chefs choose locally produced fruits, vegetables, herbs, olive oil plus fish and meat for the table. Wines come from inland areas across southern France. And dinner may be followed by nightclubs and casinos for those who want to sample all the Riviera represents.

The sea offers everything from sailing to windsurfing, scuba diving to waterskiing — as well as spa services and sunbathing for those needing more restful options. Also, 15 ski resorts are 90 minutes’ drive or less from Nice, the Riviera’s largest city.

The coastline in question extends about 75 miles to the town of Menton on the Italian frontier. It touches on seaside resorts like Antibes, Cannes, Hyeres and St. Tropez, as well as Nice plus the independent state of Monaco. These and numerous other towns and villages offer attractions for inveterate sightseers — churches, fortresses, town walls, fishing harbors and narrow streets in town centers.

For still more sightseeing, tourists head into the hills to walk the narrow and steep streets of Eze; the walled St.-Paul-de-Vence (famed for its modern art museum), and Grasse (with options for perfume factory tours), among others. For breathtaking views of sea and cliffs that characterize this part of the coast, visitors drive the corniche roads between Nice and Menton.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Work with a mentor to learn, or improve your skills, at apnea diving, which involves diving while holding your breath for as long as you can. Training centers are located at Monaco, Nice and St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
  • The Riviera counts more than 120 perched villages in its hills. Take a drive to see a selection, understanding that some of the roads are perched, too. This includes the higher-level corniche roads. Top village choices include Eze, Gourdon, Peillon, St.-Paul-de-Vence, Ste.-Agnes, Saorge and Tourrettes-sur-Loup. Also, it takes some stamina for an extended walk up and down the streets and alleys of places like Eze.
  • Choose your water sports activities. In the marinas along the French Riviera, options include kayaking, sailing, scuba diving, waterskiing and windsurfing.
  • Use the Riviera as a base for skiing, too. There are 15 resorts with the Alpes d’Azur label, all within 90 minutes’ drive of Nice. The resorts are set in the Mercantour and Cheiron massifs of the Alps.
  • Imagine what life must have been like for the real “Man in the Iron Mask” — although, in real life, the mask was made of velvet. The mystery prisoner was held on Ste. Marguerite Island off Cannes, a spot that is open to tourists and accessible by ferry.
  • For history buffs, drive a themed route. Part of the Napoleonic Route, meaning his route after escaping from exile in Elba, is on the Riviera, starting at Cannes. The themed route ends in Grenoble; his continental travels ended at Waterloo.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Have lunch in St.-Paul-de-Vence at a restaurant with great views. If modern art is of interest, the town’s Fondation Maeght’s art museum is a must-see.
  • Drive along the coast on the Corniche Inferieure for the views of the sea and charming villages at waterside. Stop when the mood strikes.
  • Here is a unique setting for art lovers. Tour the villa of Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, now a museum of art and antiques, in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the coast.
  • Look for Roman ruins. There are an amphitheater and baths at Cimiez, above Nice, and another amphitheater, Roman walls and more at Frejus. Besides, the baptistery of the Frejus Cathedral dates from the fifth century.
  • Travel the area aboard the Train des Merveilles (Train of Marvels), a regional express train operated for sightseeing purposes. It runs from Nice to Tende in the Alpes-Maritimes, offering breathtaking panoramas. A guide will enrich your travels through the Roya and Bevera valleys.
  • At Antibes or Beaulieu-sur-Mer, arrange to go fishing in the Med. Or, at St.-Laurent-du-Var, take a training course to improve fishing skills.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Play golf at one of the fine courses at Cannes.
  • Include the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice on your sightseeing itinerary there.
  • Go to the beach. Some beaches on the Riviera are rocky, but your concierge can give advice.
  • Buy perfume in Grasse. You can buy anti-aging skin creams, too!
  • Eat fresh seafood, accompanied by other fresh foods raised in the area, and do this at restaurants lining the Riviera’s harbors and overlooking the Mediterranean. Good French wines are on the menus, too.
  • Several hotels in the cities and villages of the Riviera have spa facilities. Pamper yourself in one of them.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the French Riviera Regional Tourism Committee at www.guideriviera.com and choose your language.