Golden sands, stunning starlets, grand villas and James Bond sophistication, this place has certainly generated its fair share of clichés. The French Riviera is like New York, it has been the star of so many films and stories that it all feels weirdly familiar. But beyond its time worn reputation as the ‘playground of the rich and famous’, there is a lot that is fresh and exciting to be discovered in this ancient land. Here’s our picks for the unmissable sights in the French Riviera.
Antibes on the Côte d’Azur headland, next door to the popular beaches of Juan-Le-Pins is a low key and fascinating little town with a very long history. Originally founded by the Greeks in the 5th century BC, Antibes has retained a sense of this history in the Old City, which is quaint and still relatively untouched. There are daily markets in Main Square, Cours Massena with all the bounty the Mediterranean offers.
To get a great view of the Bay of Angels, take the picturesque walk around the headland along from De La Garoupe beach up along the cliffs among to the old Villa at Eilenroc. Another must see is the Picasso Museum at the Grimaldi Castle down at the seafront with a collection of his works, some inspired by the beauty of Antibes.
No visit to the Riviera would be complete without dropping into Monte Carlo in the Magic Kingdom of Monaco. It can appear like one giant film set with the yacht and champagne lifestyle on show in its marinas and restaurants. The grand Monte Carlo Casino, which has featured in many movies, is the backdrop of many tourist snaps. You can dress up and join the gamblers at the tables in the evenings or call in for a drink at its famous Cafe De Paris and people watch.
This town is very visitor friendly, as you would imagine, with well established parks and pleasant walks. The Hotel Metropole is another landmark building that is worth a visit and you should budget allowing for an upmarket meal. The old landmark hotel was recently refurbished by Karl Lagerfeld and the established gardens make a restful retreat.
The Cours Saleya in Nice is a different kind of iconic Riviera experience. This flower and food market which has been running for hundreds of years is a sensory delight. The square is one block from the seafront behind old fisherman’s warehouses. Every weekday except Monday, from 6am to 1.30 it becomes a foodies’ paradise. Stalls are loaded with tomatoes, olives, cheeses, charcuterie, lavender and sunflowers.
Cours Saleya was also home to Matisse, and the colors of the market echo his vibrant canvases. It’s perfect for stocking up on picnic supplies before you head to the beach or take a walk above the markets to Castle Hill, which has views of over Nice and the Bay of Angels.
For a trip back in time to the way the French Riviera used to be, catch a ferry to Porquerolles and Port-Cros two islands of the Isle D’Hyeres or the Golden Isles. These islands are privately owned and have become National Parks with protected status. Porquerolles, with a population of only 400, is covered in forests of oak trees and native pine. Visitors can walk or bike around 30 miles (48 kilometers) of tracks through forests and vineyards to beautiful secluded sandy coves.
For history buffs there are deserted archeological sites waiting to be explored. Place d’ Armes is the main village on Porquerolles where accommodation is limited to a few hotels and guesthouses. Port-Cros, the neighboring island is a beautiful nature reserve covered in trees, flowering herbs and surrounded by a maritime park.
Do you have any other suggestions for unmissable sights in the French Riviera?