Complete Insider Travel Guide to the French Riviera
Welcome to Iconic Riviera! You’re viewing the most popular online resource for information about the French Riviera. Part of the reason that Iconic Riviera is so popular is because it’s written by locals and we tell it like it is.
In the navigation menu above you’ll see a list of towns. Each contains travel guides and event listings, as well as recommendations for where to go for fun, to see nature, to a spa, shop and sleep, and more. We also have an events calendar that you can subscribe to via Google Calendar.
The French Riviera is a blissful place where palm trees sway in the warm breeze and the sea is more blue than you’ve ever seen; where you can still spot the influence of European royalty from long ago; and where A-listers have called “home” for years. Set in the south-east of France, the French Riviera stretches from Menton to Nice, Antibes, Cannes, St. Tropez and Cassis.
Whether you are looking for a day that starts (and ends) with rosé at a celeb-filled beach club or prefer a more secluded seaside or historic village escape, Iconic Riviera will fill you in on the very best places to find whatever you’re looking for. Read on to find out why the French Riviera towns attract so many artists, celebrities, sun seekers and jet setters.
To start you off on your French Riviera journey here is some information about the area:
Why do people flock to the French Riviera / Côte d’Azur?
While the French Riviera has maintained a glam reputation since the ’50s (Brigitte Bardot basking on St. Tropez’s beaches; A-listers strutting down Cannes’ red carpet), there is more to the Côte d’Azur than just its jet-set resort towns—including idyllic bohemian islands, hilltop medieval towns housing their own Michelin-starred restaurants, and a world-class arts scene.
So much more than just a coastline, the French Riviera is dotted with hidden gems steeped in local history, excellent cuisine and artists hideaways, discretely located alongside the region’s world-renowned glamour. Head inland from the waterfront bustle to explore towns immersed in rich Mediterranean culture, where pristine vineyards hug hillside contours and an array of artisan activity provides endless appeal.
Dramatic, diverse and ultimately picturesque, this area is home to numerous “villages perchés”; ancient hillside towns packed with thriving communities, where secluded luxury blends with history. Such unique enclaves of inspiration indeed project an inimitable pull, ready to enchant and beguile the senses of those who come to explore.
It is no secret that the evocative Cote d’Azur has long been a big draw for artists, resulting in masterpieces that have changed the face of art as we know it. These favored haunts have aroused such passionate vision thanks to the peerless blue waters and vivid sunsets, a fact easy to appreciate when watching the exquisite light flicker across the undulating coastline.
The French Riviera is known for its beaches, views, picture perfect water, yachts and as a playground for the wealthy. The area benefits from up to 330 days of annual sunshine, 115 kilometers of coastline, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts, and 3000 restaurants. So, wherever you visit the Riviera, you can be sure that there’ll be plenty to do!
The nickname Côte d’Azur (or the Blue Coast) comes from the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. The word Riviera means coast in Italian. This area of the French Mediterranean coast is one of the world epicenters of tourism. Luxury, tradition, culture, leisure, beach and mountains meet on the Côte d’Azur to make it a memorably special place.
Where is the French Riviera?
The French Riviera, which is also sometimes referred to as the Côte d’Azur, is arguably the most exciting place in the world. The French Riviera is the beautiful coastline in the south of France along the Mediterranean Sea. It covers about 550 miles and acquired the nickname Cote d’Azur or Azure (Blue) coast in 1887.
The French Riviera is set between the Southern Alps mountain region and the Mediterranean. It is the beating heart of Mediterranean Europe. The Alpes-Maritimes département encloses it. There is no official boundary but most locals consider somewhere near Saint Tropez to be the soft border on the west side, and the France-Italy border is on the east, twenty minutes past Menton. Nice, a piece of jewel on the south-east coast of France, serves as the unofficial capital as it is the largest city of the region.
The French Riviera is at the heart of Europe, between the Southern Alps and the Mediterranean, from Cassis to Menton. The Mercantour National Park, together with the 13 other natural parks in the Côte d’Azur department, make up a vast playground for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, canyoning, climbing, and caving. This region also houses 15 ski resorts with over 700 kilometers of slopes.
A visual overview
This video gives a great overview of the area:
The riviera Climate
The French Riviera
It’s warmer by the water, and cooler as you move away from the coast. The surest thing is the presence of sunshine all year round, with 330 days of summer every year. With its Mediterranean climate and the Alps’ shelter from harsh winds, you can be sure to be comfortable at any time of year.
Check out our guide to the climate, weather and when to visit the French Riviera.
French Riviera Travel Tips
- If you plan on staying in just one spot, like Nice or Cannes, don’t worry about renting a car. These towns are pedestrian friendly, so you can walk almost anywhere or easily hop a train or bus to a nearby village. Plus, traffic in and out of Cannes and Monaco is notoriously bad and parking spaces are tough to find in the summer.
- Uber operates throughout most of the Côte d’Azur and into Monaco (but not vice-versa — you can’t catch an Uber from Monaco) and is a much easier option than calling a taxi or waiting for one at a designated taxi stand.
- Major department stores and grocery shops may be open Sundays, but most of the smaller boutiques and markets are closed. The same goes for restaurants, which may also be closed Mondays. Museums in France are typically closed either Mondays or Tuesdays.
- Most of the private beaches shut their doors come October, packing up for the season. Thirty beaches across the Côte d’Azur, however, remain open year-round. This includes Plage Beau Rivage and Blue Beach along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, as well as L’Écrin and Plage Goëland on the Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes. See our guide to the best beaches.
- Travelers planning on doing a fair amount of sightseeing can visit 180 attractions on the French Riviera with the Côte d’Azur Card (€45 for a 3-day adult pass; €72 for a 6-day adult pass). The pass includes access to museums as well as kayak rentals and guided cruise tours around the coast.
The People of the French Riviera
Let’s be real. For some time France has been a country that does not like itself. Somewhere on the road from its humiliation in World War II to its disappointment with European integration to its discomfort with globalization, France slid into moroseness. High-speed trains purred; France pouted. Teachers refuse to give A+ grades for A+ work while students grew up thinking they were never good enough. NON! became the mot-du-century, and grumbling became a way of life; the response to lost grandeur.
One of the few exceptions to this is the French Riviera. Perhaps it’s the sun and beaches, the huge tourism business, or the fact that it’s generally a wealthy area, but people in the south of France are quicker to smile than their northern countrymen.
The French Riviera has a total population of over two million. As you may have guessed, most of the population is French, and the official language is French, but most people speak English since there are plenty of Brits and Italians who have second homes or who have moved to the area. It’s easy to get along in English and many signs are in both languages in the most touristy areas.
Modern middle-eastern monarchs and nouveau-riche also want the taste of luster and wealth the French Riviera gives. In the past decade the French Riviera has seen a growing number of Russian, Middle-Eastern, and Chinese tourists, many who are scooping up luxurious waterfront villas and shipping in their custom Lamborghini for the season.
How the french riviera got so popular
So, as you may have noticed by now, the French Riviera seems to be an area of great wealth. But has it always been like this? Well as a matter of fact, yes it has. Originally, the Riviera served as a winter resort for the British aristocracy who wished to escape Britain’s miserable weather.
Coincidentally, around the same time, the idea of climatotherapy (a change in climate) was being advertised as a cure to major diseases such as tuberculosis. With the combination of the two factors, the Riviera became littered with British nobility. Hence where the notion of the ‘Promenade des Anglais’ came from.
Further down the line, the establishment of a railway provided access to the Riviera from the rest of Europe. Soon after its completion, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Napoleon III, and Leopold II visited the Côte d’Azur. It wasn’t long before Queen Victoria and Prince Edward VII also visited the coastline, and the two soon became frequent visitors.
What followed was a parade of famous artists, movie stars and film sets that cemented the French Riviera at the top of the list for luxury travel. The coast also attracted its fair share of world-renowned painters. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, for example, frequented the Nice and Antibes area. While Auguste Renoir settled in Cagnes-sur-Mur. For any art enthusiasts, art galleries dedicated to these painters can be found all along the Riviera.
For the past century, the French Riviera has been a favorite refuge among artists, celebrities and the wealthy elite from all around the world. And still today, as enchanting as ever, the Côte d’Azur ought to occupy a place on everyone’s bucket list.
ancient history and how it shaped the Riviera
Power struggles between France’s Provence and Italy’s Comte de Nice shaped its architectural heritage. But its history reaches back to the Romans, Phocean Greeks, and even cave dwellers.
But the Romans left much more than crumbling stones. They were the first to introduce viticulture to the region – a tradition that lives on in a collection of world-class vineyards. And many of the historical remains are still present. Castles and forts have withstood the test of time. Cathedrals and baroque churches are proof not only of religiosity of the area but also the artistic spirit as well.
Latter visitors began Rennaisance structural changes. Palace-like hotels and lavish villas arose. Neo-Gothics Anglican Churches and exotic domed churches of the Russian Orthodoxy show the evolution of both faith and art. Then, there are the striking gardens and parks with tropical plants from the five continents.
Many have long flocked to this region: from kings, queens and aristocrats of 19th century Europe to the most celebrated actors, writers, painters, poets, and philosophers of the 20th century. Architectural examples and museums from this time period are abundant, but don’t miss the Musee Chagall in the Promenade du Paillon in Nice and the Jean Cocteau Museum in Menton.
A Foodie Haven
With its fair share of Michelin-starred restaurants plus a variety of homegrown dishes, the Côte d’Azur is a great place for both fine dining and rustic fare while overlooking the Mediterranean.
Stop for lunch where internationally renowned cuisine is still informed by Provençal markets. Whether it’s an indulgent bouillabaisse or a hearty ratatouille, Mediterranean delights abound, predicated on sensuous wines, fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes and dishes drizzled in artisanal olive oil. Cornucopias of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onion, and garlic give a fresh flavor to dishes.
For every mood, occasion, or budget, there are plenty of places to dine. The linen-covered tables, silver cloches, and the hordes of well-trained servers make dining one of the area’s greatest pleasures. Beach restaurants have tables in the sand. DJs and the sea view accompany the delightful cuisine. The Mediterranean coastline offers a bounty of locally-caught seafood. We recommend scallops, oysters, and mussels, which are sustainable choices that you can find at most beach restaurants.
And if you’re into wine (and really, who isn’t?!) there are nearly 80 vineyards on the hillsides behind the seafront, producing some of France’s most prized bottles. Forget Napa! France is the authentic epicenter of wine-making, and this is the best place in the world to tour wineries.
If you prefer to eat on-the-go, local markets sell fresh local products like fruits, vegetables, and flowers every day. Local anchovies, olives, honey, herbs, and spices are easy to find, and local cheeses and baguettes are in every bakery. Check out our guide to the best markets.
Note that in France, all citizens are paid fair wages and so tips are normally fairly small. Check out our guide to the foodie dishes that Nice is known for.
Seaside Cities on the French Riviera
Henri Matisse summed up the appeal of Nice thus: ‘Do you remember the light through the shutters?’ he said. ‘It came from below, as if from theater footlights. Everything was fake, absurd, amazing, delicious.’
And while it’s true that the coastal French Riviera is still a show-off’s paradise, a place of dazzling spectacle and bravura performance, the inland region is also home to quieter, more authentic pleasures.
The following are the list of the main French Riviera cities along with links to travel guides:
This small, independent, and very international Principality on the French Riviera is known for its luxurious and extravagant lifestyle. Monaco is so wealthy and full of billionaires that it doesn’t even measure poverty rates — there are no homeless or poor people. In fact, to live comfortably in Monaco, you’ll either need a hefty trust fund or an income of at least €250,000 per adult.
See our Monaco travel guide.
A true Mediterranean jewel and the unofficial capital of the French Riviera, Nice is rich in history, heritage, gastronomy, and culture. With its famous promenade along the coast, iconic pebbled beaches, seaside restaurants, outstanding and versatile outdoor market, and luxurious shops and hotels, this city is a must in everyone’s vacation list.
A town once favored by glamorous aristocrats, a must-see is the magnificent 17th century mansion of Musée Matisse. Home to the master himself, several of his major works are on display – both art lovers and the uninitiated alike will be captivated. Another surprise is the beautiful 16th century Franciscan monastery, filled with hundreds of items of art, a small museum and immaculate gardens.
See our Nice travel guide.
We all know this “timeless” city in southern France for its links to celebrities and billionaires. Basking in the sun, this is a city that the rich and famous have been coming to for over 150 years. It simply sparkles with glamour, whilst the grandeur of the postcard-perfect coastline promenade of La Croisette and the Belle Epoque buildings reflect its aristocratic history.
Cannes is full of luxurious hotels and restaurants, and the annual Cannes Film Festival is an unmissable event. But there’s more to Cannes than the red carpets and celebrities that attract many to this cosmopolitan place in France. Cannes mixes tradition and modernity to mesmerize many, from sheiks to the nouveau-riche, to come and see its beauty.
Today, Cannes is still home to the internationally wealthy who provide a ready and willing clientèle to the city’s numerous designer boutiques, swanky bars and lavish hotels. Cannes has plenty of gourmet restaurants with terraces spilling onto the street and swanky beach clubs serving delicious cocktails under the sun. In the summer, your can charter a yacht to the nearby Lérins Islands. No wonder Cannes has become the playground of the rich and famous.
See our Cannes travel guide.
Antibes & Juan-les-Pins
Antibes is a popular seaside town in the French Riviera, with beaches and natural bays. It’s known for its old town enclosed by 16th-century ramparts with the star-shaped Fort Carré which overlooks luxury yachts moored at the Port Vauban marina. The forested Cap d’Antibes peninsula, dotted with grand villas, separates Antibes from Juan-les-Pins, a chic resort town with buzzing nightlife and the Jazz à Juan music festival. With landmarks full of historicity and modern combined with the upbeat nightclubs, beaches, and casinos, this resort town is must-see on the Côte d’Azur.
See our Antibes & Juan-les-Pins travel guide.
Seaside Resort Towns
The coast of French Riviera glimmers with wonderful resort towns that boast tempting beaches and picturesque landscapes. Below are the resort towns of the French Riviera and their corresponding links for travel guides:
Beaulieu-sur-Mer means “beautiful place on the sea” in French. An accurate description. A not-so-hidden-hideaway with a Belle Époque touch and lovely seafront gardens, many royals and personalities have frequented this place of understated glamour. Walking around will transport you back to its illustrious past as you admire its historic and luxurious structures. Flowers with bright colors perfume the air and graceful palms line the seafront gardens. Magnolia trees, parasol pines, and cypresses grow abundantly. The three main streets are sprawling with citrus trees bearing ripe fruits.
See our Beaulieu-sur-Mer travel guide.
The Lerins Islands
The beautiful and unspoiled Lerins Islands (Îles de Lérins) combine leisure and relaxation to pull many tourists out of Cannes and other major towns of French Riviera. They are rich with a unique history matched with historical sites, beautiful panoramas, and natural features. Only a 15-minute ferry ride, but seemingly another world away from the hustle and bustle of the partyish French Riviera towns, this pair of islands is a perfect tourist escape.
See our Lerins Islands travel guide.
Last stop on the Côte d’Azur before Italy, the seaside town of Menton offers a glimpse of what the high life in big cities on the Riviera must have been like before the developers moved in. With its pastel mansions and lovely old port, it’s one of the most attractive towns on the entire coast.
Famous for its year-round 355 days of sunshine and flowering vegetation, many say that Menton is the most Italian of all the towns in the French Riviera. Given its proximity to the Italian border, we can see why.
In fact, Menton is said to be the warmest town on the French Riviera, which was the reason for its popularity during the Belle Époque when British visitors and Russian princes flocked to the town and luxury hotels and villas were built in a magical setting.
See our Menton travel guide.
Saint-Tropez is a small town that, at first glance, seems quite traditional. However, this town is famous worldwide for being one of the European centers of luxury, gigantic yachts and lavish sports cars. It owes much of its success to Brigitte Bardot and the movie ‘And God Created Woman’, filmed in Saint-Tropez and released in 1957, which made Bardot a sex symbol for a whole generation.
In Saint-Tropez, two very different lifestyles coexist at the same time. On the one hand, fame, wealth and ostentation are concentrated in the port area, where large ships, Ferraris, legendary nightclubs, and luxury stores predominate. On the other, the town also has a quaint, quiet area, where a a more tranquil lifestyle reigns. They are the neighborhoods where the locals live.
Travel to this jet-setters’ and artists’ favorite to experience a fashionable French Riviera escapade: See our St Tropez travel guide.
With its colorful buildings, seaside restaurants, and excellent location between Nice and Monaco, Villefranche-Sur-Mer is unmissable to in-the-know tourists. It is close to everything, yet quiet and charming. Perhaps that’s why rock-and-roll royalty such as Keith Richards and Tina Turner own villas here.
From dreamy scenery, exquisite dining places, heritage sites, and even local village peculiarities, this idyllic town retains an authentic Mediterranean feel typical of the Riviera — but it is more of an Italian vibe than French to many. Most of its buildings date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and the houses are painted with bright Provençal colors. Flowers beautify the balconies and facades that cascade down the hill to the sea into the waterfront quay.
See our Villefranche-Sur-Mer travel guide.
Perched Historic Villages
As soon as temperatures rise, residents head for the hills, to walk through cool forests of truffle oaks, swim in waterfalls and sip rosé en piscine (with ice cubes) on a shady village square. They jump on a ferry to Ile Saint-Honorat for a lunch of fresh, grilled scallops, or go to Théoule-sur-Mer for a swim at one of the tiny inlets along the craggy coastline.
Medieval towers, ramparts, and castles are the main attractions of the perched villages on the Cote d’Azur. But that’s not all there is. You’ll find the true essence of the French Riviera in the breaths between cities.
Clifftop roads bring you through rolling hills coated with lavender fields, vineyards, and olive groves all to the backdrop of that brilliant blue. Visits to these villages are the ideal suffix to a day spent between the beach and larger cities. While stone dolmens mark the French Riviera’s prehistory, its Roman colonization endures in a collection of remarkable sites.
Below is a list of the best perched villages in the French Riviera, and the links to their respective travel guides for you to discover:
“The Town of Arts and Crafts,” the lemon city, and one of the favorite scenes of artists and painters, this pleasant ancient hilltop town invites you to a leisurely visit.
Over the last 100 years or so a long list of artists like Modigliani, Renoir and Soutine have fallen in love with Cagnes-sur-Mer, and the many ateliers in the old town point to a creative community.
Despite being called ‘sur-mer’ (which means ‘on the sea’), the oldest part of town (and the only part worth visiting) is on the hilltop, a 10-minute drive from the sea. It is a hidden gem: a less-touristy and less-busy alternative to other medieval towns along the French Riviera, yet just as charming.
See our Cagnes-sur-Mer travel guide.
Found 425 meters above the azure sea, countryside charm exudes from ancient Èze. Centered around the ruins of a 12th century castle, an intricate labyrinth of medieval streets bursts with craft boutiques and art exhibitions. Overlooking magnificent villas festooned with bright bougainvillea, the Jardin Exotique is a haven of tranquility, not to mention a horticulturalists’ dream, packed with a multitude of cacti, citrus trees and tropical plants.
The stunning Chateau Eza hotel, a secluded 400-year-old property and former residence of a Swedish Prince, offers a one-star Michelin gourmet experience on the elegant terrace, high above the sparkling Med. For uber-gastronomic dining, the two Michelin star La Chevre d’Or is a world-famous delight. Filled with olfactory delights, the Galimard Perfume Factory and Museum in Èze captures the nostalgia of a bygone era with antique perfume bottles and delicate fragrances locked within a magical environment; an opportunity to visit should not be missed.
See our Èze travel guide.
Mougins has become the favorite culinary and culture getaway for Brits and consequently has a large English-speaking population. Mougins, which is 20 minutes inland from Cannes, rises in a corkscrew of enchanting cobbled streets. The historic center is awash with quaint alleyways adorned with fountains and statues, while artists’ studios blend into a backdrop of lush gardens. Having become known as a center of gastronomy, Mougins is home to a myriad of magnificent restaurants, including those with Michelin stars, not forgetting their wonderful food festival each year.
A highly attractive aspect in the village are the trees that grow through restaurant terraces in the main square, creating their very own artistic imprint. At the heart is the picturesque Vieux Village, offering spectacular views over Cannes and Grasse with an international reputation for its gourmet cuisine, where great chefs such as Roger Vergé and Alain Ducasse managed restaurants. Firm links with the art world endures: Mougins has been frequented and inhabited by many artists and celebrities such as Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Man Ray and Winston Churchill, and now showcases 30 art galleries and museums. It’s most famous resident, Pablo Picasso, spent the last 12 years of his life living here.
See our Mougins travel guide.
The old town of Roquebrune and the seaside area of Cap Martin are basically the suburbs of Monaco. Cap-Martin is a perfect hideaway from the urban glitz of Monaco (in fact, Karl Lagerfeld had a vacation estate in Cap Martin). The town is charming and the cap has a lovely nature walk along the seaside.
As one of the medieval perched-villages, Roquebrune rises up to 300 meters in altitude. The historical architecture and monuments are pleasant treats for history lovers. There are medieval, and even a prehistorical, attractions, with magnificent villas and avant-garde structures to balance the experience of every visitor.
See our Roquebrune & Cap Martin travel guide.
St Paul de Vence
Its reputation as a famous artist haven is as lofty as its walls. The cobbled stones, ancient ramparts, numerous art galleries, and brick houses are merely facades for the surprises the town harbors within.
Not just limited to simply visual delights, a reputation for culinary ingenuity sees visitors flock to the French Riviera to sample a variety of mouth-watering and colorful cuisine, further enhanced by the accompaniment of award-winning wines and local cheeses. An appreciation for food and fine dining runs in the veins of every French man and woman, with outstanding regional ingredients cultivated with pride; it is no wonder many illustrious chefs hail from this epicurean center, their gastronomy revered the world over.
See our St Paul de Vence travel guide.
What to do while visiting the French Riviera?
There are many things to do in the French Riviera as you can see in our travel guides, and we will give you a preview below:
Sight-seeing in the Old Towns and gardens must be always on your list of activities. There are boutiques, souvenir-shops, arts-and-crafts galleries in many town centers where you can go shopping.
There are numerous museums for history fans. Art enthusiasts will be delighted by the unparalleled history, the many art galleries, and the exhibits in every city and town.
Enjoy Cannes for its white sandy beaches and head to Nice, Monaco or Menton for their rock beaches if you don’t want to get sand in your shoes. Strolling down La Croisette in Cannes and Promenade des Anglais in Nice offers a simple pleasure. Spend an afternoon and see the sunset from a private beach.
Take some time to visit the ports and look at the superyachts or charter a yacht and have a decadent yachting experience. The French Riviera is home to over 50% of the world’s superyacht fleet. While 90% of all superyachts have visited the region’s coast at least once in their lifetime.
Incredible local food and wine are always part of the experience in the French Riviera. Savor a glass of rosé on Cours Saleya in Nice. Or have a glass of champagne in one of the luxurious cafés in Monte Carlo.
Try your hand at the casinos, the go dancing in the many night clubs. See an opera or ballet (especially in the stunning Monte Carlo opera house). And watch a film at Monaco’s open-air cinema.
If you’re a fan of hiking and nature, you’ve come to the right place. While the French Riviera conjures up images of sand and pebble beaches, plush beach mattresses, long seaside promenades, bright blues of sea and sky, yellows and gold of sun and cliffs… Rarely do we think of mountain ranges and outdoor activities when dreaming of the French Côte d’Azur.
Yet, drive along the “Corniche de l’Estérel” coastal road between Cannes and St Raphael and let the Esterel Mountains cast their fiery spell on you. The range’s volcanic pikes rise out of the sea like pointed fingers in a dash of brick red colors. Their burned red colors contrast against the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Their sharp, tormented peaks rage against the calmness of the sea. Check out our guide to the best nature hikes on the French Riviera.
How to Travel to and around the french riviera
Our French Riviera travel guides and itineraries include transportation guides for each town, giving you the best routes to take and guides to the different transportation modes.
Arriving By Plane
The Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur is the main hub for the French Riviera and the second busiest international airport in the country after Paris. Delta and boutique all-first-class airline La Compagnie are the only airlines to offer direct flights from the US to Nice, with daily service from New York City. A number of other airlines, such as British Airways and Air France, offer daily connecting flights into Nice with stops in cities like London, Geneva and Paris. Check out our guide to the Nice airport and transportation options from there.
The French Riviera By Car
French road trips just don’t get more glamorous than this: cinematic views, searing sunshine, art history aplenty and the Mediterranean around every turn. Cruising the Côte d’Azur is the French road trip everyone has to do at least once in their lifetime. From film town Cannes to down-to-earth Nice, via the corkscrew turns of the Corniches and into millionaires’ Monaco, it’s a drive you’ll remember forever. Filmmakers, writers, celebs and artists have all had their hearts stolen by this glittering stretch of coastline: by the end of this trip, you’ll understand why. Try to avoid the dreadful summer traffic in July and August, but any other time is a dream.
One of the most exciting driving experiences when visiting the French Riviera is experiencing the scenic views from the windy Corniche Drives (named after ‘cornices’, the decorative friezes that run along the top of elegant buildings). From fashionable residential capes, Belle Époque resorts, medieval villages, and picturesque hills, the Corniches do not lack anything when it comes to breathtaking views. This stunning trio of coastal roads offers the most outstanding overview (literally!) of the Riviera.
The Corniche Inférieure skirts the glittering shores, with numerous swimming opportunities. Up in the hills, the jewel in the crown of the Moyenne Corniche is the medieval village of Èze, spectacularly perched on a rocky promontory offering awe-inspiring views of the coastline. And then there is the Grande Corniche, snaking along the 500m-high cliffs, with spectacular vistas at every bend.
The A8 motorway, or “La Provençale,” connects Nice to Aix-en-Provence in the west and the Italian border in the east. The 950 kilometer (or 590 mile) drive from Paris to Nice takes about eight hours.
THe Famous French Riviera Train routes
The rail system links the French Riviera to other destinations throughout France, as well as major European cities. From Paris, it’s about a five-and-a-half-hour ride to Nice on the high-speed TGV train. The train tracks both east and west rattle with long-distance carriages running direct from Moscow (a luxurious 47-hour journey) and London (just nine hours with a quick platform change in Marseille).
The Regional Express Train, or TER, connects major coastal cities throughout the Riviera, from Fréjus to Ventimiglia, the first town over the Italian border. Trains run about every 30 minutes and most of the stations sit within walking distance of the town center, or offer a bus service from the station. You can purchase tickets from machines at each station, just be sure to stamp your ticket in one of the validation machines before hopping on board.
From May to November, the guided voyage on the Trains des Merveilles (€15 round-trip, leaving Nice at 9:17am) runs from Nice to Tende in the Valley of the Marvels, with stops in perched villages like Peille. The train climbs nearly 3,280 feet high on the two-hour trip through the lush Mercantour National Park. Throughout the journey, you will benefit from the comments of a tour guide who will explain the sights and the rich artistic heritage and culture of the Nice hinterland. There is free entertainment on weekends and holidays from May 1 to May 31, every day from June 1 to September 27 and weekends from October 3 to November 1.
Taking the bus
Buses snake throughout the Côte d’Azur, connecting coastal towns to perched medieval villages. With the Ticket Azur (€1.50), you can hop on buses that link Nice to nearby towns like Grasse, Saint-Paul de Vence, Eze Village and Monaco. The ride from Nice to Menton on the line 100 bus (which departs from the port) is a scenic trip east along the rugged coastline with stops in beachside towns like Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu, Cap d’Ail and Monaco.
Video tour of the french riviera
There is a lot to experience in the French Riviera / Cote d’Azur. All you have to do is dig around a bit more here in Iconic Riviera. Have a grand vacation in this wonderful spot on the Mediterranean!