The Most Charming Towns
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.
The French Riviera is dotted with hidden gems steeped in local history, excellent cuisine, and artist’s hideaways. 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 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.
Read on to find out why the French Riviera towns attract so many artists, celebrities, sun-seekers, and jet-setters:
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.’ But Nice isn’t the only absurdly glamorous city on the French Riviera. 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.
Monte Carlo, Monaco’s glitziest and most famous district, is filled with five-star uber-luxury hotels, exotic supercars, high-end designer boutiques, and the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo.
See our Monaco travel guide.
Nice is a love-it-or-hate-it city. To some, it’s a true Mediterranean jewel and the unofficial capital of the French Riviera, and to others it doesn’t hold a candle to its far more luxurious and glamorous sister, Cannes. If you’re looking for luxury, you won’t find it here (especially if you’re used to 5-star hotels), but if you want to experience real-life grit in the South of France, then Nice is the place to do that.
Nice is rich in history, heritage, gastronomy, and culture. With its famous promenade along the coast, iconic pebbled beaches, seaside restaurants, and outstanding and versatile outdoor market (arguably the best market in the South of France).
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. 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.
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.
See our Antibes & Juan-les-Pins travel guide.
The French Islands
The French Riviera isn’t well-known for its islands, yet just a stone’s throw from the glitz and glamour of Cannes and Saint Tropez lie tranquil archipelagos of exceptional Mediterranean beauty, where you can stroll through pine forests and rolling vineyards, explore ancient forts and monasteries, and sunbathe on soft-sand beaches in clear turquoise coves.
Corsica is a wild island, in every sense of the word. The ancient Greeks sailed into Corsica’s dazzling turquoise bays and declared the island ‘Kalliste’: the Most Beautiful. Henri Matisse found it to be a “marvelous land,” where “all is color, all is light.”
Blessed with seaside cliffs and grottoes, jagged mountains, sublime gorges, and sun-baked white beaches, the island bursts with landscapes that could melt a photographer’s lens. Corsica is an island of many micro-regions, and over the course of a half-day you can travel from lush and forested mountains, to rocky gorges, to coves of sparkling sea and soft sand. It can be your Alps, your Adirondacks and your Aruba.
See our Corsica 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. Stepping ashore on the Lerins islands, you cannot help but feel like you’ve travelled back to a simpler time when the area was still a sleepy place inhabited by monks and fishermen, ruled by the rhythms of sunny days and the summertime buzz of cicadas.
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. No cars are allowed on the islands and there are few inhabitants, so if you’ve ever wondered what the Cote d’Azur was like before the grand hotels and apartment blocks sprung up along the coast, you simply must visit the enchanting islands of the French Riviera.
See our Lerins Islands travel guide.
Small Seaside Resort Towns
The coast of the 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:
Saint-Tropez is a small town that, at first glance, seems quite traditional. However, this town is famous worldwide for being one of the most glamorous centers of luxury, gigantic yachts and lavish sports cars worldwide. 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. Travel to this jet-setters’ and artists’ favorite to experience a fashionable French Riviera escapade.
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.
See our St Tropez 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 photogenic 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.
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.
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.
Perched Historic Villages
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.
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:
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.
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.
Locals call Èze a village-museé (museum village) and village d’art et de gastronomie (village of art and gastronomie). Its medieval structures blend well with shops, art galleries, hotels, and restaurants. A gastronomic heaven, 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 world-famous.
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, offering spectacular views over Cannes and Grasse, rises in a corkscrew of enchanting cobbled streets. 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.
The historic center is awash with quaint alleyways adorned with fountains and statues, while artists’ studios blend into a backdrop of lush gardens. 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.
Having become known as a center of gastronomy, Mougins is home to a myriad of magnificent restaurants, including those with Michelin stars, where great chefs such as Roger Vergé and Alain Ducasse managed restaurants.
See our Mougins travel guide.
“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, and the many ateliers in the old town point to a creative community.
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 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.