Côte d'Azur (French Riviera)
Nice’s beauty comes from the 19th Century mansions along its promenades and boulevards to the city’s Italianate Old Quarter and the stunning Place de Massena. Nice is also one of the best places to visit art galleries and museums dedicated to both Chagall and Matisse. The elegant strip of coastline called the Côte d'Azur stretches from Menton near the Italian border to Saint-Tropez. Also known as the French Riviera, the Côte d'Azur translates to ‘Coast of Blue’, taking its name from the deep azure blue colour of the Mediterranean Sea. This is the playground of the rich and famous who have luxurious villas along the coastline and impressive yachts docked in the harbours.
The Promenade des Anglais is the main seaside walk in Nice. The promenade sitting next to the Mediterranean bends for seven kilometres and on the eastern side is skirted by regal 19th Century Palaces. The oldest part of the Nice, Vieille Ville (Old Town) is a network of alleys with local shops and restaurants, darkened by tall ochre painted apartment buildings and dominated by the Colline du Château. Glaciers, crêperies and cafés all pour onto the squares, which are open until the early hours of the morning.
The 17th Century Nice Cathedral is situated in the Vieille Ville, the exterior of this landmark is rather uninviting, apart from its patterned dome and visitors in the square in front might not even realise that this is the city’s Cathedral. Inside however, is a different story where the building takes on new dimensions once you step through its doors. The Cours Saleya Market in the city’s Old Quarter comes alive every day except Monday, as a flower and fresh produce market.
An essential place to visit while in Nice is Castle Hill with the ruins of defensive walls, an artificial waterfall and an elevator built into the rock. Colline du Château dominates the city and divides the seaside part of Nice into two parts, the Port and the Old Town of Nice. The 92 metre high hill offers views from all sides where visitors can take stunning panoramic photos.
Nice has contributed a lot to French gastronomy and there are a few local dishes you can’t leave Nice without trying including the Salade Niçoise with its hard-boiled egg, green beans, anchovies, tomatoes and calletier olives. Another is the local street food called Socca, which is a cross between a flatbread and a pancake, made with chickpea flower and sold by vendors in the Old Quarter. Ratatouille also comes from this part of the world and this famous vegetable stew is made with courgettes, aubergine, peppers and tomatoes.
The Musée Marc Chagall is one that should be visited while in Nice. He was so involved in the design of the museum that he decided where each of his works would be placed, configured the layout of the gardens and designed the stained glass windows in the concert hall. The museum houses Chagall’s series of 17 paintings with biblical themes, divided in to the New and Old Testament among them are the famous Resistance, Resurrection, Liberation triptych, painted before, during and after the Second World War. Another must visit museum is the Matisse Museum, housing one of the world’s biggest collections of this revered impressionist’s works.
The seaside city of Menton enjoys a spectacular location and is the closest town to Italy. Menton has a mild climate all year round making the vibrant flowers and citrus fruits flourish. Menton's Vieille Ville (Old Town) has a unique Italian influence and visitors can walk around the town passing ancient fortifications. The Plage des Sablettes is ideal for sunbathing or taking a quick dip in the warm waters. Menton is classified as a Ville d'Art et d'Histoire (City of Art and History) because of its cultural attractions including the Musée des Beaux-Arts, with its diverse collection of European paintings and the Musée Jean Cocteau found at Menton's harbour.
Famous for its prestigious yachting events, Formula 1 and its magnificent scenery, Monaco has a special status on the Côte d'Azur. This small principality with its Royal family, epitomises the glamour of the French Riviera. The Palais des Princes de Monaco (Royal Palace) is located on ‘Le Rocher’ (The Rock), a promontory overlooking the sea. Monaco’s major sites include the Chapelle de la Visitation, the Oceanographic Museum, the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo, the Jardin Exotique and the Port Hercule, harbour filled with luxury yachts.
Picturesque Eze is a true jewel of the Côte d'Azur. This charming medieval village is perched on a steep hilltop high above the Mediterranean Sea with sweeping panoramas over the Cap-Ferrat coastline. Wander around the narrow cobblestone streets to find wonderful discoveries, such as small art galleries and interesting artisan boutiques. The village also has a lovely 12th Century Church with an elegant 18th Century Neoclassical façade. On a clear day visitors can take 180 degree views over the coastline all the way from Italy to Saint Tropez. Just below the medieval village situated in Grasse is the Fragonard Parfumier (perfume factory) utilising aromatic flowers grown nearby in the Provence region.
Located 20 minutes from Nice you will find the scenic Cap-Ferrat dotted by extravagant villas. Here you will find luxury and be dazzled by the sensational turn of the century mansions. One of the most remarkable villas is that of the Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa with its eight distinct Gardens. The villa was designed in the style of an Italian Palazzo, with a façade of delicate pastel pink and is open to the public.
Situated 10 kms from Nice are two picturesque seaside villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer both are idyllic vacation areas. With their lush Mediterranean atmosphere of palm trees and vibrant flowers, Villefranche-sur-Mer is distinguished by its colourful waterfront buildings and the remarkable historic Chapelle de Saint-Pierre des Pecheurs. This 16th Century Chapel has a surprising interior covered in frescoes that Jean Cocteau painted in 1957. Beaulieu-sur-Mer is worth visiting just to see the Villa Kérylos. This stately waterfront Palace is a close replica of an ancient Greek nobleman's house (circa 2nd Century B.C.), complete with décor and furnishings based on items found at archaeological sites.
Antibes is an atmospheric seaside town, surrounded by a beautiful coastline. There are two main areas of beaches around Antibes including the Cap d'Antibes Peninsula and Juan-les-Pins. Both beaches are renowned for their fine sandy shores. Juan-les-Pins was named after the groves of pine trees that flourish in this region. For those into French gastronomy, the Antibes and Juan-les-Pins areas have many fine dining establishments and chic bistros with outdoor terraces.
During the summer months, Cannes is a beach lovers paradise with its colourful parasols that line its famous sandy beaches, found right off La Croisette Boulevard, the city's stylish main street. To truly savour the luxurious Côte d'Azur lifestyle, visitors should indulge in seaside dining at one of the enticing gourmet restaurants or outdoor cafés along the beachfront. The most glamorous event of the French Riviera’s calendar would have to be the Festival de Cannes, which attracts movie stars and film producers from all over the world. While actors and actresses strut the red carpet, locals and visitors watch as the scene unfolds at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.
Saint-Tropez is another famous beach holiday destination that was once just a humble fishing village. However, Saint-Tropez was made fashionable by the famous actress Brigitte Bardot in the 1950’s when she was filming on location here. With its small town feel and lush Mediterranean scenery, cobblestone streets and shady squares, the historic village has an appealing old world glamour and an authentic Provençal ambience.