The French Riviera. With its palm trees, three hundred days of sunshine a year and a sea so stunningly blue, it is one of the most classic European holiday destinations. We all have that one image in mind when we talk about the Côte d’Azur. But, it has a wealth of different places to be discovered. So, what are the best things to do this summer on the French Riviera?
1. The Lérins Islands
Easily accessible and an unmissable site for fleets upon fleets of yachts, Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat are the two jewels of the Lérins islands, just 15 minutes from Cannes by boat. Saint-Honorat is the smallest, full of history, with its eponymous abbey founded by a certain monk in the 5th century. The island of Sainte-Marguerite, which is said to bear the name of the monk’s sister, is protected by a fortification of Vauban himself. A former state prison, it has notably housed the famous Man in the Iron Mask. It certainly makes for a fascinating story, in a setting sure to wow any visitor.
2. We ART French Riviera
The arts occupy the number one spot on the list of ‘what to see on the French Riviera’, thanks to the many artists who have always been passionate about the breath-taking region. It’s why today there are countless unmissable museums, such as the Matisse museum, the national museum of Marc Chagall (both in Nice), or the Pablo Picasso museum, housed at the Château Grimaldi in Antibes, as a tribute to the Spanish painter who had a studio in the same castle during a visit to Golfe-Juan in 1946. France’s first private art foundation, the Maeght, is also worth a visit, found in the hills above Cagnes-sur-Mer, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
3. A beach for everyone
How could you go to the Riviera and not visit one of the beaches? It is a region which counts kilometres of sandy, pebbled and rocky coastline. There truly is something for everyone — the pebble beaches in Nice, the coves hidden away at the foot of the steep red Esterel rocks in Théoule-Sur-Mer, the more popular beaches in Cannes, the paradise that is Cap d’Ail or Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the family beaches of Juan-les-Pins. Anyone on any day will find the slice of coastal heaven they are looking for!
4. The sweet scents of Grasse
Molinard, Fragonard and Galimard are all names you may have heard before when browsing for your next bottle of perfume. Well, these fabled scents can all be found in the equally mythical village of Grasse! Workshop and factory visits are available for visitors to discover the story of how the region’s flowers are transformed into perfume, but also the history behind its prestigious French cosmetic brands. It is also an opportunity to find out more about the cultural importance of the region’s perfume production, which has contributed to its fame over the year. Earlier this year, the area even requested official recognition in the form of a ‘Geographical Indication’, one of France’s most prized cultural labels of honour.
5. More than 100 hikes to do around Le Mercantour
Le Mercantour is one of the ten national parks in France, boasting one of the country’s most beautiful natural settings, only an hour’s drive from Nice. About a hundred hikes and walks, aimed at all different hiking abilities, are possible to complete in one day. However, there are also trails for real immersive stays — the newly set out GR-GTM (Grande Randonnée – Grande Traversée du Mercantour, or Long Hike Mercantour), between Entraunes and Menton, offers 220 kilometres of hiking between mountain and sea. The very definition of a change of scenery!
6. Discover the region’s best wineries
Although less well-known than its neighbour at Côtes de Provence, the Bellet territory brings together nine wine-growing estates on fifty hectares that are opening their doors to visitors this summer. It presents a real opportunity to discover (in moderation) the local reds, whites and rosés on offer, as well as meeting and talking with winegrowers who are passionate about their terroir.
7. See wolves in the mountains
When the wolf was introduced to the Mercantour national park in the early 90s, Parc Alpha was created to tell the story of this wild animal, while teaching visitors about its ability to live beside man and its surrounding species. Located in Saint-Martin-Vésubie, in Le Massif du Boréon, it recently welcomed three new white wolves — quite a touching lesson of human and nature living side by side.
8. Moment of life on Cours Saleya
There is little more to make you fall in love with the buzz of Nice than sitting in a café on market mornings in Cours Saleya, right in the heart of Nice’s old town. The street performers singing a tune for morning shoppers, the flower stalls’ scent wafting through the air, the colours of fruit vegetables contrasting with the canvas sails stretched over the traders’ heads. In short, it combines to create a feast for the senses, reflecting the passionate character of its inhabitants.
9. A slower way of life in the countryside
Far from the hustle and bustle of the Riviera, only a few kilometres inland from the vibrant towns and seaside resorts, it is possible (and essential) to discover the countryside villages. Montauroux, Tanneron, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Tourettes-sur-Loup, Caillan, Fayence are amongst the best to appreciate Côte d’Azur’s “inland charm”! Shady squares where fountains languidly trickle, locals improvising a game of pétanque, medieval buildings that you brush past in search of something cool in the scorching French heat — it really is a way of life that is second to none. It is a must-visit in order to experience the region’s diversity.
10. Shopping in Cannes (and maybe a red-carpet stop)
Even if the film festival could not be held in Cannes this year, it is still possible to spend a day as a star on the Croisette. The stairs of the Palais des Festivals don the typical red-carpet year-round, where visitors can snap a picture like their favourite film stars. Never have a set of stairs been so successful amongst tourists. After a few posts on Instagram, worthy of celebrity status, a day of shopping in the most beautiful boutiques is a must. In the evenings, try your hand at emulating Fanny Ardant or Brad Pitt to the end, spending a night at the Martinez, the Carlton, or the Majestic. What else could you do?