Think of the French Riviera and perhaps you’ll picture super yachts, antique cars and grande dame hotels – and, yes, all that is there in droves. But the iconic 70-mile strip of coast also has something to offer any taste or budget.
Step back from the coast and beach and dissolve into vineyards and craggy cliff faces dotted with cypress trees, straight out of a Cézanne painting. There are hikes and bike rides for outdoor types, art and architecture for the aesthetes and an almost overwhelming abundance of food and wine for gourmands.
Amid its glamorous reputation, the enduring allure of this corner of France really comes down to the most elemental: beautiful landscapes, almost year-round sun, and the laid-back, optimistic way of living that ensues. Southerners take relaxing very seriously, so though there are infinite things to see and do, make sure you do them slowly – preferably with a glass of rosé piscine not too far away.
For further inspiration, see our guides to the best hotels, restaurants, things to do and nightlife on the French Riviera. Then plan your trip in detail with our insider guides to Nice, St Tropez and Cannes.
How to spend a week on the French Riviera
Setting the scene in Nice
The Riviera is best explored with a set of wheels, either your own or rented, but you can certainly manage sans voiture (see our insider tips). If you fly into Nice, rent a car on arrival and start your sojourn there.
Nice is located on a slice of coast so delicious that the French and Italians fought over it for centuries. It’s the perfect gateway to the Côte d’Azur for your first two or three nights. Opt for magnificent views over the Baie des Anges and a fabulous poolside at La Perouse. Or head up the hill to the Hotel du Petit Palais in leafy Cimiez, surrounded by Belle Epoque villas and close by to the Chagall and Matisse museums.
Spend your first day getting acquainted with the city. La Colline du Chateau peak offers panoramic views across the bay; you can climb or take the free lift. Reward your efforts with a traditional nicoise meal at family-owned Chez Acchiardo (try and book ahead). In the afternoon, stroll the Vieux Port and Promenade des Anglais. After, relax over fresh fish and natural wine at La Pêche à la Vigne in the lively port district. Find more of the best restaurants in the region in our guide.
The next day, head to the central Cours Saleya Market, known for its flowers, fruits and fresh vegetables. Stock up on Provencal delights for a picnic later (also good for foodie gifts). Motor east along the coastal road (M609) to discover the corniches and beaches that first enchanted the British visitors of the 19th century. Make a stop at Villefranche-sur-Mer for its charming fishing port, then continue along to the dazzling Cap d’Ail, all dramatic rocky outcrops and grand Belle Epoque villas. Picnic and relax there. Add another day on the eastern end of the coast to experience the razzle-dazzle of Monte-Carlo in the principality of Monaco. Alternatively, explore the Vallé des Merveilles on the edge of Mercantour National Park for stunning views and Bronze-Age graffiti.
Beauty and glamour in Antibes and Cannes
It’s time to turn the bling up a notch. Heading west to the Cap d’Antibes whose claims to fame are distinctly classy: literature, art, jazz and golf. Experience the Riviera high life at Les Belles Rives in Juan, complete with elegant blue sun beds, or opt for design-led boutique hotel Le Sud, all whitewashed walls and custom ceramics. Make sure to do some yacht-spotting at the Baie des Milliardaires (Translation: Billionaires’ Bay).
The following day, head to Cannes. Spend the morning soaking up the glamour along the Promenade de la Croisette, then stroll west to explore Le Suquet, the more traditional old town high on the hill. Fuel up with lunch at Le Cercle des Marins, a hearty portside café before taking the ferry over to the Ile Sainte Marguerite. Its pine forests and bird reserve present a serene counterpoint to the mainland; don’t leave without seeing the atmospheric Ancien Regime fortress dedicated to the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask (fun for kids). In the evening, watch the sun set at rooftop restaurant at Hotel Belle Plage, from cool Parisian group La Clé.
The next day, head inland to explore the mediaeval perched villages, beloved by artists for their charming narrow streets and craggy cliff-top vistas. Start at Cagnes-sur-Mer and the Renoir Museum, then zip up to Haut Cagnes, visit the Musée Grimaldi olive and art museum set in a castle. Break for a long lunch on Place du Château and watch the locals play pétanque, or eat in neighbouring Saint Paul de Vence. Book (and budget) well ahead for a meal at La Colombe d’Or, the legendary brasserie favoured by Picasso and co. Complete the art pilgrimage at the striking Fondation Maeght. Find more of the best things to do in the region in our guide.
Perfume, red rocks and high-living
If you’re en voiture you can spend your last couple of days exploring the western part of the coast that hems in the Var department. End at St Tropez, the highest altar of French Riviera glamour. From Cannes, drive westwards to discover the striking red rocks of Esterel. Choose from hiking and bike trails for all levels. For ‘Saint Trop’, leave early to beat the crowds. Book lunch at the glamorous La Ponche, overlooking the fishing port. See our dedicated guide for nightlife options. Without a car, consider taking the train to Grasse to discover the enticing world of French perfume-making.
Where to stay
Best for a tighter budget
According to Telegraph reviewer Louise Simpson, Hotel Villa Rivoli (from £60 per night) in Nice provides a “genteel option for value-conscious travellers”. In Cannes, the Okko hotel (from £100 per night) has shaken up the scene with its stylish budget offering.
Best for a beach view
Hotel Mondrian (from £400 per night) feels like a Cannes-Miami mash-up thanks to its palm-tree-framed balcony vista looking out onto its private beach, while the view from Hotel Juana (From £250) in Cap d’Antibes is enough to turn the most left-brained soul into a poet.
Find more of the best beach hotels on the French Riviera in our guide.
Best for high-end French Riviera glamour
Historic Hotel Byblos (from £800 per night) in St Tropez, with its suites and spa, is the embodiment of gleaming jet-set living, while the palatial Hotel Metropole (from £750 per night) in Monte-Carlo lets patrons live like Monegasque royalty.
Know before you go
Local laws and etiquette
• French law requires that you always have personal ID about your person, so keep your passport on you.
• If driving, you must have a fluorescent yellow bib in the car. It’s to be put on should you break down on a busy road and need to be visible to other motorists – and it’s a legal requirement.
• When introduced to someone, shake him or her by the hand. All that cheek-kissing comes a little later (considerably later between men), when acquaintance has been struck up.
• Note that, when offered something (a fill-up of your wine glass, more bread, a minor treat), simply saying “Merci” indicates refusal, as in “No, thank you”. This is quite different from British practice, where saying a simple “Thank you” implies acceptance, as in “Yes, thank you”. So, if you want your wine glass filled or more bread, don’t say “Merci”. Say “Oui, s’il vous plait.”
- Cannes, Nice and St Tropez are covered by the British Consulate in Marseille (00 33 491 15 72 10; Les Docks de Marseille, Atrium 10.3, 1er Etage/1st Floor, 13002 Marseille (00 33 4 91 15 72 10; gov.uk). Open Mon, Wed, Fri, 9.00am-12h30.
- British Embassy, Paris: 00 33 144 51 31 00
- Emergency services: Dial 112
- Currency: Euro
- Telephone code: dial 00 33 if calling from the UK
- Time difference: +1 hour
- Flight time: London to Nice is around two hours
Hannah, originally from London, spent years working out the intricacies of French grammar before moving to Paris, where she works as a journalist specialising in French culture and society.