Ah. The Cote d’Azur. Just hearing the name conjures up images of sparkling azure waters, star-studded film premiers, exclusive beach clubs bedecked with candy-colored sun loungers, and all the fabulous, moneyed types who’ve vacationed here over the years: Brigitte Bardot, Salvador Dalí, and Elizabeth Taylor to name a few. Given the region’s abundance of scenery (natural and otherwise), the question becomes where to go and what to see first? To jump-start your trip-planning, we’ve put together a guide to the French Riviera, complete with hotel, restaurant, and sightseeing recommendations in six of the region’s most standout spots, from the megawatt Cannes and St. Tropez to the sleepy medieval village Èze.
There’s not a place in the world with more sex appeal than St. Tropez. After all, the ritzy beach town is where Brigitte Bardot was first discovered in the 1960s, and where celebs like Gigi Hadid, Beyonce, and Sit Elton John can be spotted partying at day beach club Nikki Beach and dining under tamarisk trees at the iconic beach bar Club 55. If you don’t have keys to a private yacht, a stay at the storied Hôtel Byblos (where ‑ fun fact ‑ Mick Jagger proposed to his first wife, Bianca) promises to be just as much of a sceney affair. The 91-room property is nestled in a hill overlooking the leafy Place des Lices and offers a Sisley Spa, an Alain Ducasse eatery, and the legendary discotech (dare we say the most famous in all of France), Les Caves du Roy. Break up languorous afternoons spent sun-bathing and celeb-spotting by scooting out to Domaine Bertaud Belieu to sip rosé and tour the vineyard’s bucolic 160 acres.
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One glance at Antibe’s sparkling azure waters, narrow, cobblestone streets, and bobbing boats in the harbor, and it’s easy to see why artists like Picasso, Monet, and Boudin were drawn here. Learn all about the seaside town’s influence on Impressionism at The Picasso Museum in Château Grimaldi, where Picasso himself lived for six months in 1946. Or, stroll along the Promande des Arts to see contemporary Catalan artist Jaume Plensa’s Nomade, the 25-foot sculpture of a man looking out to sea. The grand 19th-century Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, in nearby Cap d’Antibes, is arguably the most luxurious place to stay in all of the Cote d’Azur. Tuck into roasted sea bass and lobster with tarragon at the Eden-Roc restaurant, take a dip in the heated, saltwater swimming pool – you know it from that famous Slim Aarons photograph—or simply take in all the action from the ocean-liner-like terrace. You may never want to leave.
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The unofficial capital of the French Riviera, Nice offers the quintessential Cote d’Azur experience — glorious architecture, year-round sunshine, outstanding food—and is a great jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the region. Rent a bike and pedal along the Promenade des Anglais, the city’s main drag, until you reach the castle ruins of Colline du Chateau, which has commanding views of the town and sea. From there, walk west to the outdoor markets along the Cours Saleya to browse stalls of flowers, spices, produce (try the fresh figs) and antiques. There are plenty of budget-friendly digs in town (we’d recommend the water-facing Hôtel Suisse), but if you’re willing to splurge (and venture a half-hour outside town), nothing beats the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel. Set on 17-acres of manicured grounds embowered in pine trees and boxed hedges, the historic property evokes the grandeur and elegance of yesteryears. Other highlights: an Olympic-sized saltwater swimming pool, spectacular views of the Mediterranean, and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
This swanky, sun-kissed locale is an A-list destination year-round, but no more so than in May, when the who’s who of Hollywood descends on the town for the Film Festival. Spot some of the industry’s biggest players on Promenade de la Croisette, a glittering boulevard along the Mediterranean coast, where there are views of sunlounger-striped shores on one side, and big-name boutiques like Dior and Dolce & Gabbana on the other. Your hotel, the impossibly glamorous InterContinental Carlton Cannes, has a prime perch right on the boulevard, should you want to escape the maddening crowds and retreat to your guestroom’s private sea-view terrace. Once you’re rested up, rub shoulders with the glitterati at The Carlton Bar and Terrace – a popular film festival hangout with killer Aperol spritzes– then it’s off to the upscale Le Relais des Semailles eatery in the heart of the Old Town of Le Suquet, to feast on modern Provençal dishes like roast veal with artichokes and foie gras with summer truffles.
Princess Grace. James Bond. Formula 1 Grand Prix. Monaco’s associations with the glamorous, jet-set crowd just don’t stop. Get caught up on the country’s impressive history at stately spots like the Prince’s Palace (the official residence of the ruling Prince of Monaco), Fort Antoine, an amphitheater that dates back to the 18th century, and the Monaco Cathedral, where Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace got married, or check into your accommodations at the opulent Hôtel Metropole. Afternoon tea is served daily in the lobby vaulted lobby; when the dessert trolley comes around, reach for the praline truffles, citrus guimaves, and warm chausson aux pommes. Come evening, slip into your gown or suit and head for the legendary Monte-Carlo Casino, the lavish Belle Époque building that dates back to 1863, and has appeared in classic films like To Catch a Thief and Never Say Never Again. Try your luck with a high-stake game of French Roulette, and order a martini – shaken, not stirred.
Sure, the Cote d’Azur is primarily known as a playground for the rich and famous, but if slow-paced village life is what you seek, the region can offer that, too. Enter Èze, a charming, hilltop town in between Nice and Monaco. The village’s centerpiece is Jardin Exotique d’Èze, a picturesque cactus garden that overlooks the village and the old castle ruins. Linger there to study the garden’s exotic vegetation, then set out to wandering the cobbled medieval streets and charming storefronts for which Èze is best known. La Chevre d’Or, a Relais & Châteaux chateau that teeters on a cliff edge, is a fine place to hang your hat. Enjoy a glass of sauvignon blanc and a belly-filling Mediterranean feast in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, then retire to your guestroom, where exposed stonework, sea views, and expansive terraces only add to the romance.