8 Incredible Places to Visit in the South of France
While the Riviera has maintained a glam reputation since the '50s (Brigitte Bardot basking on Saint-Tropez's beaches; A-listers strutting down Cannes' red carpet), there is more to le Midi than just its jet-set resort towns—including idyllic bohemian islands and hilltop medieval towns housing their own Michelin-starred restaurants. 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 escape, here are eight must-see destinations to check off during a visit to the South of France.
Saint-Tropez swells in the summer months as yachts creep into port, but a quick stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Old Town reveals what attracted celebrities to this former fishing village in the first place. Start your morning at La Tarte Tropézienne with an espresso and a slice of the patisserie’s namesake cream-filled brioche (a Brigitte Bardot favorite when she was shooting the 1950s film "And God Created Woman"), then take your petit-déjeuner across the square to the Place des Lices and stroll through the stands of cheese and flowers at the open-air Provencal market, held every Tuesday and Saturday morning. After gathering a basket-full of picnic fixings, head over to the 15th-century stone Portalet Tower and work off those breakfast calories during a coastal hike along the peninsula’s best beaches—accessed otherwise only by boat. At one of the most famous, Pampelonne, you’ll find the swankiest of Saint-Tropez’s beach clubs like Le Club 55 and Miami Beach transplant Nikki Beach, whose anything-goes spirit and lavish costume parties are known to draw celebrities. For something more low-key, trek down to the tucked-away cove of L’Escalet Beach, where you can spread out on a shore sans tourists. Back in town, pause on the port at Sénéquier for a coffee and prime people watching until dinner at the buzzy, Asian-inspired BanH-Hoï, a Saint-Tropez institution in Old Town. Night owls can dance the evening away at the legendary nightclub Les Caves du Roy in Hôtel Byblos; for those ready to call it a night, head up the hill to the secluded 28-room Saint Amour La Tartane Hotel.
Provence is a blanket term for the southeastern part of France that sprawls along the Mediterranean coastline and up into the rolling, vineyard-lined hills beyond. The best way to take in the region is by car, starting in the storybook-like medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence. Make the former farming estate of Domaine de Manville your home base, whose stylish hotel and pastoral 100-acre grounds are within easy reach of Les Baux’s more famous neighbors like Aix-en-Provence and the walled city of Avignon. Sit in the center of Aix and sip a glass of cool rosé on the terrace of Les Deux Garçons—the legendary brasserie has been frequented by everyone from painter Pablo Picasso to chanteuse Édith Piaf—or linger over a spread of foie gras, beef tartar, and black tiger prawns at the shabby-chic restaurant L’Agape in Avignon. When you’re ready to hit the road and cruise through Provence’s signature lavender fields, set your GPS to the 13-room Les Gorges de Pennafort, home to Philippe Da Silva’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Not only is the restaurant a destination in itself, it’s also close to the Gorges du Verdon, a river valley carved with scenic hiking trails that’s been called the Grand Canyon of Europe.
Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the town of Hyères, less than an hour from Saint-Tropez, lies an archipelago of three islands with coastlines as white as the Caribbean and vineyards producing rosé on par with some of Provence’s most iconic wineries. On the largest of the islands, Porquerolles, a small village sits in a square along the port that's full of locally owned restaurants like Pélagos. (Order the catch of the day grilled à la plancha and rosé from Domaine Perzinsky, one of island’s three wineries.) The four-mile-long-by-two-mile-wide (and car-free) island is lined with over 37 miles of marked trails that are best explored by bike. After packing a picnic of local produce and wine from one of main square's market stalls, rent a set of wheels from Le Cycle Porquerollais (full-day rentals are 15 euros). It’s not hard to navigate the island, but one of the most beautiful beaches worth seeking out is Plage Notre Dame, about a 15-minute ride away on the north coast. After a day of beach hopping and biking, soak up views of the sea on the terrace at L’Orangerie. Because this isn’t a town that stays up late, call it an early night at one of the two stand-out hotels: the charming 25-room Villa Sainte Anne, which overlooks the main square, or the antiques-filled Le Mas du Langoustier, a regal Provencal residence-turned-hotel hidden away on the western side of the island.
Cannes has been synonymous with cinema for the past 70 years, so slip on your chicest set of heels and take a walk just like the stars along the infamous Boulevard de la Croisette, which separates boutiques like Chanel from the beach. For parties that seep from day into night, Bâoli Beach Cannes is your place. At midnight, the restaurant transforms into a roaring nightclub where sparkler-filled magnums are the norm. (Its sister spot, on the far end of the Croisette in the Port Pierre Canto, is also known for hosting some of the hottest events during the film festival.) If you want to get a sense of where the city started over 400 years ago, take a stroll through the streets lining the hill of Le Suquet, the Old Town. From the Old Port below, hop a ferry to the Lérins Islands, where you’ll find untouched sandy shores and wine crafted by Cistercian monks, the islands’ only residents. Île Sainte-Marguerite is the largest and closest island to mainland Cannes and home to historical sites like the cell of the Man in the Iron Mask as well as haute seaside eatery, La Guérite. Back in town, dine in a villa at L’Antidote, whose menu weaves market-fresh ingredients into rich dishes like foie gras-stuffed ravioli. JS Tip: If you want to sample a Provence specialty, try Chef Christophe Ferré’s version of bouillabaisse seafood stew. After a day of sightseeing, rest your feet in one of the major hotels hugging the Croisette, such as the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez (home to the city’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant) or the Belle-Époque palace known as Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic.
Tucked on the coast between Nice and Cannes, Antibes got its start as a Greek colony in the 5th century BC. In the mid-1800s, the town transformed into the haute holiday destination it is today. Admire remnants of its stronghold past by walking along the remaining rampart walls and into the castle housing one of the Old Town’s main attractions: the Picasso Museum. After getting your cultural fix, grab a baguette from one of Antibes’ most famous boulangeries, the three-generation Le Pain JPV, then skip the beaches in town and head to the villa-lined peninsula of Cap d’Antibes for a picnic lunch along the water. The two-hour light hike around the coast on the Chemin du Calvaire path leads to some of the cape’s best coves like La Garoupe beach, a favorite of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Literature buff? You can even sleep in the same spot the writer lived during the 1920s, Hôtel Belles Rives, a 40-room villa on the sea wall in neighboring Juan-les-Pins that's home to La Passagère, one of the top eateries in town. While the villa inspired Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night,” Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc was also immortalized in the work of another artist—photographer Slim Aarons. Spend your evenings there sipping bubbly at the rooftop Champagne Lounge, which exclusively collaborates with 14 top champagne houses, or sway to the sounds of piano in the Old Town at the cave-like Absinthe Bar.
Medieval towns dot the hillside along the Riviera, but one so charming that artists like Calder and Chagall decided to call it home is the thousand-year-old walled city of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Soak up village vibes at the legendary Place du Jeu de Boules square, where you can people-watch while sipping coffee on the terrace at Café de la Place. Just across the square, you’ll find the famous Colombe d’Or. What started as a bar and three-room inn grew into a restaurant and 25-room hotel that became one of the most popular meeting places for artists like Picasso and Matisse. At that time, artists exchanged paintings for a free night’s stay or a few meals, and you can still see many of these works on display around the hotel and restaurant (be sure to make lunch reservations months in advance to ensure a table). You can also take in one of the largest collections of 20th-century art in Europe, including works by greats like Braque and Miró (who also spent time in Saint-Paul-de-Vence), at modern art museum Fondation Maeght, while the neighboring town of Vence is home to the magnificent stained-glass Chapelle du Rosaire, a Matisse masterpiece. For lunch, head next door to Les Bacchanales, a three-story villa with an outdoor sculpture garden and terrace overlooking the sea. In the hills above Vence, the former 12th-century Knights Templar Commandery, Château Saint-Martin & Spa, remains one of the most stunning spots to rest your head in the Riviera. If you’d rather stay in St.-Paul proper, the tucked-away Le Mas de Pierre is a great pick for views over the valley—plus private gardens and villas if you really want to live like royalty.
While often seen as a stopover town, Nice is the Riviera’s main point of entry for good reason. One glance at the Cours Saleya flower market and you’ll quickly fall in love with the city. Tourist trap-style restaurants line the square, but if you head one street back, you’ll find the husband-and-wife-run Papayou, which serves a mix of Mediterranean and Asian-influenced plates (think Thai curry and fish stew). Nearby, La Petite Maison (whose empire spans from Dubai to Miami Beach) is a celeb fave, but for something just as charming yet slightly less flashy, walk across the street to owner Nicole’s newer bistro, Le Comptoir 2 Nicole. Start the your evening here with a cheese plate and rosé, or take your apéritif above water at La Réserve, a restaurant perched on a rock jutting over the harbor. If you want something that truly captures the Riviera’s party spirit, drive 10 minutes to neighboring Villefranche-sur-Mer for Le Palm Anjuna, the restaurant version of lively beach bar Anjuna Bay nestled along a hidden bay in Eze. Here, musicians serenade guests in a bohemian enclave of tropical plants, Balinese statues, and reclaimed wood tables. Curl up for the night back in Nice along the half-moon Promenade des Anglais at century-old Le Negresco, whose regal, antique-filled rooms have enticed everyone from Princess Grace to The Beatles. Château de la Chèvre d’Or, in the cliffside medieval village of Eze, is just as breathtaking: statues and waterfalls transform gardens into open-air museums, while each of the 40 rooms (formerly village homes) offers up something different, from chimneys to private pools and panoramic bay views.
While not technically part of France, Monaco is still one of the major highlights to hit while touring the south. Just a 10-minute drive from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, the petite principality of Monaco—it measures roughly three times the size of the National Mall in Washington D.C.—offers plenty of pursuits that can be as decadent or demure as you’d like. Lounge by the sea in Cap d’Ail at beach bar Eden Plage Mala, or treat yourself to a day of pampering at the iconic Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo, whose alfresco Jacuzzis overlook the port and Prince’s Palace. Before hitting the town, get your hair styled like the stars at the recently opened Rossano Ferretti salon (a stylist favored by the likes of the Duchess of Cambridge) in the Hôtel de Paris, then pause for a cocktail at the property's iconic Bar Américain or take your pre-dinner drinks down to the water at Wine Palace, whose plush couches sit along the port. If you want to keep the party going, dance to live music at portside Rascasse or head to high-energy Jimmy’z, dubbed Monaco’s “temple of clubbing.” When you’re ready for some beauty sleep, rest your head at the sumptuous Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo, where you can soothe away any signs of a hangover at the spa by Givenchy.
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