The French Riviera on the southeast, sun-soaked Mediterranean coast is a picturesque and glamorous place. Over the decades it has attracted well-heeled crowds, including film stars, writers and artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Whether you’re going for the cliff-top views, beach life, glamorous shopping or local market browsing, the French Riviera offers experiences you won’t want to miss:
Famously fragrant lavender fields
The dusky purple shades of lavender are iconic of the region and decorate the fields of Provence between the last week of June to the beginning of August. Head for Luberon, winding your way past olive groves and vineyards interspersed with picturesque villages like Baux-de-Provence and St. Rémy, and the amazing walled city of Avignon. If you’re keen to catch the sunflowers in full bloom, visit between late July and early August.
Try to time your visit with the lavender festivals – drop in on Ferrassières on the first Sunday of July for a simple celebration of local lavender traditions as well as folk music, arts and crafts. Valensole hosts possibly the most famous lavender festival on the third Sunday of July, and Sault celebrates on 15 August each year. Meanwhile, the spa town of Digne les Bains to the north east of Valensole goes all the way with a lively five-day festival from the fourth Wednesday in August.
Terracotta rooftops and narrow, winding alleyways
Nice, the unofficial capital of the Côte d’Azur, has long been a magnet for the sun-seeking, fashionable crowds.
The layout of the old town (Vieille Ville) with its narrow alleyways has barely changed since the 1700s. Architecture lovers adore the Baroque Cathédrale Ste-Réparate and the 17th-century Palais Lascaris with its Flemish tapestries and 18th-century pharmacy. Today, the streets are packed with luxury delicatessens, eateries, boutiques and bars. The huge market square at Cours Saleya hosts fresh produce stalls and flower markets during the summer months, along with a fascinating flea market on Mondays.
For more historical streets and ancient buildings don’t miss the medieval village of Eze, between Nice and Monaco. Perched upon a rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this hugely scenic fortified village hosts the ruins of a 12th-century castle. Don’t miss the Jardin Exotique, a botanical garden in the castle grounds, for spectacular views of the French Riviera including the Esterel Mountains and onwards to the Gulf of Saint Tropez.
Glitz and glamour millionaire-style
Monaco is home to the most millionaires per capita in the world. Famed for its Grand Prix Formula One motor racing (held during spring each year), it’s easy to spot the race track running through the city streets. Monaco is also popular for its glitzy Monte Carlo casinos and abundance of luxury goods to delight the world’s most wealthy.
The Prince’s Palace set upon the “Rock” of Monaco is a must-see as here you can marvel at the Italian-style gallery with its 15th century frescoes as well as many beautifully ornate rooms. Monaco’s cathedral is also well worth a visit as a fine example of a Roman-Byzantine building which is home to the graves of past sovereigns, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier.
For nightlife, join the glitz at the Monte Carlo Casino or the fabulous Opera House for a perfect night on the tiles.
When to go
If you’d like to avoid the heaviest mid-summer crowds and the highest prices, go in April to June or September to October when the weather’s still great and you can avoid the school holiday crowds. It’s also worth noting the Monaco Grand Prix takes place between 24-27 May, so dependent on your interests you may choose to join the crowds or avoid them completely!