From the British Aristocracy in the 1800s, Brigitte Bardot in the 70s, to Beyoncé and Jay Z recently, the French Riviera has always been a legendary jewel of the French and European landscape. Today we will show you all the hidden gems as well as the famous jewels of this region that will leave you breathless.
Where is the French Riviera?
The French Riviera, also called "Côte d'Azur," is an area located in the South of France, at the heart of Europe, on the Mediterranean and near the Southern Alps. Its geographical limits are not really officially determined, but most people see it as going from Avignon to Marseille, Nice, Cannes, Monaco and Menton.
The French Riviera is France's nicest weather with a Mediterranean climate alternating between sunny, hot and dry summer and very mild winters. It also comprises the most beautiful beaches that France offers and 13 national parks, including the Mercantour National Park, 15 ski resorts and over 7000 kilometres of slopes. The French name "Côte d'Azur" refers to the blue turquoise of the Mediterranean sea.
The French Riviera is also very connected to the rest of the country, notably, thanks to the TGV (high-speed train), which can take you from Paris to Marseille within 3 hours and a half.
But the French Riviera is much more than just a coastline. It is also part of a common fantasy with a glamorous reputation going back to the 1950's and the iconic Brigitte Bardot spending her summer vacation in the city of Saint Tropez. The French Riviera's glamour is also the red carpet of the International Cannes Film Festival, Michelin restaurants, idyllic islands, luxurious yachts, local cuisine, world-famous art scene and much more. Explore with Best of France all the hidden gems of the French Riviera.
Marseille, the Phocaeans city
Marseille is the biggest city in the French Riviera and the second biggest city in France by population. Marseille actually has a population of more than 1,6 million inhabitants, making it a major city in the region.
Marseille is an ancient city that was originally founded in 600 B.C.
The legend says that Phocéen, a sailor married a local Gallic girl, whose father gave them Marseille as a wedding gift. The city was then shaped by the numerous migrations that took place. Corsican sailors in the 1500s, Italian builders from the mid-18th century, Armenians fleeing the genocide from 1915 onwards, Algerians arriving post-1962 independence, and many more have settled there.
Marseille manages to combine the atmosphere of a small fishing town with the big city vibe. The main activity that you can find is just to stroll around the city, order a “Ricard” (Pastis) on the terrace of a café and have an “apéro” with some of the local food specialties.
You will want to explore the Vieux Port filled with the history of this fisherman city.
You should also go beyond the Vieux Port and explore the bourgeois bohemian neighbourhood of Vauban, the Haussmannian style Longchamps, or the vibrant nightlife of the Cours Julien.
Visit the 17th-century old Fort Saint-Jean, which protects the Louis XIV regime from the local uprisings happening in Marseilles. After the visit, you should walk down the Jardin des Migrations, a 100,000 square-foot allegorical garden with each plant representing Marseille's agricultural, industrial, migrational and religious history.
Check out the Mucem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) showcasing Arab architecture, which has strongly influenced Marseille's city.
Finally, you should hit the beach. The beaches along Marseille's 42 kilometres of coastline are diverse, from rocky coves to sandy expanses. The Anse de la Fausse Monnaie is perfect for getting a little tan while watching cliff-divers jump. Finally, you must explore the Calanques, one of the riviera's most precious jewels.
The glamorous Cannes and its International film festival
When you think of Cannes, a city between Beverly Hills and Paris, you think of glamour, celebrities, and luxurious hotels and restaurants, but Cannes is actually much more than that.
Cannes manages to offer a mix between tradition and modernity in a scenic postcard-looking city.
The first thing you will want to do is visit La Croisette, a promenade by the sea next to the most beautiful hotels and pieces of architecture.
All the way down la Croisette, you can find the Palais des Festivals which every year in May hosts the internationally renowned Cannes Film Festival, where the biggest stars of the world walk up the red carpet. Speaking of movies, check out our 13 Iconic French Movies selection!
A few blocks down, you can find the world's finest designer stores from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci to Yves St. Lauren, Cartier or Hermès.
There is another side to Cannes to discover behind the sparkles, starting with the District of Le Suquet, the oldest part of the city. Filled with cobblestones, ancient buildings and an old harbour, this charming neighbourhood will definitely seduce you.
Finally, there is no way you can visit a town in the French riviera without hitting their white sand beaches. The Plage de la Croisette is the most famous public beach of the city, running alongside the promenade.
The Principality of Monaco: the almost French city
The Principality of Monaco is not exactly a French city. It is actually its own independent sovereign city-state, the second smallest in the world. The city is known for being the home of many billionaires living luxurious and extravagant life. Monaco has many different neighbourhoods, including Monte Carlo, La Rousse, Monaco-Ville, or the Jardin Exotique. The most famous one is probably the Rocher "The roc" which is the oldest part of the city with the Palace of the Royal family and Monaco's jail.
Saint Tropez the “femme fatale” city
Saint Tropez might seem like a small beach town on the french riviera, but its reputation is way more global. Popularized by Brigitte Bardot's movie "And God Created Woman," Saint Tropez has remained a legendary place synonymous with: elegance, luxury and femme fatale. Saint Tropez is located 100 kilometres west of Nice and has a small population of roughly 5,000 people.
Saint Tropez is constantly showcasing two of its facets: what it used to be, which is a quaint, peaceful fishing town and now an international tourist hotspot for the jet-set, wealthy and famous. People go to Saint Tropez to be seen and only be seen.
However, thankfully today, we are still able to find locals who could preserve their traditions and way of life.
Saint Topez maintained its status of legend thanks to its rich and mesmerizing history. The small village was the home of many artists such as the pointillist Paul Signac, who painted "Le Quai" portraying the city's harbour, the french author Sartre and the iconic Pablo Picasso. Saint Tropez made its way to pop culture when Mick Jagger married Bianca in the Saint Tropez town hall.
Experiencing Saint Tropez required you to start your day with the Tarte Tropézienne, a local pastry specialty consisting of a round brioche with pearl sugar filled with buttercream orange flavoured.
There are many things to do in Saint Tropez, such as: going to the farmer's market on the Place des Lices, visiting the Vieux Port, taking a look at the 17th-century old Citadelle or even the Museum of the Annonciade, including post-impressionism art highlighting Signac, Matisse or Bonnard, all Saint Tropez locals.
But the best thing to do in Saint Tropez remained to stroll around the village and pretend for a hot second that you too are Brigitte Bardot or Tom Cruise spending an exclusive summer in the European Hamptons.
The breathtaking Lérins Islands
On the Mediterranean sea, the Lérins Islands are an archipelago of small islands located at only a 15 minutes ferry ride from Cannes, Antibes or Nice. The islands showcase a breathtaking panorama of the region and the surrounding nature, a perfect escape from the continent.
There a few islands that you should absolutely visit:
- Sainte-Marguerite Island
It is the largest island with 130 hectares, 3km in length and 900 meters across. The island carries beautiful beaches, a forest of Aleppo pines, evergreen Oakes and groves of eucalyptus. You can also find the Fort Royal, a former prison in the 17th-century, and the museum of the Masque de Fer.
- Saint Honorat Island
Saint Honorat island is known for its Abbaye, home of the Cistercian monks, established in the 5th century. It is a perfect place for retreat, spirituality thanks to the quietness and abundance of nature.
The French Riviera is the perfect example that France is not limited to Paris
The French Riviera perfectly summarizes why France is much more than just its beautiful capital Paris. France's beauty and richness dig deep into its regions. Regions which have their own artisanal, culture, uniqueness. This is what we find in the French Riviera, which distinguishes itself by its glamour, beauty and feeling of exclusivity.
Do you want to experience the exclusiveness of the French Riviera? Best of France has got you covered with a unique tasting experience that will make you discover the French terroir and its unparalleled authenticity.