Known for its beautiful azure-blue water giving it its name, the Côte d’Azur has a reputation of being the go-to travel destination of the rich and famous. Stretching from Cassis to Menton near the Italian border, this part of the French coast is lined with star-studded towns like Cannes and nondescript fisher-towns alike.
Arguably one of the most beautiful and lively cities on the Côte d’Azur, Nice is the perfect town to be based in when exploring the French Riviera.
Close to the Italian border, Monaco, and Cannes; Nice is known for its beautiful old town, Vieux-Nice. A labyrinth of restaurants and bars, the streets of Vieux-Nice are filled with tables, musicians, and artists. The beaches and alleyways in Nice are always full during the summer months, whether it be 6 pm or 2 am, with people eating, listening to music, and going for a midnight swim.
An absolute must-see in Nice is the Parc de la Colline du Château. Located on a hill, the park offers an amazing view of not only Nice but the coastline and the open ocean.
Located past Nice’s harbour, head up to Mont Boron for an incredible view of the other side of the coast, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Most recently featured in ‘Johnny English 3’, Antibes is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, traversed by art galleries, restaurants, and independent book shops.
As Antibes is relatively compact and can comfortably be explored within a day, walking the Sentier du Littoral can make for a nice variation. Taking around 1.5 hours, the walk takes you directly along the coastline and offers some of the most stunning views of the Côte d’Azur.
Famous for its annual film festival, Cannes has seen the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell, and Bono. Splattered with high-end stores, Cannes is the ultimate destination for some celeb-spotting in the summer.
Though Cannes does have a beach, it can be quite packed. For more deserted and more beautiful beaches, take the ferry to Ìle Saint Marguerite (read more on the island in the Hidden Gems section below).
4. St. Tropez
Much like Cannes, the harbour of St.Tropez has been home to the yachts of celebrities like Kate Moss, Beyonce, and Rihanna. Though great for partying and luxury shopping, St. Tropez is a relatively small coastal town, characterized by its alleyways typical for the French Riviera.
For an evening away from the bustle of the city, head to the Plage des Graniers and watch the sunset while enjoying a Tarte Tropezienne – a dessert typical for St. Tropez.
Though not located in France, Monaco is still part of the Côte d’Azur and one of the smallest countries in the world.
With 32% of its population of 38,000 inhabitants millionaires, Monaco resembles a real-life exhibition of some of the world’s most expensive cars, clothes, and yachts.
When in Monte-Carlo with some money to spare, a definite must-visit is its main casino and the Old Town – where you might actually find pizza for under 20€.
1. Cap d’Ail
Though located in France, Cap d’Ail is so close to Monaco that you could walk from one country to the other.
When taking the train from either Monte-Carlo or Nice, you can either walk along the coast and go for a swim in one of the many grottos, or you can head to La Réserve de la Mala.
Though only 15 minutes from the train station, the Plage de la Mala so well-hidden that getting there is an adventure in itself. You can either walk follow the road uphill through a residential area, or you can walk along the coast, but, either way, the last stretch consists of uneven steps chiselled into the cliffs, most only around 30cm wide.
But as one of the most beautiful beaches on the Côte d’Azur, la Plage de la Mala is definitely worth it.
With the majority of tourists looking for a beach outside of Nice heading to Villefranche-sur-mer, the beaches of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat are primarily home to the French.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat offers beautiful beaches and incredible views, with the most beautiful arguably being Plage La Paloma. If you are looking for a sandy beach, head over to the Plage Cros dei Pin.
Tip: Don’t take the train or bus to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, but take the train to Beaulieu-sur-mer instead. From there you can walk to the Cap within 30 minutes or less, entirely along the ocean. The water there is, without exception, clear as glass and a beautiful turquoise colour, and you can even find some large deserted rocks on the way, perfect for some sunbathing or diving off of.
3. Ìle Sainte-Marguerite
Sainte-Marguerite island is located just off the coast of Cannes and missed by many. With boats running regularly from Cannes harbour, the island can be reached within 15 minutes.
When getting off the boat, the majority of people settle down on one of the beaches within a radius of around 10 minutes of walking. The best and most beautiful beaches, however, are towards the eastern end of the island.
Literally having walked the entire island, I can recommend you to first walk south to the Pointe du Dragon, and then following the coastline until you get to the Plage des Pierres Hautes. From there, you can skip the far east and head diagonally across the island instead, towards the Cimetière. From there you have a great view of some yachts bobbing in the water, and even a distant gleam of Cannes.
Tip: The entire island essentially consists of beaches. Because the island is a little elevated, some beaches might seem impossible to get down to. However, in my experience, almost all of them are connected to a little hidden trek starting behind some bushes, and others can be reached by simply climbing down the rocks.
Truly a hidden gem, Anthéor-Cap-Roux is a tiny coastal town almost exclusively visited by locals. Known for its crimson-red mountains, Agay is one of the most beautiful spots on the Côte d’Azur.
When getting off the train and walking down the hill towards the ocean, you will find the main beach just to your left. The more beautiful beaches, however, are straight ahead – though they are pebbly beaches, they offer stunning turquoise waters against the backdrop of deep red mountains.
Though probably the most well-known spot on this list, Èze is repeatedly missed by many. Having been featured in ‘1000 places to see before you die’, Èze offers some of the best views of the Côte d’Azur.
The city of Èze can either be reached by bus, or – for one of the most beautiful hikes on the French Riviera – you can take the train to Èze-sur-mer and walk up the Nietzsche trail. The trail takes around 50 minutes and sturdy shoes are recommended.
Though many are mostly coming for the view, Èze itself is also worth a visit. Essentially a labyrinth of crooked alleyways, the tiny town is traversed by small art galleries and artisan jewellers.
Tip: Though Le Jardin Exotique offers the best views, the Cimetière de Èze offers the same – for free.
Travelling Around the Côte d’Azur
As the Côte d’Azur stretches over 120 kilometres and two countries, there is no ‘one fits all’ in terms of transportation. If you are based in Nice, Antibes, Cannes, Menton, or Monte-Carlo, you can easily travel that part of the coast by train. Tickets are generally rather cheap, but the individual prices depend on the journey.
Even though the short-distance trains are well-connected, some cities can be hard to reach. For instance, even though St. Tropez is one of the most popular and well-known cities on the Côte d’Azur, getting there from Nice or Monte-Carlo is virtually impossible. With the connection on land consisting of a number of trains and buses, the only real option is to go by ferry – an option that costs 70€, however.
If you want to take a longer day trip, renting a car is a good option but if you are staying within a radius of around 30km from Nice, trains and buses will be all you need.
Food & Drink
Though it has many names, Socca is one of the foods typical for Southern France. Made from chickpea flour, Socca is reminiscent of a pancake and is typical Nicoise street food. As it can be a little dry, it is perfectly paired with a glass of rosé wine and enjoyed hot.
A dish most of us know from a certain movie featuring a rat living in Paris; Ratatouille actually originates in Southern France. Made from vegetables, its main ingredients are aubergine, courgette, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and garlic.
3. Tarte Tropézienne
Famous for having been named by Brigitte Bardot, this pastry is essentially a filled brioche. Having been created in St. Tropez, it is a definite must-try when there.
The Côte d’Azur is arguably one of the most beautiful places France – if not Europe – has to offer. Characterized by beautiful turquoise waters, small fisher towns, and secluded bays, the French Riviera is not without reason one of the most popular travel destinations of the rich and famous.
Words by Samira Rauner
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