Things to Do in French Riviera
The largest marina in Europe, with over 100 berths, Antibes’ ritzy Port Vauban is one of the most popular spots for yachts on the French Riviera. Originally a natural port run by everyone from the ancient Greeks to the Romans and the Barbarians, it wasn’t until the 15th century that the site was given adequate protection from raiders, when Louis XIV ordered military engineer Seigneur de Vauban to fortify the marina.
Port Vauban Antibes is home to the Yacht Club d’Antibes and has its own private heli-pad for all those superyacht owners like Roman Abramovich. Berths at Port Vauban don’t come cheap—each
spot costs between 1 and 4 million euros. Each spring, the marina hosts the Antibes Yacht Show, which attracts more than 15,000 visitors every year.
Just behind the archway to Antibes’ Old Town on the western edge of the marina is a lively market that is open every day except Monday. After checking out all the glittering yachts, the market serves as a great place to order all kinds of Provençal cheeses and fruits, and to stop and enjoy a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants.
A 20-minute ferry ride across the waters of the Mediterranean Sea transports travelers from the high-class commotion of Cannes to the tranquil Île Sainte-Marguerite, a small island with more pine trees than people. Bring your walking shoes and your love for the great outdoors for the perfect day trip away from it all.
One of the cultural highlights of the French Riviera, the Picasso Museum (Musée Picasso) is located in the heart of Antibes, between Cannes and Nice. Housed in the 14th-century Grimaldi Castle—where Picasso lived in 1946—the museum exhibits several hundred works by the modernist master.
A stylish walkway monopolizing four miles (six kilometers) along the Bay of Angels, the Walk of the English (Promenade des Anglais or La Prom) is a Nice icon offering stunning views, enticing pit stops, and the best people-watching in the city. Grab your bike, skates, or shoes—and don’t forget your swimsuit—for a sunny afternoon in Nice.
Though Saint-Tropez is famous for its glamour and glitz, the city also has a rich and eventful past. The St-Tropez Citadel (Citadelle de Saint-Tropez) is a prime example, having been the town’s crown jewels since the 17th century, and one of the few monuments of its magnitude to still stand today on France’s southern coastline. In fact, the Saint-Tropez Citadel is one of the city’s most visited historical and cultural sites, both for its history and its panoramic views over the Bay. The Citadel was built between 1602 and 1608, based on the drawings of engineer Raymond de Bonnefons. The building, composed of a thick-walled hexagonal tower, a concealed interior courtyard, towers with cannon openings, and a bastioned outer wall, was used to defend the strategic port of St-Tropez, the most important strongholds between Antibes and Toulon for centuries. Its location on a hill with slopes bare of vegetation helped the military spot and bomb all vessels that came too close to the walls of the city.
With its twisting cobblestone lanes, jumble of medieval houses, and shady courtyards lined with traditional cafés, Eze is a tranquil village high above the glamorous resorts and golden beaches of the Cote d’Azur. The hilltop town, traditionally written Èze, is undeniably picturesque, affording panoramic views over the Mediterranean, and its timeless charm has made it a firm favorite on French Riviera itineraries.
A honeycomb of narrow streets dotted with baroque churches, lively markets, bustling squares, and a thriving nightlife scene, Nice’s Old Town (Vieux Nice) remains the buzzing heart the modern French city. This seafront historic center offers an atmospheric introduction to Nice.
As important to French culture as Paris and paté, the art of perfume is on display at the Fragonard perfumery in Grasse, one of the oldest-running perfumeries in France. Dating to 1926 and featuring plenty of artifacts from the original distillery, the historic factory functions as a modern artisanal perfume factory deeply rooted in tradition.
Built on the Var heights between Esterel and the Gulf of St Tropez, the Château Font du Broc is set amid lush vegetation overlooking the sea. The grounds of this impressive wine farm are sprawled out over 250 acres that encompass vineyards and olive trees – and even an Olympic-sized arena for horses.
Producing both wine and olive oil, the owner of Château Font du Broc, Sylvain Massa, insists on organic and traditional farming methods and restricts the volume of wine produced in order to ensure its quality.
Although the beautiful surroundings and the building’s architecture are high points for some visitors to Château Font du Broc, for others it’s simply all about sampling the delicious wines. The tasting room welcomes visitors and sampling the local vintage is positively encouraged, either on its own or with locally produced cheeses, meats and other delicacies.
The Our Lady of the Assumption Church (Eglise Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption) in St-Tropez is in the Old Town of Saint-Tropez and is now considered to be one of the city’s emblems, with the ocher-colored steeple and bell tower being visible from miles around. Built in the Italian Baroque style, the church has a white limestone façade with distinct yellow and red accent hues that were selected to contrast with the blue of the sky and the sea. Construction took many years, ending in 1784. In 1820, the Archbishop of Aix-en-Provence Pierre-Ferdinand Bausset-Roquefort consecrated the church. Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption underwent extensive renovations and repair works in 1990, and was made a historic monument shortly after. Inside the church, visitors can see the bust of Saint Tropez (patron saint of sailors and patron saint of St-Tropez) as well as the bust of Saint Pierre (patron saint of fisherman and masons). The church is home to many events during the year, including the bravade (a religious and military festival held in May) and a renowned nativity scene in December and January.
More Things to Do in French Riviera
St-Tropez is known for its French luxury: massive yachts, picturesque fishing villages and stunning European villas. But travelers who make their way to this destination will find that St-Tropez is also home to one of the region’s most incredible museums—the Annonciade Museum (Musée de l'Annonciade).
Despite its location in a tiny seaside village, the museum boasts an incredible collection of works from Matisse,Signac, Kee, Rodin and other iconic artists. Travelers will find its quiet galleries and beautiful displays the perfect respite from the bustle of St-Tropez, and the perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon taking in some truly incredible works of art.
With its dramatic limestone cliffs and azure waters, the Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon) is one of the French Riviera's most delightful secrets. Escape the manicured glamour of St. Tropez and Cannes in favor of the canyon, which provides opportunities to swim, sail, sunbathe, and rock climb on routes that stretch as far as the eye can see.
The beating heart of Cannes, La Croisette Boulevard (Boulevard de la Croisette) is an oceanfront promenade lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, and thronged with both vacationers and glamorous locals. Whether you’re stopping for lunch, dinner, or people-watching as you walk along, a stroll along this iconic street is a must-do for Cannes visitors.
Nice's Cours Saleya Flower Market (Marché aux Fleurs Cours Saleya) is a veritable feast for the senses—floral fragrances rise in the air, vendors call out in French to mingling locals, and flower bouquets burst forth from every stall. Add the fresh produce market, sidewalk cafes, and weekly antiques fair, and it’s no wonder the market is a must while in Provence.
A modern-art gallery in Vence, near Nice, the Maeght Foundation (Fondation Maeght) has a special connection to Miró and features a wide variety of 20th-century artworks by the likes of Chagall and Kandinsky. Even the building itself is impressive, with clean-lined modern architecture and a mix of futuristic and Mediterranean elements, as well as indoor and outdoor spaces.
Rising up over the eastern end of Quai des États-Unis, the 300-foot Castle Hill (Colline du Château) affords fantastic views over the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Old Town of Vieux Nice, the Baie des Anges, and the glittering Côte d’Azur.
The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès was built in 1982 and houses year-round events in Cannes, most notably, the Cannes Film Festival. The prestigious film festival attracts movie stars and the media from around the world. The festival is one of the most prestigious international film events and overtakes the Cannes luxury establishments for two dizzying weeks in May.
The famed Palais provides 25,000 square meters for exhibitions as well as many rooms and 18 auditoriums equipped with state of the art sound and lighting. The original Palais was built in 1949, and a new one was built in 1982 in response to the growing popularity of the film festival and the need for business convention space. Now, the Palais is a contemporary building that plays hosts to a variety events besides the film festival, such as the international music trade show MIDEM and the International Television Programme Market.
If you're spending an even remotely significant amount of time in Nice, then you'll soon become familiar with Massena Square (Place Massena). It's the massive, open square at the bottom of L'avenue Jean-Médecin; just a little bit past it is Vieux Nice and the Mediterranean. Walk under the porticos in foul weather, or enjoy the sun on its wide walkways. It ends in a gorgeous fountain framed by faded cherry-red buildings, a favorite with photographers of any ability.
In the daytime, Masséna Square is a busy pedestrian/tram intersection, and it can seem like barely controlled chaos as people scurry, stroll or simply hang out along its dizzyingly tiled surface. At night it's a bit less busy, but many are more distracted as the large human-like sculptures high atop poles change color like lava lamps!
Massena Square is also the site for many of Nice's most popular events throughout the year, from Mardi Gras to Fete de la Musique concerts to summer outdoor markets, exhibitions and performances of all kinds. And at Christmas, it's transformed into a village with artisanal gifts, games for kids, delicious food stalls and even a Ferris wheel.
Just along the coast from St. Tropez, Port Grimaud is a chic village purpose-built in the 1960s by architect François Spoerry. The town was designed to resemble a mini Venice with its network of canals and brightly painted buildings, and today it is a popular destination for visitors to the Côte d’Azur.
Located in the south of France by the Loup River, the beautifully preserved village of Gourdon looks all the way out to the Cote d’Azur from its mountaintop peak. A place of refuge and defense during medieval times, the feudal village is surrounded by thick ramparts and has only one entrance, the Roman Gate, which leads onto Gourdon’s medieval stone house-lined main street, rue de Major. Here, look out for Maison d’Anglars at No. 17, which dates back to the 13th century.
Chateau de Gourdon, a historic monument since 1971, is a popular spot in Gourdon. The castle’s 17th-century gardens were designed by André Le Nôtre, who was also responsible for the Palace of Versailles’ famous gardens. At the top of the village sits a beautiful square revealing the huge church of St Pierre. For a perfect view of Gourdon’s golden-stoned ramparts, make sure to stop at the lookout point right before you enter the village.
Rising above the port of Nice, Mt. Boron (Mont Boron) is a green wilderness with spectacular views over the great views over the city, and the entire Côte d’Azur, especially nearby beauties, Villefranche and Cap Ferrat. Sign-posted trails for hiking and mountain biking make this nature reserve a popular place to escape the city.
Often named “St-Tropez’s jewel beach”, Pampelonne Beach (Plage de Pampelonne) is actually located just outside city limits in nearby Ramatuelle. The beach is a 4.5-kilometer stretch of sand very popular amongst tourists, as just one of the few sandy beaches on the French Riviera (as opposed to the pebbly beaches in Nice, for example). Pampelonne was one of the main targets of Operation Dragoon, the large-scaled Allied invasion of southern France in August 1944 that ultimately caused theGerman army to abandon southern France altogether. After World War II, the Parisian elite, including big names like Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel, and Juliette Greco, gave St-Tropez its glitz and glam reputation by spending their summers at the beach, a tradition that most Northern French vacationers still uphold today – hence why the French Riviera is often qualified asovercrowded in August when the majority of the country is on holiday.
Logistics-wise, a supervised bathing zone is roped off from June 15 through September 15th, making it ideal for families wishing to spend a carefree day at the beach. Topless sunbathing is accepted everywhere in southern France, and two areas of Pampelonne are "clothing-optional" (between the Tamaris and Patch entrances, as well as at the chemin des Barraques entrance). It is a very natural beach: there are no souvenir stalls, no promandes, just beautiful white sand.
There are public washrooms and showers near the access points of Tamaris, Patch and Barraques, where parking is also available. Many restaurants and beach clubs also call the beach their home, amongst the better known ones are Club 55, great for celebrity spotting, and Nikki Beach, which has its own pool.
As far as historic French castles go, the Château de Crémat is a mere infant, built in the beginning of the 20th century. But it was designed to appear like it was there long before the city of Nice that spreads below it, with a mixture of architectural styles and a creamy exterior that reflects the stunning Riviera light.
Those wondering if it’s worth a visit should look no further than their taste buds. The Château de Crémat was built specifically for its surrounding land, which is taken up entirely by picturesque vineyards that yield some quality wines. Guided tours of the castle are free, and wine tastings are available for a tasting fee.
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