The Côte d'Azur
Menton Lemon Festival, around February annually, coinciding with Nice's pre-Easter Carnival.
Best Côte d'Azur
Beaches Côte d'Azur Map Best Time to Go
What is the Côte d'Azur? Inland Attractions
Nice Cannes Antibes Monaco Jellyfish
Visiting the French Riviera/Côte d'Azur
We're actually focusing on the French Riviera though many visitors (most?) think that this stretch of sunny Mediterranean coastline is called the Côte d'Azur. Well it is, and it isn't.
Officially the Côte d'Azur (Blue Coast) is the Mediterranean coast in the south
of France that stretches from Hyeres to the Italian Border, while
the French Riviera is the popular beach resort section that occupies
the eastern part of the Côte d'Azur from Cannes through Juans les Pins, Antibes, Villeneuve-Loubet Plage, Cagnes-sur-Mer and Nice, past the Monaco principality and on to the last French Town
before Italy, Menton.
What is the Côte d'Azur?
There are many ideas on the Côte d'Azur's territorial limits. Some think it goes as far as Marseille or as short a distance as St Tropez, while there are French locals who equate the province of Alpes-Maritimes with the Côte d'Azur, but the most commonly accepted span is from the Italian border (near Menton) to Hyeres, as we have pictured above.
The depth of the 'Côte' (coast) into the French hinterland is another question. Holiday villas in Grasse are classified in the Côte d'Azur but the sea is 18 kms (11 miles) away at that point. Logic dictates that the inland border extends to no more than the Southern Alps mountain range.
Beauty or Blight?
Whatever it's called, this section of coastline has its critics...Anthony Peregrine of the Sunday Times calls Cannes
a 'tawdry patch of urban blight messing up a nice coast' but that's
a little exaggerated as the three main Riviera towns - Cannes, Antibes and Nice - all have magnificent sea fronts, warm summer water, some
lovely old buildings, lively agreeable locals (except perhaps les riches of Cannes who strut around with an excessive air of self importance), excellent fresh food (from
restaurants or supermarkets), stunning weather most of the year, good museums and some terrific beaches (tho' mostly stony).
There is a fair amount of corrupt-developer blight too, of course, but what popular urban area doesn't suffer from a degree of that these days?
The Riviera or whatever you choose to call it - is in our humble opinion - less snooty than you might think and still terrific for walking, eating, swimming and looking at people and places. Some fine museums, too, but the killer app is the weather, which - with the occasional hiccup - is staggeringly pleasant, mild with blue skies for most of the year. Queen Victoria's court knew how to pick a holiday spot and Nice was their choice!
Eze village and the railway running alongside the coast towards Monaco and Menton.
Eze is tiny and beautiful but so overwhelmed by tourists that it doesn't really function as a true residential space, more as a 'museum village'. Nevertheless it's a gorgeous place and makes an excellent day trip from Nice, along with Monaco and/or Menton.
In season go early or late to avoid the packaged hordes, there's no entry gate or fee apart from access to the exotic garden.
When to visit the Côte d'Azur?
There are two
• Summer -
May, June, September (October is the wettest month supposedly) when the heat is off and the crowds
are at work. Just after summer is better for swimmers as the sea will
still be warm then with less tourists, cheaper accommodation, restaurant availability and so on.
In the last couple of years July has been excessively hot (up to 38C/100F for 2/3 weeks in 2015 although statistically the maximum should be 28C/82F) but cooling off in August.
• Winter is generally lovely - any month after November, with blue skies and light-jacket cold (average lows of about 6C/43F and highs about 14C/57F), though it does rain from time to time so it's a bit of a gamble.
Statistically the wettest months are October-November, but that's only 1/4 chance at the worst. British and North Europeans who are desperate for some UV to counteract SAD would do well to visit in winter.
Main Attractions Inland
The view from Eze's 'Exotic Garden' which does have an entry fee but is worth it for the views.
***Eze, a superb location, panoramic views and delightful little streets, Eze is a must-see, but crowd avoidance is essential as it's tiny and parking limited. One problem is that the obvious transport solution, the train, stops well below the village at Eze-sur-Mer and the walk up on the Nietzsche trail is horrific. It's bad enough going down! Maybe take a taxi from the station?
An hour will do an Eze visit at a push or stay for lunch in one of the exquisite but pricey restaurants such as the Chevre d'Or.
St Paul de Vence's main street. Photo by Jean-Charles Guillo.
**St Paul de Vence, another fortified village similar to Eze with magnificent walls and lots of very expensive art for sale.
Plaza Lamy, the start of Mougins village.
**Mougins, a hilltop village with grand views, a fine new museum and lots of very expensive art for sale...
**Grasse, a sizeable hillside town with a complex layout, fine cathedral and old town and their raison d'etre, perfumeries.
An interesting-looking Valbonne restaurant. I wonder if the neighbours enjoy the night air?
Valbonne. Popular with English/North European residents for residence or holiday lets, it's calm and convenient but very limited in scope and, IMHO, not worth a special trip.
**Gourdon is a distant, small perched village with panoramic views over to Cannes and some grand walks nearby.
Best Côte d'Azur
Nice pay and free beaches on the Baie des Anges in mid-summer. Downside: pebbles and slightly steep entry/exit from water to beach. Beach shoes recommended and folk with wobbly ankles should avoid.
Nice offers the classic Cote d'Azur beach environment with brilliant skies, warm azure waters and a long, curving pebble beach scattered with restaurants and pay-loungers but also hosting plenty of free public space, with showers and toilets.
This 6km (3.75 miles) stretch on the Baie des Anges - virtually identical along its length but labelled as over 20 different beaches - is bordered by the lovely, wide Promenade des Anglais (the photo was taken from the promenade) with separate cycle/skate track. Beyond that is a 6/4 lane road and limited parking, though there are some large underground and overground car parks on the other side of the road where Nice city starts but these will be very/completely full in the summer months so it's best to travel to Nice by plane or train. More
Nice's best overlook from the hill at one end, Castle Hill, Colline du Château.
Zamenhoff beach, off Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes, looking towards the centre of the city - Festival Hall, the main marina, Le Suquet Hill etc. Downside: limited sand space though there are several smaller beaches on either side, pricey facilities.
Plage de la Gravette, Antibes. One of several excellent, calm, sandy beaches within easy walk of Antibes Old Town. Antibes is a winner, one of our 3 top beach hits along with Nice and Cannes. Downside: Parking! But there is a convenient train station just 8 minutes walk away from this beach.
A typically narrow and lounger-dominated Juans-les-Pins beach with hideous backside. Why bother? The whole district is cramped, overbuilt and offers no tourist interest apart from walking around the Cap d'Antibes and getting drunk in a shouty bar.
No reason to visit Villeneuve-Loubet Plage either, unless you're staying nearby, in which case it's OK, tho' pebbly.
Cagnes-sur-Mer shore has been developed with some sensitivity; free beaches and pay beaches; stylish café/restaurants; good watersports facilities; nice little promenade with cycle track and palms; great music and fireworks in summertime. Downside: aside from the shore the town is pretty much of zero interest.
You might imagine Monaco's beach, Larvotto, to be crammed with pay loungers, but only half of it is, and all of it is coated with some kind of synthetic gravel that is pretty easy on the feet tho' you'd have difficulty getting a parasol to stand up in it. They have some kind of netting string across too, probably against jellies as sharks are obviously not a problem, apart from financial sharks of course. Downside: parking. Costs are not too outrageous unless you want to stay there overnight.
Menton's Les Sablettes beach on the Italian side of the town, a calm and comfortable patch. Downside: small, but maybe that's a good thing. A day trip should just about do it.
Good but lesser-known French Riviera beaches
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Plage de la Buse, a couple of kilometres east of Monaco and connected by a pleasant, coastal hiking trail, the Sentier des Douaniers.
This fine, though partly pebbly public beach offers a wide sweep of shallow water, an excellent beach café that also rents kayaks and is just 100m from the car park at Roquebrune train station.
Cap d'Ail, Mala Plage, a few minutes west of Monaco is a good size and has a rarely crowded public beach zone perfectly embraced by cliffs, with marine activities rentals and a fine restaurant.
Access is via a steep - though agreeable - 10 minute hike down from Avenue Princesse Grace. Take either a bus to the Beaverbrook stop or drive and park in the Cap d'Ail car park, walking down Ave. Francois de May until you see brown signs indicating the way to the beach.
Cap Ferrat, Paloma Plage. A few minutes walk from Saint-Jean village, Paloma sits on a calm, sandy bay lapped by clear waters. There is a private beach club area and a pricey café/restaurant as well as the public beach. When swimming becomes a bore take a hike along the delightful little trail Sentier Edmund Davies around the Paloma Point headland.
Villefranche, Plage de Passable, a sheltered stretch of pebbly bay popular with local families in-the-know, Passable has a good restaurant and is the starting point for a terrific 4km Cap Ferrat walking trail around the Ferrat peninsula.
Plage de la Garoupe, a delightful little stretch with excellent café (that you would need to book in advance at busy times) and a couple of restaurants. This beach marks the start/finish of the lovely hour or two Cap d'Antibes walking trail.
Cap d'Antibes (Antibes' very exclusive peninsula), Plage de la Garoupe is the place for wealth-spotting, just a Bentley waft from possibly the Riviera's best hotel, the Eden Roc; La Garoupe's public area is limited by a pricey beach club but the sand is soft, the rocks interesting if there are no jellies at home, the views of Antibes coast spectacular and the snorkelling pretty good. Furthermore, there's a really fine little walk around the shore of the Cap, taking between one and two hours.
One of the little beaches in St Tropez village. The large ones are a good solid walk away, or a drive.
Tropez is the snobbiest part of the Côte d'Azur (more so even than Monaco!), with
big money, big crowds and big traffic jams, yet still glamorous. The
in-vogue beach is Nikki, where you have to pay - or even book in advance,
but there are plenty of superb cafés and restaurants as well
as the outstanding Musée de l'Annonciade (20th century masters
such as Rouault and Matisse).
A useful train route runs along the Côte d'Azur from Marseilles to Ventimille (Ventemiglia) and though it's comfortable it's not exactly reliable. In addition it sometimes stops very near the sea, such as at Villeneuve-Loubet Plage or Villefranche but sometimes it's quite a distance away like in Nice where it'll take a good 20 minutes walk to reach the shore, though the newish tram system is cheap, efficient and a big help to getting around.
Sad to say but
we tend to drive along the coast on the excellent A8 autoroute which is generally easy to access (a notable exception is Cannes) or nip onto the spectacular Moyenne Corniche or interesting Lower (Basse) Corniche during the off season. From Antibes to Menton on the A8 takes about 45 minutes.
Menton's Plage du Fossan beach in September along with invading Cassiopea jellyfish (red lines).
This type of jellyfish (Méduse in French - and there were a lot more that the camera failed to capture ) is usually found in warm coastal regions and often lives upside-down on the bottom.
They have a mild sting since they are mainly photosynthetic, though sensitive swimmers may have a stronger reaction.
These Cassiopea Méduse, on close inspection, appeared to have almost no tentacles and thus would find it very hard to sting anything.
The normal Mediterranean stinger is the Pelagia Noctiluca, with substantial stinging tentacles. It's a mid-sea drifter which approaches the coast in autumn and springtime but is rarely troublesome.
If stung and no official salve is available from a First Aid post, try one of two treatments, and urine is not one of them! Rubbing the stings with sea water (not fresh water) and gravelly sand (some people suggest credit cards) to remove the stings. If hot water is available pour it, as hot as bearable, onto the stings and it should deactivate them.
escape from the busy coastal Riviera, try the views and activities
of the magnificent 'Grand Canyon' of Verdon Gorge a couple of hours away
inland, the îles d'Hyères (resort islands
with more wildness and less motors), the superb Provencal towns of Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Arles, or even a bit further away off the French mainland, head for the great landscapes, walks and beaches of Corsica (car ferries from Nice or Marseilles).
Cannes Antibes Juans-Les-Pins Villeneuve-Loubet Plage
Cagnes sur Mer Nice Menton Monaco
Driving to the Côte d'Azur, hints and links
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