Nice Carnival, Côte d’Azur, France
The Riviera and Côte d’Azur are lovely evocative names but the modern reality is traffic, crowds and diminutive beaches – many of them pay-per-parasol and/or stony, BUT there are plenty of things to see and do, the climate is superb (supposedly 300 days of sunshine in a year but a little too hot in summer), good and surprisingly low cost eating/drinking/shopping if you look around. Mediterranean waters are relatively warm (compared to the Atlantic Ocean) and clean (in France), beaches are well serviced, and sharks don’t cause any trouble, though occasionally lightweight jellies bloom.
*** Cannes is smaller, more posh/pretentious (in spite of evolving from a fishing village) and offers sandy beaches and a fine viewpoint up Le Suquet hill but *** Nice is bigger and embraces many wonderful 19C buildings as well as the spectacular 7km Promenade des Anglais, the new Promenade du Paillon central park, tramway transport and Ave Jean Medecin shopping street. Both Cannes and Nice and well worth a visit tho’ we prefer Nice.
*** Antibes port/town offers a lovely coastal walk beside the old town, port and sandy beaches. It’s compact, with a famous daily market and excellent restaurants, but limited parking so consider going there by train or bus.
Antibes is a joint-metropolitan area with *Juan-les-Pins – which is a hideous mash-up of vast and featureless apartment blocks that is an appalling use of space except, perhaps, for a meal on the narrow sandy beaches.
* Cagnes-sur-Mer and * Villeneuve-Loubet are little townships between the Cannes and Nice big brothers. They offer nicely developed shores with stony beaches, water sports facilities and adjacent bars/restaurants but nothing of interest away from the coast.
*** Eze is a spectacular little hilltop village while * Menton on the Italian border is tiny, quiet and a bit old fashioned and lacking much interest apart from the colourful Lemon Festival that runs concurrently with Nice Carnival.
*** Monaco is the tiny (less than a square mile), independent, silly-rich principality embedded in the Riviera between Nice and Menton and definitely worth a day trip – which doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s a decent free beach, a grand grotto, some magnificent buildings, great views and sublime statues.
Another old fortified village inland from Nice that’s worth a visit is * St Paul de Vence.
* Mougins, a pretty hilltop village just off the A8 autoroute, is a short drive from Cannes/Grasse/Antibes etc. Visitors are mainly very affluent, looking for fine wines, gourmet meals and expensively mediocre art.
Grasse has great history and perfumes but we feel is overcrowded and under-supplied with sights and not worth the hassle of getting there.
An hour down the coast west of Cannes hangs the wealthy peninsula of *** St Tropez; just don’t head that way at peak times as the main entry route is very narrow and horribly congested. Trains don’t go there. It’s not easy to visit on the cheap.
Short but sweet walks of an hour or two, on a flat path beside the sea: *** Cap d’Antibes, ** Cap Ferrat