Côte d’Azur Travel, France

Map of Côte d’Azur vs French Riviera, France

Côte d’Azur map –  known as the  French Riviera for many years by British people, not so much now.

What is the Côte d’Azur?

Côte d’Azur literally means Sky/Bright Blue Coast, mainly because – like Los Angeles –  the region gets around 300 days of sunshine a year.

There are many ideas of the Côte d’Azur’s territorial limits. Some think it extends from Menton (bordering with Italy) to Marseille, or to Hyeres, or to St Tropez, while there are French locals who equate the province of Alpes-Maritimes with the Côte d’Azur.

We believe the Côte d’Azur stretches from Menton to Mandelieu/Cannes for the simple reason that this coastline has a more sunny blue, balanced climate due to the proximity of the Southern Alps on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other.

Further west as the mountains retreat north the weather is noticeably worse. What makes that region especially difficult are the sudden and powerful blasts of cold air emanating from the Rhone Valley, The ‘Mistral’ wind. Peter Mayle, in his book ‘A Year in Provence’, mentioned that in winter when the Mistral hit (usually without warning) the temperature could drop by 10C in a matter of minutes.
Our first personal experience of Mistral violence was sitting across the square from Avignon’s spectacular Pope’s Palace, enjoying a quite glass of wine in the sunshine when – BAM! –  a massive and sudden  gust of  wind blew all the parasols across the square, knocking over tables, glasses and Ikuko. We have also experienced a three day Mistral in Marseille that ruined the trip, and a couple of bad days  in St Raphael  (which is not far from Cannes) that were likewise terminally disturbed and resulted in way too much bar time! Apparently the Mistral is a major garden party-pooper in this area, always appearing at the wrong time. But NOT on the  Côte d’Azur!

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. Interested in renting luxury French villas?

Where to go on the French Riviera/Côte d’Azur

The Côte d’Azur seen from Antibes with towns marked, France

This photo of the central section of the Côte d’Azur was taken from Antibes, across the Baie des Anges, with towns marked.

On this page we’re focusing on our belief of what constitutes the  Côte d’Azur, also known as  The French Riviera: the popular beach resorts of the Alpes-Maritimes from Cannes through Juans les Pins, Antibes, Villeneuve-Loubet Plage, Cagnes-sur-Mer and Nice, Villefranche, Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, past the Monaco principality and on to the last French Town before Italy, Menton.

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). They also do 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 worldwide 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, renting fun apartments or just 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!

When to visit the Côte d’Azur?

• Summer: May – 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 2018 although statistically the maximum should be 28C/82F) but cooling off in August.

Winter: November – February is generally fine, 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 and the weather is getting more erratic 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. Italians love Nice in winter, in spite of the fact that they do not lack UV!

Nice in Winter Pictures

Main Attractions Inland


The view from Eze's 'Exotic Garden', Côte d’Azur, France

Eze cactus garden and a panorama towards Cap Ferrat.

***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.

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.


**St Paul de Vence, another fortified village similar to Eze with magnificent walls and lots of very expensive art for sale.


**Mougins, a hilltop village with grand views, a fine new museum, lots of very expensive art for sale and good restaurants at substantial price.


**Grasse, a sizeable hillside town with a complex layout, fine cathedral and old town and their raison d’etre, perfumeries. Perhaps our least favourite Riviera city – too much traffic, too little parking, too little to do.


*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, very small perched village with panoramic views over to Cannes and some grand walks nearby.

Best Côte d’Azur City Beaches

Nice pay and free beaches on the Baie des Anges in mid-summer, cote d'Azur, france

Nice’s Baie des Anges seen from the Chateau de Colline viewpoint. See Nice beaches.

Zamenhoff beach, off Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes, Côte d'Azur, France

***Pay and no-pay Cannes beaches off Boulevard de la Croisette. Great sand! Downside: limited sand space (though there are several smaller beaches on either side of this central location), pricey facilities, pretentious residents.

Plage de la Gravette, Antibes, cote d'azur, france

***Antibes, Plage de la Gravette. 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.

Juans-les-Pins beach, cote d'Azur, france

*Juans-les-Pins. A typically narrow and lounger-dominated beach. Why bother? The whole district is cramped, overbuilt and offers no tourist interest apart from good beach restaurants, walking around the Cap d’Antibes and getting drunk in a shouty bar.

**No reason to visit Villeneuve-Loubet Plage either, unless you’re a yachtie or 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.

Monaco's beach, Larvotto, Côte d'Azur, France

***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, Côte d'Azur, France

***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.

 Saint Tropez is not actually on the Côte d’Azur, but we should mention it anyway…. the town has a couple of little beaches but the serious beaches – Pampelonne, Tahiti etc. are a good long walk away, or a drive.

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.

Saint-Jean-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.

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.