The French riviera is probably known mostly around the world for its glamour, beauty and amazing coast line. For me, a girl from the north of France, used to grey skies and dark seas, The Cote d’Azur (Azur coast) name could not be more suitable for this place. It doesn’t matter if you are strolling by the expensive yachts in Monaco or just found the perfect local picnic spot on the rocks, wherever you go, the deep tones of the sea and the blue skies are an amazing background for your explorations.
In this 7 days itinerary, I am sharing my favorite places in this area. Are you ready for a week of blue sea, luxury, picturesque villages and the fresh air of the sea?
One week to explore French Riviera
Day 1: Nice
Don’t miss the view point of the Colline du Chateau (Castle hill) from where you can embrace the all Nice! It is a 25min stroll from the old Nice.
For a taste of luxury, make a stop at the famous Negresco hotel. You may be surprised to see a 5 stars hotel on this blog, but the 100 years old hotel is symbol of Nice and the luxury of the Cote d’Azur. For a taste of what it has to offer, stop at the hotel bar for an afternoon tea or a cocktail (a Soda will cost you 9euros in that place). I opted for the “gourmandise du Negresco”, a coffee served with mini desert (macarons included) for 15euros. Don’t forget to take a detour by the bathroom to take a look on the way at the stunning reception room. You don’t need to be overly dress but avoid muddy sneakers and try to make it feel special.
Day 2: Saint Paul de Vence
The picture perfect village of Saint Paul de Vence is probably one of the most popular villages in South Provence, if not in France. Its location at the top of a hill, its narrow medieval streets and fortifications as well as its beautiful panorama over the valley makes of this place a tourist’s favorite.
In peak season (July/August) it is impossible to find parking and at times the small streets of the village will be so crowded that they would also entrave all progression. But off season, it is quiet and you will enjoy watching the locals playing boules in the shade.
For more details about St Paul, see this great blog post.
Day 3: Antibes
Antibes is maybe my favorite place on the Cote d’Azur. I remember clearly from my childhood memories loving the Tour du Cap d’Antibes walk. It is also really popular with the locals so expect week-ends (and especially Sundays) to be busy. You are just by the sea, it is stunning and fairly easy (stairs make it not accessible for baby cars or wheelchairs but otherwise there is no difficulty. Young kids should be supervised at all times as some part can be pretty exposed but there is no real danger when staying on the path. Check the weather and don’t take this walk in case of storm/ strong winds or if advised not to.
Towards the end of the hike, you can take a short detour to the beautiful Eilenroc villa that you can sometimes visit (not so often open!). The XIXth century villa offers amazing views on the sea and has beautiful gardens.
The walk is 5km long and will take you around 1h30/2h (Detailed information and map here (in French), with a picnic around lunch time, a visit at the villa and a short walk into Antibes this will make a full day program!
Day 4: Esterel Massif
Just for the contrasts it offers with the rets of the region, experiencing the Esterel is a must. With a road trip along the coast or hiking/ mountain biking for the ones looking for active option, you will be amazed by the red colours of the Esterel. A big part of the massif is protected and there is a wide choice of trails, suitable for different abilities. Be ready for stunning contrasts between the red volcanic rocks, the deep blue of the sea and the nearby towns (St Raphael Frejus, Cannes).
I recommend the Balconies of Cap Roux hike (4h30), or the shorter hike to the top of the Pic de l’Ours (Peak Tower Bear), one of the highest tops which you can complete in 1h30.
For more ideas of trails to explore by foot or by bike, check the excellent massif de l’esterel website (in english) with detailed information and GPS track to download.
Day 5: Cannes
Famous for the luxury hotels and boutiques as much as for its cinema festival, Cannes is an elegant city, delightful to stroll in. A promenade along the waterfront -the “Promenade de la Croisette”- should not be miss, with the deep blue of the sea on one side and the haute couture boutiques on the other, separated by tall palm trees. Locals and tourists walk (or jog) along this 2km stretch going until the Palais des Festival, and climb the famous stairs.
Don’t miss the old town “Le Suquet”. Most of it is traffic free and though small, it is a nice area to explore: climb the Tour du Mont Chevalier (11th century) and stroll rue Meynadier.
Finally, why not relax by the beach? Many beaches -especially the ones by the Croisette- are owned by the hotels on the other side of the road, which charge a fee for a lounge chairs and parasol. Come July or August, you will obviously have to fight for a spot on any of the public beaches.
Day 6: iles de Lerins – Sainte Marguerite
This is another family favorite. Pack a pic-nic and from the end of the croisette board the boat for Ile Saint Marguerite and spend the day on this peaceful, car free island. It gets quite crowded in summer of course but the island is quite vast. Spotting the best picnic place by the water is a the local sport. You can relax in the shade of the pine or eucalyptus, take a look at the residence of the Man in the Iron Mask or dip your toes in the water. Have fun but don’t forget to keep an eye on the clock so that you don’t miss the last boat – time flies on this island!
Getting to Sainte Marguerite
From Cannes it is just a 15min boat ride, the return ticket costing 15 euros for adults. Numerous boats run everyday. Booking online allows you a 1euro discount. It is recommended to start queuing before the ticket office opens if you want to be able to board one of the earliest boats (as you board on the first come, first serve basis).
The boat service also runs from Nice from end of May to end of September, everyday in July and August and 4 days a week for the other months. It takes 1h, cost 40 euros for a return and you need to book in advance.
Day 7: Frejus or Monaco
Frejus – historical city
The city was founded by the Roman empire (1 century BC)and with the ruins of several roman buildings, including an amphitheater and an aqueduc, and some museums is a great stop for history lovers. Don’t miss a stroll by the picturesque harbour as well.
A must see for many travellers, the city state of Monaco has always failed to convince me. The high rise buildings, the rock of Monaco, the casino of Monte Carlo and the yachts of the Port Hercules offer on of the most iconic playground in the worlds for billionaires. Hectic and provocative, the city will for sure contrast with many of the places you will have discovered during this trip. But just for this, it may be worth the trip too!
Make it happen: a week in the French Riviera
Where to stay:
Depending on your preference, rent a flat by the coast or a bit more in the interior of the country. Staying somewhere close to Cannes or Antibes will allow you to minimise transportation times if you plan to follow roughly this itinerary.
When to go:
This itinerary is based over several trips on shoulder season, you will find that it is the best time to go there. No crowds, and still decent weather from end of February to October! What is not to like? If possible avoid July and August, the week of the Cannes of festival or the Carnival of Nice.
Getting there and around
You have several options to get to the French riviera: you can fly to Nice airport or take the fast train Paris/Nice (5h several times a day, check times, prices and book on SNCF website)