Five golden rules for visiting the French Riviera

We’ve just spent a month exploring the French Riviera and it was incredible. Charming hilltop villages, vibrant markets, rugged cliffs, pristine beaches… and sun-soaked colour! But before we share our discoveries, let’s rewind and go over some basics so that you can make the most of your own trip. Here are our five golden rules for visiting.

But first, a few definitions.

What is the French riviera?

There is no official geographical definition, but it’s the long stretch of coastline villages, towns, and even cities in the south east corner of France. Everyone seems to agree that one end is the border of France and Italy, … but no one seems to agree on the other other end, and whether Marseille should be included. In the podcast episode we debated whether the Riviera even exists in the offseason (of course it does, but the thought adds to the mysterious charm…).

The Riviera is also known as Côte d’Azur, and this sun-dappled paradise is a playground for the rich and famous, a haven for artists and writers, and a sanctuary for those seeking respite in a world of beauty.

The Earful Tower podcast episode

But how to visit? What to plan? How to tackle it all? We leave Paris far behind us this week on the podcast and we share our five golden rules for visiting the French Riviera over half an hour. You can listen to the show below, or of course wherever you get podcasts. Hosted by Oliver Gee and Lina Nordin Gee. And of course, you can scroll down for the gist of the episode and more beautiful pictures.

Our five golden rules for visiting the Riviera

1. Don’t be intimidated to do it

If you’ve just come all the way to Paris, adding another leg to the trip might sound like a headache. Fair enough. But remember, it’s only 90 minutes on a plane to Nice, where the airport is right beside the town.

The trains from Paris to the Riviera are simple enough, too, with high speed trains taking you directly to the coast and then much slower trains stopping gradually at what seems to be every single village until Italy. Hint: Never pack too much on those trains! No one will help you with oversized luggage as they might at an airport.

2. Pick your month

It’s high season in July and August and obviously that’s the best time to enjoy the sun. But you’ll avoid the crowds if you shoot for May and June, and even September. We were there for all of April and it was fantastic. Hardly any tourists with warm weather – but perhaps we were just lucky.

3. Don’t bite off too much

It’s a mistake to change towns every second night. This is the Riviera… slow down and match the local energy. Find a good place to base yourself – become a local – and then add day trips. We were in Antibes which seemed to have the best of all worlds. It had ancient charm, modern glimpses of luxury, and it was close to everything. It even had ramparts. (More on Antibes on this blog soon).

4. Rethink your concept of distance

A long walk in the Riviera on your map app may actually be a very short drive. Especially if there is a major road running between two towns. In Paris, a long walk is likely a long drive, so you’re mistaken to compare the two. Likewise, a short distance on the map between two Riviera towns might actually be a very long drive along hilltops and winding roads. The solution? Get wheels. If you’re a member of the well-heeled jet-set, go on then, get a hot pink sports car. We rented scooters and that worked perfectly well too!

5. And lastly, don’t chase the superstars

We’re not talking about Beyonce and Jay Z (although they’re known to frequent the Riviera)… we’re talking about the most famous things to see. Sure, everyone seems to be talking about Cannes and Monaco – they might sound like the superstar tourist attractions. But it’s fair to say they are overrated.

If you aim for smaller villages, you might just fall in love with one. In the podcast we recommend villages like Biot and La Turbie (below) over the bigger towns… and day trips to places like Villa Kerylos or the Cap d’Antibes hike. Seek and you will find!

Now, we discussed all this at length on the podcast, have a listen and let me know what you think. We’re happy to do more episodes and blog posts for this mini-season, but I want to know there’s an appetite for it! Leave comments, share, and listen to the pod so I know what to do next.

All photos: Augusta Sagnelli

14 thoughts on “Five golden rules for visiting the French Riviera

    1. Have been visiting the Côte d’Azur area for over 10 years. My fave place is Menton, between Monaco and Italy. Beautiful place, beautiful scenery. Stay there and Italy is only one train stop away! Get the best of 2 countries side by side.

      1. I’m in the midst of planning a trip to Menton this summer! Any tips?

  1. 100%. We are in planning stages for a trip in September. This couldn’t come at a more perfect time.
    I am waiting with bated breath!!

  2. Once again, Oliver times his podcast perfectly. Eagerly planning my road-trip for October. Looking forward to Menton, Nice, Aix and Nimes.

    1. Also Roquebrune is a must. A tiny hilltop village with great views. Do not forget thet close everything down for Siesta each afternoon.

  3. Spent a day in Monaco and loved it. Don’t agree it’s over rated. Got there early and went to Monacoville right away before the crowds. Do agree some of the smaller towns are magical, but completely different from Monaco. To each their own I guess

  4. We just spent three weeks in Nice in March and the weather was sunny and warm and empty of tourists (except for us!). Glad to read you had a lovely time in Antibes.

    1. my friend and I were in Nice in March and it was quite lovely good weather and not crowded certainly visit again out of season

  5. Hubby’s and my best vacays ever had us based in Nice and visiting the hill and coastal towns. However, we did not get to Antibes which has been on my ‘must do’ list. I’m so happy you based there and look forward to hearing more about it!

  6. I’m interested in learning about more affordable areas in south of France for possible retirement. I have heard of Toulon as a possibility. Any thoughts?

  7. Did you go to Grasse or St Paul de Vence? We chose those over Monaco and Cannes to visit on a day excursion from our ship

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