Wondering how to tackle the French Riviera? Here’s what we recommend after our month of exploring the area, featuring a real mix of popular spots and hidden gems, big towns and little villages.
Of course, we didn’t visit every single place, that would be almost impossible, so please let us know what we missed so we can check it out next time.
Meanwhile, we have many more lovely photos from each town, so there will be more blog posts and social media posts on the way. Thanks to photographer Augusta Sagnelli who joined us in most of these ten spots. Let’s go!
The interactive map
First, here’s an interactive map all the places we’ve listed. For context, you could drive between the two furthest points on the map (Monaco and Cannes) in one hour five minutes, or a train between the two would take 1 hour and ten minutes.
The podcast episode
This week on the pod, Earful Tower host Oliver Gee and Lina Nordin Gee get into the nitty gritty of their ten favourite spots. Listen below (or wherever you get your podcasts). Scroll down for the pictures!
This ancient fishing village is underrated compared to its better-known neighbours like Nice or Cannes. It’s a perfect mix of the old and the new, you can roam the ancient ramparts while overlooking the yachts of the super rich and famous. Charming shops, lively markets and the Picasso museum bring life to this old-timey village. We recommend venturing into the Absinthe bar for a drink, you’ll enter what seems like an unassuming souvenir shop but once you descend the stone staircase you’ll find yourself in a speakeasy where everyone is given a hat to wear as they sing along to the live music. A special shoutout the nearby Nomads Coffee where we became regulars.
2. Juan Les Pins
Near Antibes is the charming Juan Les Pins. If you have time, get there by the lovely coastal hike from Antibes, which feels like you’re walking through an impressionist painting with waves crashing against the craggy rocks by the well-hidden millionaire mansions.
While in town, soak up the Miami-like main drag, full of art deco buildings, palm trees, restaurants and a casino, and maybe have a meal on the beach (that’s right, on the beach. The restaurants put tables and chairs in the sand). If you can splash out just once, make it at the Hotel Belle Rives for a cocktail on their veranda for a their movie-like panoramic view of the sea. It’s here that F Scott Fitzgerald spent a lot of time in the 1920s.
Nice is a must see, as you surely already knew. In fact, your French Riviera trip is incomplete without a stop here. It’s a colourful town that’s always bustling and lively. Famous artists and writers such as Matisse, Chagall and Chekhov have museums in town. The Promenade des Anglais boulevard is an excellent and free way to soak up the surroundings, and you can always finish at the Negresco Hotel for a drink. As for the stoney beach… it certainly looks lovely, but head to other nearby towns for pristine sand and comfortable sunbathing.
4. La Turbie
If you want to a little more out of your day trip to Monaco (see below), then go inland to the village of La Turbie. It’s a tiny little medieval spot, that feels like you’re walking through a movie set of the charming French countryside. You don’t have to stay here or even eat here, but a walk through the winding streets dappled with intriguingly shaped doorways and windows is worth it.
Nestled at the side of the village is La Trophée, a fascinating monument that dates back to 6 BC (!!) and was built by the emperor Augustus in honour of his victory over the tribes living in the Alps. While nowadays only remnants remain, the view from the top shows a splendid panorama of the coast and Monaco.
As to be expected, Monaco is a very polished and luxurious town. Big yachts, fancy shops and casinos make up most of it. So embrace a bit of luxury and enjoy the show. We took a quick trip to the Old Town in Monaco, which was very charming. Every angle is beautiful with views of the ocean, a botanical garden to visit, and the prince’s palace. It’s like a little bubble of perfection. You don’t need to spend more than an hour here, but it’s worth the detour.
If you’ve seen all the main sights and don’t care so much for beaches, Biot is your place. More inland than the other places on this list, this small, beautiful village is quintessential southern France. Charming squares, restaurants and colourful old stone houses paired with the friendly and welcoming locals make this place hard to beat. You can also find the Fernand Leger art museum here (though full disclosure, it was closed the day we visited).
Fernand Leger museum address: 255 Chem. du Val de Pôme, 06410 Biot
Cannes is famous for its flashy film festival, high-end shops and beach strip. While undoubtably beautiful, we recommend you go if you’ve got the budget for luxury shopping, if you don’t mind crowds, and if you want to see the famed red carpet.
8. Beaulieu-sur-Mer & Villa Kérylos
This quaint old fishing village is a little off the main road but the Villa Kérylos that lies within it was a highlight of our trip. This villa was built by a very wealthy family in the early 1900’s to resemble a Greek/Pompeii style home. You’ll be transported back into ancient Greece, admiring their murals, curated interior and classic architecture, all the while sneaking peeks of the gorgeous bright blue ocean hugging the walls of the villa.
Right by the waterside, this small, colourful town is a bafflingly beautiful spot worth finding. It’s probably most famous for the tiny Saint Pierre chapel, home to the murals of French artist John Cocteau. But in all honesty, you’re more likely to remember the village itself over the chapel. Seafood restaurants, fishermen and their boats everywhere, but likely loads of crowds in the summer months.
Saint Pierre Chapel address: 4 Quai de l’Amiral Courbet, 06230 Villefranche-sur-Mer
Where best to admire the Cote d’Azur than this hilltop village perched right over the coast? It is also very small and easy to visit quickly, and we recommend heading to its botanical garden at the top with bright terracotta statues and cactus, contrasted against the brilliant blues of the sea far below.
Here’s the episode again, have a listen for an even better idea of these places. And remember, if you’re thinking to visit the Riviera, follow our five golden rules here. Happy travels.
Almost all photos: Augusta Sagnelli