Things to Do in French Riviera - page 2
An Italian-style mansion on Cap Ferrat in the French Riviera, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is the former home of socialite and banking heiress Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild. The villa and its extensive gardens are now open to the public.
Place des Lices, in the heart of St-Tropez’s Old Town, is mostly famous for its open-air market every Tuesday and Saturday, from 8 am until 1 pm. The square is then bursting with colorful stalls full of fresh local produce, flowers, spices, baked goods, olives, and hand-made preserves; it is consequently very popular with tourists and locals alike, as it offers an aromatic glimpse into the legendary southern French cuisine.
Get to St-Tropez Market (Marché Place des Lices) early in order to beat the crowds and get a less overwhelming experience. Place des Lices is still busy even on non-market days with seven long lines of kiosks flanked by dozens of centennial plane trees, it probably feels and looks like it did two hundred years ago when it first came to life . This is the perfect opportunity for pétanque players to gather into small groups and play the iconic southern French sport all day. There are also many restaurants, cafés and bars nearby.
As far as historic French castles go, the Château de Crémat is a mere infant, built in the beginning of the 20th century. But it was designed to appear like it was there long before the city of Nice that spreads below it, with a mixture of architectural styles and a creamy exterior that reflects the stunning Riviera light.
Those wondering if it’s worth a visit should look no further than their taste buds. The Château de Crémat was built specifically for its surrounding land, which is taken up entirely by picturesque vineyards that yield some quality wines. Guided tours of the castle are free, and wine tastings are available for a tasting fee.
Nice is full of interesting architectural delights, but perhaps none is as unique as the St. Nicholas Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas), a Russian Orthodox church which speaks to the history of Nice as a popular destination for visitors from all over the world. While the Promenade des Anglais is a nod to the English, who wanted to walk along the shoreline in the sun without being directly on the beach, the Russian cathedral is a similar concession, this time to the Russian nobility – namely Tsar Nicholas II – who found the mild climate and beautiful location to be equally alluring.
St. Nicholas Cathedral is one of the top sites to visit in Nice, although it isn’t remotely French. Even if it weren't commonly known as the Russian Cathedral, one look at its exterior would give it away; it looks as though it was shipped directly from Moscow, with its fanciful onion-shaped domes and brightly colored exterior. Inside, as befitting a Russian landmark, its collection of icons is one of the finest in the world, and the interior architecture and color scheme looks like a bejeweled Easter egg.
Inspired by the lavish villas of ancient Greece but built in the early 20th century, Villa Kerylos is the vision of French archaeologist Théodore Reinach. Now preserved as a National Monument, it’s a striking sight, perched on the seafront of the French Riviera against a backdrop of the soaring cliffs of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Forty-five minutes from Antibes in France’s Alpes-Maritimes region, the scenic drive along the Gorges du Loup takes visitors up close to the Loup River (pronounced “Lou”) as it follows the deep canyon out to the Mediterranean Sea at Bouches-du-Loup. Cutting through the hills at the foot of medieval Gourdon village, the Gorges du Loup road is full of beautiful twists and carved-out tunnels.
Two and a half miles (4 km) into the narrowing gorge, keep an eye out for Cascade de Courmes. For a small fee, you can park your car and walk down the steps to the terrace, where the free-falling cascade descends 130 feet (40 meters) below. There are two other waterfalls to be visited at Gorges du Loup: Saut du Loup and Cascades des Demoiselles.
At the mouth of the canyon, the riverside village of Pont du Loup is a pretty spot to stop for a wander. And not far from the gorge, Tourrettes sur Loup is another popular village stop, famous for its thriving artists’ community and hiking trails around the town.
At Gorges du Loop, visitors can go rock climbing, bungee jumping, hiking and biking—or just enjoy the beautiful view and riverside drive.
Running along the waterfront of Nice Old Town, the Quai des Etats-Unis (Wharf of the United States) is a pedestrian pathway that divides the seafront from the shops, restaurants, and hotels of Old Town and provides access to the beach. The quai was named in honor of the United States after its decision to join the Triple Entente in World War I.
Located in the south of France by the Loup River, the beautifully preserved village of Gourdon looks all the way out to the Cote d’Azur from its mountaintop peak. A place of refuge and defense during medieval times, the feudal village is surrounded by thick ramparts and has only one entrance, the Roman Gate, which leads onto Gourdon’s medieval stone house-lined main street, rue de Major. Here, look out for Maison d’Anglars at No. 17, which dates back to the 13th century.
Chateau de Gourdon, a historic monument since 1971, is a popular spot in Gourdon. The castle’s 17th-century gardens were designed by André Le Nôtre, who was also responsible for the Palace of Versailles’ famous gardens. At the top of the village sits a beautiful square revealing the huge church of St Pierre. For a perfect view of Gourdon’s golden-stoned ramparts, make sure to stop at the lookout point right before you enter the village.
With a picturesque position on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the Port of Cannes (Port de Cannes) is a gateway to the cinematic glamour of Cannes and to the rest of the beautiful French Riviera. Disemark here to explore the pretty town of Cannes itself or head to glitzy enclaves such as Monte Carlo, St-Tropez, and Eze.
For visitors to Nice, a stroll up to the top of Castle Hill offers extraordinary views of the city from the Old Town straight on to the airport. And with such beautiful weather being the norm, getting a bird's eye view of the Cote d'Azur can be addictive! For those who want to see even more from up high, Fort du Mont Alban is a must.
Built in the mid-1500s for military defense, Fort du Mont Alban is located close to Nice in Mont Boron Park, just outside of Col-de-Villefranche. Although it suffered some damage in WWII, the fort is in excellent condition and was declared a national monument in the early 20th century.
While tours of the fort are available only by appointment, the grounds are open to the public and free to enter. From the top there are sweeping views from Italy to Antibes – and after a rain, when the skies are clear, those with binoculars can even see Corsica!
More Things to Do in French Riviera
Wander amidst the picturesque splendor of a ruined chateau at one of the French Riviera’s top botanical gardens, the Exotic Garden of Eze (Jardin Exotique d’Eze). Poised 1,408 feet (429 meters) above the sea, the garden’s views overlooking the Mediterrean are as much of a draw as its many succulents, cacti, and other plant species.
Set in Grasse, the International Perfume Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie) extensively covers the famous French perfume industry, highlighting its significance through the ages. Exhibitions retrace the history of perfumes, soap and cosmetics over the course of thousands of years. Split into various sections, the museum covers the history of the industry, manufacturing and marketing.
The museum is situated in the former Hugues-Aîné perfumery of the 19th century. The building was reopened in 2008 after refurbishment and now invites visitors to explore the prosperous history of french parfumeries in the historic town of Grasse. The site is often visited on day trips out of Monaco.
Le Suquet is the old quarter of Cannes perched on a hill overlooking the radiant French Riviera. The hill became the property of the Iles de Lerins monks in the 11th century, and a castle constructed by them in 1088 still exists today. It is a popular area for people to climb the winding cobbled roads and enjoy the local cafes, restaurants, and shops, located mostly on Rue St Antoine. The atmosphere is more casual and medieval than the glamorous heart of Cannes.
A clock tower and church are situated in Le Suquet, overlooking the peninsula and Cannes itself. At the base of Le Suquet on Rue Dr. P. Gayagnaire is the charming Marche Forville, where a market takes place in the mornings and early afternoon.
Originally founded in the 11th century by Benedictine monks, Cimiez Monastery (Monastère de Cimiez or Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez) is now a Franciscan monastery with a small museum explaining the austere Franciscan way of life throughout the centuries, with ancient artwork, frescoes, documents, and a replica monk's cell. Its gardens have sweeping views of Nice.
The Marc Chagall National Museum (Musée National Marc Chagall) in Nice hosts the largest public collection of the Russian-born artist's works. Within the space, fans encounter a range of works—from practice sketches to some of Chagall’s largest and most iconic paintings and stained glass pieces—but the centerpiece is the artists' Old Testament scenes.
High among the lavender hills between Avignon and Nice, the L’Occitane Factory is open for popular one-hour guided tours.
The site is located near the Provence hamlet of Manosque, and as you go through the factory, you’ll get to see production line rooms and learn how L’Occitane harvests and distills its organic ingredients from the area: lavender, olives, rosemary and almonds are all used in the creams and perfumes that make the brand famous worldwide.
On a tour of L’Occitane, you’ll learn about the history of the company. Once Olivier Baussan founded it in 1976, he started out making rosemary essential oil and selling it at local Provence markets. By 1981, Baussan had opened his first store in Provence, and today, there are over 2,000 L’Occitane stores in 90 countries around the world.
The factory also shows interactive exhibits and films that provide information about various L’Occitane projects, such as its sustainable development program in Burkina Faso, where it sources shea butter.
Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Matisse Museum (Musée Matisse), an homage to the life and work of Nice’s hometown art hero and world-renowned French painter Henri Matisse. Though small, the museum provides detailed information about Matisse’s life and examines the evolution of his work through key sketches, paintings, and sculptures.
Situated in a medieval castle atop Le Suquet, the Castre Museum (Musée de la Castre) is home to a wide collection of antiquities, particularly from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The chateau itself is a historical monument, and the collections housed within will be of particular interest to art lovers and ethnographers.
The art collections and objects from Oceania, the Himalayas and the Americas are presented in a suite of small rooms surrounded by gardens, a collection of Mediterranean antiquities and pre-Columbian ceramics. The 12th-century Saint Anne Chapel houses a remarkable collection of musical instruments from Asia, Africa, the America, and Oceania. A few rooms dedicated to 19th century Provencal paintings of Riviera landscapes open out onto the courtyard and a square tower displaying spectacular views.
Carved into the pine-forested mountains along the Cote d'Azur, between Nice and Menton, are three seaside roads with some of the most dramatic scenery and views in Europe: Grande Corniche, Basse Corniche, and Moyenne Corniche. Each one is different, holding a unique perspective and set of charms.
Located in Nice’s Phoenix park, the Museum of Asian Arts (Musée des Arts Asiatiques), as its name implies, aims to showcase a cohesive ensemble of various Asian arts. The museum was designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and was opened in 1998 at the initiative of Jacques Médecin, mayor of Nice from 1966 until 1990.
In addition to the visit, the museum offers a wide range of activities including audio-guides in French, English, Italian and German (€2). Guided tours are available at 11am on the 3rd Saturday of the Month from September to June, and every Wednesday and Saturday at 2:30pm in July and August (€4). It is possible to register online or on-site. There are also workshops for both adults and children (€10 / €3.50) and calligraphy, origami and taï chi chuan and Qi gong classes, as well as a weekly tea ceremony. A full schedule is available on the website.
For every visitor who rolls their eyes at the newest addition to the Promenade des Anglais, there is an equal number of visitors–and locals – who are thrilled at the arrival of Hard Rock Cafe Nice. Its exterior blends in quite nicely with the facades along this famous strip, and its location ensures that it will be around for the long haul.
Unlike many American-style restaurants in France, this is the real deal; there are no French concessions to the American palate, and it can be a welcome treat for Americans to have a taste of home after days of the finest the Riviera has to offer. And as usual, plenty of memorabilia is on display here – although the big draw is the “Rock Wall Solo,” which allows visitors to take an interactive, virtual tour of Hard Rock Cafes around the world and the memorabilia they have as well.
Although the menu doesn't vary greatly from city to city, there are some differences here; to make sure your favorite dishes are on the menu at the Hard Rock Cafe in Nice, make sure to check on the restaurant's website, where all dishes are listed and explained. Also, the outdoor seating is ideal for good weather, but it’s best to reserve, as there are only 30 places compared to the 200 inside.
Tourrettes, a hilltop village in the Var department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, consistently makes every list of day trips from Nice. It's exactly what visitors dream of when they talk about “discovering” a place in the South of France that seems like it's all their own.
The pedestrian-only and oldest part of the town is a warren of narrow streets lined with stone homes, many with ground-floor shops that could empty the wallet of even the most budget-conscious traveler. With brightly painted doors and perfectly grown creeping vines and flowering plants that would make Martha Stewart swoon, even an hour spent in Tourrettes provides plenty to take in. The intoxicating smell of violets is everywhere, and there are also the outer roads, which offer borderline-vertiginous views of the valley below and the neighboring hills. It's nothing short of stunning.
While a stay at the Hotel Negresco might break most budgets, it's rightly a historic landmark and one of the most visited sites in the city. It also provides a unique look into the true Old Nice. With doormen in period-correct uniforms and its interior lovingly maintained or restored to its original grandeur, entering Hotel Negresco is like stepping back in time.
The Belle Époque style is simply breathtaking, even if to some modern standards it seems a bit gaudy. But the Negresco doesn't simply ride along on its historical bonafides; its two-star Michelin restaurant is the best in Nice, and the rooms are meticulously decorated to reflect the era while discreetly providing modern amenities. Visitors wanting a bit of a splurge can reserve a place for cocktail hour at the Relais Bar, with its polished woodwork and expertly made drinks. And la Rotonde Brasserie should be experienced at least once–not only for its over-the-top carousel-themed décor, but its spectacular sea views.
Insider tip: If you're staying at the Hotel Westminster just across the street on Promenade des Anglais, ask for an upper-floor room with a view of the Negresco's domed turret! Shutterbugs should get there at sunrise for the best shots of its exterior.
A picturesque medieval town with panoramic views, St. Paul de Vence is quintessential Provence and one of the most loved hilltop villages in the South of France. Visitors come from far and wide to stroll the winding streets, relax in the charming cafés, and soak up the bright sunshine.
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