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Things to Do in French Riviera

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Cimiez Monastery (Monastere de Cimiez)
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8 Tours and Activities

The Monastery of Cimiez includes a church, a cemetery and a convent where some Franciscan friars still live. The church has significant paintings by 15th century local artists the Brea brothers. The convent houses the Musee Franciscain which is decorated with 17th century frescoes, many documents and a recreated cell showing how the austere religious life is lived. The chapel dates from the 17th century and the lovely gardens have sweeping views across Nice.

The painter Henri Matisse is buried in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez. His grave is signposted 'sépulture Henri Matisse' from the cemetery's main entrance (next to the monastery church on av Bellanda). Raoul Dufy (1877 - 1953) is also buried here.

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Castre Museum (Musée de la Castre)
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Situated in a medieval castle atop Le Suquet, the Castre Museum 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 Oceana, 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 Oceana. A few rooms dedicated to 19th century Provencal paintings of Riviera landscapes open out onto the courtyard and a square tower displaying spectacular views.

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Cote d’Azur Observatory (Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur)
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Designed by Gustave Eiffel of the Parisian tower fame together with Charles Garnier, the architect of Monte Carlo Casino, Nice observatory opened in 1878 and is still a working astronomy laboratory. Resembling a Greek temple, fronted with Ionic columns but topped by a 92-ton dome covering what was once the largest telescope in the world, the observatory is built on a floating platform that originally allowed the telescope to be easily maneuvered into position; nowadays it is moved by hydraulics. It is regarded as one of the planet’s leading observatories, pioneering research into astrophysics and geosciences.

Sitting on the hill of Mont Gros behind Nice in a typically Provençal landscapes scattered with olive trees, a visit to the observatory offers unparalleled views over the glamorous Côte d’Azur and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. It is open for two-hour guided visits only and English-language tours have to be arranged in advance.

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National Sport Museum (Musée National du Sport)

The Musée national du Sport, is, as its name states, a national sports museum. It was first opened in 1922 by the Minister of War, who at the time was also responsible for sports. The museum fell into disuse in the 1940s, but was reestablished in 1963 by the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports. The museum’s location changed a few times before finally being established in the Grand Stadium in Nice on June 27, 2014.

The museum covers sports from the 16th century all the way to today, and its collection contains more than 100,000 items, including sports equipment, paintings, sculptures, posters, drawings, philately, advertisements, books and magazines. There is also a collection dedicated to the history of the modern Olympics, from its beginnings in 1896 to the present.

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Chapelle Bellini

The Chapelle Bellini was well-known painter Emmanuel Bellini's studio, and houses an exhibition of some of his works. Built in the late 19th century by Comte Vitali, the chapel was part of the Villa Fiorentina and was once home to the Princess of Serbia. A Cannes native, Bellini later purchased the chapel and converted it in to his studio.

In Italian Baroque style, the chapel features a clock tower, an exterior embellished with "gingerbread" and statues, Comte Vitali’s coat of arms, and an inside gallery with a restored wooden staircase. It is a real artistic and architectural delight.

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Nice Museum of Asian Arts (Musée des Arts Asiatiques)
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Located in Nice’s Phoenix park, the Museum of Asian Arts, 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.

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Eze
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The tiny village of Eze is one of the jewels of the south of France which is probably why it is chosen as a holiday spot by royalty, the rich and the famous. Perched on a rocky hill above the sea, it could not get any prettier. With narrow cobblestone, pedestrian-only streets, wonderful views of the surrounding hills and the azure water below, it is just as it was centuries ago. One of the most famous inhabitants was Frederic Nietzsche who, in the 1880s, used to walk up and down a hill path to the sea thinking up his philosophy.

At the top of the hill, just above the village, is the exotic garden. Filled with statues of earth goddesses, cacti, winding paths and wonderfully relaxing contemplative spaces and lookout points, this is not to be missed.

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Fort du Mont Alban
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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!

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Grasse Fragonard Perfumery (Parfumerie Fragonard)
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Fragonard, one of the most well-known perfume factories, is named after an 18th-century French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The rustic factory, dating back to 1782, is located in the heart of Old Town.

A guide will show you the various processes and equipment used to make and package fragrance products. After the tour, you can explore the charming museum, which displays vintage perfume bottles and vases and highlights the acclaimed 3000 year old parfumerie industry. The gift shop sells Fragonard products, which are only available at Frangonard boutiques and through mail-order.

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More Things to Do in French Riviera

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

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Set on the serene Cap Ferrat cape jutting out over the Mediterranean, the picturesque Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild holds one of the most sought after settings on the French Riviera. The pink-painted villa, once belonging to wealthy Frenchwoman Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, was designed by Belgian architect Aaron Messiah and built in the early 20th century. Today, the striking seafront palazzo is maintained by the Institut de France and is open to the public, and also hosts the annual summer opera festival: Opera Azuriales.

The villa’s grounds are the real attraction with a collection of nine exquisitely landscaped gardens. These gardens, listed by the Ministry of Culture as some of the ‘notable gardens of France,’ feature Spanish and Japanese themed gardens, a colorful rose garden, and a ‘stone garden’ decorated with ornate ‘musical fountains,’ with water features synchronized to music.

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Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon)

Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon)

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Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon) is a deep and wild limestone canyon worn away by the Verdon River in the French Riviera. Running up to 700 meters deep, Verdon Gorge is aptly known to locals as the Grand Canyon du Verdon and receives over 100,000 visitors a year. With glacial waters as blue as the sky, the gorge is popular among swimmers, kayakers, sunbathers and hikers. It’s also especially beloved by rock climbers, with hundreds of climbing routes across its rocky 25-kilometer-long expanse.

If you’d like to boat along the crystal clear waters of Verdon Gorge, rentals are available from nearby towns like Castellane during summer. Or you can just hop right in for a swim in the refreshingly cool water. For hikers, there are plenty of trails that take in the canyon’s jagged limestone cliffs and azure waters, including the popular nine-mile Martell trail, which takes about seven hours each way.

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Gorges du Loup

Gorges du Loup

13 Tours and Activities

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.

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Quai Lunel

Quai Lunel

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Nestled east of the hill park, Colline du Chateau, is Quai Lunel in Nice’s Old Port, a great place to wander and find a restaurant for lunch or dinner with a view.

The Old Port fills with yachts at any time of the year and is a great place to soak up the maritime atmosphere and Nice, both past and present. To head out from Nice port and out onto the water you may hop on one of the ferries which can transfer you to ports on Corsica: Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Ile Rousse. The area just west of the Quai Lunel, Quartier Segurane, is known for its antique shops and flea market, where you’re much more likely to find an authentic antique bargain than in the center of Nice Old Town. To reach the Port of Nice from central Nice, walk around the waterfront on the balcony-style walkway or head through the Old Town to Place Garibaldi and along rue Cassini.

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St. Paul de Vence

St. Paul de Vence

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The medieval era of French history can still very much be felt today, perhaps nowhere better than at the nearly perfect St Paul de Vence. About 12 miles from Nice and almost directly inland from the Nice Airport, this medieval hilltop jewel is what visitors dream of when they say they want to stroll through a charming village in the South of France.

From the 12th-century keep, which now serves as the town hall, to the 14th-century church, the 16th-century fortified walls and the cemetery, which stands on the original village land and is the final resting place of Marc Chagall, walking through St Paul de Vence is truly a walk through history. Travelers love the Choisy Gallerie, where it’s sometimes possible to find Christian Choisy himself at work. Combined with the stunning views and the town's 20th-century obsession with showcasing artists, it's a day trip you won’t forget.

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Gourdon

Gourdon

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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.

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Port Grimaud

Port Grimaud

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Next door to St Tropez, the seaside town of Port Grimaud is known as the “Venice of Provence” for its famous canals. Just 50 years old, the town was designed by architect François Spoerry in the 1960s, who designed the pastel-colored houses in the traditional fisherman’s style of the French Riviera—all wrought-iron balconies and terracotta tiles.

Initially controversial and seen as a faux Provence town, today Port Grimaud is a popular pleasure port full of luxury yachts, fancy restaurants and manicured gardens beloved by the European elite. There are over 3,000 berths and three ports at Port Grimaud, but no cars. In this land dedicated to the luxury yacht, every home has its own personal mooring space at the end of its garden. Port Grimaud is also known for its modernist Church of St Francis of Assisi, with abstract stained glass designs by Vasarely. Near the church at place du Marché is a market of fresh Provençal goods on Thursday and Sunday mornings.

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Villefranche Cruise Port (Port de la Santé)

Villefranche Cruise Port (Port de la Santé)

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Villefranche-sur-Mer sparkles on the French Riviera with the Alps in the background and nearby the famous resorts of Nice and Cannes. The deepest natural harbor in the Mediterranean, the port was used by Greeks and Romans in their travels and still hosts visiting naval fleets. The gorgeous scenery of this Cote d'Azur town has featured in many movies, from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, the James Bond film, Never Say Never Again, The Jewel of the Nile and The Bourne Identity.

The dazzling landscape features the 16th-century Citadel and historic medieval buildings right along the coast. This quaint fishing town is a wonderful location from which to experience the unique lifestyle on the Riviera, visiting Nice, Monaco and Cannes.

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Villa Kerylos

Villa Kerylos

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International Perfume Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie)

International Perfume Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie)

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Grasse is said to be the center for luxury fragrance in France, and subsequently has many attractions that are perfume-related. The International Perfume Museum extensively covers the famous French perfume industry. Exhibitions retrace the history of perfumes, soap and cosmetics for thousands of years.

The International Perfume Museum is situated in the former Hugues-Aîné perfumery built in the 19th century and was recently reopened in 2008 after refurbishment. The museum invites visitors to explore the prosperous history of french parfumeries in the historic town of Grasse.

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Chateau Font du Broc

Chateau Font du Broc

5 Tours and Activities

Built on the Var heights between Esterel and the Gulf of St Tropez, the Château Font du Broc is set amid lush vegetation overlooking the sea. The grounds of this impressive wine farm are sprawled out over 250 acres that encompass vineyards and olive trees – and even an Olympic-sized arena for horses.

Producing both wine and olive oil, the owner of Château Font du Broc, Sylvain Massa, insists on organic and traditional farming methods and restricts the volume of wine produced in order to ensure its quality. Although the beautiful surroundings and the building’s architecture are high points for some visitors to Château Font du Broc, for others it’s simply all about sampling the delicious wines. The tasting room welcomes visitors and sampling the local vintage is positively encouraged, either on its own or with locally produced cheeses, meats and other delicacies.

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L'Occitane Factory

L'Occitane Factory

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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.

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