France is on the minds of seemingly everyone right now. With the country’s national soccer team competing for its second World Cup title and doing so in Russia while its fans at home celebrate what will be one of the most joyous Bastille Day weekends in recent memory, the rest of the globe is keen to see what happens and many are wishing they were there — to at least watch the scenes, if not cheer on Les Bleus.
If you were there, you would be tempted to journey to the south. The Côte d’Azur, the famed French Riviera, has mesmerized generations of sun-worshippers with its Mediterranean climate and cultural delights. Here are some tips for visiting the South of France, if it’s on your mind now or in the future:
Where to Stay
Cannes is the ideal place to base your stay in the French Riviera. Unless you like big crowds and don’t mind paying premium prices, you’ll want to steer clear of the famous film festival that takes place in spring. The rest of the year, the small city of 75,000 people is laid back and easy to traverse. It has outstanding public markets, exceptional beaches, fantastic dining choices, and offers easy accessibility via public transit to other popular destinations in the area, including Nice, St. Tropez, and Monaco.
Unlike many properties in Paris, the hotels in Cannes (and other locations in the South of France) can offer spacious rooms and modern amenities, such as air conditioning, elevators, and gym facilities. The city also has a number of short-term apartment rentals near the beaches and restaurant district that will appeal to travelers who want full kitchens and more of a residential feel during their holiday.
What to Do
You come to the French Riviera because you want to soak in the sun while lounging on some of the finest beaches on the planet. Cannes, St. Tropez, and Antibes all have incredible beaches. As you’re staying in Cannes, you’ll likely want to spend your beach time there. The city has two main stretches that are home to an abundance of sand. The most famous is Boulevard de la Croisette on the eastern side of Cannes. It’s crowded and has an exclusive feel to it. More enjoyable are the beaches along Boulevard du Midi Louise Moreau. Finding a spot to call your own for the day is easy on this stretch that goes on for more than 1.3 miles (two kilometres). You can watch the mega-yachts and cruise liners off shore and the kids playing in the water and on the sand. Cheap beer and snacks are available from kiosks on the boulevard, and several beach bars are also along the water in case you would like to dine al fresco against the Bay of Cannes.
When you’re not on the shoreline, you’ll want to venture into Cannes and beyond. These are three cultural highlights to be sure to check out:
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain) — In Nice, this art museum features cutting-edge exhibits as well as a permanent collection that includes more 1,300 pieces from 300 artists. The artwork is all from the mid-20th century or later, providing a unique showcase of modern French artists.
Tour Antibes — A fortified city, this beautiful destination between Cannes and Nice is worth a visit for its distinct features, some of which include Grecian-era architecture. Antibes even has its own Picasso Museum. You can tour the ramparts and tower, and also explore the modern city, which features more beach fun, with coves that lend a secluded feel that is absent in Cannes and St. Tropez.
Take a Cooking Class — Ex-pat Canadian Rosa Jackson runs a culinary tour and cooking class that showcases Nice’s amazing Cours Saleya public market and the produce available there. You can read our article, “A Taste for the Cuisine of Nice”, for more on that experience.
Where to Dine
According to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the top-rated restaurant in France (and No. 3 on earth) is in Côte d’Azur. A visit to Mirazur in the picturesque town of Menton, which is east of Monaco and adjacent to the Italian border, will provide you with a dining highlight to remember for the rest of your life. Read our article, “What It’s Like to Dine at the Best Restaurant in France”, for more about this incredible establishment created by chef Mauro Colagreco.
Other places not to miss include:
Jan, Nice — South African chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen has created a sublime dining experience in Nice’s port district. Along with Mediterranean flavors, he offers favorites from his homeland, such as biltong.
Royal Beach Club, Antibes — For that al fresco experience by the sea, Royal Beach is among the finest in the area. Fish and seafood dishes are perfectly prepared, which is a relief for a visitor who might expect this place to go low on quality because of the grandeur of its location.
Ladurée, Cannes — The legendary Parisian pastry shop has locations in many cities in Europe. The one in Cannes is located on the city’s main street, rue d’Antibes, and offers a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy a coffee break — with one of those Ladurée macarons or pastries, of course.