Welcome to the French Riviera, an exquisite stretch of coast that has captivated the hearts of travelers for centuries. Running along the southeast coast of France from Menton in the east to St. Tropez in the west, the French Riviera spans approximately 550 miles (885 kilometers) along the Mediterranean coastline. In between, you’ll find a delightful array of coastal gems, including Nice, Cannes, Antibes, and many other alluring destinations, each a part of this enchanting region.
With its sun-kissed beaches, opulent resorts, and charming towns, this iconic region effortlessly combines history, luxury, and natural beauty. This destination is unforgettable and offers so much.
The history of the French Riviera is as colorful as its azure waters and a medley of ancient civilizations, conquerors, artists, and aristocrats.
Ligurian tribes inhabited this area in prehistoric times. The Ligurian Sea is the part of the Mediterranean Sea that faces this part of France, named after those early settlers. Later, the Greeks established colonies along the coast, including the city of Massalia (modern-day Marseille), around 600 BCE. The Romans followed, making the region part of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BCE.
During the Middle Ages, this area experienced a series of invasions and struggles for control. Various powers ruled the coastline, including the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Lombards, until the Frankish Empire emerged dominant. Then, in the 16th century, the House of Grimaldi, a noble family from Genoa, gained control of Monaco, a principality on the French Riviera. In the 18th century, Nice became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia after even more territorial shifts.
The Cote d’Azur began to evolve into a destination for health and leisure in the 1800s. The mild climate attracted European aristocrats and royalty, including Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, who both spent time in the region. The advent of the railway in the mid-19th century further boosted tourism, making the area more accessible.
But the French Riviera really came into its own in the early 20th century. The vibrant artistic community cultivated an allure as a cosmopolitan and glamorous destination that continues today. Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, and artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall lived and worked on the French Riviera. Their presence and contributions have indelibly impacted the area’s cultural history.
The town of Cannes gained prominence by establishing the Cannes Film Festival in 1946, solidifying its reputation as a glamorous destination for the world’s cinema elite.
Today, the echoes of this storied past resonate through its grand Belle Époque architecture and cultural heritage, making every corner a living testament to its illustrious legacy.
While the French Riviera is renowned for its glamorous cities like Nice, Monaco, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez, this coastline also harbors numerous hidden gems and unusual sites for travelers to explore.
Let’s dive in!
1 || Antibes
Originally a Greek trading post, Antipolis’s former city is now called Antibes. It’s a haven of archaeology and history. Because Antibes was at one point a favorite vacation spot of Pablo Picasso, a museum filled with his works is one of the village’s highlights. Another museum offers old collections of archaeological finds and locally – discovered fossils – which is a perfect outing for a history or archaeology buff.
Other areas of Antibes to spotlight are Sophia-Antipolis, a nearby science park, the Absinthe Museum, gorgeous gardens, and the annual Jazz festival. Antibes is the perfect place for relaxation and exploration with the yacht harbors and long winding beaches.
2 || Cannes
Best known for its yearly film festival, Festival de Cannes, this resort city has years of history – from Napoleonic camps to lords and ladies – to its name. Once a small fishing village, Cannes grew with the arrival of a wealthy lord, Lord Brougham, who built a villa called Villa Eléonore-Louise in the early 19th century. He visited the seaside town every year.
Now home to luxury hotels and high-end restaurants, many flock to Cannes. Be sure to explore La Croisette, a picturesque mile along the beachy coast made up of restaurants, shops, and hotels. And you can visit museums like Musee d’Art et d’Histoire de Provence, in an old 18th-century mansion or Musee de la Castre in the Chapel of St. Anne. Finally, visitors stroll the cobbled street lanes of the old town of Le Suquet or orthodox churches.
3 || Èze
Perched dramatically on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Èze is a fairytale-like village on the French Riviera. With its narrow, winding streets and ancient stone houses, Èze truly transports visitors back in time. The town’s crown jewel is the Jardin Exotique, a lush botanical garden offering breathtaking panoramas. Artists have been drawn to Èze’s ethereal beauty for centuries, finding inspiration in its enchanting setting. A visit to Èze promises a magical journey through history and nature.
4 || Grasse
Then there is the world’s perfume capital – Grasse. Home to many native flowers and the center of the world’s perfume industry, Grasse has a rich history within its commune. Towns and Villages in Bloom Competition (Concours des Villes et Villages Fleuris) awarded Grasse two flowers in their contest designed to judge local efforts to create thriving green and plant spaces. Museums, luxury hotels, and shopping boulevards make Grasse much more than perfume. Still, the flowers and aromas are a big draw!
5 || Menton
Sitting right on the edge of Italy is the bay town of Menton. Menton is strongly associated with its citrus industry, with lemon and orange trees thriving throughout the city – and inspiring the city’s yearly Lemon Festival (Fete du Citron). Menton’s climate is warm nearly year-round, giving it the warmest winter on the Riviera. It’s also home to numerous famous gardens, many open to the public, and features beachside markets, and museums like the Jean Cocteau Museum. A beachy paradise rich with color and life (and citrus!), Menton is not to be missed.
6 || Monaco
Monaco, a tiny yet captivating principality on the French Riviera, epitomizes luxury and glamour. Famous for its opulent casinos, the Grand Prix, and high-end boutiques, Monaco exudes an aura of sophistication. You can also see landmarks like the Prince’s Palace and the Cathedral of Monaco. Perched on dramatic cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean, Monaco’s exquisite blend of history, beauty, and culture makes it a must-see for any visitor.
7 || Nice
Nice is an infamous gem of the French Riviera that blends history, art, and beachside charm. Its azure waters, pebbled beaches, and vibrant promenade, La Promenade des Anglais, invite walks and sun-drenched relaxation. The city’s Old Town, Vieux Nice, captivates with its narrow alleys, bustling markets, and historic architecture. From the Marc Chagall National Museum to the Matisse Museum, Nice celebrates its artistic heritage. A perfect balance of sophistication and Mediterranean allure awaits in this enchanting city.
8 || Peillon
If scenic mountainscapes are more your style, try the village of Peillon, perched on the Alps’ rocky cliffs. Instead of roads, travel through Peillon on stone pathways and steep stairs to take in the beautiful medieval homes and churches. Exquisite frescos decorate the Church of the Transfiguration walls and Chapelle des Penitents Blancs and heighten the medieval atmosphere of this tiny fortified village.
Peillon is much smaller and more secluded than other Riviera towns – the only businesses and commerce are a handful of hotels and restaurants right before you enter the village. With no shops, tourism traps, or souvenirs, Peillon offers an incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in the Alps’ scenic seclusion.
9 || Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a captivating peninsula on the French Riviera, exudes sophistication and natural beauty. Luxurious villas and lush gardens adorn this idyllic coastal setting, including the famed Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. This enchanting villa boasts stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. Built by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild in the early 20th century, exquisite themed gardens surround the villa – each representing different cultures and styles.
The peninsula’s tranquil ambiance, pristine beaches, and scenic coastal paths make it an ideal destination for relaxation and strolls.
10 || Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Wander the medieval alleyways of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where modern art meets ancient charm within the fortified walls. Nestled atop a hill on the French Riviera, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a picturesque medieval village exuding timeless charm. Its cobbled streets wind past art galleries, boutiques, and artisan shops, evoking a captivating ambiance. Its well-preserved ramparts and ancient buildings showcase the town’s historical significance. Saint-Paul-de-Vence has long attracted artists, writers, and celebrities, drawn to its tranquility and creative allure. The breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside make it an enchanting destination for travelers seeking an authentic taste of Provencal beauty.
11 || Saint-Tropez
Saint-Tropez, an iconic French Riviera town, enchants visitors with its bohemian spirit. Renowned for its dazzling beaches, including Pampelonne Beach, and its vibrant nightlife, Saint-Tropez has been a magnet for artists, writers, and celebrities since the 1950s. The picturesque Old Port, lined with colorful fishing boats, exudes charm and sophistication. The town’s historic citadel offers sweeping views of the Mediterranean, while luxury boutiques and chic cafes cater to discerning visitors seeking the epitome of Riviera chic.
12 || Vence
Nestled right between Nice and Antibes is Vence, a commune with medieval walls surrounding its perimeter that transports any visitor to past centuries. Numerous stone fountains, filled with Vence’s famous spring water, and cathedrals fill the old town. There’s even a chapel, Chapelle du Rosaire, conceived and decorated by artist Henri Matisse.
Vence is the perfect escape if you need somewhere quiet, remote, and transformative, as it will genuinely make you feel as if you are a part of the past.
13 || Villefranche-Sur-Mer
For more quaint cobblestone streets and small village ambiance, stop by the port city of Villefranche-sur-Mer. The seven centuries-old town was once the only natural harbor on Mediterranean waters, and the deep harbor is perfect for anyone who loves sitting and relaxing by the sea. Villefranche sits near Monaco’s border, and the old towns are quaint, picturesque and look straight out of a storybook.
Villefranche is so picturesque that it’s been home to many movie sets – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, An Affair to Remember, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Bourne Identity, to name a few. Now a regular visiting place for royal visitors, Villefranche offers many beautiful events at its historic ports, such as the annual Battle of Flowers (Bataille des Fleurs) – a perfect escape for anyone craving beautiful sights and extravagant extremities.
For those seeking extraordinary experiences, the French Riviera delivers in abundance. Explore the underwater world of the Mediterranean with a scuba diving adventure, discovering vibrant marine life and shipwrecks beneath the surface. Embark on a scenic drive along the corniches, winding cliffside roads offering awe-inspiring vistas at every turn. And, of course, relish the delectable Mediterranean cuisine at quaint beachfront bistros or Michelin-starred restaurants, accompanied by world-class local wines.
No matter what kind of summer escape you’re looking for, there is a town on the French Riviera for you. Let’s find that perfect match for you, and we’ll get you there with ease and in style.