French Riviera: Stay and Play in These Four Popular Spots
Fly into Nice, Marseille, or Toulon on Air France
The world’s most glamorous beaches await in the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) on the Mediterranean coast of southeastern France. Whether you visit as a side trip from Paris or plan to spend the entire summer, rest assured that the whole region is accessible. Famous towns are closer together than you might think and getting to the French Rivera is easy via Air France.
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French Riviera Map
There isn’t a defined border. However, most consider the French Riviera to be from Marseille on the west side to Menton near the France-Italy border in the east.
Nice is the main airport hub for the French Riviera though you can fly into Marseille or Toulon to visit the must-see spots featured below.
The gateway to the French Riviera has been a resort since roughly the 18th century as the English aristocracy flocked to its Mediterranean beaches to escape winter.
Today, Nice is France’s second most popular destination, lively and full of cuisine and festivals.
Things to Do in Nice
- Promenade des Anglais: The beachfront promenade (also called La Prom or Promenade) is the city’s icon and perhaps one of the most famous beachfront attractions in all of France. It’s for walking, skating, cycling, busking and Segways, passing notable sights like the Nice’s iconic blue and white beach umbrellas.
- Old Town (Vieille Ville): Narrow streets and red-tiled roofs make up Old Town (Vieille Ville) with authentic French shops and restaurants mixed in with touristy ones. Also visit the Cours Saleya flower, fruit, and vegetable market located here.
- Art Museums: The best Nice museums are an art lover’s dream. Musée Marc Chagall features the most extensive collection of the artist’s work, donated by him and curated from around the world. Musée Matisse showcases the evolution of the Nice resident’s art throughout the years in a gorgeous 17th-century Genoese villa. Nearby Antibes is home to the Musée Picasso as well.
- Parc Phoenix: Here, twenty themed gardens display 2,500 plant species. Hundreds of turtles, swans, and ducks swim in the lake while lemurs, iguanas and exotic birds live in a small animal zoo.
- Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée: This five-star property is a beachgoer’s dream with a location on the famous Promenade des Anglais and the amenities of a large luxury hotel (two pools, fitness activities, Turkish bath and more).
- Villa Nice Victor Hugo: Popular for a central Nice location, La Villa Nice Victor Hugo juxtaposes a contemporary interior with a Belle Epoque facade while decor influenced by its namesake, Victor Hugo is featured throughout.
- Nice Excelsior: Postcard and travel-themed rooms fill this charming boutique hotel near the Promenade des Anglais in the Musician’s District.
(Our most recent visit to the French Riviera was on an Air France flight between Paris and Nice that could not have been easier.)
Fly into Nice and drive just over a half-hour to Monaco, the second smallest city-state in the world. Bordered by France and the Mediterranean Sea, excellent weather and a business-friendly atmosphere draw in the wealthy and tourism. There is actually quite a bit to see and do within Monaco’s 500 luxurious acres.
Things to Do in Monaco
- Musée Océanographique de Monaco: Built into the Rock of Monaco, just above the ocean, this museum features over 6000 specimens throughout skeletal displays, an aquarium, turtle island, hands-on exhibits and more.
- La Condamine: Over 200 shops are located around a traditional market at Port Hercule, Monaco’s deepwater port that has been in use since ancient times.
- Lavarotto Beach: Some say it’s the most glamorous beach in the world, mostly due to jewel-clad jet-setters who frequent its pebbled shoreline.
- Prince’s Palace: The Grimaldi family has ruled Monaco since the late 13th century. While the Sovereign Prince of Monaco (currently Prince Albert II) lives here, visit to see why its considered one of the most unique palaces in Europe.
- Casino de Monte Carlo: Goldeneye, Ocean’s Twelve and even Cars 2 feature the glitzy casino. Dress the part, bring your passport and play, if you like. Bets start at 5 euros and there is no limit to the amount you can bet.
- Monte Carlo Beach: This Relais and Chateau property has been a high society favorite since it opened in the 1920s. A private beach, Olympic-sized swimming pool, private jetty and Michelin-starred dining are only a handful of its luxury amenities.
- Hotel Hermitage: It’s a Belle Epoque palace overlooking the yacht-filled port that is known for a more relaxed atmosphere than other luxury hotels in town.
- Fairmont Monte Carlo: Four stars but still a Fairmont, it’s a massive resort at 602 rooms that overlook a hairpin turn on the F1 track. (Racing enthusiasts and tourists flock to Monaco annually for the Monaco Grand Prix.)
Yacht or not, go to Saint-Tropez for laid-back living filled with daytime beach relaxation and chic nightlife. It’s popular with the jet-set and their families.
August and July are peak season when everyone who is anyone descends on this stunning French Riviera town that was once a fishing village. Year-round, it’s still charming and a fantastic spot for Provencal cuisine from seafood to goat cheese produced in Saint Tropez.
Things to Do in Saint-Tropez
- Pampelonne Beach: While Saint-Tropez is home to numerous small beaches, this is the most famous. It’s the place to be seen, rosé wine in-hand, especially at one of the chic beach clubs such as Nikki Beach or Club 55.
- House of Butterflies: The private collection of artist Dany Lartigue features over 35,000 butterfly specimens, many of which are rare or endangered, and is on display in his two-story Provencal home.
- Citadel of St. Tropez: Built in the 16th century to defend this part of the French Riviera, they used it to keep an eye on the citizens, too. It’s now a place to admire panoramic views and learn about Saint-Tropez’s maritime history.
- Go shopping: You’ll find luxe Parisian brands mixed in with local names. Try the Tuesday and Saturday Place des Lices open-air market and pick up a pair of beautiful Rondini sandals, only found in Saint Tropez. They’ve been made here by the Rondini family since 1927.
- Hotel Byblos: Centrally-located in Saint-Tropez, this luxury hotel was designed like a little Mediterranean village of golden homes sprinkled on the side of a hill. High-profile clientele loves it, and the Alain Ducasse restaurant, renowned nightclub called Les Caves du Roy and Sisley spa inside.
- Chateau de la Messardiere: If the 24/7 shuttle to Tropézina Beach isn’t enough to prompt a booking at this five-star palace, terraces overlook the sea and Saint-Tropez’s best restaurant, L’Acacia, may sway you.
- Hotel Sezz: Here’s your chance to pull a chair up to a Dom Perignon bar and smell saltwater breezes through palm trees and greenery in your minimalist room or at the pool. Shuttle services take guests into the heart of town and to the beaches.
Marseille is France’s oldest city, founded by Greeks around 600 BC, and Europe’s third largest port. It’s less glitzy than the other French Riviera spots on this list, but recent cultural enhancements, including new restaurants, the pedestrianized area around the port and stylish hotels make it a worthy of a place on your French Rivera itinerary.
Things to Do in Marseille
- Vieux Port (Old Port): This has been a hub of Marseille for twenty-six centuries. While mostly recreational boats dock here now, you can still take the ferry from one side to the other, ride the Ferris wheel, relax in a cafe, view the morning daily fish market and more here.
- Notre-Dame de la Garde: The other symbol of the city is a basilica built on an ancient fortress at the highest point of Marseille, overlooking the city and sea.
- Les Calanques: This National Park is filled with steep, rocky cliffs rising from the Mediterranean Sea dotted by the occasional small beach. The park is a favorite for hiking, but the easiest way to reach it is actually by kayak from Marseilles.
- Eat Bouillabaisse: This seafood stew was created by Marseille fisherman who needed a way to prepare the fish they couldn’t sell. Try it at what people call Marseille’s best bouillabaisse restaurant, a four-generation-old family establishment, Chez Michel.
- Le Petit Nice: Another Relais and Chateaux property with a Michelin 3-star restaurant inside, this waterfront five-star hotel is family-owned with many rooms styled like light and bright stripped-down lofts.
- InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu: This luxury hotel overlooks the Vieux Port and is adjacent to the Panier district, the oldest in town. It’s housed in a historical monument dating back to the 18th century with Michelin-star Alcyone restaurant and a Clarins spa inside.
- C2: This boutique hotel with 20 rooms is located in the city center and is a mix of modern design and comforts with vintage fireplaces and trim.
Why We Love the French Rivera
This short video sums our feelings up perfectly. Relaxation is virtually guaranteed in the French Riviera.
We visit with friends who live there, but I fully believe that it is much easier to plan a holiday once you get a feel for where the seaside cities you’ve read about are located (and there are even more to mention like Antibes and Cannes).
It is easy to travel between them by car, ferry, train, Uber, bus or even helicopter depending on where you’re going. And, you can land in the French Riviera on Air France from a variety of destinations.
Where is your favorite place in the French Riviera?