Located in the south of France under the Mediterranean sun, the French Riviera is world renowned for its glamour and beauty. You’ll find beautiful beaches, art museums and galleries galore, a rich history, fabulous hotels and so much more. These destinations, in particular, are so spectacular they’re sure to be calling your name.
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Sete is a picturesque seaside fishing town, located about 20 miles from Montpellier, bordered by a biodiverse saltwater lagoon known as Etang de Thau. “Little Venice” as it’s sometimes called boasts shores are lined with sandy beaches, while its Mont St Clair provides incredible views of the city, its network of canals, windmills and vineyards. After the steep climb, feed your appetite at one of the local eateries that serve tasty fish stew and mussels with fries.
This magical hilltop village is one of the oldest and prettiest in Provence. Worth visiting for the jaw-dropping views alone, it overlooks the Luberon Valley and looks as if it’s part of a fairy-tale. Inhabited since Roman times, the buildings in Gordes were constructed against the base of the cliffs and include 12th-century stone castle that glistens a brilliant orange in the morning sun. Sunsets are magnificent too, splashing color across the dazzling fields of lavender in the valley. As you stroll the winding narrow streets, you’ll be able to capture gorgeous shots of impressive arcades, doorways and flat stone walls that have been beautifully restored.
The largest city and the unofficial capital of the French Riviera, Nice offers lots of glitz and glamour, culture, a fabulous food scene and year-round sunshine. Many people come for the beaches, though you’ll find lots of other things to do, including outdoor markets with antiques, flowers, spices and produce, with the fresh figs a must-try. Take a stroll on the Promenade des Anglais to enjoy beautiful beach views and some fresh air. Segway and bike rentals are available for exploring on two wheels. Be sure to climb the steps of the Colline du Chateau where you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas from the top.
If you’re looking for lots of excitement, head to Marseille. The Old Port, in particular, offers multiple sights and attractions. The lively promenade features 18th-century warehouses, with nearly everyone hosting a fish restaurant, cafe or bar on the ground floor, complete with outdoor seating for watching the world go by. Some of the other highlights include places like the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, Calanques National Park and Boulevard Longchamp.
Cannes is one of the swankiest locales in France let alone the French Riviera. This A-list destination that draws countless Hollywood stars and other celebs for the Cannes Film Festival in May makes it a great place to watch for the industry’s biggest players while strolling the boulevard that runs alongside the Mediterranean Sea. If you can’t make it in time for its biggest annual event, there are reasons to visit in every season. Shop upscale stores and boutiques like Dolce and Dior, dine on mouthwatering Provencal dishes that include truffles, and treat yourself to a luxurious stay at one of the high-end hotels.
Cassis is just a short drive from the bustling city of Marseille, but it feels as if it’s a million miles away with its wonderful laid-back atmosphere and jaw-dropping natural beauty. Best known for its close proximity to Calanques National Park, a series of rocky headlands and alluring hidden coves, this historic fishing town is lined with quaint pastel buildings and hosts a picturesque harbor with all sorts of eateries. If you’re an early riser, head here for the chance to pick up the freshest catch from local fishermen.
Eze is a charming hilltop town that offers the chance to experience more slow-paced village life. The old village is home to narrow cobbled lanes that are tucked within the thick city walls. You’ll find lots of little shops, fabulous eateries and even more fabulous vistas like the panoramic hill climb to the botanical garden that overlooks the village as well as old castle ruins.
Another hilltop village, Carcassonne is one of four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this region, and one of the most evocative and famous medieval citadels. There are double-walled fortifications and multiple watchtowers, with the original walls built in Gallo-Roman times and other, major additions constructed in the 13th- and 14th-centuries. Within the citadel is the 12th-century castle known as Chateau Comtal, where you’ll find archaeological exhibits and the opportunity to embark on a tour of the inner rampart. If possible, stick around after the day-trippers leave to truly savor this storybook city, a time when you may be able to enjoy it mostly all to yourself.
Located between Cannes and Nice, Antibes is a popular tourist destination that was once known as Antipolis. The port town was originally established as a Greek trading post and before being ruled by the Grimaldi family from the 14th- to the early 17th-century. Grimaldi Château now serves as a museum that hosts works by Pablo Picasso, who stayed here in the 1940s. Legendary author F. Scott Fitzgerald was a frequent visitor and once called the town home, living at the Hotel Belles Rives. Antibes is also popular for its beaches, yacht harbors and annual music festival, the Jazz a Juan jazz festival in July.
Nestled between the sea and the mountains, Menton is the last town on the Cote d’Azur before reaching Italy, which is why you’ll find lots of influences from the neighboring country. Not much has changed on the narrow streets of the medieval old town over the centuries, with a sleepy, relaxed feel found throughout, though a number of attractions can be explored. In this foodie’s delight, be sure to dine at the two-Michelin-starred Mirazur, and explore both the Musee Jean Cocteau and the Serra de la Madone gardens.