Cote d'Azur: tourism and sightseeing
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The Cote d'Azur (or French Riviera) has long been one of the great attractions for visitors to France, for the glamour, sunshine, beaches and sophistication of resorts such as Nice, Saint-Tropez and Cannes - a reputation that is well deserved. The Cote d'Azur is a lovely region to explore, with many less known gems to discover among the more famous.
Cote d'Azur tourism
The Cote d'Azur is the region of south-east France that follows the Mediterranean coast from Bandol, west of Toulon, to Menton and the Italian border in the east. It is part of Provence and includes the coastal regions of the Bouches-du-Rhone, Var and Alpes-Maritimes departments.
The names Cote d'Azur and French riviera are often used interchangeably, although more usually it is the coastline closest to Italy that is known as the French Riviera.
This section of the Mediterranean coast includes such famous resorts as Nice, Antibes, Saint-Tropez and Cannes, which are rich, exclusive, sophisticated - and often rather crowded - and many other less 'famous' resorts and areas of great natural beauty.
There are many smaller villages and towns along the coast and also in the hills slightly inland waiting to be explored if the beaches and sunshine, the shopping and crowds, all become a bit tiring.
How to explore...
We suggest you decide which section of the coast interests you the most and then use the map and individual place reviews to see more places in the same area (each place review has a map of highlights nearby).
For convenience we have explored the entire coast below from west to east. In truth most visitors will not expect to explore the entire Cote d'Azur in one trip!
Bouches-du-Rhone: east of Marseille
The Cote d'Azur can be considered as starting to the east of Marseille with the eastern part of the Bouches-du-Rhone department, although the pretty resort of Carry-le-Rouet (en route for Martygues) is to the west of the city.
It is also from Cassis that you can follow the highest coastal cliffs in France around the headland to La Ciotat. From here we leave the Bouches-du-Rhone department and enter the Var....
See also our travel guide for Bouches-du-Rhone
Var: the Cote d'Azur and Saint-Tropez
The first place you will pass in the Var is the port of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, then quickly reaching the pleasant resort at Bandol - very popular and also a great opportunity to sample the highly regarded local wines. The resort of Sanary-sur-Mer is just a couple of kilometres along the coast to the south-east of Bandol.
Continue passed Toulon, a large town and French naval base, to reach the town of Hyeres, and the stunning Iles d'Hyeres (includes the Ile du Levant, Porquerolles and Port Cros) just off the coast to the east of Toulon.
The islands of the Iles d'Hyeres are a chance to enjoy one of the most beautiful natural environments along the Riviera.
Continue east to La Lavandou - just a short distance inland from here we suggest a detour to visit the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas - then continue to reach Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer and the Domaine du Rayol, an area of natural beauty so important that it is listed as one of the official 'Grand Sites of France'.
You will next reach the attractive resorts at Cavalaire-sur-Mer and La Croix-Valmer. A short diversion from here will allow you to enjoy the exceptional views from the 'twin villages' of Ramatuelle and Gassin before continuing on to Saint-Tropez.
No visit to this part of the Cote d'Azur would be complete without visiting the glamorous and active resort of Saint Tropez, one of the most well known resorts on the French Mediterranean. It is also one of the most picturesque, and has a lovely historic village to explore.
Continuing north-east along the coast you will next arrive at Sainte-Maxime. a little further along the Cote d'Azur you can see Frejus with its Roman remains, important 6th century baptistry and medieval centre and the very pleasant resort of Saint Raphael is nearby.
The next section of coast passed Agay is dominated by the Massif d'Esterel with red cliffs plunging towards the sea below (and with lots of small coves and chances to hike in the hills). As you pass the Massif d'Esterel you also leave the Var and enter the Alpes-Maritimes department...
See also our travel guide for the Var
The French Riviera: Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Menton
You will quickly reach Cannes, the major French riviera resort made even more famous by the annual Cannes Film Festival. be sure to take the time to stroll around the harbour and to walk in the footsteps of the rich and famous stars that are attracted here!
A short distance east of Cannes you will reach the important and popular resorts of Antibes and Juan-les-Pins - Antibes has a very lovely old town to explore, and we also recommend you follow the coast road (or footpath if possible) around the peninsula to the south of Antibes.
The resort of Cagnes-sur-Mer is the next that you will reach. From here you can venture slightly inland to visit the artistic town of Vence and the most visited village in Provence at St-Paul-de-Vence.
Next stop - and allow plenty of time because there is a lot to see here - is the major town of Nice, one of the largest cities in France and the most popular seaside-holiday resort in France.
You will want to visit Monaco while you are here (including Monte Carlo). Monaco is not really part of Provence of course, being an independent principality, and it is quite an extraordinary sight, seeing a small bay on the Mediterranean so completely crammed with high-rise buildings, especially when seen from the corniche road above the city.
We suggest you visit the nearby villages including Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and La Turbie, then finally before the Riviera enters Italy you reach Menton, a sophisticated port town on the Cote d'Azur and one of our favourite towns in France.
See also our travel guide for Alpes-Maritimes
General Cote d'Azur information
The coastline here is very beautiful and the weather is more consistently sunny than any other part of France (Corsica excepted).
From grand yachts in the ports, awesome scenery along the coast eg the Calanques at Marseille and the coast road near Nice, sunny beaches and small Provencal villages just a few kilometres away there is something for everyone on the Cote d'Azur.
This does mean the roads and beaches can be busier than elsewhere in France, although it is usually very easy to escape to the quiet winding roads just a little way inland, and while beach lovers will want to visit in high summer, those planning to explore the Cote d'Azur may prefer to avoid peak season.
Our personal favourites
We should own up to our own favourite part of the Riviera! If I personally had to choose where to spend just one week to discover the Riviera I would stay at one of the following:
- Somewhere between Nice and Menton, using the train to explore Villefranche, Monaco, Eze etc.
- Between Saint-Tropez and the Domaine du Rayol, to enjoy both coast and villages
You should also be aware that while many places along the Cote d'Azur are attractive and sophisticated that doesn't mean everywhere is and in truth some smaller resorts are rather run-down or lacking facilities. Be sure to check the details and exact location for the particular resort or town where you are planning to stay.
Map of Cote d'Azur and places to visit
More tourism information
Feature article: explore the Riviera by train
French version: Cote d'Azur (Francais)