Cote d'Azur: tourism & sightseeing
Visit Cote d'Azur (Provence, France)
The Cote d'Azur (or French Riviera) has long been one of the great attractions for visitors to France, for the sunshine, beaches and sophistication of resorts such as Nice, Saint-Tropez and Cannes and the beautiful coast. The Cote d'Azur is a lovely region to explore, with many less known gems to discover among the more famous.
Explore the Cote d'Azur
France This Way comment: with sunshine almost guaranteed, impressive towns such as Nice and Monaco to visit and beautiful villages such as Eze to explore the Cote d'Azur is a perfect destination in France for a lot of the year...but it can be quite hot and crowded in summer!
The Cote d'Azur is the region of south-east France along the Mediterranean coast and in the Provence region. It extends from Bandol in the west to Menton and the Italian border in the east. The names Cote d'Azur and French riviera are often used interchangeably, although more usually it is the coastline closest to Italy - the most visited part of the Cote d'Azur - that is known as the French Riviera.
Where to start...
Your chosen destination will depend on your preferences: beaches, towns, access to villages, lively resorts with all facilities, quiet coastal footpaths...most visitors will not expect to explore the entire Cote d'Azur in one trip or have the same requirements from a holiday.
Below we guide you to the part of the Cote d'Azur most suitable for your needs, and you can then use the map and the reviews of individual places in the same area to help you decide where to go.
If you have no idea where to start exploring, the most visited section of the coast with such famous resorts as Nice, Antibes, Saint-Tropez and Cannes as well as impressive hill villages and areas of great natural beauty is around Nice. Stay on the seafront in Nice and use the train to explore nearby towns and resorts and you will certainly have a good introduction to the Cote d'Azur: see riviera train.
For convenience we have explored the entire coast below from west to east.
Bouches-du-Rhone: east of Marseille
Our opinion: although you will not see cities such as Nice and Monaco if you stay here, we love the small town of Cassis and the calanques de Marseille: perfect for a short break or a more quiet holiday
The Cote d'Azur starts to the east of Marseille in the east of the Bouches-du-Rhone department, although the pretty resort of Carry-le-Rouet is to the west of the city. The important highlights start just a short distance east of Marseille at Cassis and with a chance to explore the stunning rocky coastline of the Calanques of Marseille.
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 our travel guide for Bouches-du-Rhone
Var: the Cote d'Azur and Saint-Tropez
Our opinion: Saint-Tropez is among the highlights here, but make sure you visit Hyeres and the Iles d'Hyeres as well as the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas: all of these are very impressive and there are many other pretty hill villages in the hills above Saint-Tropez as well as several other charming resorts such as Saint-Raphael
The first place you will reach 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. A visit to the islands of the Iles d'Hyeres is a chance to enjoy one of the most beautiful natural environments along the Riviera.
Continue east to Le Lavandou. Just a short distance inland from here you should visit the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas (one of our favourite villages in France) 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 the resort of 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 our travel guide for the Var
The French Riviera: Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Menton
Our opinion: we love this region of France, with Nice perhaps our favourite French city outside Paris, beautiful towns including Villefranche-sur-Mer and Menton, remarkable villages such as Eze and Saint-Paul-de-Vence and beautiful coast walks. If it wasn't so hot and crowded we would want to live here!
Continuing into the 'French riviera' you first pass the small resorts of Theoule-sur-Mer and Mandalieu-la-Napoule. You 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 French cote d'azur finishes at the Italian border you reach Menton, a sophisticated port town on the Cote d'Azur and one of our favourite resort towns in France.
See 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 e.g. 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.
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.
More tourism information
Feature article: explore the Riviera by train
French version: Cote d'Azur (Francais)