Last Updated on 14th July 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Between seascape vistas and medieval towns which appear as if they’ve been plucked straight from the pages of a storybook, there’s no shortage of charm when it comes to the French Riviera (or the ‘Côte d-Azur’ as it is so-called in French). Here’s your ultimate guide to the best of breathtakingly beautiful villages, cities, and towns on the French Riviera which you’ll want to visit next time you’re in the South of France.
Saint Paul de Vence
Often cited to be ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France,’ you can’t go wrong by dedicating a long weekend to discover all that Saint-Paul-de-Vence has to offer. Alternatively, if you’re short on time, then the village can also be visited as a day trip from Nice.
Much of the hilltop French Riviera town is characterised by its narrow lanes and stone façades, meaning that St-Paul-de-Vence is best-explored on foot. If you are able to, I highly recommend visiting earlier in the day as opposed to later so as to avoid many of the crowds who arrive later on to see the pretty settlement for themselves.
Charming and picture perfect, like many port towns along the French Mediterranean coastline, Cassis is a formed Roman port city which would have once provided vital trade routes to the rest of the Empire. During the Middle Ages, the Southern French town would have made all of its money from fishing.
Today, the area is popular among jet-setting visitors thanks to its glitzy hotels and ease of access to the nearby Calanques de Cassis, a gorgeous limestone national park filled with hiking routes and unparalleled views of the sea. Otherwise it’s worth noting that Cassis is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit on the French Riviera thanks to its pastel-hued harbour houses.
The last major town in France before the border with Italy is that of Menton, a stunning town which is perfect for photography. Set right alongside the coastline, Menton boasts candy coloured houses, which are reflected in the water of the harbour when the sea breeze is calm enough.
For one of the best views along the French Riviera, be sure to head up to the Cimetière du Vieux Château, which offers a fantastic view over the rest of the town and the sea beyond. Another breathtakingly beautiful highlights of the town is that of Basilique Saint-Michel-Archange, whichis a Baroque 17th-century Church.
The medieval town of Eze is perched high above the Mediterranean sea below and is largely pedestrianised due to its steep and narrow nature. A maze of cobbled streets and paved pathways, the ancient settlement dates all the way back to around 2000 BCE and has since become famed for its perfume production (you can visit the perfume museum and factory for free via guided tour – book here).
Today, the village is charming, though it has to be said that it has struggled under the pressure of over-tourism during the past decade or two. Due to its sheer popularity among tourists and honeymooners, many original residents have moved out, thus some often refer to the town as a village-musée (museum village).
The gorgeous city of Nice is easily one of the best places to visit in France and has no shortage of things to see or do. The most iconic attraction the city has to offer is the ‘Promenade des Anglais,’ which is so-called because of its popularity along English holidaymakers during the 19th-century.
Today, aside from sampling some of the local cuisine (make sure to try the local ‘socca’), the city offers plenty by way of tourist attractions for every budget, as well as being home to plenty of quirky and hidden gems. I would also note that if you’re looking for a single destination in which to explore the wider region, then Nice is the place to stay!
The tiny principality of Monaco is situated in its own little pocket along the Côte d’Azur, surrounded on all sides by France, and of course, the sea. The entirety of Monaco is made up of Monaco City, which is world-famous for its chic boutique hotels and glitzy casinos.
Easily seen over the course of a long afternoon, Monaco City is most definitely one of the best cities on the French Riviera. Highlights of Monaco include exploring the Rocher de Monaco. This is where you’ll find historical highlights such as Place du Palais, which is the official residence of the Prince of Monaco.
Each day, at 11:55 AM, you can enjoy the Changing of the Guard ceremony for free. Nearby, the Roman-Byzantine Saint Nicholas Cathedral was constructed in the 19th-century and is the burial place of Princess Grace of Monaco (formerly known as Grace Kelly).
For a little glitz and glamour, you need to look no further than Cannes, a stunning resort town along the glittering French Riviera. Even if you’re ‘not really a beach person,’ then you may well have heard of this Southern French destination thanks to its annual film festival, ‘Festival de Cannes.’ And so, if you’re a movie buff, then you simply must head to this French destination!
A visit to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat can easily be factored into a day trip along the French Riviera at the same time as a sojourn through Menton and the village of Eze, making for the perfect day excursion from Nice.
The beautiful town is tranquil and stretches out onto the headland, having been inhabited since the Ancient Greeks when it was known as ‘Anao’. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat has attracted the wealthy for many centuries and, during the 20th-century, King Leopold II of Belgium even owned an estate where he constructed several houses and an artificial lake.
Visit today and you can expect to discover incredible architecture, as well as several fun hiking trails nearby, which in turn offer spectacular sea views. Other highlights of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat include several dreamy beaches and a 19th-century Lighthouse (‘phare’ in French) which was commissioned by Napoleon III.