About Cote d'Azur
Beautiful beaches, picturesque parks, calming countryside, fabulous food, momentous mountains and titillating towns; just a few of the associations with the beautiful region of the Cote d'Azur. We mustn't forget Monaco, the second smallest country in the entire world! Can you believe you only need to fly just over an hour to reach this culture-rich region?
The region of the Cote d'Azur is part of the region Provence-Alpes-Cote D'Azur and is the most south-eastern part France adjacent to the Mediterranean sea and the border of Italy.
The region of Provence-Alpes-Cote D'Azur is broken into Départements Var, Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhone, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, and some of Hautes-Alpes. Many people still know this region simply as Provence.
If you're looking for a beach holiday in the Cote d'Azur, look no further than the glorious beaches of the Mediterranean! Not only does this region experience approximately 300 sunny days per year, but there is something for everyone; quiet family beaches, lively sporting beaches, naturist beaches, and many more.
The meticulously clean expanse of sandy beach at Cannes is protected from jellyfish by special nets (along Gazagnaire, Mace and Roubine public beaches). There are many private beaches at Cannes, but the public beaches, although more crowded, are just as sandy and beautiful. There is even a public beach at the prestigious La Croisette. If you love snorkelling, head for Les Rochers (which is a little-known beach opposite La Bocca railway station). The Plage du Midi, west of the Vieux-Port, is one of the best public beaches in Cannes and well worth a visit.
If you're looking to head to a stylish and exclusive location, look no further than St. Tropez's golden beaches. Luxury yachts are moored at the harbour and restaurants and bars are plentiful. If you're planning to head to this area, however, you will need to plan on spending a little more money than most of the other beaches of the Mediterranean. Plage de Tahiti in St. Tropez, Western Riviera is France's most famous beach. Movie stars frequent the flowing golden sand stretches and wearing a swim suit is optional!
Ile de Poquerolles
Ile de Poquerolles is an island (15 minute ferry ride from Giens) just off the coast near Toulon. The best white sand beaches are Plage d'Argent, Plage de la Courtade and Plage de Notre-Dame. Definitely worth a visit and you get a short ferry ride into the bargain too!
Slightly further east than St. Tropez, are the Blue Flag beaches of Sainte Maxime. The Croisette at the west has a wonderful sailing school and on the east are the beaches of Nartelle, des Eléphants and La Garonette which offer many water sports such as water-skiing and jet-skiing.
There are many national parks in this stunning region, including Parcs Naturel Regional du Verdon (see below for the Gorges du Verdon) and du Mercantour.
If you're thinking of a two week holiday, perhaps you could spend a week in the lush north visiting national parks, orchards, vineyards, palaces, chateaux, and roman towns, and then a week in the sparkling south, soaking in the rays.
Parc Naturel Regional du Mercantour
Parc Naturel Regional du Mercantour was created in 1979 and is approximately 264 sq metres in size. There are over 2000 species of plants and approximately 200 of these are very rare. There aren't many places you may see the edelweiss or the martagon lily, but if you visit Mercantour park you will see these plus much, much more.
Gorges du Verdon
The Gorges du Verdon is one of the most astounding natural sites in Europe. It decends down to 2300 feet in depth at some points, making it the deepest in Europe and the second largest canyon in the world! The gorge, starting at the most north-eastern point of Lac de Ste-Croix, is a wonder of craggy rocks, bristling bush, and beautiful lakes. The Gorges du Verdon is definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
Alpes-Maritimes are at the most eastern point of the Cote d'Azur and here it is possible to believe you are still in the Middle Ages. This area is stunningly beautiful; regard the majestic Alps mountains, often snow-capped, plunging straight into the crisp blue Mediterranean Sea. In the Alps mountain range, Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alps mountains, stands at a dazzling 15,782 feet high. This mountain range is definitely worth exploring either in winter if you fancy a spot of skiing or in the spring and summer if you fancy some hiking (or maybe just a drive).
There are many lakes in the Cote d'Azur, the most notable of which being Serre-Poncon which is an artificial lake. It is the second largest lake in Europe and is located in Hautes Alpes. The lake at Sainte Croix is also artificial but attracts many people owing to the water sports and the beautiful banks.
There's a plethora of exciting and beautiful towns, cities and villages in the Cote d'Azur.
Nice is one of those cities and is the fifth biggest city in France. There is the beautiful Promenade des Anglais where you can stroll along the magnificent sea-view, many museums (Musee Matisse, Musee des Beaux-Arts), cathedrals (Cathedrale Ste-Reparate), palaces (Palais Lascaris), and gorgeous beaches. There is something for everyone here; a very active nightlife for those interested lots of family adventure, beaches for relaxing and taking a cool dip in the bluey-green Mediterranean.
Nice has its own language, Nissart, but don’t despair they speak French and English too. The city’s oldest garden is the Jardin Albert 1er which leads into the Espace Masséna and the Promenade de Paillon in the town centre. The Jardin des Arénes de Cimiez in the northern district is a lovely old olive grove where traditional festivals often take place.
Between Nice and Menton, where the pine-forested mountains drop to the sea, one of the best panoramic views can be seen. Carved into the mountainside are three roads: the Grande Corniche at the top, the Moyenne Corniche in the middle and the Basse Corniche along the coast.
The Grande Corniche is indeed inspiring and climbs to 550m above sea level. This is where the Mediterranean meets sky on one side whilst on the other it is interspersed with rustic villas, pines and cactuses. This is where sadly, in 1982, Princess Grace died in a road accident.
The Moyenne Corniche also offers beautiful views from the road but it is slightly less hair-raising, as it is at a lower level and not quite so prone to fog, than the Grande Corniche. It is also more developed and there is more traffic. Lots of photo opportunities!
The Basse Corniche is a coastal road and takes you past the seaside resorts of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-John Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Eze-Bord-de-Mer, Cap d'Ail, Monaco and Cap Martin. Sometimes there are traffic jams during the rush hours but the route is lined with elegant 19th-century villas and gardens to look at whilst you wait.
If you fancy a rest from driving, a train from Nice to Monte Carlo is excellent value for money. The trains are clean, on time and quick when we last tested them.
Cannes is a lively city on the coast not far from the Italian border. Cannes is probably most famous for the Cannes Film Festival and indeed festivals in general. It is also famous for the luxury boutiques, restaurants, shops and hotels. Like St. Tropez, it is probably best to visit Cannes with a decent amount of 'argent' in your pocket! There are some excellent museums at Cannes, notably Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Provence. Cannes, because of its famed film festival, is twinned with Beverley Hills amongst others.
Toulon, France's second largest naval port, has (fairly) recently undergone a revitalisation and there are now many bars and restaurants. Toulon was the naval base captured by Napoleon so there is a lot of history in the town. A visit to the Musée National de la Marine is a must if you are interested in naval history.
Rising above Toulon is Mont Faron which gives wonderful views of the bay. It is an interesting, if not a somewhat risky, drive to the top. For the less hardy there is a funicular railway which takes about ten minutes. When you arrive at the top there is a Mémorial du Débarquement commemorating the Allied Landings of August 1944. There is also a zoo which specialises in monkeys and big cats plus breeds of wolves and snow leopards to be seen. Much of the work in the zoo is dedicated to returning animals to the wild.
Menton, which is close to the Italian border, has a mild climate during the winter. Doctors sent their patients to recuperate from the consumption (TB) in times gone by. Modern day Menton is a lot livelier and has a varied programme of arts, culture and festivals. One of the most famous is the Fête du Citron, a Lemon Festival, where floats are made from citrus fruits. This runs from Shrove Tuesday for about ten days. Being close to the Italian border, it is but a simple walk into Italy. Although it would be much better to go by road or rail as the Italian villages are a bit further away.
On the Liguria coast close to the French border are the entrances to the complex caverns of the Balzi Rossi. The name of the locality derives from the colour of the limestone walls that, because of the iron mineral presence, oxidises to a red colour. The complex is composed of numerous coves and shelters, including Grotta dei Fanciulli, Riparo Lorenzi, Grotta di Florestano, Grotta del Caviglione, Barma Grande, Barma del Bauso da Ture (now destroyed), Grotta del Principe, Grotta Gerbai, Grotta Costantini, Riparo Mochi, Riparo Bombrini, Cavernette della Cava, Grotta Voronov, and Grotta Grimaldi. For those interested in sculpture this would be of extreme interest.
Other towns, such as Aix-En-Provence (founded in 103 BC by the Romans), Fréjus (remains of a Roman Amphitheatre), and Antibes (Musée Picasso) are numerous and noteworthy, and it's safe to say that a long expedition could be planned in the Cote d'Azur with no worries of ever getting bored!
At 0.7 square miles, Monaco is the second smallest (after the Vatican City) country in the world. You would think this would mean there was very little to do there, but you'd be wrong! The Grand Casinos, Musee de Souvenirs Napoleoniens, Musee Oceanographique, Palais Princier, the Port de Monaco, the Port de Fontvieille, and many other attractions will keep you occupied for days.
The head of the Royal Family of Monaco is Prince Albert II who assumed the throne in 2005 shortly after the death of his father, Prince Ranier III who was married to Grace Kelly.
If you find yourself with a spare afternoon, the racecourse of Monte-Carlo is a must-see (you might even catch a glimpse of Herbie too!). Monaco is best accessed via the Moyenne Corniche with its splendid views and though this tiny country is rather steep in places it is well served by escalators for the weary pedestrian. It is interesting to visit the harbour and see the fantastic yachts, motor vessels, which really could be small cruise liners.
It would be a shame not to visit The Casino de Monte-Carlo with its diversity of table games. It has over 1,000 slot-machines and offers the largest collection in Europe. Monte-Carlo has been in existence for almost 150 years and its Casino has been part of that success.
Worth a mention is The Monaco Grand Prix a Formula One race held each year in May/June on the Circuit de Monaco. It is widely considered to be one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world. The circuit has been called “an exceptional location of glamour and prestige”.
The race is held on a narrow course laid out in the streets of Monaco, with many elevation changes and tight corners as well as a tunnel, making it one of the most demanding tracks in Formula One. In spite of the relatively low average speeds, it is a dangerous place to race. It is the only Grand Prix that does not adhere to the FIA's mandated 305 km minimum race distance.
Corsica is another option worth a visit and one of its many attractions on the island is Parc Naturel Régional de Corse, Parcu di Corsic), which protects the rare animal and plant species. The park was created in 1972 and includes the Golfe de Porto, the Scandola Nature Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Two endangered subspecies of hoofed mammals, the mouflon and Corsican red deer inhabit the park. The Corsican red deer was re-introduced after it was near extinction due to over hunting. There are some more species that exist only on the island of Corsica especially in the upper mountain range, e.g. Corsican Nuthatch, Corsican Fire Salamander and Corsican Brook Salamander and many plant subspecies
What could be more thrilling than visiting the Alpes d’Azur in the summer?! Every imaginable activity is within your reach, combining the best of everything nature has to offer. If hiking is your thing you will enjoy the mountains from the coastline to the mountain tops with a rucksack for essentials. There are 4000 km of clearly marked paths and there is something for every level of walker and all lengths of walks.
Pony trekking involves much more than the simple joy of horse riding as you follow an old mule track or transhumance trail (transhumance trail is an ancient thoroughfare), discovering an incredible succession of landscapes and architectural curiosities in the mountains of the Alpes-Maritimes.
Mountain biking through the paths, tracks and trails in the Alpes-Maritimes takes you through wonderful natural landscapes. Just make up your own itinerary between vale and river, forest and meadow, village and hamlet.
Canyoning is a source of a variety of sensations in breathtaking settings ranging from rock pools to waterfalls.
Also available are white water sports from classic canoeing to the excitement of rafting, via tubing, hot-dogs, hydrospeed and floating. All white water sports can be enjoyed in the rivers and torrents of the Alpes d'Azur - at your own pace and your own level. They also include classic canoeing, rafting etc.
What could be more exhilarating than rock climbing and mountaineering with the gift of a panoramic view once you reach the top? For the very brave, potholing explores the “dark side” of the French Riviera. There are also adventure circuits which offer a series of fun activities set in between the trees; a truly thrilling experience.
A keen sense of adventure is required to try a "via ferrata"! Man-made rungs, ramps and footbridges guide climbers around breathtaking circuits along rock faces and cliffs in total safety. 97% of the 1200 km of waterways in the Alpes d'Azur are ranked in the top category of waterways in the world, constituting a choice venue for lovers of sporting and technical fishing. There is also a host of lakes to be explored.
In winter time, with peaks over 3000 metres high, cross country and alpine skiing enthusiasts can travel across more than 700 kilometres of slopes set in sun-bathed landscapes offering beautiful scenery; alpine meadows and forests, the majesty of the high peaks and picturesque perched villages. Snow and sun only an hour and a half from the coast!
Other winter activities
Alpine skiing, skijoring (
a winter sport where a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog/s or a motor vehicle), dog sleds, ice climbing, igloo building, and ruisseling (a wilderness activity on frozen waterfalls and streams). All these activities are suitable for beginners and experienced climbers alike.
There are many eating places on the French Riviera. Restaurants display their menus outside so you can see in advance the prices. The prix fixe or set price menus are generally the best value. The main types of food are either Provençal or Niçois and the whole region is dominated by the delicious mix of olive oil, onion and fresh tomatoes, black olives, anchovies and garlic. Most dishes, vegetable or meat, includes these ingredients.
Although in Nice they use these ingredients, they have a different flavour and bear the name in the menu niçoise as demonstrated by salade niçoise. This is mainly served as a starter and it is generally agreed that it must contain at the very least quartered hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, black olives, anchovy, tuna and lettuce and garlic in the dressing.
Water Sports in the Cote d'Azur
At most large beaches in the Cote d'Azur you are able to do some form of water sports if you so desire. From jet-skiing to banana boat riding and pedalo hiring, water sports are in abundance anywhere on the coast in France.
If scuba-diving is your thing, a stop anywhere along the coast would be profitable. Sea life, rock formations, even ship and plane wrecks are plentiful in the Cote d'Azur. The best reputed area for scuba-diving in the Cote d'Azur, however, is Port Cros; the first national Sea Park in Europe. It is located on an island called Iles d'Hyeres just off the coast from Hyeres.
Canoeing and kayaking is a great pastime in the Cote d'Azur with the beautiful rivers and breathtaking scenery. You could try kayaking in the gorgeous Gorge du Verdon. Simply type canoeing or kayaking into a search engine for limitless websites that provide these activities.
Airports, many of them with budget airlines flying to them, are plentiful in this region. Avignon, Cannes, Hyeres, La Mole, Le Castellet, Marignane, Nice, St Tropez, and Toulon are the main airports to which you can fly to access the Cote d'Azur.
From Cassis, the most western point of the region, to Menton, the most eastern point of the region, it is approximately 76 miles along motorway. There are tolls on this road, but the journey will take you only about an hour and 25 minutes to complete.
To the west, the Cote d'Azur is bordered by the Provence region, to the north Rhone-Alps, to the east Italy, and to the south the Mediterranean sea.
As Italy is on the eastern border of the Cote d'Azur, a day trip is easily doable. Take a trip through the Alps and picturesque scenery, along the Mediterranean coast and you'll find yourself in Italy. Sample some Carbonara in Ventimiglia or drive up to the charming rock village of Dolceacqua.
If you fancy a relaxing and beautiful ferry trip, Corsica and Sardinia are not too far away from the Cote d'Azur either. From Marseille, the ferry trip to Corsica is just under 6 hours.
Things to do with your kids
There are several attractions in the Cote d'Azur that are a must-see if you're taking children.
Aqualand in Frejus is the largest water park on the Cote d'Azur and is an excellent adventure day out for all the family. Visit http://www.aqualand.fr/les-parcs,frejus.html to see the full range of activities including the mini jungle park and the rapid rafting.
The adventure park near Toulon is action-packed with zip lines, jet-skiing, ropes courses, and a multitude of other activities for all ages and abilities. http://www.coudouparc.com/eng/index.htm
Le Zoo Parc du Cap Ferrat is a little way east of Nice and has an impressive selection of flora and fauna. There used to be over 500 species of animals but sadly this section has been closed down. There are, however, still some animals and the zoological gardens are a perfect afternoon to wear out the kids.
Azure Adventure Labyrinthe is a pirate themed adventure park between Cannes and Nice. The history of pirates may be learnt and there are a multitude of rides and games for the kids (and perhaps the parents too). http://www.lelabyrinthedelaventure.com/acces.html
How can this Mediterranean region be best summed up with its coastline from Toulon to the Southern Alps? From the inlets in the Var to the the summits of Queyras, or the Briançon region to the heights of the Mont Ventoux, not forgetting the vast Verdon canyon, the region is full of exceptionally beautiful landscapes and protected areas. In addition to the Queyras, there are the Alpilles, the Luberon with its vines and orchards and the Verdon with its fields of lavender.
The region is decidedly rich in nature but also has beautiful and quieter sites; a superb beech grove at the foot of the cliff of la Sainte-Baume, the discreet bays and madragues in Toulon harbour or the Calanques, mountain lakes at Ubaye or in the Hautes-Alpes the scented garrigues of the massif des Maures and the Alpilles.
Classical scenery is plentiful in this area of contrasts but this mixture of different territories has conserved a unity of climate, culture and history.