With a seemingly year-round holiday vibe, the French Riviera epitomizes the joie de vivre. You’ll no doubt feel for yourself the good-life spirit in the Riviera’s coastal resort towns and up high in the perched villages clinging to the foothills of the Alps. While the over-the-top luxury is hard to escape, authenticity is never too far away. Get lost in the maze of old-city alleys, see what’s fresh at the Provencal markets, and embark on road trips filled with panoramic views and that adoring summer sound of cigales. In this 5 days in the French Riviera sample itinerary, I’ll take you to the very best sites and sounds of the Cote d’Azur.
This itinerary is a combination of three separate visits to the French Riviera, traveling as a couple during July, April and October. On every trip, we re-visited the places we absolutely loved and explored new areas – to make this itinerary the very best possible, while keeping things doable.
Looking for a quick read? Here’s a list of the top 10 things to do in the French Riviera!
What’s Included in this 5 Days in the French Riviera Itinerary?
- Current Page: Essential travel tips and interactive map
- Day 1: Antibes and Cap d’Antibes
- Day 2: Nice, Eze and Monaco
- Day 3: Village-hopping road trip
- Day 4: Scenic drive from Cannes to St.-Tropez
- Day 5: Beach day or additional sightseeing
Where to Stay in the French Riviera?
If it’s 24/7 action you’re looking for and the ‘city life’ – base yourself in Nice. As you’ll see later on in this guide, the city has a lovely boardwalk, plenty of dining and drinking options, and of course – casinos! Being the fifth largest city in France – Nice has plenty of accommodations to choose from that suit all budgets and tastes.
For a stay in a charming old town that still offers some action, nothing beats Antibes. With awesome views of the Mediterranean and the Alpes, Antibes has a charming walled old city and a more modern beachside section. Much smaller than Nice, accommodations in Antibes are limited, so booking ahead is essential. The town is well situated for exploring everything mentioned in this sample itinerary.
French Riviera Travel Tips:
- Get the Rough Guide to Provence & the Cote d’Azur before heading to the French Riviera. Along with this 5 Days in the French Riviera sample itinerary – it’ll be your best friend while planning your holiday and during your stay.
- The French Riviera is a year-round destination, best enjoyed during the shoulder seasons (April-May-June and Sep-Oct). During these times, the weather is pleasant, the crowds haven’t yet arrived (or have already left), and the roads are less congested. Summer can feel quite claustrophobic and muggy, not to mention a bit pompous.
- You can get around by foot in the Riviera’s main towns such as Nice, Antibes and Cannes, and even use the bus or train to get from one town to the other. However, having a car is a real plus, as it will open up the beautiful countryside for exploration.
- Keep in mind that French highways are heavily tolled, but there’s always a slower and usually scenic alternative available free of charge. Use the scenic route in the mornings, and the highways on the return leg to strike the best balance between sites-costs-time.
- The area’s museums are usually free on bank holidays and the first Sunday of the month.
- There’s plenty of excellent produce to bring back home with you (olive oil, jams, lavender etc.) so consider paying for a checked luggage for the return leg back home.
- Scuba diving in the French Riviera? That’s right! You’ll find quite a few dive clubs in and around Antibes. The water is a bit chilly even during the summer, but just off the coast lies a bizarre underwater miniature city that was used in a 1960’s film.
5 Days in the French Riviera Itinerary Map
Click on the image below to open an interactive Google Map containing all the highlights mentioned in this 5 days in the French Riviera sample itinerary.
Day 1: Antibes
Today, we’ll spend the entire day exploring the old city of Antibes and touring the Cap d’Antibes. If you’re basing yourself in neighboring Nice, just swap today’s itinerary with tomorrow’s.
With its partially walled old city and scenic location overlooking the Cap d’Antibes and the Alps, Antibes is one of the most charming and laid-back towns in the Cote d’Azur. The town has mostly managed to escape the ‘overdevelopment pandemic’ that took over this part of France in decades past.
The story of Antibes dates back to a 5th-century Greek settlement. After the Greeks came the Romans and along with them, the rise of Antibes as a prosperous regional center. During the French Revolution, the town sided with France while neighboring Nice allied with Savoy – leading to a flare of tensions in this otherwise peaceful area. Since the mid 19th century, the weather and the charm of Antibes has drawn wealthy Europeans and artists such as Picasso. These days, the town doubles its population in the summer, and you’ll always bump into (mostly) English yachties hanging around its bars and restaurants.
Breakfast in the Old City
Place National in the old city of Antibes is where we’ll start our day. Head to Cafe des Delices for breakfast – opposite the water fountains and Theatre Antibea. I must admit that we didn’t find any ‘breakfast gems’, so at least this cafe is perfect for people watching (~€8 for simple French breakfast). Be sure to leave plenty of room in that stomach – because we’ll soon visit the market.
If it’s Saturday, head back to Place Nationale and check out the antique market, and if it’s Thursday – you’ll find the same market along Boulevard d’Aguillon. Even if you’re not on the hunt for crumbling books or 19th-century silverware – strolling around France’s superb antique markets is the best way to do a bit of time traveling.
Not too far away, make a detour and visit Atelier Jean Luc Pelé – a pastry chef whose chocolate creations are more like fine works of art.
Le Marché Provençal
No doubt the city’s number one attraction, the covered Provençal market on Cours Massena is not to be missed. From June to August, the action takes place every day from early morning until 1pm (closed Monday from Sep-May). When the food stalls have packed up, a crafts market takes over the covered street, with beautiful ceramics, paintings, and woodwork on sale.
Though smaller than the Cours Saleya in Nice, the Marché Provençal in Antibes is considered the best market in the French Riviera. Up for sale is the finest produce from the south of France, including spices, fragrances, meats and of course – cheese and bread. Everything is of excellent quality, fresh and locally sourced.
Don’t miss a visit to the Socca stand. If you can’t find it – just look for people queuing up. Cooked in front of your eyes in a wood fired brick oven, this pancake-like Nicoise specialty is made from chickpea powder, olive oil, water and salt. It’s absolutely delicious and a must if you’re visiting this part of France.
Other notable mentions include the local hangouts Bar Bacchus (drinks) and La Tour International (oysters). They are technically just outside the southern exit of the market (by the socca stand), and are both perfect spots for people-watching.
We’ll revisit the market for sit-down lunch a little later on, but you can also use this opportunity in the Antibes market to buy some local cheese, bread, sundried tomatoes, olive-spread (tapenade) and whatever else you fancy – as we’ll shortly head to a beautiful spot outside of town that’s just perfect for a picnic lunch.
Exploring the Old City
Though it’s very tempting to now head up the stairs towards the medieval tower, we’ll continue to Rue de la Pompe and pay a visit to Boulangerie Veziano. This tiny bakery is the best in Antibes and perhaps in the entire French Riviera. In fact, this bakery is so good, that it was chosen to bake for the wedding of Monaco’s Prince Albert II in 2011. Aside from its fresh baguettes and unpretentiously delicious pastries, this is your chance to taste another Nicoise specialty – the onion tart known as Pissaladière.
The last culinary pilgrimage we’ll make is to Fromagerie l’Etable on Rue Guillaumont – the finest cheese shop in Antibes and also one of the smelliest places in town (and I mean that in a good way in this case). So if you’ve opted for the picnic lunch – you should be all set to go!
Now it’s really just about strolling around the narrow alleys that make up this part of the old city of Antibes. If you’re in the mood for some coffee, step inside the secluded garden of the Cafe Jardin to soak up some sun. Otherwise, stroll along Rue du Haut Castelet and Rue du Bas Castelet – parallel narrow alleys where gardening is taken very seriously by homeowners.
You’ll eventually reach Place du Safranier, where locals like to dine at Restaurant Le Safranier, and begin walking along the old city wall towards the commanding tower. The views from here are spectacular, and the walk will eventually lead you to the heart of the old city – the Picasso Museum and the Cathédrale Notre Dame.
From here, we’ll head to the marina via the prettiest section of the old city. Here, there are no cars – just small squares, a few drinking fountains and lots of history!
The Antibes marina is a reminder for those who forgot they’re in the glitzy French Riviera. Among the ‘ordinary’ sailboats, there are some seriously oversized yachts that call this place home for a few weeks of the year. I mean – who really needs such a large vessel? Well, I’m glad you asked! As you’re walking down on the waterline or up on the ramparts, Googling “who owns + [enter the yacht’s name]” can be a lot of fun. My random searches have mostly yielded the names of Russian oligarchs…
The ramparts overlook the marina and Plage de la Gravette on one side, and Fort Carré on the other. This is a 17th-century fort that you can pay a visit to if you have the time and will (we didn’t).
For lunch, head back to the Provencal market and pray that there’s space at la Civette du Marche. Surprisingly, this part tabac part restaurant serves up the very best moule mariniere and french fries on the planet (~€12)! The mussels in wine and garlic sauce are super fresh, and I haven’t quite figured out the secret – but the french fries are like none I’ve ever tasted.
Alternatively, you can save the mussels for dinner and take all the goodies you bought earlier in the day at the market for a picnic lunch with a view at our next stop.
We’ll now head out of the old city and explore the beautiful peninsula that extends from Antibes. The Cap d’Antibes is home to some of the world’s wealthiest families, whose enormous walled mansions can only be comprehended in a Google Maps satellite view. But among the mansion and pine trees, there are a few highlights for us ‘common folks’ to enjoy. To properly explore the Cap d’Antibes, you’ll need a car or at the very least a good bicycle.
Head out of the old city along the western side of the peninsula. You’ll pass Plage de la Salis – the most popular (and crowded) beach in Antibes – and drive on the scenic coastal road to Pointe Bacon, with wonderful views of Antibes and the Alps.
Venture inland to the highest point in the peninsula, home to a lighthouse (garoupe) and the Notre Dame Cathedral (Chapelle de la Garoupe). If the weather is nice, this is a perfect spot for a picnic lunch or just a small break to enjoy the fine views.
Next up is Plage de la Garoupe, a popular beach during the summer, though nothing to write home about. Park your car or bicycle and pick up the trailhead for the Tour de Cap d’Antibes – a rewarding two-hour walk (return) along the southern shore of the peninsula. There are shorter walks along this trail if you haven’t got the time, and you can always simply turn around when you feel like. Bring plenty of water, wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget a hat.
The trail winds its way on the water’s edge and close to all those mansions I mentioned earlier. Feel free to bring along swimming and snorkeling gear, as there are some excellent spots along the way with pristine waters (though take extra care!).
The trail ends at the scenic spot known as Le Sentier du Littoral. Venture back inland to the car, via streets lined with gated mansions that don’t appreciate tourists peeking through the cracks. You can now either visit Villa Eilenroc or Jardin Thuret if you fancy some more sightseeing, or just park it at the local’s beach of Plage des Ondes. There’s a lovely narrow sliver of sand out here, with some decent snorkeling just off the beach.
Dinner & Drinks
To wrap up this busy first day in the French Riviera, book a table at La Taille de Guêpe in the old city for a dinner experience you’ll be talking about for a long time. Not only is the setting super romantic, but the restaurant’s specialty is high-quality French classics infused with flowers… that’s right! Sure, you can choose from the ‘regular’ menu, but if you’re already here, the €29 ‘flower menu’ is deliciously original. Reservations are a must.
If you still have some energy left, grab a glass of wine at L’Enoteca or Le Pimm’s – a famous local establishment. Other recommended dinner options in Antibes for tonight or the next (if you’re basing yourself in Antibes) are the awesome mussels & fries in la Civette du Marche or the restaurants in busy Boulevard d’Aguillon. Though geared towards tourists, they do offer a vibrant setting.
Day 2: Nice
The largest city in the French Riviera and the fifth largest in France – we really enjoyed spending a day in Nice. It’s got all the big-city perks, yet doesn’t feel overbearing like Paris does at times – a feeling likely owed to the city’s long history as a sunny winter getaway. Nice’s vibrant old city is reminiscent of its Italian-influenced days as part of the Kingdom of Savoy, while its belle epoque and art nouveau architecture serve as reminders of its French holiday heyday.
After exploring Nice, we’ll leave the city behind and drive to charming hilltop villages and a short pit stop in Monaco.
Cours Saleya Market
Start your day in Nice in the Cours Saleya – the beating heart of the old city (Vieux Nice). This vibrant pedestrian street is home to Nice’s main market – which we’ll shortly explore. There are plenty of casual breakfast options in this area, but I particularly liked the sit-down breakfast in the terrace of le Marche. The continental breakfast is a real bargain (€7.50) and the terrace is a prime spot for catching all the action coming from the market.
Now it’s time to explore the Cours Saleya market. In fact, there are a number of markets held on this wide street and in the small plazas nearby. The main events are the food and flower markets. Like in Antibes, you’ll find here a huge selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as cured meat, cheese, seafood and everything else the French are known for. The twist here is the animated interaction between shoppers and sellers – much more reminiscent of the colorful Aligre Market in Paris. Sellers will do everything to get their produce in your hand, and that means a whole lot of tasting!
Onto the flower section. I guess you can say Nice is the Amsterdam of France when it comes to flowers. It’s apparently a local specialty dating back to the 19th century. You’ll find here anything from the ordinary to the exotic and everything in between!
Both the food and flower markets are open every day but Monday, with the food stalls packing up by 1:30pm and the flower sellers hanging around until 6pm (except on Sunday). On Mondays, the food and flowers take a break and an antiques and flea market line up the Cours Saleya.
Exploring Old Nice
Since you’re already here, you can have a look if the Chapelle de la Miséricorde is open for visitors and check out the adjacent squares of Place Pierre Gautier and Charles Felix. If it’s Saturday, head over to the Palais de Justice, where there’s a rotating antique books, arts and crafts and postcard market.
Now it’s really all about just meandering around Vieux Nice and admiring its narrow medieval alleys, hidden squares, and specialty shops. I’ll mention a few worthwhile stops, but the general direction is east, towards the hill known as Parc de la Colline du Château – our next destination – before returning to the old city for lunch.
The maze of alleys all seem to spill into Place Rossetti, a rare open space in an otherwise claustrophobic part of town. The square is dominated by the Italian Baroque Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate. The present church was completed in 1699, but was actually built on the site of a former 13th-century predecessor.
Out in the plaza, you can stop for some coffee and catch a few rays of sun before heading back into the darkness of the alleys, or better yet, treat yourself to the best ice cream in Nice at Fenocchio.
From here, take a small northbound detour and use your scavenging skills to locate l’Atelier des Cigales (13 Rue du Collet). As you carefully walk through its doors, you are teleported a few hundred miles west to Provence. This shop specializes in handmade pottery painted with bright summer colors, and useful kitchen and dining utensils from olive wood. It’s not only pretty but actually something you bring back home and make use of.
Before ascending above the old city, pay a visit to Atelier des Jouets. This tiny shop is quite famous around here, specializing in high-quality toys that you just can’t find in conventional stores anymore.
The toy shop is right next to Rue du Malonat, which is also one of the streets that lead up to the Chateau – our next stop. We’ll come back down here for lunch.
Parc de la Colline du Château
The hill with the best views in the area was actually the original ancient Greek settlement of Nikea. Excavations have revealed layers upon layers of ancient human history, and there was once even a fort up here – until the French took care of that when taking over from the Savoy folks.
These days, le Chateau offers splendid panoramic views of the red-tiled rooftops of Old Nice, and the famous beachfront boulevard. There are lovely walking lanes in the park, cafes and an old cemetery where Italian revolutionary legend Giuseppe Garibaldi is buried.
The eastern side of the park offers commanding views over the port of Nice. Fishing boats, sailing boats and yachts of all sizes are neatly parked (or anchored I guess), yet overshadowed by the massive Corsica ferries. If you have extra time, there’s an elevator somewhere up here that takes you straight down to the port area.
Lunch in the Old City
In Rome, one must try things like pasta, lasagna, pizza and… you get the point. In Nice, one cannot visit without tasting some classic Nicoise cuisine. Yesterday, we sampled some socca in the Antibes market, but for today’s lunch, it’s time to take it up a few notches.
Back in the old city on 10 Rue du Collet, just look for crowds hanging around the exterior wooden benches of Lou Pilha Leva. It’s first-come-first-serve at this seemingly ordinary joint, but the food is extraordinary. Order a few tapas-style dishes of socca, pissaladiere (onion tart), farcis (stuffed baked vegetables), and of course – Nicoise salad. It’s all very authentic, delicious and super cheap.
With our stomachs full, it’s time for another small stroll. Start walking down Boulevard Jean Jaures which follows the path of the River Paillon which used to flow through this part of town. The center of this pretty little boulevard is an urban park that ends at the Albert I Garden, and actually marks the border between old and new Nice.
The boulevard will blindly lead you to Place Massena, an impressively huge Italianesque plaza. It’s Nice’s main gathering spot, lined with cafes and shops. Just be careful not to be struck by the tramway or the quick-handed pickpockets.
Though there’s plenty more to see in Nice and lots of shopping options, our tour will end at the famous Promenade des Anglais. This wide palm-fringed boulevard is squeezed between the city’s beach and the Art Deco monuments that highlight Nice’s heyday. Walk around and soak up some sun, but make a pit stop to check out the boulevards most famous resident – the ultra-luxurious Negresco Hotel.
We’ll now leave the city behind and explore some of the beautiful coastline. The ridgeline east of Nice is home to the Corniche Roads – a set of three scenic routes that eventually lead to the Italian border town of Menton (Grande Corniche, Moyenne Corniche and Corniche Inférieure). Some cut straight into the mountains, while others twist and turn – but all offer awesome views of the Mediterranean, picturesque villages and enviable (or not) mansions that are some of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world! The views are to die for and some drivers – such as Grace Kelly – actually have. So drive safely!
On the Moyenne Corniche, the strategically situated village of Eze feels more like an ancient fortress. Its narrow cobblestone lanes are now home to galleries galore, cafes and souvenir shops, but the absolute highlight (and an escape from the crowds) is the Jardin Exotique (~6€).
The garden has to be one of the steepest I’ve ever visited, with lanes leading down to viewing areas via rows and rows of cacti and other non-native plants. The panoramic views from up here are well worth the price of admission. Just have a look!
Back in the village, pay a visit to the Eze Cathedral on your way back to the parking lot. If you have the time and energy, the Friedrich-Nietzsche trail leads down to the sea and the village of Ezé Sur Mer.
If you feel like stretching this day a little bit more, continue driving on the scenic road to Monaco – just 20 minutes out. If you’ve done everything in this itinerary, you’ll get to Monte Carlo as the sun is beginning to set. You won’t have much time to explore, but you can grab a coffee or maybe even dinner (parking is as difficult as splitting an atom). For a more fitting end to this day, head back towards Antibes for a beach dinner at Juan-les-Pins.
Beach Dinner in Juan-les-Pins
Juan-les-Pins was developed as a resort town and it still feels this way, especially during the summer. The main draw to this beachside town is the beach and the nightlife. The Ruban Bleu is one of your best options for a romantic dinner on the beach. It ain’t cheap, but the sand will melt between your toes as you’re sipping on champagne and devouring foie-gras. Bookings are essential, especially for beach tables! If you still have energy left (seriously?), head over to Pam Pam for awesome cocktails and music.
Day 3: Scenic Drive in the Mountains
This special action-packed day definitely requires a car. Since we’re based in Antibes, we’ll explore the mountain villages just north of town. However, if you’re based in Nice for this 5 days in the French Riviera trip, you can swap this itinerary in favor of a scenic drive to the villages of Peillon, Peille, Luceram, Coaraze, Contes and l’Escarene. Since day 5 will be a relaxed day with a few options to choose from, you can actually do both scenic drives (more on that later).
Today’s drive will take us up and around the lovely perched villages at the foothills of the Alps. Steeped in history and saturated with breathtaking views of the Riviera – these villages offer a welcomed escape from the summer madness that seems to take over the Riviera’s coastal towns and cities.
Our first stop will be the village of Mougins, just a 20-minute drive from Antibes. The village overlooks Cannes and has been visited in the past by many artists such as Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and even Pablo Picasso. In fact, Picasso spent his final 12 years in Mougins. But artists aren’t the only ones to have settled in Mougins. The village has a very rich culinary history thanks to chef Roger Vergé and his famous restaurant Le Moulin de Mougins. The restaurant still exists today, along with other gastronomical pilgrimage sites that attract foodies. The art and food scenes of Mougins, along with its close proximity to Cannes, make it a popular excursion for Hollywood stars during the days of the Cannes Film Festival.
The next stop on this village-hopping road trip takes us to the small village of Valbonne – meaning ‘the good valley’ in Provencal (the local language spoken by some). Unlike its hill-top neighbors, Valbonne is laid out in a grid pattern – thanks to its history as an ancient Roman military camp. The architectural highlight is Place des Arcades – where the village’s main streets meet.
Continuing our climb up the mountains, the scenic drive will take us to Grasse – the perfume-making capital of France. For hundreds of years, locally grown lavender, rose and jasmine have been delicately turned into raw ingredients for powerhouse brands such as Dior and Estee Lauder.
Grasse is a much larger village than what we’ve seen so far. Start your visit at the main square – Place du Cours. This public garden boasts a terrace overlooking the entire Cote d’Azur. The panoramic views are splendid and the gardens make for a lovely stroll.
At the edge of the square is the Parfumerie Fragonard – a large traditional perfume shop that you’ll also find in the village of Eze. For a factory tour, you’ll actually have to visit one of the rival families just outside of town: Galimard and Molinard.
Once you’re done sniffing and sampling, stroll around the old city of Grasse. Like its neighbors, the fun here is to get lost in the maze of narrow alleys and lanes. If you make it to Place aux Aires in the morning hours, you’ll be treated to a flower and food market. Otherwise, stroll around and eventually make it to the 12th century Notre-Dame du Puy and the Hotel de Ville (city hall).
Unlike its neighbors however, we found parts of the old city of Grasse to be very run-down and overtaken by Middle Eastern shops and shisha bars. Not exactly, the art galleries and French restaurants you’d expect. That said, Grasse is worth a stop since it’s on the way and due to its historical and present-day roles in the global perfume industry.
If you thought the views were pretty so far, wait for this leg of the scenic drive. From Grasse, take the D3 road towards the perched village of Gourdon. The mountain road twists and turns high above the Gorges du Loup, a deep gorge which follows the path of the Loup River.
Just before the final turn to Gourdon, stop on the side of the road for a mesmerizing view of the village. If it’s a sunny day, you’ll probably see a few paragliders riding the thermals from the valley below – so jealous!
Gourdon is a tiny village that was surprisingly not that packed with tourists, even on the sunny Saturday when we paid a visit. There’s just one main street which leads to Place Victoria – a square right on the cliff’s edge.
Aside from soaking the views and checking out the cute flower-decorated brick homes, pay a visit to La Source Parfumee – another traditional perfume shop. This one actually served as the distillery for the Galimard family, and you can still see some of the tools and learn about the perfume-making process. There’s very little chance you’ll come out of here empty-handed.
If you feel like hiking, Gourdon is the starting point for the Chemin du Paradis, a trail snaking down from the village to the valley. An 80-minute hike will take you to Pont sur Loup and it’ll be 90 minutes to Bar-sur-Loup.
Gourdon is also a great lunch stop! Right above Place Victoria, grab a table at La Taverne Provencale and enjoy the panoramic views over a deliciously typical French meal (~20€ main). I used the opportunity to have my favorite French dish – duck breast (so damn good).
Saut du Loup Waterfall
From Gourdon, we’ll follow the contours of the gorge and river along the D3 road, eventually turning around to the opposite bank on the D6 heading back south. This is one of the prettiest and most impressive stretches of road you’ll ever drive on. Without much room to spare, the one-lane road is tightly squeezed by the rocky gorge and the river, at times even carved into the cliffside.
Look for signs to the Saut du Loup Waterfall and park the car. Drop 1€ into the metal gate and step down to a viewing area. The Loup River tumbles down in what’s known as the ‘washing machine’ into a pool that is fed by an additional waterfall en route to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s all very spectacular and you’re so close to the wet action!
Leaving the gorge behind, our next stop is the artist village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup. Along with St Paul de Vence which we’ll soon visit, these are the two most charming perched villages in this area.
Start your visit at the Place de la Liberation, where locals might be playing a round of petanque and where the doors of the 16th century Saint-Grégoire church might be open.
Step through one of the old city’s gates and just wander around the village’s cute lanes – lined with art galleries and colorful brick houses. Be sure to step inside La Bergerie and watch two generations of a pottery-making family in action. Their signature mark is the rooster, painted on almost every exquisite piece they make.
Eventually, step outside the old city and onto the ancient trail now known as the Chemin de Ronde. The trail leads down to neighboring villages via groves of olive trees, fruit-bearing cacti and pines, but you can just savor the panoramic views before heading back up.
Like in Grasse, Vence is a village that’s not only home to artists and galleries, but also to ordinary residents. This gives the stroll through the village a local and authentic feel that is sometimes lacked in the more touristy villages. Vence’s old city is accessed via gates through the ancient wall which encircles it. Highlights include water fountains, the old city’s signature tower and the 11th century St-Veran Cathedral.
Outside the walled city, you can drive to the Chapelle du Rosaire. Designed by former resident Henri Matisse, opening times are very limited and I have the feeling that you need to seriously be an art-lover to appreciate this place.
Saint Paul de Vence
Fifteen minutes downhill from Vence, the artist village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is one of the prettiest and most visited villages in the area. Park the car somewhere (this might be challenging in high season) and walk through the ramparts into the old village. As we’ve already experienced, the fun here is simply strolling around, grabbing some coffee and checking out the wonderful collection of art galleries.
To get away from the crowds, veer off the ‘main’ streets and check out the narrow side alleys. Surely, those will lead to hidden squares and close to artist homes – where you might catch a genius at work!
Our last stop on this village-hopping tour is in Biot, just 20 minutes away from Antibes. Biot is known for its pottery and glasswork, so we’ll begin our tour with a visit to La Verrerie de Biot before it shuts its doors at 6:30pm. If you’re traveling with kids – this is a must. Free to enter, watch master glassblowers in action as they turns molten glass into vases, jugs, bowls and cups. Each finished item is unique, and like a work of art – bears the ‘Biot’ signature. Then, head to the gallery which displays the exquisite glass work of 35 international artists. Wrap your visit at the shop – of course.
Before we head back to Antibes for the night, check out the old village of Biot. Even though we’ve already seen quite a few charming village on this day, I must admit that Biot was a pleasant surprise. All the tourists we bumped into at the glassblowing shop didn’t seem to have continued the trail with us. The village was pleasantly quiet and thankfully had a much lower resident-to-gallery ratio than previous stops.
Day 4: Cannes to Saint-Tropez Road Trip
If day 3 was all about the mountains, day 4 is all about the glamorous coastline of the French Riviera. Today, we’ll embark on a road trip taking us from Antibes to Saint-Tropez and back.
In this part of the Riviera, the coastline is dotted with glamorous resort towns, while the overlooking hills are dotted with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet.
Logistics: the entire journey is just 90 km’s, but we’ll drive on the more scenic coastline in the morning to enjoy the views and use the speedy (tolled) highway to get back in the evening after a full day of touring.
Unless you’re on the hunt for designer fashions and million-dollar jewelry, a quick stop in Cannes is really all you need (20 minutes from Antibes). The legendary resort town is best known for the May Cannes Film Festival, a time when the marina is overtaken by enormous yachts, the private beaches become even more private, and sunglasses must even be worn during the night-time to prevent damage from the constant paparazzi flashes.
So for us ‘common folks’, park the car near the new port (Port Canto) and walk along the famous Promenade de la Croisette. To your left – Cannes’ beaches (what’s left of them) and to your right – boutique after boutique of luxury goods, million-dollar cars and hotels and their cafes that don’t really welcome non-well-dressed clientele. The most famous residents of the promenade are the Martinez and Carlton hotels – living monuments of Cannes’ long history of glamorous tourism.
Wrap up your quick visit to Cannes at the Palais des Festivals – the site of the annual Cannes Film Festival.
Cannes to Saint-Raphael
The next leg of this road trip is the most scenic one. The Corniche de l’Esterel is the best coastal drive in the French Riviera, a slow-going road where enormous rusty-red colored cliffs tumble down into the blue sea. The stretch between Théoule-sur-Mer and Pointe de l’Esquillon reveals beautiful villages hidden by the massive cliffs, while beyond that – in the direction of Saint-Raphael – there’s hardly anyone around except road trippers (and sometimes their campervans).
Slowly riding this stretch of road and stopping almost every 5 minutes reminded me of another epic road trip – the Pacific Coast Highway in California.
Pretty Saint-Raphael is the kind of place you’ll bring your family for a summer vacation in the French Riviera. It’s a lot quieter than its glamorous neighbors Cannes and Saint-Tropez, yet during the summer vacance – it does get pretty busy.
Saint-Raphael is a good opportunity to stretch your legs, go for a walk and grab lunch. Aside from a casual stroll along the beachfront, satisfy your sweet tooth at Le Provencal (making sweet stuff since 1928!) and check out the Notre Dame Victoire Cathedral. A further walk across the rail tracks takes you to the newer part of town – where you’ll find another nice church and some ancient Roman ruins.
For food or drinks, just grab a table on the deck of any of the restaurants and cafes overlooking the beach. We had some coffee and small bites at Brasserie le Poussin Bleu.
A sleepy fishing village turned into somewhat of an artist’s refuge, St-Tropez rose to the top of the global luxury resort scene in the 1950’s thanks to the legendary Brigitte Bardot. These days, the sun-drenched resort town is known as the playground for the mega-rich. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pay a visit! St-Tropez is not a very big place and all action concentrates on the beautiful old port, so even outside the snobby summer season, it can get a bit crowded.
Park the car somewhere and just follow the crowds to the Vieux Port (old port). This is the ‘classic’ St-Tropez: brightly-colored 4-5 story buildings, overpriced restaurants, and a busy marina with yachts of all sizes. The name of the game here is ‘people watching’, and you can either pay for the luxury in the terrasse of one of the restaurants, or simply grab a free spot anywhere on the ramparts facing the port.
When you’re done exploring the port area, walk up to La Citadelle (€3). The views of St-Tropez and the sea from this 17th-century fortress is totally worth the time and the extra effort (plus it’s a whole lot quieter up here).
Back in town, pay a visit to Place des Lices – where there are probably bands of local men playing round after round of petanque. On the way back to the car, go for a stroll in the narrow lanes and make two stops before leaving town.
The first is for the lady’s out there. Since 1927, Rondini on 18 rue George Clemenceau, has been making fine sandales Tropeziennes. Perfect for the summer or just showing off to friends back home, these colorful sandals appear to be irresistible to women…
The second stop is for the whole family, especially those who like vanilla custard – like me! Separate two slices of sweet brioche with delicious vanilla custard and voila! You have yourself a tarte tropezienne. To see how the pros do it, stop at La Tarte Tropézienne on 36 rue George Clemenceau. It is just so damn good, and they’ve actually opened a branch in the trendy Saint Germain neighborhood in Paris.
Gassin and Ramatuelle
If you want to experience the whole St-Tropez-topless-beach-thing, drive a few minutes south to Pampelonne. For some more worthwhile sightseeing before we head back to Antibes, let’s leave all the tourists behind and head to the hills above St.-Tropez to the villages of Gassin and Ramatuelle, starting with the latter.
The ascent from Gassin to Ramatuelle offers lovely panoramic views of the rolling hills meeting the blue sea and their vineyards. Ramatuelle is a prime producer of wine in the region, thanks to the perfect weather up here.
Up at the top, park the car and do the usual village stroll (you should be used to it by now). As we’ve seen on yesterday’s village-hopping road trip, a place as beautiful as this in the south of France attracts dozens of talented artists.
We’ll wrap things up down the hill in Gassin with perfect views of the Riviera from Place dei Barri. There are a number of good restaurants up here for those who want to grab lunch, dinner or drinks. We ended up going with Restaurant Le Pescadou for dinner and drinks, before driving back to Antibes on the much quicker tolled highway.
Day 5: Relax or Additional Sightseeing Options
Spend your last day in the French Riviera at the beach or with some more sightseeing. I’ll list a few options for you to consider.
Head back to the beaches of the Cap d’Antibes (see day 1). I especially enjoyed the beaches on the western side of the peninsula, but for a bit more action you can head to Antibes’ Plage de la Salis or even to Juan les Pins or Nice. There’s also a very nice stretch of beach on the coastal road from Antibes to Nice (keep in mind that the beach is rocky so chairs are needed).
Day 2 in Nice and Eze included a very short and rushed stop in Monte Carlo. If you fancy adding another country to your count, spend the day in Monaco (and maybe even Menton).
Iles de Lerins
The islands of St-Honorat and Ste-Marguerite are just off the coast of Cannes but they seriously feel like a world away. You can reach them via ferries from Juan-les-Pins and Cannes.
If you recall, on day 3 we road-tripped in the perched villages north of Antibes. If you want to head further inland, drive to the villages of Peillon, Peille, Luceram, Coaraze, Contes and l’Escarene – which are just northeast of Nice.
Now It’s Your Turn
This wraps up a very action-packed 5 days in the French Riviera. There is of course plenty more to see and do in the riviera, but this sample itinerary should leave you both satisfied and craving a return visit! Have you visited the French Riviera and have your own tips to share with us? Do you have any question about this sample itinerary? Leave a comment below, but for now – au revoir.
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