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.
The entire journey is just 90 km. 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 nighttime 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 are 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 ladies 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.
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