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Things to Do in French Riviera

Along the southern coast of France, between Provence and the Mediterranean Sea, is an area known as the French Riviera. This collection of seaside resort towns is famous for its gorgeous scenery, laid-back lifestyle, sandy beaches, boutique shopping, and beautiful people. The French Riviera, or Côte d'Azur, as it's more technically known, stretches from St-Tropez in the east all the way to the French-Italian border. The biggest city is Nice, and other popular destinations include Cannes, home to a famous annual film festival; Antibes, where visitors can see Roman ruins; the pretty hilltop town of Eze; and the independent city-state of Monaco. Spend time strolling the beachfront promenades, people watching from sidewalk cafes, or soaking in the sun on the beach. If you’re looking for a taste of the high life, charter a private yacht from Cannes, fly over Nice in a helicopter, or get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini or Ferrari. While cities along this pretty coast are popular day trip destinations on their own, they're also good bases for exploring other parts of Provence. Travelers can head into the hills to explore the town of Grasse and its Fragonard perfumery, or see the ancient Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard in Verdon Gorge. It's even possible to spend a day shopping in some charming Italian markets on a day trip from Cannes or Nice.
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Île Sainte-Marguerite
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The largest of the Lérins islands located 1 km (2/3 of a mile) from Cannes, the Ile de Sainte-Marguerite is abounding with eucalyptus and pines. The island is most famous for allegedly holding the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask captive during the 17th century. During the summer months, a vast amount of boats stay in the shallow, safeguarded "Plateau du Milieu" between the islands where there is more area for water sports. The village of Sainte-Marguerite is comprised of about twenty buildings. Most of these are home to fishermen, but there are a few establishments offering refreshments to tourists who are exploring the island.

The historic Fort Royal now contains a youth hostel and a Museum featuring items recovered from ancient shipwrecks. Island visitors are also able to explore a number of former prison cells and an old Roman cistern room. Close to the Fort Royal is a small cemetery for French soldiers and another alongside it for North African soldiers.

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Promenade des Anglais
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The Promenade des Anglais (Walk of the English) stretches along the seafront between the beach and the road. It is constantly busy with promenaders, dog-walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters and sight-seers sitting on the iconic blue chairs to enjoy the deep azure of the sea in the Baie des Anges. In the late 18th century, the English adopted Nice, then a sleepy town, as a place to escape the harsh English winter. One particularly nasty winter, many beggars from northern France drifted south to Nice so the wealthy English put them to work building a beachfront walkway. The City of Nice stepped in to increase the scale of the project. These days the locals just call it The Promenade.
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Eze
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The tiny village of Eze is one of the jewels of the south of France which is probably why it is chosen as a holiday spot by royalty, the rich and the famous. Perched on a rocky hill above the sea, it could not get any prettier. With narrow cobblestone, pedestrian-only streets, wonderful views of the surrounding hills and the azure water below, it is just as it was centuries ago. One of the most famous inhabitants was Frederic Nietzsche who, in the 1880s, used to walk up and down a hill path to the sea thinking up his philosophy.

At the top of the hill, just above the village, is the exotic garden. Filled with statues of earth goddesses, cacti, winding paths and wonderfully relaxing contemplative spaces and lookout points, this is not to be missed.

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Port Vauban
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The largest marina in Europe, with over 100 berths, Antibes’ ritzy Port Vauban is one of the most popular spots for yachts on the French Riviera. Originally a natural port run by everyone from the ancient Greeks to the Romans and the Barbarians, it wasn’t until the 15th century that the site was given adequate protection from raiders, when Louis XIV ordered military engineer Seigneur de Vauban to fortify the marina.

Port Vauban is home to the Yacht Club d’Antibes and has its own private heli-pad for all those superyacht owners like Roman Abramovich. Berths at Port Vauban don’t come cheap—each spot costs between 1 and 4 million euros. Each spring, the marina hosts the Antibes Yacht Show, which attracts more than 15,000 visitors every year.

Just behind the archway to Antibes’ Old Town on the western edge of the marina is a lively market that is open every day except Monday.

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St-Tropez Citadel (Citadelle de Saint-Tropez)
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Though St-Tropez is famous for its glamour and glitz, the city also has a rich and eventful past. The Citadel is a prime example, having been the town’s crown jewels since the 17th century, and one of the few monuments of its magnitude to still stand today on France’s southern coastline. In fact, The Citadel is one of the city’s most visited historical and cultural sites, both for its history and its panoramic views over the Bay. The Citadel was built between 1602 and 1608, based on the drawings of engineer Raymond de Bonnefons. The building, composed of a thick-walled hexagonal tower, a concealed interior courtyard, towers with cannon openings, and a bastioned outer wall, was used to defend the strategic port of St-Tropez, the most important strongholds between Antibes and Toulon for centuries. Its location on a hill with slopes bare of vegetation helped the military spot and bomb all vessels that came too close to the walls of the city.

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Nice Old Town (Vieux Nice)
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Nice Old Town (known locally as Le Vieux Nice) is a lovely honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with beautiful Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Thronging with tourists eating the famous ice-cream during the day, at night it becomes one big party with bars and nightclubs spilling out onto the streets.

The key things to see are the Cours Saleya (the open air market), Chapelle de la Miséricorde (a wonderfully ornate Baroque church dating from 1740), Chapelle de l'Annonciation (known locally as Sainte-Rita), Eglise Saint-Jacques (dating from 1612 and built by the Jesuits, it has some excellent frescoes), the Cathedral Sainte Réparate (1699), and the Palais Lascaris (paintings and statues).

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La Croisette Boulevard (Boulevard de la Croisette)
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La Croisette Boulevard, or Boulevard de la Croisette, is the heart of Cannes, with luxury hotels, designer shops, and glittering nightlife spots lining the way along the curving coast. On the other side of the boulevard reside Cannes famous sandy beaches. It extends completely along the spectacular Cannes coastline. The boulevard overlooks the impressive harbor which is home to extravagant yachts and a pirate ship built for a film.

The eastern section of the boulevard extends south at the lovely Parc de la Roseraie, curves along the Port Pierre Canto and ends at the southern tip of the Pointe de la Croisette near the Port du Palm beach. On the east side of the cape lies the charming Boulevard Eugène- Gazagnaire and its lovely beach, which extends north to the Port du Moure Rouge. The Croisette is the main drag of Cannes and features many of its major attractions.

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Palais des Festivals et des Congrès
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The Film Festival Palace, or Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, was built in 1982 and houses year-round events in Cannes, most notably, the Cannes Film Festival. The prestigious film festival attracts movie stars and the media from around the world. The festival is one of the most prestigious international film events and overtakes the Cannes luxury establishments for two dizzying weeks in May.

The famed palais provides 25,000 square meters for exhibitions as well as many rooms and 18 auditoriums equipped with state of the art sound and lighting. The original Palais was built in 1949, and a new one was built in 1982 in response to the growing popularity of the film festival and the need for business convention space. Now, the Palais is a contemporary building that plays hosts to a variety events besides the film festival, such as the international music trade show MIDEM and the International Television Programme Market.

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Grasse Fragonard Perfumery (Parfumerie Fragonard)
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Fragonard, one of the most well-known perfume factories, is named after an 18th-century French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The rustic factory, dating back to 1782, is located in the heart of Old Town.

A guide will show you the various processes and equipment used to make and package fragrance products. After the tour, you can explore the charming museum, which displays vintage perfume bottles and vases and highlights the acclaimed 3000 year old parfumerie industry. The gift shop sells Fragonard products, which are only available at Frangonard boutiques and through mail-order.

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More Things to Do in French Riviera

Castle Hill (Colline du Château)

Castle Hill (Colline du Château)

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Le Chateau, the shaded hill and park at the eastern end of Quai des États-Unis, is named after a 12th-century château that was razed by Louis XIV in a fit of pique in 1706 and never rebuilt. There are some ruins but not really a chateau to speak of. In the one remaining tower, the 16th century Tour Bellanda, is the Musée Naval. The cemetery where Garibaldi is buried covers the northwest of the park.

From this 300 ft (92 m) hilltop park aslo known as Castel Hill, the glittering views of Vieux Nice spires and the Baie des Anges are mesmerizing. It's worth the walk up - especially as you pass waterfalls, pools and gardens along the way. Once at the top, sit and have a coffee under the trees; the cafe offerings are very much kiosk style but the view makes up for everything.

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Chateau Font du Broc

Chateau Font du Broc

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Built on the Var heights between Esterel and the Gulf of St Tropez, the Château Font du Broc is set amid lush vegetation overlooking the sea. The grounds of this impressive wine farm are sprawled out over 250 acres that encompass vineyards and olive trees – and even an Olympic-sized arena for horses.

Producing both wine and olive oil, the owner of Château Font du Broc, Sylvain Massa, insists on organic and traditional farming methods and restricts the volume of wine produced in order to ensure its quality. Although the beautiful surroundings and the building’s architecture are high points for some visitors to Château Font du Broc, for others it’s simply all about sampling the delicious wines. The tasting room welcomes visitors and sampling the local vintage is positively encouraged, either on its own or with locally produced cheeses, meats and other delicacies.

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Cours Saleya Flower Market (Marché aux Fleurs Cours Saleya)

Cours Saleya Flower Market (Marché aux Fleurs Cours Saleya)

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Only one street back from the seafront, Cours Saleya is a mainly-pedestrianized street/square which hosts a daily market. It is split between its famous flower market selling bucketfuls of blooms in the western half, and a magnificent food market at the eastern end, with long trestle tables displaying exotic spices, shiny fruit and veg, pastries, fruits glacés (glazed or candied fruits such as figs, ginger, tangerine and pears) and more. On Mondays from 6am to 6pm, Cours Saleya also hosts an antiques market.

Lined by restaurants and cafes, it is the perfect place for breakfast, to sip coffee and people-watch, or for after dark, when the market is closed and the outdoor seating from the restaurants expands to fill the square.

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Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon)

Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon)

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Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon) is a deep and wild limestone canyon worn away by the Verdon River in the French Riviera. Running up to 700 meters deep, Verdon Gorge is aptly known to locals as the Grand Canyon du Verdon and receives over 100,000 visitors a year. With glacial waters as blue as the sky, the gorge is popular among swimmers, kayakers, sunbathers and hikers. It’s also especially beloved by rock climbers, with hundreds of climbing routes across its rocky 25-kilometer-long expanse.

If you’d like to boat along the crystal clear waters of Verdon Gorge, rentals are available from nearby towns like Castellane during summer. Or you can just hop right in for a swim in the refreshingly cool water. For hikers, there are plenty of trails that take in the canyon’s jagged limestone cliffs and azure waters, including the popular nine-mile Martell trail, which takes about seven hours each way.

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Molinard Perfumery (Maison Molinard)

Molinard Perfumery (Maison Molinard)

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Since its founding in 1849 in the Grasse Province in the south of France, this world-class perfumery has been creating famous fragrances for men, women, dignitaries and even soldiers for more than 150 years.

Travelers can embark on a one-of-a-kind tour of Molinard Parfumery that starts with a film exploring the company’s history and ends with a trip through the 1930s where visitors can witness perfume-making in its most traditional sense. The guided tour loops through Molinard’s beautiful reception area and flows into the soap room, where years ago a single person created hundreds of soaps by hand. The distillery remains one of the tour’s most incredible stops, as it’s one of the few perfume factories in the world to avoid modernization. Travelers will pass by the cream room, where they’ll learn about packaging and production before the final sales room stop, where a well-curated exhibition showcases fragrance collections from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

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Massena Square (Place Masséna)

Massena Square (Place Masséna)

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If you're spending an even remotely significant amount of time in Nice, then you'll soon become familiar with Place Massena. It's the massive, open square at the bottom of L'avenue Jean-Médecin; just a little bit past it is Vieux Nice and the Mediterranean. Walk under the porticos in foul weather, or enjoy the sun on its wide walkways. It ends in a gorgeous fountain framed by faded cherry-red buildings, a favorite with photographers of any ability.

In the daytime, Place Massena is a busy pedestrian/tram intersection, and it can seem like barely controlled chaos as people scurry, stroll or simply hang out along its dizzyingly tiled surface. At night it's a bit less busy, but many are more distracted as the large human-like sculptures high atop poles change color like lava lamps! Place Massena is also the site for many of Nice's most popular events throughout the year, from Mardi Gras to Fete de la Musique concerts to summer outdoor markets.

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Pampelonne Beach (Plage de Pampelonne)

Pampelonne Beach (Plage de Pampelonne)

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Often named “St-Tropez’s jewel beach”, Pampelonne Beach is actually located just outside city limits in nearby Ramatuelle. The beach is a 4.5-kilometer stretch of sand very popular amongst tourists, as just one of the few sandy beaches on the French Riviera (as opposed to the pebbly beaches in Nice, for example). Pampelonne was one of the main targets of Operation Dragoon, the large-scaled Allied invasion of southern France in August 1944 that ultimately caused the German army to abandon southern France altogether. After World War II, the Parisian elite, including big names like Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel, and Juliette Greco, gave St-Tropez its glitz and glam reputation by spending their summers at the beach, a tradition that most Northern French vacationers still uphold today – hence why the French Riviera is often qualified as overcrowded in August when the majority of the country is on holiday.

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International Perfume Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie)

International Perfume Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie)

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Grasse is said to be the center for luxury fragrance in France, and subsequently has many attractions that are perfume-related. The International Perfume Museum extensively covers the famous French perfume industry. Exhibitions retrace the history of perfumes, soap and cosmetics for thousands of years.

The International Perfume Museum is situated in the former Hugues-Aîné perfumery built in the 19th century and was recently reopened in 2008 after refurbishment. The museum invites visitors to explore the prosperous history of french parfumeries in the historic town of Grasse.

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Mt. Boron (Mont Boron)

Mt. Boron (Mont Boron)

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Rising above the port in Nice is Mont Boron, a green wilderness with great views over Nice and beyond.From Mont Boron you can see over the port of Nice, Nice town and to Villefranche and Cap Ferrat. From this height you it’s easy to understand why this coastline is called the Cote d’Azur - the blue of the sea is simply amazing.

Since 1860, Mont Boron has been preserved as a nature retreat with trees native to the Mediterranean, including Holm Oak and Aleppo Pine. With 6 miles (11 km) of sign-posted trails, this has become a popular place for both locals and visitors to escape the narrow streets of the city and take in the fresh air. It's also good for mountain biking. You can catch the bus (number 14) to the top of Mont Boron and then walk back down.

Nearby Mont Albon has a 16th century military fort perched 720 feet (220m) above the sea. From here you get 360-degree views of the surrounding coastline and the Alpes-Maritimes.

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Chateau de Cremat

Chateau de Cremat

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As far as historic French castles go, the Château de Crémat is a mere infant, built in the beginning of the 20th century. But it was designed to appear like it was there long before the city of Nice that spreads below it, with a mixture of architectural styles and a creamy exterior that reflects the stunning Riviera light.

Those wondering if it’s worth a visit should look no further than their taste buds. The Château de Crémat was built specifically for its surrounding land, which is taken up entirely by picturesque vineyards that yield some quality wines. Guided tours of the castle are free, and wine tastings are available for a tasting fee.

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Quai Lunel

Quai Lunel

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Nestled east of the hill park, Colline du Chateau, is Quai Lunel in Nice’s Old Port, a great place to wander and find a restaurant for lunch or dinner with a view.

The Old Port fills with yachts at any time of the year and is a great place to soak up the maritime atmosphere and Nice, both past and present. To head out from Nice port and out onto the water you may hop on one of the ferries which can transfer you to ports on Corsica: Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Ile Rousse. The area just west of the Quai Lunel, Quartier Segurane, is known for its antique shops and flea market, where you’re much more likely to find an authentic antique bargain than in the center of Nice Old Town. To reach the Port of Nice from central Nice, walk around the waterfront on the balcony-style walkway or head through the Old Town to Place Garibaldi and along rue Cassini.

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