Leave the famous towns of the Côte d’Azur to discover lesser-known sweets.
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Every year, thousands of holidaymakers hear the sirens of the Côte d’Azur and flock to the sunny shores of Antibes, Cannes and Saint Tropez. Nice, the capital of the region, is the second most visited city in France, registering an incredible 4 million visitors each year (pre-pandemic) – a shocking figure, considering the number of inhabitants just over 340,000 Even the small principality of Monaco gets an honorable mention for the famous and fashionable Port Hercule.
But to really know the Riviera, you have to leave the big cities. Nice may be the beating heart of the region, but these chic villages are its quiet, ageless soul. This is where the South of France really shines.
Villefranche sur mer
You may recognize Villefranche-sur-Mer as one of the filming locations of Emily in Paris. The peaceful fishing village is located on a hill at a nice bay. Easily accessible by train, although rarely frequented by tourists, Villefranche is a popular destination for French residents, particularly when Nice’s famous promenade gets busy in the summer months. Villefranche-sur-Mer’s famous cathedral, Eglise Saint-Michel, dating from 1732, is a must-see for art history buffs: its interiors were painted by Jean Cocteau, who spent much time throughout the Côte d’Azur.
Try to cross the main beach at sunrise. The rays will hit the city just like that. On the way back, stop for a mimosa at one of the trendy bars and restaurants on the harbor – the Dry Restaurant is a trendy new favorite – before strolling to the ancient Citadelle Saint-Elme – built in 1554 to repel Barbarossa, the famous pirate.
Where to stay
Expect panoramic views and a perfect location at the welcome hotel— it often appears in photos overlooking the city. Yes, you can expect a warm welcome as well as comfortable accommodation right in the heart of the old town.
Book now: welcome hotel
High in the hills behind Nice, Saint-Paul-de-Vence has always attracted celebrities: Churchill once sat down to paint the fountain in the main square; Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones owns a home in the walled city; and Hitchcock completed his screenplay for To catch a thief here. Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Miró, this city has seen them all come to enjoy the famous Mediterranean light. Stop at one of the many galleries before lunch at The Golden Dove-the famous hostel where the rich and famous stay, then play a few games of pstartank (petanque) with the residents in front of the Café de la Place.
Where to stay
the The Saint Paulin the center of the village, is an exercise in luxury and refinement, and its restaurant is worth booking in advance.
Book now: The Saint Paul
Like Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Èze is another clifftop paradise, filled with narrow cobbled lanes that meander from one end of the town to the other. Locals often take a short but challenging hike via Nietzsche’s path (Neitzche’s Path), where – you guessed it – he used to stay when seeking inspiration. Once at the top, enjoy a panorama of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Èze’s twin village, Èze-sur-Mer (where Bono is said to have a house). It is here that you start to see influences from neighboring Italy; the local Notre Dame de l’Assomption church has a decidedly Latin air, thanks to the designs of Italian architect Antoine Spinelli in 1764 and its rich interiors, decorated with Baroque paintings.
But don’t leave without exploring Exotic Gardens, located at the top of the city. Sculptures by Jean Philippe Richard, nicknamed “the ladies of Èze”, are scattered throughout the gardens, and with plenty of seating arranged throughout, you won’t find a prettier place to spend the day.
Where to stay
The locals all know the legendary The Golden Goat (“the golden goat”), booking weeks in advance for a coveted spot at the fancy restaurant. It is also a hotel, the only hotel in the village of Èze, with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean and impeccable service.
Book now: The Golden Goat
Menton is a sleepy little place, with pastel-colored apartments, old terra-cotta roofs, and pops of turquoise-green shutters to match. It was once a favorite of Queen Victoria, whose visit here in 1882 put it firmly on the map of British travellers. Although Menton draws the crowds in late summer, the best time to visit is in spring, when it’s quiet and the lemon trees are starting to bloom.
The town borders Italy, and most menus feature pasta and ice cream, and there’s always the scent of citrus fruits in the air, something Menton is famous for thanks to its consistently sunny skies and temperate climate. . Stroll through the old town to find hidden shops, visit the old market for hyper local fresh produce and spend an afternoon on Les Sablettes beach, where you will find the most spectacular view of the old town.
Where to stay
There are no hotels in Menton, but you will find The little housea charming guest rooms– essentially a bed-and-breakfast – tucked away in the village. Breakfasts are served in a private garden, depending on the weather, and the hosts are warm and welcoming.
Book now: The little house
An essential place for lovers of beauty and luxury, Grasse is the world capital of perfume. In the 12th century, Grasse was a trading town well known for the production of leather. This laborious product was also pungent, and one tanner in particular, a man named Galimard, began scenting his wares – originally a pair of gloves he gave to visiting Catherine de Medici, who reportedly loved them. The perfume industry then developed alongside existing leatherworkers, with some of Europe’s oldest perfume houses still sourcing scents from nearby flower fields; Chanel and Dior, for example, have dedicated flower farms nearby.
No visit to Grasse is complete without a visit to one of the many perfume houses, including the original Galimardestablished in 1747, where many offer professional training and allow you to create your own dedicated perfume, with the help of experts.
Where to stay
Located just outside the city is the 17th century The Bastide Saint-Antoine. It is also home to the famous starred chef Jacques Chibois. This is the quaint Provençal dream you’ve been looking for.
Book now: The Bastide Saint-Antoine
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