French Riviera (Cote d’Azur) – French Riviera is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France, and also include the state of Monaco. This coastline is one of the first modern resort areas. It is definitely one of the most beautiful coastal areas in the world, if not the best one. You get the combined beauty of both French Alps and Mediterranean Sea, which makes this place a picturesque site. Fresh air from the mountain and scent of the royal blue water of the Mediterranean Sea will stay in your memory forever. We visited 3 cities in French Riviera, along with Monaco, which is documented separately here. I gave info for these 3 cities below and the places we visited in those particular cities. Hope they will help you planning your vacation.
Time of our travel: We came to French Riviera during end of November, 2011 for 4 days and 4 nights. The weather was fantastic, mostly sunny all day. It was a bit chilly in the morning and at night; a sweater was ok for that.
Hotel we stayed in: We stayed at a golf resort, Mas du Grand Vallon, in Mougins, France. Mougins is a very quiet and cozy village with a small old village center and great mountain views.
1) Grasse: Grasse is situated on the side of a hill inland from the coast of the French Riviera, known as the capital of the perfume industry. The view of the entire city is very charming and homely. You won’t find as many tourists here as in other parts of French Riviera, for which this place is still very less commercialized and unique in its own way. It is about 10 miles from Cannes and approximately 30 miles from Nice. When in Grasse, plan to spend a day here to visit the perfumeries and the surrounding villages. Here are the places we visited in Grasse:
a) Perfumeries in Grasse: There are few of them here; out of these 3 are the most famous. They are Galimard, Fragonard, and Molinard. We visited only one, which is Fragonard Perfume museum. Fragonard has it’s own parking space. But if you want to park for longer time, there is a nearby parking structure which is not that expensive. Fragonard offers FREE factory guided tour (English is available) that lasts about 20-25 minutes. The tour is very informative and interesting. After that you will be taken to their souvenir shop, which I thought was the best part in my stay in Grasse. The shop has almost everything related to perfumes, like eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de perfume, bath salt, soaps, lotions, oils, and many more items which are very hard to resist. Plan to buy some eau de perfumes (which is the most concentrated scent) here since it costs only 1/3 of the price from other marketplaces.
b) Old town: Grasse old town is a quiet (at least during the winter time) place to enjoy the local people and culture. There are some expensive local designer shops and small cafes in the alleys. Don’t forget to try French crepe with variety of options. There is a small church Cathedrale Notre-Dame-du-Puy, a view-point right beside the church, from where you get a great view of the whole town on the hill, and ofcourse Hotel de Ville (City Hall) where you can spend some time while in the old town of Grasse.
c) Route Napoleon (old N85): This is a scenic route that you can take to get an overview of Grasse. There are signs in the city on how to get onto Route Napoleon. Historically speaking, this is the route taken by Napoleon in 1815 on his return from Elba. Along with many other cities, a small portion of this route runs through Grasse.
2) Cannes: We spend just an evening in Cannes. It is about 10 miles (15 km) from Grasse. The only two places we went in Cannes are also two main attractions here.
a) La Croisette: This is Cannes catwalk beside the Mediterranean Sea. You will find lots of street parking on Blvd de La Croisette, which is probably one of the biggest and busiest streets in Cannes. All the designer stores, luxury hotels are located on this street. It is nice to walk on the Promenade at night. This has to be the center of city’s tourist activity.
b) Palais des Festivals: At the end of Blvd de La Croisette is the Palais des Festivals, where the famous Cannes International Film Festival takes place in mid-May of every year. This is the most famous film festival in the world. World’s biggest celebrities gather here and thousands of films are screened in the festival. Don’t forget to find the handprints of your favorite stars in front and around the building.
3) Nice: The capital of French Riviera, Nice, was founded by the Greeks. Nice Airport is one of the busiest in France and most of the visitors coming to see French Riviera in particular use this airport. Its less than 10/15 miles from Cannes. If you are driving, you get a view of the giant, snow-caped French Alps when entering the city. There are lots of parking structures around the city and some are very close to the sea. Nice is definitely a popular destination for young and adults, locals and tourists. You can easily spend a whole day here just sitting by the beach or looking around the city. Some places that we’ve visited in Nice are:
a) Promenade des Anglais: This is a must when in Nice. Promenade des Anglais is famous for its stunning view and famous waterfront. A laidback city life on one side and the blue water of Mediterranean Sea is on the other make this place a perfect place to relax and enjoy your inner self. There are lots of cafes, from where you can grab some food and sit by the beach to enjoy your meal. If you have some time, bring your shorts and towel to take a bath in that beautiful blue water.
b) Lou Casteu (Ancient Castle): Also known as Colline du Chateau is located at one end of Promenade des Anglais. There is not much left of the ruined castle, but climbing the stairs to reach there is absolutely well worth the view. If you are traveling with kids and strollers, there is also an ascenseur (elevator) to take you up there and the line is usually not that long. There is a big children’s park and picnic area on the top, which is open to public for free of charge. There is also a small café. Here are the hours of the park:
October – May: From 10 am – 6 pm
April/May/September: 9am – 7 pm
June/July/August: 9 am – 8 pm
c) Cathedrale Orthodox Russe Saint-Nicolas (Russian Orthodox Cathedral): This church was built not too long ago in 1912 and is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. The design style of this church is similar to the ones in St. Petersburg, Russia. It’s a long walk from the Promenade des Anglais or John Medici to the church, took us about 20/25 minuties, but the if you want to entertain your eyes with a different looking architecture, it is definitely worth trying. The church is open til 8pm everyday.
d) Rue Jean Medicin: This is a famous street in Nice, may be 5-10 minutes walk from Promenade des Anglais. It’s a long street with shops and cafes on both sides. Enjoy talented artists on street-side while shopping. You will find shops like H&M, C&A as well as some local boutique stores. There is also a beautiful church located right on this street, name Basilique Du Notre Dame. The nightlife on Rue Jean Medicin is very enjoyable even with the kids.