The Mediterranean shimmers in endless shades of blue. In the distance, the snow-dusted Alps rise above pastel villages perfumed with jasmine—the French Riviera can’t help but cast a spell. As if this scene couldn’t get any more seductive, let’s throw in the grand hotels and beach bars buzzing with the beau monde.
Immortalized on page and screen, this stretch of coastline has been drawing visitors since the 19th century, when the Russian and British aristocracy discovered the near-constant sunshine of southern France in the winter. Over time, the Côte d’Azur was the place to be, James Bond gambled at the Monte-Carlo Casino, and movie stars were born at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the country’s second busiest, and the hotels are the toast of France. Yet the French Riviera doesn’t rest on its laurels. New attractions and a jam-packed cultural calendar keep visitors coming back for more. Here’s a look at some of the biggest nouveautés to have on your radar this season.
The rise of Nice, now UNESCO-listed
This metropolis of nearly 1 million—first named by Greek seafarers for Nike, the goddess of victory—has long served as the gateway to the French Riviera. The charms of Vieux Nice, its colorful Italianate facades surrounding the Cours Saleya flower market, were recognized by UNESCO in 2021 as a winter resort town of the French Riviera. Abutting the waterfront, the world-famous Promenade des Anglais will actually replace the Champs-Élysées for the 2024 Tour de France finale when Paris hosts the Summer Olympic Games.
In the past five years, a number of high-profile investments have sought to place Nice on equal footing with other luxe Riviera destinations like Cannes and Monaco. City improvements, like the extension of the “coulée verte,” or greenway, slated for 2025, are part of Mayor Christian Estrosi’s ambitious plans. Nice has been designated the host of the 15-day U.N. Ocean Conference in 2025, and for the occasion, there will be a new conference center on the picturesque port, a destination as much for strolling and boat excursions. And when it comes to accommodations—Nice has historically lacked hotel inventory compared to other Riviera cities—there’s been a push to add 3,000 more rooms by 2025, 60 percent of which are four- and five-star properties.
Chief among these is the Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel, which debuted in January 2023 after the two-year renovation of a building dating from 1848. This is the first foray into France for the Bangkok-based brand that’s all about cultural immersion and celebrating a sense of place. A few examples of Riviera guest experiences include chef-led market tours and cooking classes, glass-blowing workshops in the village of Biot, and excursions to the château that inspired Coco Chanel’s iconic monogram.
Where to stay
Book now: Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel
Behind the golden-colored facade, the grand dame offers 151 rooms, including an array of balconied suites on the fifth floor. In-room perks include Green Coffee espresso machines with biodegradable capsules and a welcome pastry fashioned as a Niçois beach pebble. Locals flock to the rooftop restaurant, Seen by Olivier, which overlooks the Albert 1er gardens and the Mediterranean beyond. But don’t miss afternoon tea in Les Colonnades. Impossibly pretty pastries are presented on an objet d’art that looks like the Nice Ferris wheel.
There’s also the subterranean Anantara Spa, with essential oils crafted by a local perfumery. Indeed “Made in France” is a mantra here—the nearby Château de Cremat winery created a unique vintage just for the hotel, and restaurant ingredients come from local farms and the Pêcheries de Menton, a sustainability-minded, family-owned fishing enterprise that supplies the region’s top chefs.
Other new hotels in the French Riviera
The March 2023 reopening of the Carlton after a colossal restoration was an event. The city’s oldest luxury hotel, this century-old Belle Epoque legend is where celebrities hold court during the Cannes Film Festival. Enlisting the country’s finest artisans like interior designer Tristan Auer for the long overdue makeover, the Carlton pulled out all the stops with a new fitness club, garden infinity pool, and restaurant concepts such as the Riviera and Rüya.
Also new to the scene in March 2023: the first hotel in France for Mondrian, the trendy and art-focused lifestyle brand from California. Previously known as the Grand Hotel before an extensive renovation, the 75-room property is set back from La Croisette behind a sprawling garden terrace, ideal for champagne-infused soirées under the stars. There’s no other building as high in Cannes—insiders call it “the smallest but the tallest"—and from the 11th-floor suites, the Mediterranean unfurls in a panorama. Some suites, like No. 114, even come with a terrace Jacuzzi for soaking up the views, with property-wide amenities like a private beach club and a gym with yoga classes coming soon.
For a postparty detox, check out the destination spa called Villa Belle Plage, which opened in 2022. Housed in a historic seafront villa in the old Suquet district, the spa is part of the La Clé Group, comprising the adjacent Hotel Belle Plage along with Hotel Bachaumont and Hotel National des Arts et Métiers in Paris. It’s a sprawling space of nearly 11,000 square feet, offering comprehensive wellness programs tailored by beauty, health, and fitness experts.
MGallery’s 1932 Hotel and Spa Cap d’Antibes made a splash when it opened in summer 2022 with a glorious rooftop and a Roaring Twenties vibe. The building itself dates to 1932 (hence the name) and the design by Laurent Maugoust is a contemporary celebration of art deco.
The 35-room Cap d’Antibes Beach Hotel will reopen by the end of April with a chic new look by Belgian designer Bernard Dubois. The hotel has direct sea access, a rarity in the Riviera. An institution since the 1940s, Les Pêcheurs restaurant has held a Michelin star since 2009. Outside on the terrace, the Baba restaurant serves sunny Levantine cuisine by Israeli chef Assaf Granit of Shabour in Paris. The spa will be a collaboration with Paris-based Le Tigre, offering yoga, Pilates classes, and Holidermie treatments.
The Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, the iconic palace hotel in Antibes that’s a magnet for stars, unveiled a Dior Spa on April 14. Indulge in signature treatments called Dioriginels Rituals in outdoor cabanas surrounded by lush Mediterranean gardens. For example, the Enfleurage Corporel Ritual is a massage incorporating shea butter infused with ingredients from the hotel garden.
Museum openings, art exhibits, culture fests in the French Riviera
Before the paparazzi-hounded celebrities, the Côte d’Azur attracted avant-garde artists. The climate and luminosity were a lure; Henri Matisse wrote of his happiness in Nice, and Pablo Picasso spent the last decades of his life here. Today the rich artistic legacy is found in splendid art museums and even on the walls of La Colombe d’Or, where artists left work as payment.
With 2023 marking the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death and a grand commemorative Picasso celebration is being staged across Europe and North America. In Antibes, the Picasso Museum—housed in the medieval Château Grimaldi, where the great artist worked in a studio after World War II—is hosting an exhibit until July 2, Picasso 1969–1972. The End of the Beginning, with a focus on his later work. Another Picasso Museum in nearby Vallauris will host an exhibit from May 6 to October 30 called Forms and metamorphoses: The Ceramic Creation of Picasso. Known for ceramics, this village halfway between Antibes and Cannes is where Picasso first decided to dabble in clay.
Another 50th anniversary is being marked in Nice at the Marc Chagall National Museum, which was inaugurated by the painter himself in 1973 after his donation of 17 works depicting the Biblical Message. For the year-long program, the museum invited prominent art personalities like Japanese choreographer Mimoza Koike and Belgian author Stéphane Lambert to share their interpretations of the paintings. The highlight will be the weekend of July 7, Chagall’s birthday, which will include numerous festivities.
The Maeght Foundation, a modern art museum that’s a place of pilgrimage above the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, will unveil new galleries in summer 2024 to celebrate the venue’s 60th anniversary.
From the Jazz à Juan festival to the Nice Carnival, the festivals of the Côte d’Azur are almost as legendary as its beaches. A newer event on this buzzy calendar is the Garden Festival, which was launched in 2017 and takes place every two years. (It ends May 1.) The region’s horticultural tradition and floral history—Grasse is known as the world capital of perfumes—draws travelers to its green spaces. Leading landscape designers compete with ephemeral creations set up in 10 different locations, often sublime. In Cannes, for example, the neoclassical Villa Rothschild is a vestige of the Belle Epoque.