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French Riviera Outdoors

Breathtaking Views
French Riviera Outdoors
Rainy days are rare on the Riviera, and daily life focuses on the outdoors. From street markets to open-air museums, and leisurely strolls to adrenaline-filled sports, there is always an opportunity to be soaking in the sunlight.
By Sylvia Sabes, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Norbert Scanella/age fotostock
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    Breathtaking Views
    Breathtaking Views
    Towering above Toulon, téléphérique cable cars to Mont Faron provide thrilling views of the craggy hills below and the azure sea beyond. It's a long, winding road to the Pic de l’Ours, in the Massif de l’Esterel, but the breathtaking views are worth the trek. Stretch your legs with a two-hour hike to equally stunning views from the nearby Pic du Cap Roux. The Madone d’Utelle has been a popular pilgrimage site since 850, rewarding true believers and the truly curious with an incroyable view of the southern Alps. Over in Nice, the architectural landmark Côte d'Azur Observatory draws not just tourists but local romantics in the mood for some "stellar" coastal views.
    Photo by Norbert Scanella/age fotostock
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    Picture-Perfect Historic Towns
    Picture-Perfect Historic Towns
    Exploring the picture-perfect towns of the Riviera is a rewarding adventure full of unexpected discoveries. A surprising mural in Grasse stops visitors in their tracks, while the ruins of a fortified castle in Grimaud encourage an impromptu detour. Medieval Mougins and its gurgling fountains are surrounded by the gardens of sprawling estates. Built at the end of the 10th century, the Château de Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is the only Carolingian castle left in France, boasting 1,000-year-old olive trees and a street carved into the mountainside. For a more urban experience, the patina-coated pink and orange pastel buildings of Old Nice frame a vibrant market that blends the sounds of excited merchants with the fragrance of their wares. Èze, of course, is hardly a secret find, but its atmospheric cobbled medieval streets and the gardens of the château ruins are worth an afternoon's meandering.
    Photo by Tommaso di Girolamo/age fotostock
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    French Riviera Beaches
    French Riviera Beaches
    The Riviera is synonymous with beaches—as the Alps spill into the sea, nature has created a chain of small strands divided by rocky cliffs and joined by winding roads. Nice is known around the world for its pebble beaches, where cushioned deck chairs and parasols are available for rent. Publicity-shy stars stay out of the spotlight at tiny Paloma Beach on St. Jean Cap Ferrat. Near St. Tropez, the best beaches are in neighboring Ramatuelle, where a long stretch of shore is lined with private clubs hosting anyone willing to pay the entrance fee, while leaving plenty of space for public access. Along La Croisette, the boardwalk that follows the shoreline in Cannes, there are several public sections, including Macé, where you can enjoy a lounger and an umbrella beside the calm Mediterranean waters for a reasonable price. More focused on wildlife than lounging? The Plage de l’Almanarre in Hyères is near marshland that attracts flocks of pink flamingos.
    Photo by Sylvia Sabes
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    Private Yachts and Dolphins
    Private Yachts and Dolphins
    The beach towns along the coast were originally fishing villages with small ports for local flotillas, but today there are facilities for everything from Cannes-bound private yachts to large cruise ships that steam into Villefranche sur Mer throughout the summer months. In St. Tropez, small cruise boats hug the coast, highlighting the private villas of the stars and looking for dolphins along the way. SOS Grand Bleu sails from St. Jean Cap Ferrat, observing sea mammals and educating visitors on their future. The Visiobulle has a glass hull for a glimpse of local sea life without getting wet. Dive shops along the coast make it easy to get even closer.
    Photo by Colin Sinclair/age fotostock
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     Gardens of Eden
    Gardens of Eden
    The entire Riviera is an exuberant garden; mimosas bloom in January and are gradually replaced by violets, lavender, and eventually jasmine, filling the air with seductive fragrance until October. This was no doubt the inspiration for the seven stunning gardens that surround the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, on St. Jean Cap Ferrat. Not far from the extraordinary Serre de la Madone, the 19th-century Citronneraie orchard features an exceptional collection of citrus trees and tropical plants, making Menton a popular destination for horticultural enthusiasts. The botanical collection at the Villa Thuret in Antibes is so good that it has become a national center for agricultural research, attracting botanists and gardeners from across the globe. The grounds surrounding the crumbling castle at Èze, a steep walk up from the village proper, are home to an extraordinary plant collection and panoramic views that stretch for miles along the coast, making the climb well worth your time.
    Photo by Geoffrey Peter Kidd/age fotostock
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    Extreme Adventures
    Extreme Adventures
    From Alpine skiing to scuba diving, the Riviera is paradise for thrill seekers in search of the next great adrenaline rush. Paragliders and hang gliders dot the sky, and catamarans race through choppy waves in every season. Granite mountainsides create the ideal environment for challenging canyoneering in the summer and ice climbing in the winter. Spelunkers are drawn to the more than 550 caves in the Dévoluy Valley, while climbers conquer the Via Ferrata and there are opportunities for kayaking and white-water rafting in the river below. Racing fans get a thrill every May when the Grand Prix takes over the streets of Monte Carlo; true speed demons can take the wheel of a Formula 1 car at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet.
    Photo by Uli Wiesmeier/age fotostock
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    Cycling and Hiking
    Cycling and Hiking
    Lycra-clad cyclists whiz by as they conquer the innumerable hills and valleys along the coast, but there are also cycling trails for visitors happy to take frequent breaks as they seek out baroque architecture and lavender fields or follow Napoleon’s journey. A four-mile cycling route for families begins in the village of Caille, passing an adventure park and the underground Via Souterrata. For hikers, the Sentier du Littoral trail runs along the coast, hugging the shore, while Grande Randonnée trails run through the region, heading to destinations as far as Amsterdam and Santiago de Compostela. If Lycra's not your thing, just grab a daily membership to the bike-share program in Nice and cycle the Promenade des Anglais.
    Photo by Norbert Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    <em>En Famille</em>
    En Famille
    The Riviera is an ideal destination for children of all ages. Alpha Animal Park, in St. Martin Vésubie, teaches visitors about the local wolves. You can even participate in a night outing to watch the magnificent creatures in action. In Thorenc, there are reserves to save bison and Przewalski’s horses, while llamas roam the Col de Turini. Looking toward the sea, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco plays an important role in preserving the world’s coral reefs, and there are several snorkeling “hikes” like the sentier sous-marin at Port-Cros National Park and the guided trips at Antibes. Many museums welcome young visitors—family-friendly activities and a lot of outdoor space facilitate a relaxing excursion for everyone.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Côte d'Azur Islands
    Côte d'Azur Islands
    There are several islands worth a visit along the Riviera. Fifteen minutes from Cannes, Cistercian monks welcome visitors to the Abbey of Lérins on Île St. Honorat, selling wine and running a gourmet restaurant, La Tonnelle, to support their community. Neighboring Île Ste. Marguerite, where migratory birds flock to the marshes, has miles of hiking trails running through Aleppo pine forest. Facing Hyères, Île de Porquerolles claims some of the most beautiful shoreline in the region, with crystal-clear blue water lapping at pristine sand beaches. Many Parisians spend their summers here, enjoying the hiking trails, gardens, and Port-Cros National Park, and savoring the quiet pace of village life and the excellent local wines.
    Photo courtesy of Jerome Kelagopian/Palais des Festivals
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    Snow Sports on the French Riviera
    Snow Sports on the French Riviera
    Skiing the Alps is not limited to central France. The Riviera is where the legendary mountains fall into the Mediterranean, allowing for adventure on the slopes with the somewhat incongruous view of the sea in the distance. The first skiers arrived on the coast in 1889, clearing the way for a full range of winter sports; ice-skating, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice climbing, and dogsledding can be enjoyed at more than 10 ski resorts, some of which offer igloos as exotic lodging. Isola 2000 is the trendy place to head, Valberg caters to families, and Auron prides itself on more than 80 miles of challenging downhill runs. Enjoy the day, knowing that dinner on the pebble beaches of Nice is just a few hours down the winding mountain road.
    Photo by Valery Trillaud/age fotostock