A Perfect Weekend on the French Riviera

To make the most of a weekend on the Côte d’Azur, start your day with a stroll on the beach or along one of the paths that follow the coast; have lunch in the shade of a beachfront terrace before choosing which museum to see that day, or shop for lovely artisan souvenirs to bring home. Finish the day with dinner serving regional favorites or for a special treat, Michelen-star cuisine.

9 Boulevard de la Croisette, 06400 Cannes, France
Today luxury hotels, high-end boutiques, and a fine-sand beach compete for visitors’ attention as they stroll the famous coastal walk in Cannes that follows the crescent-shaped border between water and town. Once this glamorous walkway was a marshy path called the Crouseto, traversed by pilgrims who came here to visit and pray at the Lérins Abbey out in the bay. Especially during the film festival, when celebrities arrive by yacht, limo, or helicopter and walk along the street, lounging at the café tables and shopping at the fancy stores, it is hard to picture the remote fishing village that was once here.
1312 Avenue Raymond Poincaré
On a tree-studded peninsula between Monaco and Nice, this whitewashed luxury boutique hotel features 28 rooms and suites with a serenely chic vibe (think crisp white linens and richly patterned textiles, contemporary art and modern streamlined furnishings). A third of the units reside in the hotel’s main building, a mansion that dates back to 1889 but was fully restored and updated in 2003, and three additional rooms designed to resemble ship cabins are built into a wall with direct views onto the sea; the rest of the accommodations are housed in a quiet Italianate structure and a separate edifice at the edge of the property. Cap Estel’s Michelin-starred restaurant highlights seasonal ingredients, many of which are sourced from the on-site gardens. Guests who come to disconnect from the jet-set scene can relax in the hammam or waterside sauna, or with a massage and dip in the saltwater pool, though many guests would just as soon head straight into the azure waves of the Mediterranean, accessed through the hotel’s private beach.
Plage de Bouillabaisse, 83990 Saint-Tropez, France
Just steps from the sea, on the pine-shaded terrace of the Cheval Blanc St. Tropez (formerly La Résidence de la Pinède hotel), the Vague d’Or celebrates the riches of the sea. Chef Arnaud Dockele’s passion for the region is evident in each bite—and Michelin inspectors have given three stars to the kitchen to reward his creativity in dishes like spider crab in a citrus bath; a verbena-infused bouillon; and abalone served with locally grown onions. Pastry chef Guillaume Godin picks his inspirations from nearby orchards with desserts based on apricots and almonds and local lemons that make the perfect end to a meal under the stars.
10 Rue de la Paix, 06360 Èze, France
A maze of narrow medieval streets wind up and down this village perched along the Grande Corniche. The ruins of a château are now an exotic garden, and the 18th-century neoclassical Notre Dame of the Assumption church is a national monument. Spectacular views inspire artists and artisans, and their galleries fill the village. Exceptional restaurants like the Château Eza are happy to welcome guests for a drink or a Michelin-starred meal as they relax and savor the scenery.
Located where the mountains meet the sea, Port-Cros National Park is only partially visible from the shore, as nearly half of its land is underwater. While this island park offers plenty of hiking, cycling, and beach activities for landlubbers, the park’s main draw is its unique set of seven underwater hikes for snorkelers. Well-marked paths lead swimmers of all ages to Roman ruins, a reconstructed shipwreck, and protected marine gardens, while signage and buoys explain the region’s flora and fauna, which include starfish, octopuses, and sea anemones. Visitors can arrange for both guided tours and snorkeling equipment rentals upon arrival.
Port de Plaisance, 06310 Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France
The owners would like to believe the restaurant is fully booked every summer because of the market-fresh menu updated daily on the chalkboard. And the food is quite good, and often includes at least one dish laced with white summer truffles. But the truth is that the crowds also flock to this legendary address in the hopes of spotting celebrity diners like neighbors Tina Turner, Bono, and Sir Elton John. With a ‘70s kitsch decor, the outdoor terrace looks over the port of Beaulieu sur Mer and its field of moored white yachts, the polished chrome glinting in the sunlight.
L'Homme au Mouton, Rue Clément Bel, 06220 Vallauris, France
Alain Llorca, one of the best-known chefs on the Côte d’Azur, runs a hotel, a boutique, and a series of seasonal cooking classes. While Hôtel Restaurant Alain Llorca in Colle sur Loup has stunning views and exceptional cuisine, its more modest, modern-chic cousin in Vallauris offers exceptional value for a delicious meal that is kinder to the wallet. Mixing Provençal cuisine with recipes from his native Catalonia, the chef woos guests with dishes like cold melon soup, sea bass with artichokes and mashed potatoes, and a tempting variety of pastries from the display case for dessert.
1 Avenue Ephrussi de Rothschild
The exclusive town of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is home to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a Renaissance-style palace with sumptuous furnishings and one of the most famous gardens in France. Beginning with a traditional French garden, the land is by turns tamed into a Japanese garden, a stone garden, and six other distinctive environments. Directly across the bay, the Villa Kerylos was built in the 20th century as a replica of an ancient Greek palace.
06140 Tourrettes-sur-Loup, France
This company carries the label of EPV, as certified by the French government for its continued work in a trade considered part of the French heritage. The family business began in 1958 when nearly every local village still had an artisan working in olive wood. Today, there are fewer than 20 professionals practicing the art in the region. Second-generation craftsman Guillaume Dubosq starts with tree trunks, drying, cutting, shaping, and sanding his work by hand, turning out the lustrous olive-wood housewares. Some of the region’s finest restaurants have commissioned his pieces for their tables. Each item sold in the shop is unique; purchasing something here not only makes sense for those seeking made-in-France souvenirs, it supports local traditional crafts as well.
Place Mariejol, 06600 Antibes, France
In 1946, Picasso worked from a studio in the Château Grimaldi of Antibes, creating 23 paintings and 44 illustrations that he gifted to the town. Later, 78 pieces that he designed for the Madoura pottery studios in Vallauris were added to the collection and the château became the world’s first Picasso museum. The nearby Archaeology Museum is housed in a historic fort and explores Antibes’s origin as the ancient Greek town Antipolis.
Les Salins
Even with the summer crush on the French Riviera in full swing, there are quiet escapes to be found. In particular, I like to take walks along the Sentier du Littoral, the coastal footpath that stretches the length of the French Mediterranean coast. My favorite segment is in St. Tropez, where I head by boat from Ste. Maxime (the Bateaux Verts leave every 10 minutes). From the ferry landing, I start walking—through the narrow streets and old port, under the imposing citadel that has guarded residents since around 1600, past the cemetery, and onto a narrow path that ribbons around the St. Tropez Peninsula. The 7-mile route takes me by inlets of crystalline water, hidden villas whose residents I always wonder about, and past dozens of little beaches that are significantly more serene and less crowded than the frenzy of those found along Pampelonne Bay, where this piece of the trail ends. You can hoof the two miles back to the village, or take the bus.
Cours Saleya, 06300 Nice, France
The picture-perfect Provençal market Cours Saleya in Nice is a visual bouquet of regional bounty, with colorful floral displays, golden zucchini blossoms, red tomatoes, and green greens. Camargue sea salt, pressed olive oils, and flower-infused jams make souvenirs to remember (and devour), and there’s also a charming antiques flea market on Mondays for more lasting mementos.
4 Rue Raoul Bosio
When he was training in Michelin-starred restaurants, chef Dominique Le Stanc dreamed of opening a small place where the art of cooking was more important than efficiently running a restaurant. La Merenda is that place—no phone, no credit cards, the only business being the food. The chef’s skills shine with dishes like fried zucchini blossoms, a zingy pistou-laden pasta, and, for dessert, melty sautéed figs. Guests, many of whom are locals, are seated elbow to elbow in the tiny dining room with a clear view of the gifted chef at work in the open kitchen.
71 Bd du Général de Gaulle, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
Sitting at the tip of the peninsula of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, which juts out into the Mediterranean, the iconic Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, is now under the management of the Four Seasons brand. Located halfway between Nice and Monaco in the striking Antibes cape, the beyond-glamorous property first opened in 1908, and remains the epitome of the bonne vie, Jazz-era French Riviera. A destination resort, it has hosted everyone from Winston Churchill to Charlie Chaplin to Pablo Picasso, and is set on multiple lushly landscaped acres full of gardens, pools, and tennis courts that tumble down to the Mediterranean. Rooms are in three buildings. Try for one in the hotel’s original core, as these have soaring ceilings and floor-to-ceiling, sliding-glass-door windows looking out to the sea. The suites are also enormous, but ask for a higher floor for the best ocean views.
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