The Ultimate Itinerary to South of France: Côte d'Azur and Provence
by The Mediterranean Mag
In June 2023, we found ourselves dreaming of the allure of the French Riviera. The exciting itinerary we thought looked promising to uncover the region’s long sought-after charm. With visions of scenic landscapes, boutique hotels, and historic châteaus, we got the tickets, rented a car and landed at Nice Airport not too long after.
Upon arrival, we ventured into the captivating world of the notorious Côte d'Azur (coast of azure), a nickname given by France to the County of Nice. From exploring local treasures to savouring the culinary delights, we immersed ourselves in the essence of the region. Our days were filled with wandering through charming alleys, discovering hidden boutiques, and indulging in the vibrant local culture. Join us on our journey back to the French Riviera, and immerse yourself in the richness of this magnificent region. As holiday and the Riviera's elegance intertwine, there's always loads to discover.
Discovering the Glamour and Charm of the Côte d'Azur: A Mediterranean Odyssey
Day 1: Unveiling the Charms from Nice to Èze
On a hot and humid summer night, our journey began with a leisurely night-time stroll in Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, a beautiful waterfront promenade overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. After enjoying dinner in one of the local restaurants, we drove to the picturesque village of Èze, perched high on a hill overlooking the sea, and checked into our boutique hotel La Vieille Bergerie unwind, ready for an exciting day ahead. The 19th-century former barn is located in Côte d'Azur, close to the mediaeval village of Èze, and has a traditional Provençal décor and antique furnishing.
Day 2: Seaside Splendors: Èze, Villefranche sur Mer, and the Vibrance of Nice
We started our day with a short stroll through the charming cobblestone streets of Èze. Then, drove to Villefranche sur Mer, a quaint fishing village with a stunning cove. Take some time to explore the colourful alleys and soak in the laid-back atmosphere while enjoying some Niçoise cuisine. The area is relatively crowded both with locals and tourists therefore the earlier you arrive, the better.
In the afternoon, we headed back to Nice and explored the Vieux-Nice, the charming Old Town, filled with bustling markets, boutique shops, and historic landmarks. In the afternoon, we visited the famous Promenade des Anglais and enjoyed the scenic views of the coastline.
Should your schedule in Nice allow, be sure to:
- Embark on an exquisite journey to the stunning peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat,
- Indulge in the resplendent color palette and captivating chequered tiles of Place Masséna, the magnificent city square of Nice,
- Indulge in the exquisite artistry of Fenocchio's, where the city's finest ice cream awaits to cool and delight your senses,
- Discover the captivating world of renowned artist, Henri Matisse, at the exclusive Musée Matisse, a sanctuary dedicated solely to his extraordinary legacy,
- Stroll through the rosy and picturesque Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Day 3: Glamour and Sun-Kissed Shores: Cannes, Antibes, and Juan-les-Pins
We ventured to the glamorous city of Cannes, enjoyed a noisette at Le Moka, and tarte aux pêches (peach tarte) at Lenôtre. We then visited the Palais des Festivals and to see the exhibition dedicated to the legendary actress Romy Schneider. Don't forget to explore the handprints of famous actors and actresses at the Allée des Étoiles.
Afterward, we drove to Antibes and unwinded at Hotel Royal Antibes, Plage du Ponteil. In the evening, we headed to Juan-les-Pins, known for its vibrant nightlife and a wide array of dining options. Yolo was the perfect refuge to chill and relax with our feet in the sand while enjoying a nice dinner.
Exploring the Allure of the Italian Riviera
Day 4: Journey to the Italian Riviera: From San Remo to Portofino
Before crossing the border into Italy, we stopped at a tiny, quintessentially French village, La Turbie, and tried some of the best viennoiseries at Boulangerie La Boule de Neige. We hit the road towards Menton this time.Nestled along the captivating French Riviera, Menton offers a tranquil escape that perfectly balances old-world charm with the allure of the Mediterranean. Known as the “Pearl of France,” this enchanting town boasts a picturesque landscape adorned with pastel-coloured buildings, lush gardens, and sweeping views of the azure sea. Stroll through its narrow streets lined with artisanal boutiques, cafes, and traditional markets, immersing yourself in the gentle rhythms of local life. As you explore Menton's sun-drenched beaches and admire its ornate Belle Époque architecture, you'll find yourself captivated by the town's timeless elegance and the warm embrace of its Mediterranean hospitality.
One of Menton's most vibrant and enchanting annual events is the Fête du Citron, Lemon Festival, a celebration that transforms the town into a citrus wonderland. Held each year during the winter months, typically in February, this spectacular festival draws visitors from around the world to witness the creative brilliance of intricate citrus sculptures, floats, and parades. It showcases the town's longstanding tradition of citrus cultivation, with mesmerising displays crafted entirely from lemons and oranges. These artistic installations adorn the streets, gardens, and squares, creating a surreal atmosphere of colour and fragrance. The festival also features lively processions, music, and dance, immersing attendees in the joyful spirit of the event.
Navigating the border amidst the crystal-clear, shimmering azure waters was an astonishing experience. It wasn’t long before we arrived at San Remo in Italy. Exuding a timeless elegance that captivates visitors from the moment they arrive. Known as the “City of Flowers,” this enchanting town is famed for its stunning botanical gardens, Mediterranean climate, and historic landmarks. As you explore San Remo, you'll be greeted by a picturesque blend of pastel-coloured buildings, palm-lined boulevards, and the azure waters of the Ligurian Sea. We started our adventure by strolling through the vibrant Corso Matteotti, the heart of the town's shopping and dining scene. Here, you can browse boutique shops, savour gelato, and sample local culinary delights.
For those seeking a touch of glamour, the renowned San Remo Casino awaits. This historic establishment has welcomed countless celebrities and aristocrats over the years, showcasing the town's reputation as a luxurious destination. If you're visiting in late winter, you might even catch a glimpse of the annual San Remo Music Festival, an iconic event that celebrates Italian music and culture.
From San Remo, we continued our journey to the enchanting village of Portofino, a true jewel of the Italian Riviera. Portofino's idyllic harbour, nestled within a sheltered bay, boasts a panorama of colourful houses cascading down the hillsides, creating an unforgettable sight. Tired of the road and thirst because of the hustle and bustle, we started our exploration the Italian way: dolce far niente at Piazza Martiri Dell'Olivetta – heart of Portofino. We sat at Bar Mariuccia, a charming square lined with upscale boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. This is the perfect spot to indulge in a leisurely cappuccino, a glass of local wine, or bellini while soaking in the ambiance and the sun.
As you wander the narrow streets, you'll discover hidden corners and unexpected vistas that showcase the village's timeless allure.For panoramic views that will take your breath away, consider hiking up to Castello Brown, a historic fortress perched above Portofino. The trek offers not only a glimpse into the village's history but also a stunning vantage point overlooking the sparkling Ligurian Sea.
If time permits, take a boat ride along the coastline to fully appreciate Portofino's beauty from the water. You'll marvel at the charming shoreline, luxury yachts, and the captivating landscape that has inspired artists and travellers for generations. As the sun sets over the harbour, you'll truly understand why Portofino is often referred to as a Mediterranean paradise.
As the evening descended, we made our way to Santa Margherita de Ligure to savour a romantic dinner at one of the fresh seafood restaurants Trattoria dei Pescatori. Here, you can indulge in a delightful culinary experience featuring freshly caught seafood, expertly prepared and paired with the finest regional wines. Santa Margherita is a charming destination that offers a plethora of restaurant options, making it a delightful spot for culinary exploration. Some of our suggestions include Tortuga, L’Altro Eden, Da Gennaro, and Taverna del Marinaio. Later, be sure to treat yourself to a visit to one of the local gelato shops.
Throughout our roadtrips, we added a touch of nostalgia and whimsy by tuning in to the iconic tunes of French music legends. As we cruised through the scenic landscapes, the melodies of 70s disco icon Claude François, along with the soulful ballads of Joe Dassin, the enchanting voice of Dalida, and the infectious rhythms of Dany Brillant, and Patrick Bruel accompanied us on our adventure. These timeless classics added an extra layer of magic to our road trips, creating a soundtrack that seamlessly blended with the beauty of the Côte d'Azur and the Italian Riviera. With every note, we felt a deeper connection to the culture and history of the region, infusing our travels with a sense of joie de vivre that only the melodies of these legendary artists can bring.
Enchanting Beauty of Provence: A Journey Through Art, History, and Culture
Day 5: Provençal Delights: Èze, St Paul de Vence, and Grasse Unveiled
We started the day in the enchanting village of Èze, by immersing ourselves in the Jardin Exotique, a mesmerising garden offering panoramic views of the coast. Wander through the charming streets of the old town, where mediaeval charm and picturesque alleyways beckon your exploration.
Next, we embarked to the heart of Provence, surrounded by picturesque sights, and drove to the artistic haven of St Paul de Vence. This village, steeped in history and creative energy, is renowned for its myriad galleries and unique ambiance. Meander through its cobbled streets, allowing the artistic essence to captivate your senses. Consider treating yourself to a delightful lunch experience at Les Remparts. This charming restaurant offers a perfect blend of Provençal flavours and a stunning view that complements the artistic spirit of the village. Enjoy a leisurely meal while taking in the enchanting views and savouring the essence of this picturesque village.
Continuing our journey, we ventured to Grasse, a town that wears the crown of perfume capital. Here, you'll uncover the fragrant history that has defined the region for centuries. Visit perfume workshops to witness the intricate process of crafting scents and perhaps find your signature aroma.
Grasse, renowned as the perfume capital, boasts several famous perfumeries that offer a glimpse into the art of fragrance creation. Some of the notable perfumeries in Grasse include:
- Fragonard: A historic perfumery with roots dating back to the 1920s, Fragonard offers guided tours that take you through the various stages of perfume production. Explore their museum and boutique, where you can discover a range of fragrances and other scented products.
- Molinard: Founded in 1849, Molinard is another distinguished perfumery that offers guided tours to unveil the secrets of perfume-making. The interactive museum takes you on a sensory journey through the world of fragrances and their history.
- Galimard: With a legacy dating back to 1747, Galimard invites visitors to discover the art of perfumery through guided tours of their factory. Gain insights into the perfume creation process and even participate in workshops to create your own personalised scent.
- Parfumerie Fragonard: This is a separate establishment from the Fragonard mentioned earlier. Parfumerie Fragonard offers tours of their factory, allowing you to witness the blending and bottling of fragrances. The guided tours provide a fascinating insight into the craftsmanship behind each perfume.
- Le Studio des Fragrances: A unique experience that allows you to become a “nose” for a day. This workshop at Galimard lets you create your own custom fragrance by selecting from over 127 essences.
Exploring these perfumeries in Grasse provides a fascinating journey into the world of scents and an opportunity to witness the intricate process of crafting exquisite fragrances. Musée International de la Parfumerie (MIP) in Grasse is a captivating destination that offers visitors a deep dive into the fascinating world of fragrances, and serves as a treasure trove of historical, artistic, and cultural insights related to perfumery. Here, you can explore the rich heritage and evolution of perfumes through various exhibits and interactive displays.
The museum's collection features an extensive array of artefacts, including antique perfume bottles, rare fragrance ingredients, historical documents, and artistic representations of perfumery. It provides a chronological journey through the history of perfumery, showcasing its significance in various cultures and time periods.
One of the highlights of the museum is its dedication to educating visitors about the complex process of perfume creation. From the extraction of aromatic compounds to the blending of ingredients, the museum offers valuable insights into the craftsmanship behind every fragrance. In addition to its permanent collection, the International Museum of Perfumes often hosts temporary exhibitions that delve into specific aspects of perfumery, art, culture, and history. These exhibits provide a fresh perspective and keep the museum experience engaging for both newcomers and returning visitors.
Whether you're a perfume enthusiast, an art lover, or simply curious about the world of scents, the museum promises an enriching and aromatic exploration that deepens your understanding and appreciation of perfumery's artistic and cultural significance.
Day 6: Provence Escapade: From Avignon to Arles, a Journey Through Art and History
Prepare to be swept away on a captivating journey through the heart of Provence, where each step reveals a tapestry of art, history, and breathtaking landscapes. For us, this day began in the enchanting city of Avignon, renowned for its regal Palais des Papes and the iconic Pont d'Avignon. Immerse yourself in the mediaeval charm that permeates the cobbled streets and immerse yourself in the grandeur of a bygone era.
From there, your path leads to the captivating town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, nestled amidst the embracing embrace of the Alpilles Mountains. As you wander through its picturesque streets, you'll discover the captivating Le Château des Alpilles, a testament to the region's rich history and architectural splendour. Breathe in the mountain air and let the serene beauty of the surroundings transport you to a place of tranquillity.
But the journey didn’t end there. Our final destination for the day was Arles, a city steeped in artistic legacy. It was here that Vincent van Gogh found solace and inspiration, leaving behind a legacy that is celebrated at the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh. As you explore the museum, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the artist's tumultuous life and the masterpieces he created during his time in this very place. As we embarked on our exploration of Arles, we set out with a particular curiosity – to discover the former dwelling of Vincent van Gogh, a place where his artistic genius converged with the presence of Paul Gauguin. This house, once a haven for their creativity and collaboration, unfortunately fell victim to the ravages of World War II, a stark reminder of the impermanence of even the most treasured legacies. As we meandered through the streets of Arles, guided by historical markers and the stories passed down through generations, we were met with both admiration for the artists' history and a sense of melancholy for the loss of their physical dwelling. The house that once held the whispers of their conversations, the vibrant strokes of their paint brushes, and the intensity of their creative fervour had been swallowed by the unforgiving tides of history.
Though the physical house may be gone, its spirit lives on in the canvas of Van Gogh's works and the pages of artistic history. The impact of their time together in Arles continues to reverberate through the artistic consciousness, a testament to the profound influence that environment and companionship can wield on the creative process. And so, as we stood on the very ground where their house once stood, we couldn't help but reflect on the impermanence of human endeavours and the enduring power of art to transcend time and circumstance.
Alternatively, the Route Van Gogh in Arles is a captivating journey that immerses visitors in the landscapes and scenes that inspired some of Vincent van Gogh's most iconic works during his time in the city. As you follow in the footsteps of the legendary artist, you'll gain a deeper understanding of his creative process and the places that ignited his imagination. This self-guided route takes you to various locations around Arles that were depicted in Van Gogh's paintings. The experience is like stepping into one of his canvases, allowing you to see the world through his eyes and connect with his artistic vision.
Indulge in the exquisite features of the Route Van Gogh:
- Café Terrace at Night: You'll visit the café that served as the backdrop for Van Gogh's famous painting “Café Terrace at Night.” As you stand in the same spot, you can almost feel the bustling energy that inspired him to capture this moment.
- The Yellow House: Although the original Yellow House where Van Gogh lived and worked was destroyed during World War II, a vivid replica has been created in its place. This stop provides insights into the artist's living conditions and the place where he created some of his most celebrated pieces.
- Langlois Bridge: The bridge depicted in Van Gogh's "Langlois Bridge at Arles" still spans the canal. Standing there, you can imagine the artist setting up his easel to paint the scene before him.
- Hospital Saint-Paul-de-Mausole: While not within Arles itself, this psychiatric hospital in the nearby town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is where Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself and continued to paint prolifically. The surroundings influenced many of his later works.
- Espace Van Gogh: The former hospital where Van Gogh was treated after he famously cut off his ear has been transformed into an art and cultural centre. Its courtyard, featured in his painting “Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles,” offers visitors a chance to experience the same space that captivated him.
As you follow the Route Van Gogh, you'll be able to compare the scenes in front of you to the paintings that immortalised them. It's a powerful way to bridge the gap between art and reality, and to gain a more profound appreciation for the artist's connection to the places he depicted. The route is not just a stroll through history but a chance to engage with Van Gogh's genius on a personal level, breathing life into the masterpieces he left behind.
Arles, with its cobblestone streets and historic buildings, offers more than just a glimpse into the past. The city itself served as a canvas for some of Van Gogh's most celebrated works, and you can follow in his footsteps along the famous route that guided his artistic vision. As the day transitions into evening, treat yourself to a sumptuous dinner that reflects the culinary traditions of the region, savouring every bite in the midst of this historic ambiance.
This day's adventure promises not only to immerse you in the cultural heritage of Provence but also to kindle your own artistic spirit as you traverse through landscapes that have inspired countless masterpieces. As the sun sets over Arles, you'll carry with you the echoes of history and creativity that define this remarkable region.
Day 7: Charm of Provence: Aix-en-Provence, Lourmarin, and Gordes
On this day we indulged in the captivating allure of Aix-en-Provence, a city renowned for its timeless beauty, intricate architecture, and tree-lined boulevards adorned with ornate fountains. As you explore, you'll be transported into a world where art and culture intermingle seamlessly, making it a true gem of the region. It's important to highlight that Aix-en-Provence stands out as a larger city in comparison to the more intimate towns like Saint-Rémy-de-Provence or St Paul de Vence. This distinction brings about a unique atmosphere that differs from the quintessential Provençal ambiance found in smaller locales. While Aix-en-Provence maintains the elegance and charm of the region, its urban vitality and bustling energy contribute to a distinctive blend of both urban and provincial characteristics. This contrast adds depth to your exploration, offering a diverse range of experiences as you journey through the heart of Provence. Make sure to include a visit to Atelier de Cezanne. This museum pays homage to the renowned artist Paul Cezanne, who was closely associated with the city. Delve into the world of this influential Post-Impressionist painter and gain insights into his life and work. The museum provides a unique perspective on the artist's creative journey, making it a must-see destination for art enthusiasts and those seeking a deeper connection to the cultural heritage of Provence.
Next on our journey was the quaint village of Lourmarin, a true gem known for its charming cafes, art galleries, and vibrant local life. Immerse yourself in the ambiance of the Marché de Lourmarin, a lively market where you can discover a plethora of local produce, artisanal crafts, and regional specialties. This bustling market offers a sensory feast with its vibrant colours, enticing aromas, and the opportunity to engage with local vendors. Take your time to explore the stalls, interact with the friendly locals, and perhaps pick up some authentic Provençal souvenirs. The market encapsulates the essence of the region's culture and culinary delights, making it an essential stop on your journey through Provence.
Venturing onward, you'll find yourself in one of the most gorgeous villages, Gordes, perched majestically on a hilltop, offering panoramic vistas that extend over the enchanting Luberon Valley. The rugged natural beauty of the surroundings perfectly complements the quaint allure of the village itself. Gordes is a place that feels like a step back in time, inviting you to meander through narrow alleys and bask in the warm ambiance of its timeless architecture. For a memorable dining experience, we highly recommend indulging in a delightful dinner at Le Gq, a culinary gem that offers not only exquisite cuisine but also a stunning view that will truly captivate your senses. Nestled at the very heart of La Bastide and commanding panoramic views of the picturesque Luberon valley, Clover Gordes stands as a testament to the culinary brilliance of Chef Jean-Francois Piège. For those seeking a touch of luxury and refinement, this dining destination promises an exceptional experience. With meticulous attention to detail, Chef Piège has curated an exquisite menu that reflects his unparalleled talents and innovative approach to gastronomy.
Day 8: St-Tropez Chic: Ramatuelle, Saint Raphael, and Coastal Glamour
On our last day we wanted to experience the essence of coastal sophistication as you dedicate a day to relaxing on the beach. Venture to the village of Ramatuelle, where tranquillity takes centre stage. Immerse yourself in the serene ambiance of Plage Pampelonne, where the Mediterranean's azure waters meet soft sands, and enjoy a drink or lunch at the iconic Le Club 55.
After a few hours on the beach we head off to the iconic St-Tropez. This glamorous gem is renowned for its opulent luxury yachts, upscale boutiques, and breathtaking beaches that epitomise the epitome of the French Riviera's allure. Wander through the stylish streets, where chic cafes and designer shops beckon, providing a glimpse into the high-end lifestyle that St-Tropez is synonymous with. While you're in St-Tropez, make sure to experience one of its iconic gems – Café Sénéquier. Located at the heart of the town's bustling waterfront, Café Sénéquier is a timeless establishment that has been serving locals and visitors alike for generations.
We highly recommend reserving an afternoon to sit at Café Sénéquier as the sun sets. It's a classic experience that perfectly captures the essence of St-Tropez's glamour and charm. As you sip on your drink, take in the picturesque view of the Mediterranean waters and the idyllic harbor. The vibrant ambiance and the stunning sunset provide an unforgettable backdrop for a relaxing and indulgent moment. Whether you're enjoying a coffee, a refreshing cocktail, or a glass of wine, Café Sénéquier offers a delightful atmosphere that captures the spirit of St-Tropez's coastal allure. It's the perfect place to unwind and soak in the elegant atmosphere that has drawn artists, celebrities, and travelers to this enchanting destination.
As the sun dips below the horizon, you'll find yourself immersed in the beauty and magic that only St-Tropez can offer. It's a moment that encapsulates the glamour, history, and charm of this iconic Mediterranean gem.
During your exploration, make sure to savour the renowned Tarte Tropézienne, a culinary delight. Discover the rich history and cherished recipe behind this delectable treat at La Tarte Tropezienne. For an even deeper understanding of St-Tropez's allure, delve into its history and old-school charm of this beloved destination.
As the afternoon unfurls, embark on a scenic drive to Saint Raphael. Here, a laid-back, colourful atmosphere invites you to unwind and appreciate the simpler pleasures of life. The town's charming streets, picturesque coastline, and welcoming ambiance offer a delightful contrast to the glamour of St-Tropez.
Day 9: Monaco's Grandeur and the Homeward Bound: A Glittering Farewell in Nice
As our unforgettable journey through the Mediterranean drew to a close, we embraced the grandeur of Monaco on our final day. A drive to this illustrious city set the stage for a day of opulence and allure that perfectly complements the shimmering memories we’ve created along the French Riviera and Italian Riviera.
We began our day by immersing ourselves in the lavishness of Monte Carlo Casino, an iconic landmark that radiates glamour and sophistication. Marvel at the ornate architecture and vibrant energy that make this casino a haven for those seeking a touch of luxury. We continued our exploration to the Prince's Palace, where enchantment awaits within its historic walls. Traverse the cobbled paths and absorb the regal ambiance of a place steeped in history and grace.
Venture to the Rock of Monaco and be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views that extend over the captivating landscape and sparkling Mediterranean waters. As you gaze upon the opulent yachts that adorn the harbour, a sense of awe and wonder encapsulates the essence of Monaco's allure.
With the enchantment of Monaco etched in memory, we returned to the vibrant city of Nice. As we bid adieu to this Mediterranean haven, taking a moment to reflect on the precious memories woven into the fabric of our journey. We cherish the stunning coastal landscapes, the charming villages, and the cultural treasures that have left an indelible mark.
While this itinerary draws to a close, remember that the Mediterranean's allure is boundless, with endless possibilities waiting to be explored. Your exploration through the Côte d'Azur, Provence and Italian Riviera is merely the beginning of a lifelong odyssey through a region brimming with diversity, charm, and captivating experiences. As you embark on your journey homeward, let the magic of the Mediterranean continue to inspire and beckon you toward new adventures. Bon voyage, and may your travels be forever enriched by the treasures of this magnificent region.
Note: Please note that this itinerary is a whirlwind exploration, characterised by a lot of driving and quick stops. If you take more time at each stop, you get to enjoy each place much more.