Côte d’Azur – French Riviera Road Trip Itinerary

Nice’s beach

For those who don’t know yet… “The Côte d’Azur (often known in English as the French Riviera, or in Spanish as “Costa Azul” ), is the Mediterranean coastline of the south-east corner of France, also including the sovereign state of Monaco. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from the Italian border (Italian Riviera) to the east to Saint-Tropez, Hyères, Toulon, or Cassis in the west.” [Wikipedia]

Which towns should I visit? Which ones worth staying a couple of days? Keep reading!

Day 1. Nice

Niza’s world famous Promenade by the sea

Nice is one of the main cities to visit during a trip to Côte d’Azur. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in France, and one of the most popular summer destinations in Europe. It also has the second-largest hotel capacity in the country and is home to Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, France’s third-busiest airport (after Charles de Gaulle Airport and Orly Airport).

For the reasons above is an excellent starting point. We rented a car at the airport, which was quite easy and fast, even that most people do the same, and started our journey. Accommodation tends to be expensive, even more if it is close to the coast, so in this case, we found a very nice and convenient flat on Airbnb.

There are many things to do in Nice. A good walk or cycle on The Promenade des Anglais is a must, with one or more stops on the beach. In total is approximately 7 km and, administratively speaking, forms part of Route nationale 98, which runs between Toulon and Menton.

Intense blue waters

There are no sandy beaches, so be prepared for the pebbles. However; the colour of the water is so uniquely light-blue intense that is hard to compare with other beaches. Simply stunning.

As a side note, in case you ever wondered why the Mediterranean waters are so blue, it is essentially the lacking in a number of nutrients that lead to plant growth, which makes other seas and oceans have a less attractive green-brown colour.

Nice deserves at least 2 nights and 3 days. And it is a good base for visiting other towns (Eze), countries (Monaco) and places nearby. Some things to do in Nice are:

  • Promenade des Anglais
  • Parc de la Colline du Château. Impressive medieval castle uphill (93 metres above sea level), offering stunning panoramic views over the city.
  • Marché Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya. Beautiful flower market.
  • Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain. Includes pop art pieces by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
  • Vieux Nice. This is the old town, just to walk around and discover.
  • Musée Matisse. His museum.
  • Hotel Negroni. Just an unaffordable hotel, but most people want a picture at the door at least.
  • Phoenix Park. A botanical and zoological garden near the airport.
  • Cave de la Tour. Nice’s oldest wine bar, founded in 1947.
  • Voyageur Nissart. An excellent family-run and less touristic restaurant.
  • Beer District. If you need a wine break, this could be the place. 16 microbrews on tap.
  • Le Shapko. Live jazz over 2 floors.
  • Mama Baker. Recommended bakery.

Day 2. Monaco and Eze

Monaco’s world famous Casino de Monte-Carlo
Monaco’s old port

As mentioned above, for its location, size and facilities, Nice is an excellent base and starting point for a Côte d’Azur road trip. So before going West, where many other popular towns are, we headed east to visit Monaco and Eze. Both of them are only 30 minutes away and a day trip is enough.

Monaco is one of the most representative and distinguished towns in the area. It is actually more than that: a sovereign city-state, country, and microstate. It is widely recognised for being one of the most expensive and wealthiest places in the world.

Since the late 19th century, Monaco’s mild climate, scenery, and gambling facilities have contributed to the principality’s status as a tourist destination and recreation centre for the rich. In more recent years, Monaco has become a major banking centre and has sought to diversify its economy into the services sector and small, high-value-added, non-polluting industries.

It is normally full of tourist, especially in summer. Parking spaces are scarce, so we left the car at Metropole Shopping Monte-Carlo, and then walk all the way to the Palace.

Its most popular attraction is The Monte Carlo Casino, officially named Casino de Monte-Carlo, a gambling and entertainment complex that includes a casino, the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and the office of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.

Monaco has also two ports (new and old) where you can find the largest and most expensive yachts in the world. And a few other attractions, such as:

  • The Royal Palace
  • Jardin Exotique
  • Oceanographic Museum
  • Café de Paris
  • Nouveau Musée National de Monaco
Map of Eze at the town’s entrance

Èze is a tiny medieval village on top of a hill, just 12.5 km from Nice, and even closer to Monaco. It is famous worldwide for the view of the sea from its hilltop. Its Jardin botanique d’Èze is known for its collection of cacti and succulents, as well as its panoramic views. It is also well known that Walt Disney spent a significant amount of time in Èze.

There is a parking lot right outside the village, but you may need to park somewhere else as it is normally full. You can then walk all around. There are tiny alleys and paths but is not difficult at all.

The best view belongs to the ancient Chateau of Eze (Château Eza), the most popular hotel, bar and restaurant in Eze.

Overall the town is cute, but it was not our favourite place in the trip. I would recommend it only if you have the time.

Day 3. Antibes and Juan-les-Pins

Antibes’ Plage de la Gravette
Antibes’ old town

Antibes was one of our favourite places in all Côte d’Azur. It’s smaller than most towns, but also more relaxing and quiet. We also noticed a different atmosphere. It is still kind of posh, having huge luxury yachts in the port, but it felt different to us.

We parked the car before reaching the town’s port. If you are driving on Avenue de Nice, there are many adjacent streets where you may be able to find a place.

We then walked all the way to the Port Vauban, which is undoubtfully one of its main attractions. It is the Mediterranean’s largest marina and one of the most expensive ones, with mooring fees of over a million euros. It is a natural harbour and has been used since Roman times. If you are looking to hire, small boats start at €6000 a day.

Our next stop was the old town of Vieil Antibes. It is really beautiful, surrounded by narrow cobblestone streets, 16th-century ramparts, pastel-coloured houses, cafés, restaurants and gift shops. We were lucky and found the Marché Provençal opened, Antibe’s popular market that offers some fantastic local produce including fruit, flowers, vegetables, meats, cheeses, spices, herbs, fish and sausages. It opens daily from 6 am to 1 pm from June to September, every day except Monday the rest of the year.

You will easily realise why Antibes’ has attracted many artists from around the World, including Graham Greene, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso. The latter came to the town in 1946, having visited his friend and fellow painter Gerald Murphy and his wife Sara there in 1923, and was invited to stay in the castle. During his six-month stay, Picasso painted and drew, as well as crafting ceramics and tapestries. When he departed, Picasso left a number of his works to the municipality. The castle has since become the Picasso Museum.

After the old town, we headed to Plage de la Gravette. It’s a beautiful small beach next to the port and the old town. It was quite peaceful and relaxing despite its location. Some areas were rocky but it had enough sand and a good area for swimming. We enjoyed it a lot.

If you are looking for longer sandy beaches, you can go to Plage de Ponteil or Plage de la Salis. The former has some facilities and offers boats and kayaks for hire. For luxury summer clubs, you can go further south to Plage de la Garoupe.

If you are interested in museums or building, you can also visit Fort Carré, a 16th-century fortress that was built to protect the border between France and the neighbouring county of Nice.

Juan-les-Pins

Juan-les-Pins is the next town moving south, only 30 minutes away by car. It’s much bigger than Antibes and offers many options in terms of accommodation, shops of all kind, casino, nightlife, beaches and more.

It definitely looks and feels less sophisticated than the other towns, but since it’s around the corner, it worth visiting. It is also well known for housing music festivals. Since the end of the Second World War, the town has established itself as jazz spot and has hosted famous artists like Sidney Bechet, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. Even today, the big names in jazz perform there in July during the Jazz à Juan festival in the Pinède Gould park.

Day 4. Cannes and Saint Tropez

Cannes’ old port
Cannes’ sunset

Cannes is another world-famous town in Côte d’Azur, mostly known for hosting the annual Cannes Film FestivalMidem, and Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The city is also associated with the rich and famous, luxury hotels, restaurants and high-end brands, and for several conferences.

However; besides its deserved fame, it’s beautiful and kind of peaceful. We were there in June, so I suppose it was quieter than July or August. Some shops were full and we could see people gathered in the old port or the Palais des Festivals, but it was not too crowded at all.

In terms of attractions, La Croisette is stunning and deserves a good walk from end to end, especially at sunset (see picture above). It’s the sidewalk besides by see, where you find a few central beaches, clubs and hotels, as it is the centre of the city’s tourist activity.

The Vieux Port or old port (picture above) is also gorgeous, especially at night, featuring picturesque coloured houses that are reflected in the water.

Palais des Festivals is where stars of the screen gather and watch films screened during the festival. Its 22 steps leading up to the entrance are irresistible for tourist to take photographs. And there is also the Les Allées des Étoiles (Walk of Stars), where concrete handprints of film stars are, including Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone and Gerard Depardieu.

For a spectacular food experience, no other market in Cannes beats Covered Market (Marché Forville) for scale and variety. It is at the west end of Rue Meynardiers, one of the Cote’s best gourmand streets.

In terms of beaches, most of them in the centre are private and cost €30 for a day’s use (including sunbed and shade). The public ones are crowded, beside the Palais des Festivals – Plage Macé, or the far end of the Croisette towards Port Pierre Canto. Other public beaches are also found along the seafront road heading to Mandelieu La Napoule, such as Plages du Midi.

For a quieter beach, a great option is to go to the Îles de Lérins. The smaller island is St Honorat, which includes a monastery and a ruined castle. The larger island is Ste Marguerite which also has a castle, shops, bars, and restaurants. In both of them, you can find quiet coves and shades. Ferries depart every hour and return tickets cost between €14 and €16.

We stayed at Hôtel Anna Livia and it was a great choice. It is a modest hotel, but great value for money. They served a good continental breakfast buffet and it is extremely well located: just 200 yards from the beaches of La Croisette, 7-minute walk from the Palais des Festivals, 2-minute walk from the Rue d’Antibes and just 750 yards from The Cannes Train Station.

Saint Tropez
Saint Tropez’ aerial view (source: sainttropez-dreamhouses.com/)

Our next stop was another glamorous town, Saint Tropez. This time the drive was longer, as it takes around 2 hours from Cannes. There are a few roads that take you to the town, so depending on your time and your planned stops you drive by the sea on D6098 and D559 or take the faster road inland.

Saint-Tropez was a military stronghold and fishing village until the beginning of the 20th century. After the war, it became an internationally known seaside resort.

Like most of the towns, Saint-Tropez’ main attractions include the Vieux Port (old port), where immense luxury yachts rest while tourists walk around and take pictures. If you look beneath the archway, next to the tourist office, you can find the daily morning fish market. There is also a nice path by sea (see picture above) where you can walk all the way from the port, passing by the Phare de Saint-Tropez and all the way to Tour du Portalet and even more.

The old town is worth visiting as well. Expect to see picturesque houses and shops all around. If you want to escape the luxury atmosphere for a bit, head to Place des Lices, where locals gather to play pétanque and relax at Café des Arts. It also hosts a pretty market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Another popular attraction is Citadelle, which was built in 1602 to defend the coast against Spain. It dominates the hillside overlooking the town from the east and the views are fantastic. Its dungeons are home to the excellent Musée de l’Histoire Maritime.

There are also a few charming and pleasing beaches around. Tahiti, Moorea, des Canoubiers, Indie, Plage de la Ponche (smaller and less crowded) and Plage de Pampelonne. The latter is the most popular and the longest one, known because of Brigitte Bardot’s film And God created woman.

There are also some towns close enough that you may want to visit as well if you have time. Sainte-Maxime, Gassin, Ramatuelle and Port Grimaud are the best ones.

Day 5. Porquerolles Island (Plage de Notre Dame) and Toulon

Porquerolles is the largest, most westerly of the three Îles d’Hyères. Much of the island is now part of a national park (the Port-Cros Parc National) and nature conservation area (Conservatoire botanique national méditerranéen de Porquerolles) so it’s completely unspoiled.

How to get there? If you are or can make your way to Hyères, which is a 25 minutes drive from Toulon, boats leave from its harbour all year round. The harbour is called La Tour Fondue and the company running the service is TLV.

The alternatives are taking the boat from one of the bigger cities around such as ToulonLa Londe-les-Maures or La Seyne-sur-Mer. The company running these services is Bateliers de la Côte D’Azur from April to September.

Cars are not allowed on the island, so once you get to the port you will need to hire a bicycle (there are electric ones as well) or a scooter.

Plage Notre Dame is the most beautiful and relaxing beach on the island and probably on the whole Côte d’Azur. It was considered one of the top 10 beaches in Europe numerous times by multiple rankings.

Plage d’Argent

Plage d’Argent is, in my humble opinion, the second most beautiful beach on the island (at least from the ones I’ve been). If you feel or are less adventurous, or have reduced mobility, or if you simply prefer having more facilities to enjoy your time, this is, without doubt, the best option.

On the other hand, if you are or feel adventurous, Calanque du Brégançonnet could be your best option. But I would like to be clear on this point: this is more about the adventure than the beach/calanque itself.

We stayed at Toulon for a night. It’s a nice city, but it is also a significant naval base and the harbour is home to submarines and warships, as well as fishing boats and ferries. We did not spend much time in the city itself. If you do, some places to visit are, besides the harbour:

  • Téléphérique du Faron (cable car)
  • Plage du Mourillon
  • Cours Lafayette Market
  • Opéra de Toulon
  • Musée National de la Marine

Visit our post Visiting Plage Notre Dame and more in Porquerolles Island for even more information.

Day 6. Cassis

Plage du Bestouan
Cassis’ port at night

Our next stop was Cassis, a picturesque fishing port which is known for pebbly beaches, cold-water Calanques and limestone cliffs. It’s 2 hours away by car from Saint Tropez, and there are multiple roads to take and also towns and beaches to visit.

The town’s harbour is again one of its main attractions, and features pastel-coloured buildings, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and an excellent view of Château de Cassis, as you can see in the picture above. The castle, known locally as Castum Carcisis, was built on the 9th-century and was once inhabited by the Carolingians, It is now a private hotel and not open to the public, so either you book a room or you watch it from the distance, as we did.

An exploration walk around the town is worth doing. Expect to see the classical Provençal beauty in small towns, with cobbled lanes and coloured cute houses. An additional recommendation is to try ice cream, as it seems to be one speciality. Maison Casalini is an excellent option. You may also want to try traditional Creme de Cassis, a sweet liqueur sorbet created from blackcurrants.

Cassis also has its own local market, like most towns in Provence. It is held every Wednesday and Friday morning around the fountain in Place de la République.

In terms of beaches, our favourites were the ones in the Calanques National Park, as we explain the next section (Day 7). However; there are also two good options closer to the town. Plage de la Grande Mer is the main beach, right to the left of the port. It is family-friendly with facilities, with pale shingles rather than sand. The other one is Plage du Bestouan, a stone beach with a more adult vibe, offering parking, sunbeds, a bar and a restaurant.

Some recommended spots for food are La Villa Madie (high-end), La Poissonerie and Le Patio. The latter offers some Provençal favourites.

In terms of accommodation, Cassis is expensive as some other towns in Cote. But if you are driving you can find many cheaper accommodations in other towns nearby. For instance, we stayed one night at Hôtel Corniche du Liouquet and we liked it. It’s only 25 minutes by car from Cassis, and you can visit many smaller and less knows beaches nearby. If you prefer to stay in town, Le Clos Des Arômes could be a great choice.

Day 7. Calanques National Park

Calanque d'En-Vau
Calanque d’En-Vau
Calanque de Port Pin
Calanque de Port Pin

Calanques National Park (Parc national des Calanques) extends over 520 km2 (201 sq mi), of which 85 km2 (33 sq mi) is land, and is located stretching between Marseille, Cassis and La Ciotat.

Several of the park’s best-known features include the Calanque de Sormiou, Calanque de Morgiou, Calanque de Port-Miou, Calanque de Sugiton, as well as the Cosquer Cave. Some of these are considered the best beaches in Cote d’Azur.

How to get there? The park is big enough to have multiple entrances and towns around. Marseille is the biggest city nearby (France’s second-biggest), having an airport, an important port and plenty of options for accommodation. We stayed in Cassis so we entered the park from the Eastside.

Bestouan Beach is a great spot for a quick visit before or after the park. It is a beautiful pebble beach with good space for swimming, facilities, restaurants, and a great view of Cassis. And which is very important is that there is public parking in front of the beach, called Parking Cassis Bestouan – EFFIA. So my recommendation is to start early and leave the car there. The car park is not bookable online yet, although its website indicates it is coming soon.

We followed the hiking trail of the map above, from the parking lot to the most beautiful beach in the park, Calanque d’En-Vau. This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths, as google is not accurate on this. However; it shows a 3 stage route that passes 3 beaches. (An official interactive map of the park can be found here)

The first stage is easy and takes you to Calanque de Port-Miou in only 17 minutes This area offers a number of hotels and villas, in case you want to stop for a night or more. Some of these are Villa Cassis, Cassis Lodges, Le Vent des Dames and La Villa De Port-Miou.

The second stage (point B to C on the map above) it is easy and follows the way of the Calanque de Port-Miou to the Mediterranean (17-20 minutes).

Calanques National Park
Calanques National Park

The last stage of our route was the hardest, which goes from Calanque de Port Pin to the most beautiful Calanque, d’En-Vau. This section goes deep into the national park and it not that easy at all. Expect to walk by limestone cliffs, rocky uneven footpaths, slopes of all kind and little human intervention (signs/help), as you can see in the pictures below.

Regarding tours, two companies offering kayak tours are Destination Calanques Cassis Kayak and Kayak Cassis. Other recommended tours are:

Visit our post Visiting Calanques National Park for even more information.

Map

The following map shows our car itinerary from Nice to Marseille.

More Pictures

Monaco’s new port
Antibes
Nice’s most popular (and expensive) hotels: Hotel Negroni
One of Eze’s house gardens
Calanque de Port-Miou
Calanque de Port-Miou
Porquerolles Island

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