travel guide

The French Playground on the Cote D’Azur

The Riviera is France’s playground, the famous Cote d’Azur. The French Riviera stretches from Toulon to the Italian border and is dotted with famous spots: Nice, Cannes, Menton, Beaulieu, Cap d’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, St.-Tropez, Eden Roc and of course, Monte Carlo in the principality of Monaco.
Nice is the largest of the Riviera resorts. It has the Promenade des Anglais, a famous pre-Lenten Carnival coinciding with the end of the Monte Carlo Rally, and some very fine hotels such as the Negresco, the Angleterre, the Royal, the Ruhl, the Plaza and the Splendid. Not so large, but smarter and more frequented by the International set is Cannes, where Prince Ali Khan lived in the fantastic modernist villa, the Chateau de l’Horizon, which was constructed in 1932 for the American actress, Maxine Elliott. There are wonderful hotels, luxurious branches of Paris shops, wonderful beaches and two casinos. The beach boulevard La Croisette has the Carlton, the Martinez (the largest hotel on the Riviera), the Majestic and others. There are at least 35 hotels in the town. Between Cannes and Nice is the Cap d’Antibes, which has the famous luxury Hotel du Cap; the Eden Roc, with its famous pool and restaurant, and Le Grand Hotel du Cap Estel, a beautiful romantic spot with its own beach and lovely garden which is located on the low Corniche, one mile after Eze-sur-Mer. Also at Juan-les-Pins, the de luxe Hotel Provencal.

At Monte Carlo there is the Casino, the most famous in the world. This is an enormous ornate building, marbled and mirrored with crystal chandeliers everywhere you turn. There are several hotels at Monte Carlo, most famous of which is the Hotel de Paris. There are the Metropole, the Hermitage, the Mirabeau, the Monte-Carlo Beach, any of which is first rate. Along the entire Riviera there is wonderful golf, fishing, swimming and boating. It is a yachtsman’s paradise, but it is fun for small boatsmen, too; there are water skiing and underwater fishing. In the winter there is skiing about 25 miles inland from the beaches.

There are, however, less swank and equally beautiful resorts along the Riviera. St.-Tropez, St. Raphael, Juan-les-Pins, all with wonderful beaches, many with fine hotels and small pensions. Or try some of the smaller fishing villages such as Villefranche, Cap Ferrat and Cap d’Ail. Many hotels reduce rates as much as 20 per cent in winter to encourage tourists.
From Nice three roads lead to Monte Carlo and the Italian frontier. They are the Basse (low) Corniche, Moyenne (middle) Corniche, and Grande (high) Corniche. Each one runs on its different level out into the hills. From each you get that famous view of the Riviera.

The coast from Cannes to Menton, which the French call the Cote d’Azur, has been the `playground of Europe’ for more than a century. Its secret is its warm, sunny climate, mild even in winter, and the majestic scenery of the steep coast east of Nice. For years the Riviera was the preserve of the rich and titled, today it is urbanized and popularized, pleasanter in many ways in winter than in summer.
Nice, the capital, is partly Italian in character, and all the year it has a varied and lively existence of its own, regardless of visitors. The alleys of the old town contrast with the resplendent hotels along the Promenade des Anglais. Cannes is smaller and smarter than Nice, and more particularly devoted to visitors. In summer it is overcrowded; in winter it remains exclusive and aristocratic. Menton, a town of lemons and palm-trees, has an old-fashioned elegance, and many sedate hotels adapted to quiet English tastes. Some of the smaller resorts are pleasant – Juan-les-Pins, St Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and the ports of Villefranche and Antibes.
Monaco, one of the world’s smallest independent states, has a population of 23,000 on not much more than 2 sq. m. Its ruler, Prince Rainier, and his wife, Princess Grace, live in their castle above the old town. There are no customs or frontier formalities with France, and French coinage is valid, but you must use Monegasque postage stamps. Within Monaco’s frontiers lies Monte Carlo, now mainly devoted to business. The Casino no longer draws the elite of Europe, but is amusing to visit.

A main attraction of the Riviera is its hinterland. Only a few miles from the modern resorts you can find lovely, ancient hill-villages beloved of painters – St Paul-de-Vence, Cagnes, Eze; or interesting old towns like Vence, where D. H. Lawrence died; Valbonne, with its Spanish-style arcaded streets; and Grasse, the perfume centre, in its valley full of flowers. The scenery all round here is glorious. A little further inland are some splendid mountain resorts, such as Peira-Cava, amid sub-Alpine glades and forests.
The Riviera is not ideal for bathing – Cannes and Juan have sandy beaches, but east from Antibes the shore is pebbly. All the year round, however, there are masses of distractions – casinos, galas, festivals, exhibitions. And today the Riviera is one of the world’s finest centres for modern art. Many of the great painters who lived here have left their work behind them. The Fondation Maeght, (France’s first independent art foundation) at St Paul, with its Miros and Giacomettis in the open air, is as striking and lovely an art museum as you will find anywhere. Do not miss, either, the Picasso collections at Antibes and Vallauris (where he worked), the Leger Museum at Biot, the Matisse Chapel at Vence, the Cocteau Chapel at Villefranche, or Renoir’s villa at Cagnes. Picasso helped to revive the Vallauris pottery industry, and nowadays you can buy excellent pottery, often quite cheaply, there or in neighbouring towns. Perfumes and cut flowers are other local products. The food is the same as in the rest of Provence, plus a few specialities from Nice, notably ravioli and the delicious salade nicoise.
There are fine restaurants along the Riviera. La Bonne Auberge, La Reserve de Beaulieu and Chateau de Madrid (on Middle Corniche) are the best restaurants on the coast. Da Bouttau in the old town of Nice (with a branch in Cannes) is an amusing restaurant for local and regional dishes. Chateau de la Chevre d’Or (with a splendid view) in Eze Village. The Riviera is both a summer and winter resort these days.  You can take a delightful 7-day drive from Paris to Cannes by way of Avalon, St.-Seine-L’Abbaye, Vienne (home of the famous La Pyramide Michelin starred restaurant), Valence, Vaison-la-Romaine, Les Baux, Marseilles and along the coast to Cannes. There are marvellous restaurants, charming hotels along the way.