French Riviera in Spring!
Great food, fabulous beaches, a world-famous party scene and bucketloads of glamour are always de rigueur on the French Riviera but there’s also charming villages, a rich artistic heritage and some stunning scenery to be discovered around the Cote d’Azur region. What’s more, with just under two hours flying time, you can leave the office on Friday afternoon and be sipping a Cointreau Fizz on the French Riviera by sunset. What better reason than that?
Whether you want a quick autumn getaway or are looking ahead to spring, the French Riviera is glorious before or after the crazy summer months of July and August. Temperatures can reach up to 24oC at the start of October, the sea is still warm for swimming and there’s the added bonus of a lot less people to share a beach with.
Fly to Nice, and then head down the coast to glorious Cap d’Antibes. With its endless stretch of sand and nods to the Gatsby era, buzzy Juan-les-Pins is a fun place to hang out. It’s busy in summer and heaving in July, when the crowds flock to the renowned annual jazz festival (jazzajuan.com). So if you want some sunbed space visit out of high season, when the pace slows, but the nightlife is still lively. By day, hit the beach and swim in the warm, calm water; by night, take a walk along the promenade, then dine until the early hours at tables on the sand overlooking the picturesque bay. Of course, there is lots more to do here – an excursion to neighbouring Cannes or a boat trip to the enchanting Lérins islands, perhaps – but you can’t beat the little pleasures in life – sunbed, parasol and a chilled glass of rosé.
American literary legend F Scott Fitzgerald found inspiration in this rocky peninsula when he lived here in the mid-20s and you don’t have to go far to see that the legacy of Gatsby lives on through millionaire’s villas nestled in the hills, the A-listers and aristocracy who regularly check into glamorous Eden Roc and billionaire yachts moored up in Port Vauban, Europe’s largest marina.
Just behind the marina, Antibes’ medieval walled town is well worth a visit – think cobbled streets, stone buildings, busy little street cafés and stunning sea and mountain vistas. You can see why writers and artists like Monet and Picasso were drawn here. Wander up to the Picasso museum (antibesjuanlespins.com) in the impressive 16th-century Château Grimaldi – the artist’s home for two months in 1946 – and be inspired, like he was, by the view. Then, head down to the covered Provencal market, where painters and sculptors exhibit their work in the afternoon and food sellers set up in the morning. Despite the superyachts in the harbour, chic Antibes is not as flash as St Tropez, so you’re less likely to bump into Kate Moss here than you are in the Place des Lices market. But that doesn’t make it any less alluring. And when you do get that craving for a celebrity fix, St Tropez is beckoning just an hour and a half away.
You simply can’t go to the Cote d’Azur without visiting the most glamorous town in France. And the journey here through pine-tree forests and attractive seaside resorts is as Instagram-worthy as the luxury yachts moored up in the harbour. This once sleepy fishing village was transformed in the 50s into a hedonistic playground for the rich and famous and it hasn’t looked back. Thousands of people throng St Tropez’s narrow streets every day in summer, where the Ferraris are lucky to make it out of first gear, but this doesn’t seem to put anyone off. The yachts, the wild parties, the glitz and glamour make it an exhilarating place to visit. It’s a people-watching paradise and a mecca for designer-label shopping, yet at the same time charming and quaint, with old men playing boules in the shady town square flanked by plane trees, cute independent boutiques and lovely little art galleries.
When the beautiful people aren’t, well, being beautiful in St Tropez, they are looking gorgeous on glorious Pampelonne plage. It’s the longest and most popular beach in the area and everyone flocks here for the white sand, azure water and cool beach clubs. But if the super-rich flaunting their superyachts doesn’t float your boat, you can always head for laid-back L’Escalet and the wild beaches of Cap Taillat – or the hills.
You don’t have to drive far out of St Tropez before the road opens out into rolling countryside and endless vineyards. Follow the signs to Ramatuelle – you’ll see it before you arrive, perched on top of a hill, the terracotta roofs a blaze of orange against the vivid green pine forest. It was built to escape pirates and now tourists come to seek respite from the hordes. The pace is slower here. There are old stone houses, bougainvillea and honeysuckle, and café tables that spill out on to the pavement, tempting you to pull up a chair and while away the hours over lunch.
Neighbouring little Gassin, 4.4km away, is another gem. It’s been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France and has one the narrowest streets in the world, and if that isn’t enough to tempt you here, the outstanding 360-degree view across the entire peninsula and the gulf of St Tropez certainly will. Looking out across the bay, it’s hard to believe this simple village with cobbled streets and shaded square is in the same vicinity as swanky Pampelonne plage, but that’s the beauty of the Côte D’Azur – there’s something for everyone.