Côte d’Azur has been a playground for the rich and famous for centuries, from 18th century aristocrats and artists to the 1960s jet set. how to Take in the best of this legendary destination
by Nubia DuVall Wilson
Whether its glamorous St-Tropez or celebrity-filled Cannes, the French Riviera offers an immaculate coastline, a sizzling party scene, gourmet restaurants, and five-star accommodations that will wow even the most discerning traveler. Newbies who want to experience the iconic Côte d’Azur can stay in Cannes first and then work their way across the Mediterranean to Nice and Monaco—and a great option is turning the experience into a road trip by renting a luxury car, as the whole circuit can be driven in just a few hours. In February, Nice also celebrates Carnival, during which colorful parades with floats and entertainment by more than 1,000 musicians and dancers from across the world highlight one of the largest gatherings in the world. May is when film stars flock to the Cannes Film Festival, of course, and when car enthusiasts watch the F1 Grand Prix race through the streets of Monaco. Beach-friendly summer months are most popular times to visit (and most crowded), but travelers can still experience sunbathing weather in September when there are fewer visitors and better prices.
For nearly two centuries, Cannes’ tranquil bay, adjacent to the famous Boulevard de la Croisette, has welcomed the crème de la crème of the world. The destination boasts three casinos, 33 private beaches, and nine festivals, including the September Concerts musical performances. The most recognizable names in luxury take center stage along the beach, often in or among palatial accommodations like the InterContinental Carlton Cannes Hotel. Not-to-miss experiences include walking around the hill of le Suquet, taking in the old quarter and its winding cobbled streets, stunning restaurants, and clock tower and church overlooking the Bay of Cannes.
The largest and best private beach property, known as ZPlage, lies in front of Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez (formerly just Hôtel Martinez). It offers a bar, restaurant, and spacious pier into the sea (sun lounges should be reserved in advance and rental fees apply). One of the most popular destinations for shopping is la Croisette, where you’ll find fashion houses like Celine, Chanel, Christian Dior, and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Parallel to la Croisette is Rue d’ Antibes, where there are diverse clothing and décor shops of all price points, along with elegant cafes and tea salons like the famous Ladurée Cannes, known for its French macarons. Visit luxury boutique Lalique for crystal decorative items, jewelry, and perfumes, or the open air Market La Bocca to procure local cheeses and produce to enjoy in a picnic on the beach.
The “capital of the French Riviera,” Nice is highlighted by the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges (“Bay of Angels”), Sardinian architecture, baroque castles and palaces, and a concentration of art galleries. The city was founded by the Greeks and later became a retreat for 19th-century European elite. Among the five-star hotels to choose from is Le Negresco, an institution that has been a symbol of luxury for more than 100 years. Designed by Henri Negresco, the hotel first opened its doors in 1913 and immediately attracted dignitaries of the old and new worlds: the Vanderbilts, Portugal’s Queen Amélie, the artist Salvador Dali, and Princess Grace of Monaco among them. Culture hounds are spoiled for choice here, as there are 15 museums, such as the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, with pieces that trace the history of the European and American avant-garde since the ’60s, and the Museum of Fine Arts, housed in a 19th-century villa with paintings and sculptures that range from the 13th to 20th centuries. For shopping, avoid Avenue Jean Médecin and Rue de France, but do walk around Rue Paradis, where most of Nice’s international designer stores are located. Wine from the region is superb; it’s home to the Bellet appellation, hidden in the western hills (found entirely within Nice’s city limits, it is the only urban appellation in the country). Be sure to stop by La Part des Anges wine shop and bar (where star chefs come to replenish their cellars) to sample and purchase Braquet and Rosé, often blended with the local Folle Noir grape.
Known for its glitzy casinos and yacht-lined harbor, Monaco is an independent microstate on France’s Mediterranean coastline. Still home to a monarchy, the destination caught the world’s attention when Prince Rainier III married actress Grace Kelly. The main district, Monte-Carlo, was created in 1866 and named in honor of Prince Charles III. It features an elegant Belle Époque-style casino complex, the Monte Carlo Opera House, and lovely boutiques and restaurants. Also head to Larvotto Beach, where the wealthy relax at clubs like La Note Bleue, where they sip champagne and people watch from mid-April to mid-October. A sough tafter accommodation for discerning travelers is Leading Hotel of the World member Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo, located in the Golden Square. There, guests have access to eight categories of suites, the ODYSSEY outdoor pool haven designed by Karl Lagerfeld, “Just For You” programming of exclusive local experiences, and two Michelin star dining options—Restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo and Yoshi (Robuchon’s only Japanese restaurant). For shopping, walk around the famous Cercle d’Or, where luxury shops and prestigious brands abound. For indoor galleries with major labels, visit Métropole Shopping Centre, the Allées Lumières, or the Fontvielle.
Where to eat
La Toque d’Or, $$$
Located near the Forville market, the La Toque d’Or (“Touch of Gold”) offers gastronomic French cuisine in a rustic yet elegant dining room with exposed stone. The seasonal menu changes every two months and offers à la carte dishes or prix fixe. Popular entrees include the asparagus with quail eggs in a bacon emulsion and caramelized duck breast with sweet potato and carrots in lamb juice, finished off with a chocolate sorbet with apricots.
11 rue Louis Blanc,
La Palme D’Or, $$$$
Housed in the recently renamed hotel Grand Hyatt Canes Hotel Martinez, La Palme D’Or is the only two-star Michelin restaurant in the city, which means make reservations in advance and prepare for a unique sensory experience. Sit on the panoramic terrace with views of the sea and famous Boulevard de la Croisette while dining from one of the tasting menus. For a meat-lovers option, choose The Farm Pigeon from Mont-Royal for 138 Euros, which features thinly sliced carpaccio seasoned with caviar and Luzerne, pigeon confit legs seasoned with marrow, and pigeon pie with cocoa flavour and candied fruits.
73 Boulevard de la Croisette,
Come to this Michelin star restaurant with an empty stomach and four hours to spare, as that’s how long dinner will take. The flavorful journey the Cake brothers chefs will take you on is characterized by classic French cuisine with a hint of exotic flavors. The atmosphere is modern, with spare wooden elements, a deep sea scene on the walls, and upholstered chairs. The menu revolves around the theme of escape, featuring classic Mediterranean creations. Twice a week, depending on the season, the chefs gather vegetables, wild garlic, onion, and flowers such as violets from a nearby forest to incorporate into dishes.
25 rue Gubernatis,
Jan Restaurant, $$$
Along the Nice port is Jan, helmed by South Africa’s first Michelin-star chef, Jan Hendrik. This restaurant, too, has one star, and offers creative contemporary French cuisine inspired by Hendrik’s African heritage. There is no á la carte menu but there is an optional cheese course and wine paring selected by the chef and sommelier.
12 rue Lascaris,
Le Louis XV Alain Ducasse, $$$$
A member of Les Grandes Tables du Monde, Le Louis XV Alain Ducasse has been named one of the world’s best restaurants. It is the first hotel restaurant to be award three Michelin stars, not one of which it has since lost. Chef Ducasse and Dominique Lory created a modern menu here, with a focus on intense, aromatic broths, fresh sauces, and a fusion of Mediterranean flavors. The new interior is courtesy of Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, and reflects the carefree lifestyle of the French Riviera.
Hôtel de Paris, Place du Casino, Monte Carlo,
Where to Party
Le Bâoli, Cannes
Away from the epicenter of Canne’s nightlife, Carré d’Or (Golden Square), is le Bâoli, with Ferraris and Bentleys always parked outside. Positioned in the heart of Port Canto, it is one of those places that won’t let you in unless you have “the look,” but once inside you’ll have access to an exotic Asian and Mediterranean fusion restaurant and hopping club with Bali-inspired décor. By day there is a beach club to lounge by the sea.
Le Croisette Boulevard, Porto Canto, Cannes,
Casino Barriere, Cannes
Located in the Palais de Festival et de Congrès (the convention center where the Cannes Film Festival takes place), Barrière is the largest casino in the area at almost 10,000-square-feet. Gamblers will be greeted by a giant aquarium, gilded statues, and wall carvings inspired by Greek mythology as they enter the main game room. On the mezzanine there is a restaurant overlooking the port.
1 Space Lucien Barrière,
The High Club, Nice
This expansive seaside club is divided into multiple sections. The Disco complex is for 20-somethings who want a high-energy scene, while Studio 47 has a chic and refined atomosphere and is reserved for patrons over 30, and The Sk’High area is for LGBT clients. Late night snacks are available at any time.
45 Promenade des Anglais,
Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco
The brainchild of Princess Consort and regent de facto of Monaco, Caroline (1793-1879), this famed casino opened its doors in 1863 and is the principality’s largest gambling complex, where players take in European roulette, blackjack, and punto banco al fresco on the terrace. For a more intimate atmosphere, private lounges are available from May to October (suit jackets recommended) and a space can be closed off for a fully-tailored VIP experience.
Place du Casino, 98000,
Monaco Yacht Show
From late September to early October, this fabulous exhibition is set in iconic Port Hercules. Visitors worldwide attend to admire, visit, and purchase more than 120 extraordinary superyachts built by the world’s most respected shipyards. This year, 40 new launches will be unveiled.
Take a day trip from Nice to Grasse to the Galimard Perfumery, the third oldest perfumery in Europe. Created in 1747 by Jean de Galimard, who supplied fragrances to the court of King Louis, it was built on the natural resources of the area: jasmine, rose, lavender, orange flower, and tuberose. Discover techniques used to create a fragrance by making your own in the “Studio des Frangrances” (by appointment only), which includes a bottle and registry of your unique scent.
73 route de Cannes,
Abbey Lérins Saint Honorat
A short boat ride from Cannes will take you to Saint-Honorat Island and the 1,600-year-old Cistercian monastery Abbey Lérins Saint Honorat. Walk the grounds to view the beautiful gardens and the historic church dating from 1073. The exceptional red and white wine produced from the Abbey vineyards is available to travelers who visit the restaurant La Tonnelle on the island.
Saint Honorat Island, Cannes,