Although I have lived in the South of France for one year, I have never been to the Cote dAzur, so the capital of Nice was our first stop on the itinerary. Arriving at night, we could see the bright lights reflected on the sea while we passed glamorous art deco buildings; we also managed to find a pizza restaurant still serving amazing food at 2am!
To me, this whole city feels like something out of a movie set; elegant architecture, the sparkling sea and mountain views, as well as a plethora of shops, cafes and restaurants give Nice feel of old-school glamour. One shop in particular, Maison Auer, established in 1820, was a shrine to indulgence; decked out in gold filigree with stained glass windows and ceilings, it sold only fine chocolates and champagne! After enjoying a leisurely stroll around Le Vieux Nice, including some exquisite shops and a local French Market, we were lucky enough to have a dip in the sea and a snooze on the beach in the September sunshine!
Travelling on into Valbonne, we immediately fell in love with this picturesque, and typically French, village. Built around a main square composed of restaurants and cafes, the winding streets have a romantic charm, and the outdoor dining is one of the benefits of Mediterranean living. While there, we tried Moules Farcies (stuffed mussels with a creamy garlic, herby sauce) and a local favourite of Daube a rich Provençale casserole with beef, red wine and herbs- which we had with Gnocchi.
For fans of Moroccan cuisine, do not miss La Pigeot. This cosy and vibrant restaurant serves generous portions, the waiters were very friendly, and the queue outside the door on a Tuesday evening is a testament to the delicious food served there!
The first thing that surprised me when visiting the villas in person was the size of them! I dont think photos can give a true sense of how large and spacious the villas feel in real life. For example, Le Cerf Volant, which has space to accommodate for four guests, has a high ceiling and a very spacious living room, with bay windows which open completely, doubling the living space onto the decking outside.
Spending the next few days travelling through the hilltop towns and visiting villas, I felt like I was getting a taste of the real Cote dAzur and Provence, with breath-taking hilltop and mountain views, picturesque villages and a glimpse into local life, culture and cuisine. While the hustle and bustle of tourist towns on the sea edge was only ever a short drive away, these properties set above the sea provided the privacy and tranquillity that one would want from a villa holiday.
In terms of stunning views, Les Cyprés would be hard to beat. With verdant hills reaching down to the sea and spectacular mountains behind you, this tranquil spot has the best of both worlds. After trying and failing several times to capture the beauty of this view on camera, I have resigned to the fact that it is something that needs to be seen in real life to be appreciated fully. The classic interior gives a home from home atmosphere, and the large pool and pretty gardens are everything that you would expect from a luxury villa.
Jaw dropping gardens: La Pagode. I have never seen such magnificent gardens in a residential home. The pure scale is impossible to show in photos, but these enormous grounds have tropical and Mediterranean plants cascading down several levels, with numerous little nooks, sunbathing terraces, tranquil spots, and of course the swimming pool, Jacuzzis and Sauna. This is well suited to sophisticated outdoor events or weddings, or even just for holiday makers looking to explore their own tropical paradise!
Not to miss: Having been told by our operations manager, Sally, that Manoir de Vence was a stonking villa and her personal favourite, I was expecting a lovely property. However, from the moment my colleague Jeanne and I walked through the door, we stood with our mouths open marvelling at the place. The spacious rooms have an understated elegance and luxury, mixing classic features of the building seamlessly with modern design and artwork. The huge pool enjoys a panoramic view over the hills to the sea, and the villa itself is located close to pretty hilltop villages and just a short drive from the beach.
Family friendly: Villa Panoramique With large flat lawns, heated pool, private tennis court and gated grounds, this villa is ideal for a family vacation. The sleek lines and white furniture fit in well with the Mediterranean surroundings, and five out of the six bedrooms have direct access to the bathroom. Upstairs, the master suite has its own space and balcony with beautiful views over the pool, garden, and down to the bay of Cannes.
Modern luxury: Vue Sur Mer This property sums up what I think of when I think of the glamorous French Riviera. The Architect-designed property has amazing sea views, beautifully manicured gardens, an infinity pool and a private hammam. The entrance level balcony has been designed to make the most of these incredible views, and the master bedroom is something most people could only dream of! With high ceilings, sea and garden views, a private bath tub and walk-in wardrobe, the spacious suite is the highlight of this sophisticated holiday home. Ideally located just 2km from Monaco, this luxurious villa is a peaceful retreat from the lively coast nearby.
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