Here's a list of other related guides that you may wish to discover.Cote D'Azur
You meet the strangest people out walking – Leopold II of Belgium for example. Well, it wasn’t me who spotted him, but Queen Victoria, out for a constitutional on April 4th 1898, somewhere on the coast near Villefranche.
Then, as now, anybody who was anybody took a holiday on the French Riviera. Leopold, for example, had a house in Cap Ferrat. Not to mention another for his mistress. Queen Victoria was on her eighth visit to the area and such sojourns in the sun did much to popularise the Côte d’Azur – which got its name from an 1880s guide book, a reflection of the area’s clear blue skies – with the English, just as the railways were opening up the coast.
The Cote d'Azur : well known for its fine cuisine
At the start of the 1860s 4,000 or so people holidayed around Nice each year, a figure that increased to 100,000 annually by the end of the century. And of course that popularity has only boomed ever since, interrupted by WWII, but spurred on more recently by the advent of new airlines, the lowering of the Iron Curtain and magazines showing the Beckhams or Grimaldis frolicking in the Med in all their celebrity glory. Whether you take a villa by the sea or further inland you’ll want to explore the coast and as you’ll probably land at Nice, that’s a good place to start. Once you’ve picked up your hire car (you’ll usually have to take the free shuttle bus to the rental desks at Terminal 2, if you’ve landed at Terminal 1) try to park in town (which can be tricky so grab the first spot you can see), which is just ten minutes’ drive away. Then wander around the warren of streets and narrow lanes in the Old Town. Stop to try socca (the local chickpea pancake speciality, sprinkled with black pepper – better than it sounds!) at Chez Pipo on Rue Bavastro. The whole area is even more atmospheric after dark and there are dozens of bars, cafes and restaurants in which to linger, many of which still reflect an Italian influence. (The city only became part of France in 1860.) And if you want to get a feel for the way the city is laid, have a promenade along the beach on the Promenade des Anglais. Then, at the end before you go round the corner towards the port, take the free lift up the hill underneath the Parc du Château. Stop for an ice cream then wander downhill and you’ll find yourself in the Old Town again.If you want to check out the city’s art scene the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain - aka MAMAC - is on the Promenade des Arts, a very close stroll away from the cafes of the Place Garibaldi.
The Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain
It features American and European avant-garde works from the 1950s onwards, including Pop Art and New Realisim. And the Musée Marc Chagall in a suburban neighbourhood on Avenue Dr Ménard is an absolute must if you are a fan of the painter, who died in 1985 in nearby St Paul de Vence. The main hall has 12 large paintings that interpret stories from the bible and really jump off the walls. There’s a peaceful garden in which to pause outside before continuing on, perhaps to the Musée Matisse on Avenue des Arènes des Cimiez, in Cimiez itself, an area that was a favourite of Queen Victoria back in the day. The main permanent exhibition is housed in a large, 17th-century Genoese-style villa, while temporary ones are in the more futuristic basement. Heading back along the coast, past the airport, with the waters of the Baie des Anges twinkling like diamonds, you’ll pass pretty little 15th-century Biot, renowned for its glass works (stop off and pick up the useful self-guided tour leaflet from the tourist office on Rue St Sébastien) and perhaps detour inland via the narrow cluster of streets in Valbonne till you get back to the sea at Antibes and Juan les Pins. You could easily argue that Antibes, with its old ramparts, yachts bobbing in the harbour and flower-decked alleyways leading towards the beaches and Cape d’Antibes, is the quintessential Provençal Mediterranean town. And certainly it draws the crowds for good reason. Picasso was captivated by it as was Graham Greene – in fact the Musée Picasso, overlooking the sea at Place Mariejol in a 14th-century palace, is a must see. The famed artist once said that “if you want to see the Picassos from Antibes, you have to see them in Antibes”. I wouldn’t disagree. At night the centre is busy, with locals and visitors not to mention yacht crews from around the world, who usually start off the evening with a drink or two at Le Blue Lady pub. It also does a “Full Monty” English fry-up avec eggs, beans et sausage but if you’d rather try a classier Bacon, head to the Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name in Cap d’Antibes where you can splurge on excellent bouillabaisse and an extensive wine list. Or try Le Figuier de St Esprit on Rue St Esprit for sublime seafood, lamb and poultry.
Glorious Cannes awaits
Pop further along the coast - on the train in just 10 minutes if peak season traffic is getting tiresome – and you’ll reach glorious, glitzy Cannes. Stroll along La Croisette in all your finery and pretend you’re waving to Angelina and Brad, or perhaps sipping a Pastis with Monsieur George Clooney. Who knows, come the film festival in May, you might be? Stop at La Palme d’Or restaurant, with two Michelin stars, for dinner – the whole experience is très Hollywood. Try the spider crab perhaps or pigeon cooked on the bone, but save room for one of the divine desserts.
Make sure you amble around the old town quarter of Le Suquet, and from the Quai Max Laubeuf you can catch a ferry to St Tropez, or to the nearby, traffic-free Îles de Lérins. On St Honorat for example you’ll see neither cars nor hotels.
Bring a picnic of fresh Provençal cheese, sausage, fruit and wine and if you half squint your eyes through the glare of the summer sun, you might find that your own special corner of Provence has not really changed so much since Queen Victoria was amused on the Riviera over a hundred and twenty years ago.