Now is a wonderful time to visit the South of France – the summer crowds have dissipated, the weather’s still balmy, and the wine, olive and truffle seasons are coming right up. Start your trip in Nice, but then branch out – here are five ideas of where to go.
Cannes: Whether or not you’re a fan of celebrities, you can’t hit the Cote d’Azur and not go to Cannes. It’s actually a good taster city for the coast – it’s not as full of the grossly rich (think Paris Hilton spraying champagne) as, say, Saint Tropez is, and, out of film festival season, it’s not crawling with D listers either. Take a stroll down the Croisette – the waterfront promenade – and make sure you step into the most famous hotel, the Carlton.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: The center of the Riviera’s Golden Triangle (Beaulieu and Villefranche are the other points), Saint Jean Cap Ferrat is a small village (the population’s just over 2000) of spectacularly rich people. Behind the bushes are giant estates that have played host to celebs from David Niven to Winston Churchill over the years, while down by the marina is the place to go for a stroll. If you can get in (try making a reservation for lunch), the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat is one of the most glam hotels in the world – a favorite not only of the A list movie set, but also of regular guests Bill Clinton and George W Bush.
Menton: 40 minutes east of Nice, border town Menton is your last stop before you hit Italy. The town itself is beautiful – bougainvillea-lined streets racked up underneath the cliff edge – but it’s worth taking the trip across the border to Ventimiglia, Bordighera and, if you can make it, the spiritual home of cheesy European music, Sanremo (home to the annual Sanremo music festival).
Saint Paul de Vence: The pretty hillside town of Saint Paul is an artists’ haven. Marc Chagall lived there and it’s still chock full of artists and their studios. And there’s food for the stomach, as well as the soul – one of the most famous restaurants in the region, La Colombe d’Or, is based here. You eat in a home-style dining room and the food is pure Provencal cuisine: crudités, hors d’oeuvres and other famous local dishes. At lunch, the dish of the day is a relatively affordable 25 euros.
Grasse: Home to the French perfume industry, high in the hills Grasse is a fascinating visit. Various perfumers (Galimard and Molinard are the best known) have factories that are open for tours; see the soap, perfume and bath products being made, and then head through to the factory shop to indulge. (Hint: Molinard has the best, and cheapest, soap.)