french riviera road trip

The Road Trip of Your Dreams: Cruising Along the French Riviera

The allure of a road trip along the French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, is undeniable. With its blend of glamorous cities, charming villages, and breathtaking natural landscapes, this iconic stretch of coastline promises an unforgettable adventure.

It’s hard not to feel glamorous on this route, so what I would suggest is to blow some money on a decent rental car – I would go for a Mini convertible for sure – to amp up the coolness factor for your French Riviera road trip spectacular.

From the bustling streets of Marseille to the serene beauty of Menton, every turn reveals a new facet of the allure of the Côte d’Azur.

Destination Why it should be on your road trip route
Marseille France’s oldest city, blending vibrant culture with stunning natural beauty.
Cassis A quaint fishing village known for its calanques and vineyards.
La Ciotat & Bandol Coastal towns offer beautiful beaches and renowned vineyards.
Sanary-sur-Mer A hidden gem with a colourful port and lively markets.
Toulon A city with naval heritage and panoramic views from Mont Faron.
Hyères Gateway to the Golden Islands, with diverse landscapes and historic charm.
Saint-Tropez Synonymous with luxury, offering secluded beaches and vibrant nightlife.
Sainte-Maxime A family-friendly destination with sandy beaches and a relaxed atmosphere.
Cannes Famous for its film festival, luxurious boulevard, and sandy beaches.
Antibes & Juan-les-Pins Artistic soul of the Riviera, known for its museums and jazz festival.
Nice The vibrant capital of the Côte d’Azur, rich in culture and history.
Villefranche-sur-Mer A serene retreat with stunning sea views and a charming old town.
Èze A medieval village perched atop a rocky peak, offering breathtaking views.
Monaco The epitome of luxury, with grand casinos, opulent hotels, and lush gardens.
Menton Known as the pearl of France, famous for its gardens and lemon festival.

The Ultimate Guide to a French Riviera Road Trip

french riviera road trip

The Journey Begins: Marseille to Cassis

Marseille: The Gateway to the Riviera

France’s oldest city, Marseille serves as a vibrant gateway to the Côte d’Azur. Its dynamic mix of cultures is reflected in the bustling Vieux Port, where fishermen sell their catch alongside modern yachts.

The city’s historic heart, Le Panier, is a maze of narrow streets filled with artisan shops and cafes. Marseille’s emblem, Notre-Dame de la Garde, offers panoramic views of the city and the sea.

For nature lovers, the Calanques National Park presents a dramatic landscape of limestone cliffs and azure waters, perfect for hiking or kayaking.

Cassis: Jewel of the Calanques

Cassis is famed for its picturesque port, white cliffs, and crystalline inlets known as calanques. This charming village offers a slower pace of life, where one can enjoy leisurely walks along the harbour, tasting local wines from nearby vineyards.

Boat tours from Cassis provide an unparalleled view of the Calanques, a must-do for any visitor. The town’s weekly market is a treasure trove of Provencal products, from fresh produce to handcrafted goods.

Cassis also boasts some of the Riviera’s most stunning beaches, such as Plage de la Grande Mer, for those looking to soak up the Mediterranean sun.

Coastal Gems: La Ciotat to Saint-Tropez

La Ciotat and Bandol: Coastal Escapes

Continuing along the coast, La Ciotat has a rich maritime history, now known for its beautiful beaches and as the birthplace of cinema. The Eden Theatre, the world’s oldest cinema, hosts screenings and festivals, celebrating the town’s contribution to the film industry.

La Ciotat’s Old Port area is a lively spot for dining and enjoying sea views. Nearby, Bandol is renowned for its AOC wines, with vineyards stretching across sunny hillsides.

The town’s sandy beaches and clear waters make it a popular destination for swimming and sailing, offering a quieter alternative to the Riviera’s bustling cities.

Sanary-sur-Mer to Toulon: Seaside Charm and Naval Heritage

Sanary-sur-Mer is a hidden gem with a colourful port, lined with palm trees and traditional pointus boats. Its daily market is acclaimed as one of the best in France, offering everything from fresh seafood to Provencal spices.

The town’s underwater trail at Portissol Beach is a unique way to explore marine life through snorkelling. Moving towards Toulon, the city’s military port and naval base underscore its strategic importance.

Toulon’s Mont Faron, accessible by cable car, provides stunning views of the harbour and is a gateway to hiking trails and the wildlife park, home to native species of the Mediterranean.

Hyères: Gateway to the Golden Islands

Hyères is often lauded for its diverse landscapes, from sandy beaches to lush palm tree gardens. The Old Town, with its medieval ruins and narrow streets, invites exploration and discovery.

Just off the coast, the islands of Porquerolles, Port-Cros, and Le Levant, known as the Îles d’Or (Golden Islands), offer pristine natural reserves and idyllic beaches. Porquerolles, the largest, is accessible by a short ferry ride, perfect for a day trip to enjoy its famous Plage d’Argent.

Hyères also hosts numerous gardens, like the Parc St. Bernard, which blooms with Mediterranean and exotic plants, offering serene vistas over the town and sea.

Saint-Tropez: Glamour and Secluded Beauty

Saint-Tropez is synonymous with luxury and the jet-set lifestyle, yet it retains the charm of a Provençal fishing village. Famous for its bustling harbour lined with luxury yachts and vibrant nightlife, Saint-Tropez also offers secluded beaches like Plage de Pampelonne.

The town’s historic centre, with its cobblestone lanes and pastel-coloured houses, invites leisurely exploration. Art lovers will appreciate the Musée de l’Annonciade, showcasing works by Signac and Matisse.

For a unique experience, hike along the Sentier du Littoral for stunning coastal views and access to hidden coves.

Heart of the Riviera: Sainte-Maxime to Cannes

Sainte-Maxime: Family-Friendly Riviera Retreat

Sainte-Maxime sits across the gulf from Saint-Tropez, offering a more relaxed atmosphere perfect for families. Its sandy beaches, like La Croisette, are ideal for sunbathing and water sports.

The town’s promenade is a delightful place for a stroll, lined with shops and restaurants serving up delicious Mediterranean cuisine. Sainte-Maxime’s botanical garden provides a peaceful escape with spectacular sea views. The town also boasts a water park, providing fun for the whole family.

Cannes: Cinema and Elegance

Cannes is renowned for its international film festival, but the city’s allure extends far beyond the red carpet. La Croisette, Cannes’ glamorous boulevard, is lined with designer boutiques, luxury hotels, and sandy beaches.

The Suquet district, Cannes’ old town, offers a glimpse into the city’s fishing village past, with narrow streets leading to the historic church of Notre-Dame d’Espérance.

For a serene experience, visit the Îles de Lérins, two islands off Cannes’ coast, offering hiking, swimming, and the fortified Monastery of Saint-Honorat. Cannes also excels in culinary delights, with Michelin-starred restaurants and cosy bistros serving Provencal specialities.

Artistic Flair: Antibes to Nice

Antibes and Juan-les-Pins: Artistic Soul and Vibrant Nightlife

 

Antibes is a captivating blend of historic charm and artistic flair, home to the Picasso Museum in the stunning Grimaldi Castle, where Picasso himself once lived and worked.

he city’s ramparts and the star-shaped Fort Carré offer beautiful views of the port and the Mediterranean. Antibes’ Marché Provençal offers local produce, spices, and crafts. 

Juan-les-Pins, Antibes’ lively neighbour, is famous for its jazz festival and buzzing nightlife. The town’s sandy beaches and water sports make it a popular summer destination, while its shops and cafes offer year-round appeal.

Nice: Vibrant Capital of the Côte d’Azur

Nice is the heart of the French Riviera, boasting a rich history, vibrant cultural scene, and stunning seaside promenade. The Promenade des Anglais, stretching along the Bay of Angels, is perfect for a leisurely walk or bike ride.

Vieux Nice, the city’s old town, is a maze of narrow streets filled with colourful markets, shops, and restaurants serving Niçoise cuisine. The Colline du Château offers breathtaking views of Nice and the sea.

Art enthusiasts will enjoy the Matisse Museum and the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. Nice’s pebble beaches and clear waters invite relaxation, while the city’s nightlife promises exciting evenings.

Beyond the Azure: Villefranche-sur-Mer to Menton

Villefranche-sur-Mer: A Hidden Paradise

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a serene hideaway nestled between Nice and Monaco. Its deep, azure bay is considered one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean.

The old town cascades down the hillside to the waterfront, featuring narrow lanes and stairways lined with pastel-hued buildings. The 16th-century Fort of Mont Alban offers panoramic views of the Cap Ferrat peninsula and the sea. Villefranche’s sandy beach, Plage des Marinières, is perfect for a day of relaxation.

For history enthusiasts, the Chapelle Saint-Pierre, decorated by Jean Cocteau, is a cultural treasure not to be missed.

Èze: Medieval Charm with Stunning Views

Èze is a medieval village perched atop a rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean. Its cobblestone streets and well-preserved buildings offer a journey back in time.

The Exotic Garden of Èze, located at the village’s summit, features a collection of cacti and succulents set against the backdrop of spectacular sea views. The village is also known for its artisan shops and art galleries. For a unique experience, visit the Fragonard Perfume Factory to learn about the art of perfume making.

Èze’s location on the Moyenne Corniche makes it an ideal stop for breathtaking views of the Riviera.

Monaco: Luxury and Elegance in a City-State

Monaco is the epitome of luxury, known for its grand casino, opulent hotels, and the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix. The Prince’s Palace and the Oceanographic Museum offer insights into the principality’s history and marine life.

Monaco’s Japanese Garden is a peaceful retreat within the bustling city. For those seeking luxury shopping and dining, Monte Carlo is unmatched. Despite its reputation for luxury, Monaco also offers beautiful public gardens and walks, such as the Chemin des Sculptures and the Princess Grace Rose Garden.

And if you are feeling lucky – or even if not – you have to check out the casino for that James Bond feeling, however fleeting it may be.

Menton: The Pearl of France

Menton, known as the pearl of France, is famous for its mild climate and lush gardens. The town’s lemon festival, Fête du Citron, is a vibrant celebration of Menton’s citrus heritage. The Old Town, with its Baroque buildings and the Basilica of Saint-Michel, exudes charm. Menton’s beaches offer a mix of private and public options for sunbathing and swimming.

The Jean Cocteau Museum, housed in the Bastion, displays the artist’s work, further cementing Menton’s status as a cultural hub.

Discovering the Riviera’s Diverse Beauty

The French Riviera’s road trip is not just about the destinations but the journey itself. The Corniche roads provide scenic drives along the coast, revealing hidden coves, charming villages, and luxurious resorts.

The hinterland’s Gorges du Verdon and lavender fields offer a contrast to the coastal glamour, inviting visitors to explore the region’s natural beauty. Whether you’re drawn to the beacheshistorical sitesmuseums, or restaurants, the Riviera caters to all tastes and preferences.

Embracing the Riviera Lifestyle

A French Riviera road trip encapsulates the essence of the Mediterranean lifestyle—relaxation, beauty, and a touch of luxury.

From scenic coastal drives and charming villages to glamorous cities and luxury yachts, the Riviera offers an unparalleled experience. Indulge in Mediterranean cuisine, visit local wineries, and enjoy water sports or relaxing beaches.

The Riviera is not just a destination; it’s an invitation to embrace art, culture, and the joy of discovery.

Andy Higgs
Andy Higgs

I know what it's like to go from being a crazy backpacker without a care in the world, via being a vaguely sensible parent to being an adventurer once more. In other words, evolving into a Grown-up Traveller.

Like everyone else, I love to travel, have visited a lot of countries and all that but my big thing is Africa.

I also own and run The Grown-up Travel Company as a travel designer creating personalised African itineraries for experienced adventurers

Articles: 1180

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