Last month we spent three weeks in the south of France, starting with the French Riviera. This part of France is known for incredible ocean views, picturesque towns, and delicious restaurants. We felt right at home the moment we arrived at our first stop just outside of Nice, the seaside town of Villefrance-Sur-Mer. From there, our day trips consisted of visiting nearby cities like pastel Menton and chic Cannes. Next was Provence, for beautiful lavender fields and wineries amongst hilltop towns like Gordes and Lacoste (separate travel guide coming for Provence!).
These types of trips are my favorite; spending days exploring quaint towns, swimming at European beaches and eating a delicious dinner each evening. This French Riviera guide covers some of my favorite stops along the way, a great starting point to plan your own road trip along the French coastline.
More from this trip in our South of France: Provence Guide
Photos: Menton (first horizontal photo), the rest are Villefrance-Sur-Mer (all edited with my India collection presets, here).
Best time to visit – June through August, early to mid-July if you also want to see lavender fields
Getting around – rental car, buses and trains possible as well
Currency – euros
We flew into Nice from an overnight flight through New York and landed in the morning. Our first stop was lunch and hitting the beach, which is only a few minutes walk away from the town center of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. We chose to stay in Villefranche-Sur-Mer because it’s easily accessible from Nice (only 20 minutes by car) and much quieter. I knew we made the right decision after stepping off the plane to hordes of tourists headed to Nice! Our few days here were wonderful and made for a great home base to explore this part of the French Riviera. Here is our map of the towns listed below.
Where we stayed: in Villefranche-Sur-Mer. I wish I could recommend the Airbnb we stayed in, but I found the bed to be very uncomfortable. The location could not have been more perfect though: we looked out over the water and were right next to the well-known Welcome Hotel – definitely where I’d stay if we returned! Their terrace is covered and overlooks the docks, so we had coffee and pastries there each morning. If you’re staying in Villefranche-Sur-Mer (and I highly recommend you do) you can’t really find a better spot than the Welcome Hotel, just make sure to book in advance as it was completely full for our dates.
Villefranche-Sur-Mer is not as well-known as other towns in the region, which we preferred. The town itself is so picturesque – think narrow streets and pastel buildings. You could easily walk the whole village in an hour or less. The main beach is a few minutes walk from the town center. We mostly ran into locals and European tourists here, a huge plus considering the larger towns in the riviera are packed with international crowds these days!
- Dinner on the water at La Mère Germaine. Reservations are recommended but the tables in front are first come first serve, so I suggest going right when it opens (around 7pm). We also loved Les Garcons.
- Delicious gelato and sorbet at Soléa Gelateria – the mango sorbet was my favorite.
- Grabbing coffee at Welcome Hotel each morning, so we could watch the boats come in and the town wake up.
- Ville Ephrussi de Rothschild is a beautiful villa with picturesque gardens overlooking the ocean.
The highlight of this town is definitely the view from the beach, which is set in front of peach and yellow pastel buildings on the water. We found the downtown to be quite touristy, but as soon as you duck away into the neighborhoods everything feels untouched. We took a day trip here from Villefranche-Sur-Mer, and also passed through Monaco on the way.
- Buying local fruit, ham and cheese from the local grocer and having a picnic on the beach.
- Wandering the streets behind the houses just above the main beach, which were completely quiet and free of tourists.
- The view from the pier, as marked on our map.
Nice is the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes in the French Riviera. It’s also the closest city to Villefranche-Sur-Mer. I found the most beautiful part to walk around to be Old Nice on the water. The city is quite large and has lots of restaurants and museums, including a Matisse museum.
- One of our favorite lunches was at Papayou, a French-Vietnamese bistro with outdoor seating.
- There are markets for everything in Nice; from produce to boutiques to crafts.
Antibes is a waterfront town surrounded by 16th century ramparts and the largest marina in the Mediterranean. It’s known as an artsy city and has lots of beautiful old streets. Though we only spent an afternoon here on our way to Provence, I could’ve easily spent a couple days exploring it! If you’re headed down the coast, it’s a perfect stop for lunch. It’s also home to a museum featuring select works from Picasso, housed in the 14th-century Château Grimaldi (previously Picasso’s art studio).
- Wandering the streets around the Picasso museum, many of which are covered in ivy and flowers.
- The local market, which is located in the center of Antibes and runs daily until 1pm.
- Pulling over for a view of the medieval town from the side of the road.
- Neighboring town Juan-les-Pins features sandy beaches, with private cabana areas and bottle service.
- The legendary Hotel du Cap Eden Roc is close by. The property inspired Fitzgerald’s novel ‘Tender is the Night’, and is a bucket list stay for sure.
Cannes is great stop if you want to go shopping! The Rue d’Antibes features everything from high-end stores to local boutiques. Boulevard de la Croisette is packed with shops as well and winds down the coastline. While Cannes is most well-known for the yearly Cannes Film Festival, there is plenty to see in the city including old villas that have been converted into hotels, beachfront cafés, and the nearby Sainte-Marguerite island which is accessible by boat. There are nods to the Cannes film festival throughout the city and plenty of amazing restaurants.
Eze is a charming medieval town located in between Nice and Monte Carlo. Perched on a hilltop, the real draw of the town is the insane views over the coast. If you climb to the top of Eze you’ll arrive at a garden (with an entry fee) featuring panoramic views of the French Riviera. The village itself is stunning even from the road, as you can still see the old castle walls that date back to the 12th century. It’s located en route to Menton, so you could hit both towns in one day if you wanted.
St Tropez is known for incredible beaches and nightlife. The old La Ponche quarter used to be an old fishing village, but yachts have taken over the waterfront here. We skipped St Tropez this trip and opted to head straight to Provence on our last day, but it’s worth a visit as it’s steeped in history and features numerous colorful buildings and cafés along the water.