Beach in Nice, France

Menton Harbor in the French Riviera. (Medioimages/Photodisc)

What to do in French Riviera

What many know as the French Riviera the French call the Côte d'Azur, an area that stretches about 40 miles, from Cannes to Menton, famous as the ultimate destination for the well-heeled and the jet set. Still pumping since its heyday in 1950s and '60s, it pulses with lavish casinos, gorgeous hotels, spectacular drives, huge beaches, and a bevy of nightlife and gourmet restaurants in which to see and be seen. The region easily lives up to its world-class reputation, if at a steep price.

Encompassing Cannes, St. Tropez, Nice, and Monte Carlo, the French Riviera contains such celebrity haunts as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix. Majestic, historic hotels like Hotel Martinez and Hotel Beau Rivage in Nice rival any hotel the world over, and a visit to celeb haunts like Zelo's, a restaurant and lounge overlooking the super-yachts of Monaco's harbor, will make you feel like a bona fide movie star.

Beyond the glitz and glamour is the lesser-known arrière pays, or backcountry, filled with Provençal terracotta towns and arts and crafts galore, many perched atop hills with stunning views (there's the town of Grasse for perfume, Vallauris for pottery, and so on). The dramatic red rock spires of Massif de l'Estérel west of Cannes, world-class windsurfing spots like The Trench at St. Maries de la Mer, and the beautiful Bay of Bandol will prove that the Côte d'Azur is much more than beautifully bronzed people on a beach.

The perfect sunshine in the area has attracted artists for centuries, and museums in the area are dedicated to the works of Chagall, Matisse, and Cocteau. In winter, the mistral wind can makes things a bit chilly, but for most of the year the perfect climate makes for an undisputed vacation paradise with all of the natural and manmade trappings any heart could desire.

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