The glittering Côte d’Azur entrances and lures people from afar – lovers of the life of luxury and the froth of the international jet set come here. But so too do those in search of modern campsites, convenient golden beaches and endless sunny days.
The Côte d’Azur owes its name to the gorgeous blue colour of the sea and, with vast expanses of golden sand, it’s an irresistible draw. The coast runs from Saint-Tropez to the Franco-Italian border and is known for its Mediterranean climate with an average of three thousand hours of sunshine per year. Iconic resorts are studded along the coast: Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes, Fréjus, St Tropez, Antibes. Of course, there are numerous campsites giving easy access to (but also respite from) these ever-popular centres.
Inland the landscape rises from the coast to wild and craggy outcrops, vast plateaux and rugged hills. The air fills with the scent of wild thyme, lavender and rosemary as you walk through the scrub and fragrant Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, is surrounded by lavender fields, olive groves and fields of roses. It’s a heady, evocative region and a real assault on the senses.
So near… so Var
This key region epitomises the essence of the Côte d’Azur. From Hyères to Saint Raphael, there are countless picturesque fishing villages and quaint harbours, many now chic destinations complete with luxury yachts, harbour-side cafés, bustling beaches and high-end shops. Saint-Tropez has become synonymous with glitzy glamour, a haven for stylish sun worshippers, ever since the days of Brigitte Bardot and the first topless beaches. Reassuringly though, every morning, a fruit, vegetable and fish market takes place at the picturesque Place aux Herbes, near the port.
Sheltered by the surrounding hills of vineyards and orchards, Nice is the largest city along the Côte d’Azur. Its elegant centre brims with the shops and interesting restaurants of the Old Town, including the daily market on the Cours Saleya. And famously, there is the beautiful promenade, the Promenade des Anglais, which lines the bay of Nice and which forms a wide, level surface just inviting you to, well, promenade along of an evening. Built by the English aristocracy who popularised Nice and put it on the map in the 19th century, the promenade features colourful Venetian buildings and monumental buildings in Belle Epoque style. Drive along the numerous, twisting corniches, at various levels above the sea, and you’ll come across headlands overlooking stunning coves and incredible panoramic views at every turn. Inland and uphill you’ll discover small, sleepy villages, some well known like St Paul de Vence with its little shops and galleries lining narrow winding streets. Others seem unchanged by the modern world, despite being so close to the sophisticated cosmopolitanism of the resorts nearby.
Antibes is an attractive town with a beautiful old centre, founded by the ancient Greeks. On the Cours Massena every morning one of the best markets in the region takes place and Picasso once inhabited the Château Grimaldi, now a museum with about two hundred of his works. The Parc Thuret, a large botanical garden, offers wonderful walks and, for when the kids get just a little fractious, there are three zoos nearby: the Ile aux Oiseaux Magique, La Ferme du Far West and the impressive Marineland.
Cannes is known for its major international film festival, held every year in the Palais du Festival at the Promenade de la Croisette. This promenade is quite different from Nice, being lined with palm trees, the most expensive beaches of Cannes and a string of luxury five-star hotels. The public beaches are on the boulevard du Midi and the oldest part of Cannes is 36 metres high in the Le Suquet quarter, a maze of narrow streets that lead to the Castre. This castle is now a museum with a varied collection of primitive art. A good way to escape the crowds is to take the ferry to the Iles de Lérins, two islands off the coast of Cannes, named after two saints: Saint-Honorat and Sainte-Marguerite. Here you can walk in fragrant pine woods.
Wherever you choose to stay, and whichever of the great resorts you visit, the Côte d’Azur will be the connoisseur’s choice. Treasure it and savour its individuality and quality.
Russell has worked in the camping industry for over 28 years and was a director at Alan Rogers for many of them.
He now works for various tourism organisations as a marketing consultant but continues to write top-quality content for us. His content often covers European and worldwide travel, arts and culture, and history.