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.
Best campsites on the Côte d’Azur
Var, Côte d’Azur
Tel 33 494 82 03 28
Esterel is an award-winning caravan site set among the hills beyond Agay. Pitches are on shallow terraces, attractively landscaped with good shade and a variety of flowers. Several special ones have their own en-suite washroom adjoining, whilst others also have a washing machine, dishwasher, jacuzzi and free WiFi. The site itself is just 3.5km from the sandy beach at Agay, which peak season visitors can reach by shuttle.
Var, Côte d’Azur
Tel 33 494 45 43 95
This quiet, pretty site is a few kilometres inland from the coast, within easy reach of Saint Tropez, Sainte Maxime, Saint Raphaël and Cannes. Mainly on a gently sloping hillside, the 310 pitches are terraced, with shade provided by the cork trees that give the site its name. All pitches have electricity and access to water, and adult and children’s pools are beside the bar/restaurant and entertainment area.
Var, Côte d’Azur
Tel 33 494 19 88 88
La Baume is a large, busy site about 5.5 km. from the long sandy beach of Fréjus-Plage. Its fine and varied swimming pools, with their palm trees, are remarkable and there is also an aquatic play area featuring two indoor pools with a slide and a spa area. The site has nearly 250 fully serviced pitches that are tailored towards caravans, although tents are accepted.