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The 12 best places to stay on the French Riviera

Looking for that luxury lifestyle? The best places to stay on the French Riviera tick all of the gold standard boxes

Heidi Fuller-Love
Written by
Heidi Fuller-Love
Camila Karalyte

The French Riviera is everything it claims to be and more. The international capital of luxury travel is packed with mind-blowing spots that are the gold standard of idyllic holidays, although you might be surprised at how downright friendly the area is. You don’t have to be super wealthy to have fun in paradise. Basking in the sun on a beautiful beach is a pretty inexpensive way to spend your time.

Roam the narrow, and occasionally steep, streets of Eze and enjoy the panoramic views the mountainside village offers. Or match your outfits to the colourful buildings of the medieval old town of Menton while walking along the gorgeous coastline. Embrace the life of luxury, even just for a day, leaving you with enough to fantasise about back home. 

The best places to visit on the French Riviera all offer something different, from celeb-laden streets to quaint nostalgia. Heck, why not try to cover all of them in one magnificent road trip? Where did we put that bucket list…

Best places to stay on the French Riviera

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1. Grasse

A short drive from the bustling coast, the French Riviera’s perfume capital was originally a centre for (far less pleasant-smelling) leather tanneries until someone had the bright idea of selling scented gloves here sometime in the seventeenth century. Nowadays, this pretty town, with its jumble of medieval and Renaissance buildings surrounded by endless fields of purple lavender, is home to no less than 30 perfume factories. The main ones – from Galimard to Molinard and Fragonard – offer free tours of their sweet-scented workshops.

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2. Eze

High on its rocky perch, this picturesque town with its winding alleys and stocky stone houses is best explored via the Nietzsche path (named for the German philosopher who once lived here). The steep hike along this path, which links the town to its lofty summit, is worth it to admire the medieval fortress featured in Hitchcock's classic To Catch a Thief. From the cactus-studded Jardin Exotique gardens next door, you can also lap up spectacular vistas of Saint-Tropez’s glittering gulf.

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3. Antibes

The jewel in the Riviera’s glittering crown, labyrinthine Antibes’s sixteenth-century rampart-enclosed old town and the densely forested Cap d’Antibes peninsula are home to some of the region’s most luxurious villas. You’ll also find some of the Riviera’s swankiest yachts in its elegant marina (the Med’s largest). The town is packed with shops and art galleries and is relatively accessible to all. Can’t-miss sights include the Picasso Museum, and Fort Carré, where Napoleon Bonaparte spent time in prison.

Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Villefranche-sur-Mer

Sat between turquoise seas and a backdrop of wood-clad cliffs, Villefranche-sur-Mer’s ochre houses overlook one of the world’s most beautiful bays. And if you think the Jean Cocteau-decorated Saint-Pierre chapel and Villefranche’s charming tangle of cobbled streets look familiar, they probably do: this breathtaking town has played host to dozens of films including Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery and The Jewel of the Nile with Michael Douglas.

Photograph: Fred Romero / Flickr

5. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Strewn with ornate Belle Époque villas and magnificent lush gardens, elusive and exclusive Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is one of the Riviera’s most picturesque spots. Once favoured by the European aristocracy and now (slightly) democratised, this pretty peninsula is home to countless striking bits of architecture. Our pick is the Villa Île-de-France, decorated with more than 5,000 works of art and other items brought back by owner Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild from her travels around the world. 

Photograph: David Baron / Flickr

6. Juan-les-Pins

The main attraction at this star-studded resort is the art deco Hôtel Belles Rives where F. Scott Fitzgerald hosted glamorous parties attended by the likes of Rudolph Valentino, Hemingway and American tycoon Frank Jay Gould, which later inspired him to write The Great Gatsby. But this elegant town doesn’t just live in the past: Juan-les-Pins’s Jazz à Juan festival in July, along with some of the Riviera’s best beaches, make it a magnet for well-heeled tourists today.

Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Saint-Tropez

This town has Brigitte Bardot to thank for its reputation as a glitzy tourist magnet. When she frolicked on its beaches in the 1950s, Saint-Tropez was just a tiny fishing village. Now it draws a wealthy bohemian crowd, with everyone who’s anyone coming here to strip down on ‘clothing optional’ beaches, buy chic beachwear and go clubbing. St Trop’, as it’s fondly known by habitués, has a world-class art scene and a string of Michelin-starred restaurants. 

Photograph: Pexels / Cristina Campos

8. Cannes

Socialites have been flocking to the resort’s renowned film festival since 1946 – and come May, it is as busy as ever. Although this is the best time for star-spotting, there are always plenty of celebrities hanging around Cannes: you’ll spot them taking selfies along the beautiful Promenade de la Croisette, flashing platinum credit cards as they shop in designer boutiques, or slipping out of their palatial hotels to chill incognito in one of the Lérins Islands’ hidden coves.

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9. Menton

Giving on to sparkling emerald seas between Monaco and the Italian border and framed by the mighty Alpes-Maritimes mountains, lush Menton is a picturesque town famed for its subtropical microclimate and astoundingly beautiful gardens. It is where the citron de Menton is from: you can see some in Menton’s vast La Citronneraie lemon grove or during the La Fête du Citron festival in spring. Nature lovers can also get their kick at the sweet-scented, petal-strewn Fontana Rosa Garden. 

The French Riviera’s sun-splashed cosmopolitan capital and France’s fifth-largest city is often hailed as the birthplace of tourism on the Côte d’Azur. Easily the Riviera’s most vibrant nightlife spot, elegant Nice has plenty of other charms, ranging from sunset views along the Promenade des Anglais and baroque and Belle Époque buildings around the Garibaldi and Massena squares, to the peerless Chagall and Matisse museums, along with some of the region’s most scenic strips of boutique and café-lined sand.

Discover the best things to do in Nice

Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Cassis

Renowned for its Calanques, those narrow limestone coves backed by sheer cliffs of which the most famous (and most difficult to get to) is Calanque d’En-Vau, Cassis is a charming, unspoilt seaside town. Among its must-see sights are the resort’s winding streets, lined with some of the Riviera’s quirkiest boutiques, and the pretty harbour that bobs with vividly painted fishing boats called pointus, backed by France’s tallest cliff, the 394-metre Cap Canaille.

Although not strictly on the Riviera, independent and magnificent Monaco still deserves attention. This two-square-kilometre principality on the French-Italian border has glitzy casinos, a superb marine museum and its own opera house. And if that’s not enough, it’s also home to one of the world’s most prestigious car races: the Monaco Grand Prix, which runs through the resort’s streets every year in May.

Discover the best things to do in Monaco

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