One Week in the French Riviera: The Ultimate Itinerary

Villefranche-sur-Mer, France

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If you've got a week to explore the French Riviera, you'll have ample time to see the famed Mediterranean stretch of coastline in the south of France, and get a good sense of its highlights. You should also take some time to move inland, where a number of medieval villages perched high in the hills offer different perspectives on a region best-known for its beaches and high-end lifestyle. But how much time to spend in each place, and how to get from one point to the next? This guide takes the guesswork out of the equation, allowing you to make the most of your trip.

Your week in the French Riviera begins in Nice and Monaco, then moves westward to famous resort towns and beaches including Cannes, Antibes, and St-Tropez. Along the way, you'll also visit a couple of the region's most stunning "perched villages." We finish off the week at the west end of the Riviera, with a visit to the postcard-pretty town of Cassis and the natural wonders of Calanques National Park.

A note about getting around: We recommend renting a car to make travel between each point on the itinerary as smooth and convenient as possible, but with careful planning it's also feasible to get around by train and taxis.

01 of 07

Day 1: Nice

View of Nice, France and the Mediterranean Sea

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Welcome to the Riviera! Your seven-day adventure starts in Nice, arguably the region's most beautiful major city and home to numerous cultural and historic treasures. After arriving at the local airport (or train station) and getting to the city center, check in to your hotel and leave your bags at reception if need be. You might want to grab a simple breakfast or early lunch from one of Nice's best bakeries.

Before venturing out for your first day, make sure you have a good map or map app on your phone, and figure out how you plan to get around the city, whether by bus, tram, or on foot.

Your adventure begins with a walk along the famous Promenade des Anglais, a 2.5-mile waterside boardwalk that offers stunning views over the Mediterranean, beaches, and the ornate facades of iconic buildings such as the Hotel Negresco. Weather permitting, take a dip in the water, or to relax and people-watch on the sand.

In the late afternoon, spend some time exploring Vieux Nice (Old Town), admiring its warm, Italian-style buildings, narrow streets, Cours Saleya and its bustling market square, and sites such as the former residence of French painter Henri Matisse. This is also a good time to browse boutiques for souvenirs or local products such as olive oils and lavender-scented soaps.

Next, ideally just before sunset, take the stairs or elevator at the end of the Quai des Etats-Unis to Colline de la Chateau (Castle Hill), whose greenery-filled lanes and panoramic views regularly draw crowds. Once the site of Nice Castle and citadel, only the ground on which they stood remains-- but this remains a remarkable spot for sweeping views over the city, port, and Baie des Anges (Angel Bay).

Cap off your day in Nice with dinner at one of the city's restaurants, taking to the terrace if conditions are warm and clear. Make sure to reserve ahead during high season.

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02 of 07

Day 2: Monaco and Menton

Monte Carlo, Monaco

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Day two is already here! It's time to take advantage of Nice's proximity to other beautiful spots on the eastern Riviera.

Begin your day by heading the independent principality of Monaco, famed for its glamorous port, casino, gardens, and royal family. You'll then take an afternoon jaunt to nearby Menton, a picturesque town at the edge of the Italian border.

Drive or take the train from Nice to Monte Carlo (heading out early in the morning to allow for a full day of exploration). Stroll around the world-famous Port, with its superyachts and remarkable sea views—ones you may recognize from James Bond films and other movies. If desired, take a peek inside the iconic Casino, a palatial 19th-century building that also houses the Monaco Opera and Ballet.

Next, drive or take the bus to the Prince's Palace of Monaco, the former Genoese fortress that has been home to the Grimaldi royal family since the 13th century. You can visit the former, lavish quarters of Serene Highness Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly; Albert II, the current-day Prince, still resides in the Palace.

Stop for lunch in the bustling central district as the La Condamine area. If time allows, visit the Place d'Armes, the principality's historic market square, before strolling through the Monaco Exotic Garden, boasting hundreds of species of succulents planted on hilly plots overlooking the sea.

In the afternoon, it's time to head east (around 30 minutes) to the photogenic town of Menton. For centuries, it was ruled by the monarchy of Monaco, and during part of the medieval period it was Genoan. The border town is thus rich in diverse cultural and historic influences, including Italian.

Spend the late afternoon exploring Menton's Old Town, endowed with handsome, pastel-colored mansions, an ornate Basilica, lush gardens, and a museum dedicated French film director Jean Cocteau. The Old Port and beaches are pleasant spots for a dip and late-afternoon aperitif as you watch the sun set over the water.

For dinner, either book a table in Menton, which is home to several noteworthy restaurants, or back in Monaco, where a glamorous nightcap at places like the Bar Americain at the Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo will ensure you end day two in style.

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03 of 07

Day 3: Peillon and Eze

Peillon, a village in France

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On day three, you'll move inland to see two of the Riviera's stunning villages perchés (perched villages)—towns both built into precipitous hills and cliffsides during the medieval period, and now prized for their local art, culture, and architecture.

From Monaco or Menton, head northwest up sharply winding, steep roads to Peillon (around 50 minutes by car or taxi), a fortified medieval town that appears to have been built straight into the rocky hills.

Dating back to likely around the 10th century, the town looms dramatically above a deep valley, and offers some memorable vantage points over the surrounding landscapes. Spend the morning wandering through its snaking, narrow little streets and lanes, exploring boutiques and admiring the centuries-old houses. Stop for lunch at the Auberge de la Madone, a restaurant whose fine French cooking has landed it in the Michelin guide.

After lunch, it's time to head southeast to the perched village of Èze, situated in the foothills close to the coast between Monaco and Nice. Perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the sea, the medieval town is a joy to explore. Start by wandering through the meandering, narrow streets, admiring its stone facades and warm orange tile rooftops.

Step into the town's many shops, galleries, and churches, before visiting the ruins of the former castle. From the exotic gardens there, you'll enjoy sweeping perspectives of the countryside and sea below. Papaya Beach, located just below the perched village in Èze Mer, is a charming spot for a dip or dinner on the water.

Consider staying overnight in Èze at one of its romantic, quiet hotels (some with pool and/or spa), or drive back to Nice for the night.

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04 of 07

Day 4: Cannes and Antibes

Cannes, La Croisette skyline

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It's time to head back to the coast with an excursion to the city famous for its glamorous annual film festival and luxurious lifestyle: Cannes. You'll also hop over to arty Antibes, whose architecture and richly endowed museum collections offer plenty of culture for those who find Cannes a bit too heavy on the "glitz" factor and light on substance.

Since launching in the late 1930s, the Cannes Film Festival has brought global film stars and directors to red carpets, exclusive movie screenings, and offshore parties on yachts. It turned what was once a rather sleepy fishing village into an international destination for the wealthy and famous.

But the town has plenty to offer for those of us who don't hold VIP tickets to the festival. Arriving early in the morning from Èze or Nice (the trip takes around 70 minutes), start by taking a long stroll along La Croisette, the long boardwalk area flanked by sandy beaches, cafés and restaurants, and glamorous hotels.

Follow the Croisette eastward to the Old Port (Vieux Port), where you can admire its many jaw-dropping yachts and boats and enjoy beautiful perspectives over the sea and waterfront area. Pick a restaurant and, weather permitting, sit outside for an al-fresco lunch.

After lunch, take an hour or so to see the town center in Cannes, coveted for its high-end boutiques, restaurants, and hotels. Then hop in the car or take the bus to Antibes, located just 6 miles east. The centuries-old walled city has Greek and Phoenician origins, and occupies a site that was once called "Antopolis".

Spend the afternoon wandering through the cobbled, narrow streets and alleyways of Antibe's Old Town, and admire views over the water from various points. Visit the celebrated Picasso Museum, whose collections are housed in the Grimaldi Castle, a former defensive fortress belonging to Monaco's royal family. The museum also includes additional works of modern and contemporary art.

Next, visit one or more of the town's traditional markets, selling everything from flowers and olive oils to produce, cheeses, and local crafts, for a taste of local culture in Antibes.

In the evening, around sunset, descend down to Port Vauban, the largest marina in the Riviera, to take in dusky colors and picturesque scenery. For dinner, head back up to the town above and choose a restaurant with dramatic views over the old city and Mediterranean sea beyond.

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05 of 07

Day 5: St-Tropez

Beach, St Tropez, France

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Day five brings you to another of the Riviera's most-famous waterfronts, and the sandy, wide beaches of St-Tropez. Long associated with sunbathing and tanning, it's still a prized destination by travelers even though many will now sit under umbrellas and slather on plenty of sunscreen.

The formerly quiet fishing village became a popular destination for tourists after French film star Brigitte Bardot starred in a 1956 movie shot in the town, "And God Created Woman." Since then, it's been a favorite among visitors looking for a slice of iconic Riviera style. Yet there's more to the town than the sunscreen bottles and movies suggest—it's rich in history, culture, and quiet beauty, especially during off-season.

Start your day in St-Tropez with a walk around the Vieux Port (Old Port), dotted with impressive yachts and restaurants ideal for people-watching. Stroll along the coastal path and head over to admire the remnants of the old fisherman's district, La Ponche, whose warm facades, tiny beach, and cobblestone-paved streets offer a glimpse at what the town was like before it became a tourist hotspot.

Head up to the Place des Lices for lunch, the traditional central square where Provencal-style buildings glow in the sun, and pétanque players throw metallic balls down sandy pitches while sipping pastis liqueur. On market days, this is one of the best spots for observing local life. If time allows, visit the St-Tropez Citadel, a 16th-century fortress that attests to the town's historical role as a defensive spot along the coast. The Maritime museum in the former dungeon is also worth visiting.

In the afternoon, as temperatures warm up, head to the beaches for swimming, sunbathing, or a longer coastal walk. Be aware that most of the best ones are a few minutes' away by car or bus from the center of town, along the Pampelonne Bay (in the adjoining municipality of Ramatuelle).

Pampelonne Beach is the most iconic, with its some 3 miles of white sands, turquoise waters, glamorous private clubs and restaurants. This is the place to see and be seen, but conditions are often quite crowded, so you might prefer quieter beaches on the bay or closer to St-Tropez's town center.

In the early evening, around sunset, head back to town to watch the sun set over the Port, and grab dinner out on a terrace. If you're after a nightcap, the town is famous for its lively bars and clubs, too.

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06 of 07

Day 6: Hyères

Hyères, France

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It's day six, and time to venture over to the far western side of the Riviera, an area that tends to be overlooked by international tourists (and prized by French travelers for its relative quiet). From Saint-Tropez, head to Hyères, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and varied areas on the Côte d'Azur. With its medieval town nestled in the hills above the sea, wide, sandy beaches, protected islands rich with wildlife, and diverse cultural treasures, Hyères should not be missed.

Plan to arrive town in the early morning to make the most of your day there. Start with a walk around Old Town, a Provencal-style village whose fortified medieval walls, colorful market, winding, quiet streets, shops and restaurants are full of photogenic appeal. Pay a visit to the Villa Noailles, a 1920-era modernist house that once hosted the likes of painter Salvador Dali and photographer Man Ray. The sprawling house now holds a small museum dedicated to the history Hyères as well as a gallery that shows various exhibits throughout the year.

Have lunch down by the harbor or the beach, taking in the views over the water and the many boats bobbing in the Marina.

In the afternoon, consider hopping on a ferry to the nearby Port-Cros National Park and the "Golden Islands" offshore from Hyères (including the Porquerolles Islands). Clear waters, pristine sandy beaches, lush greenery, and abundant species of birds and fish await in the national park. Hiking, snorkeling, deep-sea diving, and swimming off of intimate, protected beaches are all possibilities, but make sure you come equipped for whichever activities you choose.

In the evening, head back to the mainland for dinner on the water, or enjoy a meal on the island of Port Cros.

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07 of 07

Day 7: Cassis and the Calanques National Park

Calanques National Park

TripSavvy / Paula Galindo Valle

The last leg of your week on the French Riviera takes you further west to the pretty fishing village of Cassis, near the ancient port city of Marseille. While the latter is, oddly enough, not generally considered part of the Riviera, feel free to eke out some time to explore it, if you so choose-- or add an extra day to your itinerary if you can.

Nestled between Cap Canaille and the Calanques National Park, Cassis is simply one of the most beautiful villages along the western stretch of the "Côte d'Azur." Arriving from Hyères (around 60 minutes), start your visit of Cassis by heading directly down to the historic harbor area. Its picturesque boats, clear-blue water, and waterside restaurants are all familiar postcard images.

Next, spend a bit of time exploring the town itself, with its quiet streets and alleys, Provencal-style squares lined with warmly hued facades, and traditional shops.

After taking in the sights of the port and town, grab a table for lunch on the marina at restaurants such as La Villa Madie or Le Grand Bleu.

Around 2 p.m. (or even earlier during late fall and winter to seize more daylight hours), take a car or taxi to the nearby Calanques National Park, a stunning protected area of natural beauty. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes with good grip for hiking, a bottle of water, and bring a swimsuit for swimming and water sports in warm-weather months.

The park boasts dramatic cliff sides punctuated by meandering sea "creeks" (calanques in French), as well as protected coves and beaches ideal for swimming, snorkeling, boating, and other activities. Numerous species of wild birds and fish thrive at the reserve, which became a national park in 2012.

For dinner, head back to Cassis, or if you wish, to nearby Marseille, where you can choose from among the many decent restaurants on the historic Vieux Port (Old Port).

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