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Things to Do in French Riviera

Along the southern coast of France, between Provence and the Mediterranean Sea, is an area known as the French Riviera. This collection of seaside resort towns is famous for its gorgeous scenery, laid-back lifestyle, sandy beaches, boutique shopping, and beautiful people. The French Riviera, or Côte d'Azur, as it's more technically known, stretches from St-Tropez in the east all the way to the French-Italian border. The biggest city is Nice, and other popular destinations include Cannes, home to a famous annual film festival; Antibes, where visitors can see Roman ruins; the pretty hilltop town of Eze; and the independent city-state of Monaco. Spend time strolling the beachfront promenades, people watching from sidewalk cafes, or soaking in the sun on the beach. If you’re looking for a taste of the high life, charter a private yacht from Cannes, fly over Nice in a helicopter, or get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini or Ferrari. While cities along this pretty coast are popular day trip destinations on their own, they're also good bases for exploring other parts of Provence. Travelers can head into the hills to explore the town of Grasse and its Fragonard perfumery, or see the ancient Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard in Verdon Gorge. It's even possible to spend a day shopping in some charming Italian markets on a day trip from Cannes or Nice.
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Port of Cannes (Port de Cannes)
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Cruise ships dock in the bay and tenders take you to Le Vieux Port (the Old Port) from where you turn right and it is an easy walk to the main promenade along the beachfront and into town, or you can catch a taxi. The train station is also an easy walk. Local buses along the coast are also a good option for day trips as many destinations are reached for only 1 euro.

Cannes is a lovely place to spend the day if you like to stroll the beachfront promenade, shop or eat in lovely surroundings. French bakeries are famous so pop in there for a light lunch. If you fancy more sumptuous surrounds, head to the hotels along the front, such as the Sofitel Mediterranee with its top floor restaurant with lovely views. Or have a cocktail at the famous domed Hotel Le Carlton.

Up the hill in the old quarter of La Suquet is the Gothic church Notre Dame d’Esperance and 12th century Saint Anne’s Chapel plus panoramic view of Cannes Port.

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Promenade des Anglais
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The Promenade des Anglais (Walk of the English) stretches along the seafront between the beach and the road. It is constantly busy with promenaders, dog-walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters and sight-seers sitting on the iconic blue chairs to enjoy the deep azure of the sea in the Baie des Anges. In the late 18th century, the English adopted Nice, then a sleepy town, as a place to escape the harsh English winter. One particularly nasty winter, many beggars from northern France drifted south to Nice so the wealthy English put them to work building a beachfront walkway. The City of Nice stepped in to increase the scale of the project. These days the locals just call it The Promenade.
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Matisse Museum (Musée Matisse)
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The Matisse Museum (or Musée Matisse) houses a splendid assortment of works by Henri Matisse. Its permanent collection is displayed in a red-ochre 17th-century Genoese villa overlooking the olive tree-studded Parc des Arènes. Nearby is the Hotel Regina where Matisse lived. Temporary exhibitions are hosted in the futuristic basement building.

The reception hall of the museum is dominated by a colorful paper cutout frieze entitled Flowers and Fruits , designed by Matisse for the inner courtyard of a Californian villa in 1953. Attracted by the weather, scenery and proximity of his friends (Picasso, Renoir and Bonnard lived in neighboring towns), Henri Matisse wintered in Nice until his death in Cimiez in 1954. Well known pieces in the permanent collection include his paper cut-outs of Blue Nude IV and Woman with Amphora.

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Palais des Festivals et des Congrès
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The Film Festival Palace, or Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, was built in 1982 and houses year-round events in Cannes, most notably, the Cannes Film Festival. The prestigious film festival attracts movie stars and the media from around the world. The festival is one of the most prestigious international film events and overtakes the Cannes luxury establishments for two dizzying weeks in May.

The famed palais provides 25,000 square meters for exhibitions as well as many rooms and 18 auditoriums equipped with state of the art sound and lighting. The original Palais was built in 1949, and a new one was built in 1982 in response to the growing popularity of the film festival and the need for business convention space. Now, the Palais is a contemporary building that plays hosts to a variety events besides the film festival, such as the international music trade show MIDEM and the International Television Programme Market.

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La Croisette Boulevard (Boulevard de la Croisette)
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La Croisette Boulevard, or Boulevard de la Croisette, is the heart of Cannes, with luxury hotels, designer shops, and glittering nightlife spots lining the way along the curving coast. On the other side of the boulevard reside Cannes famous sandy beaches. It extends completely along the spectacular Cannes coastline. The boulevard overlooks the impressive harbor which is home to extravagant yachts and a pirate ship built for a film.

The eastern section of the boulevard extends south at the lovely Parc de la Roseraie, curves along the Port Pierre Canto and ends at the southern tip of the Pointe de la Croisette near the Port du Palm beach. On the east side of the cape lies the charming Boulevard Eugène- Gazagnaire and its lovely beach, which extends north to the Port du Moure Rouge. The Croisette is the main drag of Cannes and features many of its major attractions.

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Nice Old Town (Vieux Nice)
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Nice Old Town (known locally as Le Vieux Nice) is a lovely honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with beautiful Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Thronging with tourists eating the famous ice-cream during the day, at night it becomes one big party with bars and nightclubs spilling out onto the streets.

The key things to see are the Cours Saleya (the open air market), Chapelle de la Miséricorde (a wonderfully ornate Baroque church dating from 1740), Chapelle de l'Annonciation (known locally as Sainte-Rita), Eglise Saint-Jacques (dating from 1612 and built by the Jesuits, it has some excellent frescoes), the Cathedral Sainte Réparate (1699), and the Palais Lascaris (paintings and statues).

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Massena Square (Place Masséna)
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If you're spending an even remotely significant amount of time in Nice, then you'll soon become familiar with Place Massena. It's the massive, open square at the bottom of L'avenue Jean-Médecin; just a little bit past it is Vieux Nice and the Mediterranean. Walk under the porticos in foul weather, or enjoy the sun on its wide walkways. It ends in a gorgeous fountain framed by faded cherry-red buildings, a favorite with photographers of any ability.

In the daytime, Place Massena is a busy pedestrian/tram intersection, and it can seem like barely controlled chaos as people scurry, stroll or simply hang out along its dizzyingly tiled surface. At night it's a bit less busy, but many are more distracted as the large human-like sculptures high atop poles change color like lava lamps! Place Massena is also the site for many of Nice's most popular events throughout the year, from Mardi Gras to Fete de la Musique concerts to summer outdoor markets.

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Cours Saleya Flower Market (Marché aux Fleurs Cours Saleya)
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Only one street back from the seafront, Cours Saleya is a mainly-pedestrianized street/square which hosts a daily market. It is split between its famous flower market selling bucketfuls of blooms in the western half, and a magnificent food market at the eastern end, with long trestle tables displaying exotic spices, shiny fruit and veg, pastries, fruits glacés (glazed or candied fruits such as figs, ginger, tangerine and pears) and more. On Mondays from 6am to 6pm, Cours Saleya also hosts an antiques market.

Lined by restaurants and cafes, it is the perfect place for breakfast, to sip coffee and people-watch, or for after dark, when the market is closed and the outdoor seating from the restaurants expands to fill the square.

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Castle Hill (Colline du Château)
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Le Chateau, the shaded hill and park at the eastern end of Quai des États-Unis, is named after a 12th-century château that was razed by Louis XIV in a fit of pique in 1706 and never rebuilt. There are some ruins but not really a chateau to speak of. In the one remaining tower, the 16th century Tour Bellanda, is the Musée Naval. The cemetery where Garibaldi is buried covers the northwest of the park.

From this 300 ft (92 m) hilltop park aslo known as Castel Hill, the glittering views of Vieux Nice spires and the Baie des Anges are mesmerizing. It's worth the walk up - especially as you pass waterfalls, pools and gardens along the way. Once at the top, sit and have a coffee under the trees; the cafe offerings are very much kiosk style but the view makes up for everything.

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Mt. Boron (Mont Boron)
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Rising above the port in Nice is Mont Boron, a green wilderness with great views over Nice and beyond.From Mont Boron you can see over the port of Nice, Nice town and to Villefranche and Cap Ferrat. From this height you it’s easy to understand why this coastline is called the Cote d’Azur - the blue of the sea is simply amazing.

Since 1860, Mont Boron has been preserved as a nature retreat with trees native to the Mediterranean, including Holm Oak and Aleppo Pine. With 6 miles (11 km) of sign-posted trails, this has become a popular place for both locals and visitors to escape the narrow streets of the city and take in the fresh air. It's also good for mountain biking. You can catch the bus (number 14) to the top of Mont Boron and then walk back down.

Nearby Mont Albon has a 16th century military fort perched 720 feet (220m) above the sea. From here you get 360-degree views of the surrounding coastline and the Alpes-Maritimes.

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More Things to Do in French Riviera

Place Garibaldi

Place Garibaldi

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A monumental square made up of Baroque architecture, the late 18th century Place Garibaldi lies at the eastern end of the Old Town of Nice. Recent renovation has revitalized the beauty of the buildings.

Place Garibaldi has shops, bars and cafes including Grand Café de Turin, famous for its seafood and a great place to dine al fresco and people watch. On the weekends the square fills with stall holders selling antiques and bric-a-bracs. Many of the main streets of Nice cross the square: Avenue de la République, Boulevard Jean Jaurès, Rue Catherine Ségurane and the rue Cassini which leads to the old port. Tram No. 1 runs through Place Garibaldi and around the edge of the Old Town (Vieux Nice) and most of the square has now been pedestrianized. The square has a majestic fountain in its center with a statue of Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi who was responsible for unifying Italy in the late 19th century. He had hoped that Nice would become part of Italy.

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Port Vauban

Port Vauban

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The largest marina in Europe, with over 100 berths, Antibes’ ritzy Port Vauban is one of the most popular spots for yachts on the French Riviera. Originally a natural port run by everyone from the ancient Greeks to the Romans and the Barbarians, it wasn’t until the 15th century that the site was given adequate protection from raiders, when Louis XIV ordered military engineer Seigneur de Vauban to fortify the marina.

Port Vauban is home to the Yacht Club d’Antibes and has its own private heli-pad for all those superyacht owners like Roman Abramovich. Berths at Port Vauban don’t come cheap—each spot costs between 1 and 4 million euros. Each spring, the marina hosts the Antibes Yacht Show, which attracts more than 15,000 visitors every year.

Just behind the archway to Antibes’ Old Town on the western edge of the marina is a lively market that is open every day except Monday.

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St. Nicholas Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas)

St. Nicholas Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas)

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Nice is full of interesting architectural delights, but perhaps none is as unique as the Russian St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, which speaks to the history of Nice as a popular destination for visitors from all over the world. While the Promenade des Anglais is a nod to the English, who wanted to walk along the shoreline in the sun without being directly on the beach, the cathedral is a similar concession, this time to the Russian nobility – namely Tsar Nicholas II – who found the mild climate and beautiful location to be equally alluring.

The cathedral is one of the top sites to visit in Nice, although it isn’t remotely French. Even if it weren't commonly known as the Russian Cathedral, one look at its exterior would give it away; it looks as though it was shipped directly from Moscow, with its fanciful onion-shaped domes and brightly colored exterior.

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Île Sainte-Marguerite

Île Sainte-Marguerite

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The largest of the Lérins islands located 1 km (2/3 of a mile) from Cannes, the Ile de Sainte-Marguerite is abounding with eucalyptus and pines. The island is most famous for allegedly holding the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask captive during the 17th century. During the summer months, a vast amount of boats stay in the shallow, safeguarded "Plateau du Milieu" between the islands where there is more area for water sports. The village of Sainte-Marguerite is comprised of about twenty buildings. Most of these are home to fishermen, but there are a few establishments offering refreshments to tourists who are exploring the island.

The historic Fort Royal now contains a youth hostel and a Museum featuring items recovered from ancient shipwrecks. Island visitors are also able to explore a number of former prison cells and an old Roman cistern room. Close to the Fort Royal is a small cemetery for French soldiers and another alongside it for North African soldiers.

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St-Tropez Citadel (Citadelle de Saint-Tropez)

St-Tropez Citadel (Citadelle de Saint-Tropez)

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Though St-Tropez is famous for its glamour and glitz, the city also has a rich and eventful past. The Citadel is a prime example, having been the town’s crown jewels since the 17th century, and one of the few monuments of its magnitude to still stand today on France’s southern coastline. In fact, The Citadel is one of the city’s most visited historical and cultural sites, both for its history and its panoramic views over the Bay. The Citadel was built between 1602 and 1608, based on the drawings of engineer Raymond de Bonnefons. The building, composed of a thick-walled hexagonal tower, a concealed interior courtyard, towers with cannon openings, and a bastioned outer wall, was used to defend the strategic port of St-Tropez, the most important strongholds between Antibes and Toulon for centuries. Its location on a hill with slopes bare of vegetation helped the military spot and bomb all vessels that came too close to the walls of the city.

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Le Suquet

Le Suquet

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Le Suquet is the old quarter of Cannes perched on a hill overlooking the radiant French Riviera. The hill became the property of the Iles de Lerins monks in the 11th century, and a castle constructed by them in 1088 still exists today. It is a popular area for people to climb the winding cobbled roads and enjoy the local cafes, restaurants, and shops, located mostly on Rue St Antoine. The atmosphere is more casual and medieval than the glamorous heart of Cannes.
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Chateau de Cremat

Chateau de Cremat

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As far as historic French castles go, the Château de Crémat is a mere infant, built in the beginning of the 20th century. But it was designed to appear like it was there long before the city of Nice that spreads below it, with a mixture of architectural styles and a creamy exterior that reflects the stunning Riviera light.

Those wondering if it’s worth a visit should look no further than their taste buds. The Château de Crémat was built specifically for its surrounding land, which is taken up entirely by picturesque vineyards that yield some quality wines. Guided tours of the castle are free, and wine tastings are available for a tasting fee.

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Quai des États-Unis

Quai des États-Unis

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Running along the beachfront of Nice is a long boulevard, a busy road and an elegant promenade. To the west it is the famous Promenade des Anglais, to the east it is Quai des Etats-Unis. Quai des Etats-Unis divides the old town (Vieux Nice) from the seafront. It is lined by shops, hotels and the restored 19th century terrasses. These now house cultural institutions such as Centre du Patrimoine (Nice’s heritage center), contemporary art venues, and on the inland side, the Cours Saleya with its vibrant food and flower market and cafes. At the eastern end of Quai des Etats-Unis is a set of steep steps and a cliffside lift that take you up to Parc du Chateau, the hilltop park with great views over Nice and the Cote D’Azur. Quai des Etats-Unis was named in honor of the United States after President Wilson decided to enter World War I in 1917 and assist the Allied Forces.
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Marc Chagall National Museum (Musée National Marc Chagall)

Marc Chagall National Museum (Musée National Marc Chagall)

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The Musée National Marc Chagall houses the largest public collection of of the Russian-born artist's seminal paintings of Old Testament scenes. Be sure to peek through a plate-glass window across a reflecting pond to view a mosaic of the rose window at Metz Cathedral. Chagall (1887 – 1985) is buried in St-Paul de Vence, a town not far from Nice.

The main hall contains 12 huge interpretations (1954 - 67) of stories from Genesis and Exodus. In an antechamber, an unusual mosaic of Elijah in his fiery chariot, surrounded by signs of the zodiac, is viewed through a plate-glass window and reflected in a small pond. Five paintings based on the Song of Songs (1960s) form the most startling series, an explosion of passionate red (in contrast to the sea greens, deep purples and blues of the main room) dedicated to his wife Vava.

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Molinard Perfumery (Maison Molinard)

Molinard Perfumery (Maison Molinard)

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Since its founding in 1849 in the Grasse Province in the south of France, this world-class perfumery has been creating famous fragrances for men, women, dignitaries and even soldiers for more than 150 years.

Travelers can embark on a one-of-a-kind tour of Molinard Parfumery that starts with a film exploring the company’s history and ends with a trip through the 1930s where visitors can witness perfume-making in its most traditional sense. The guided tour loops through Molinard’s beautiful reception area and flows into the soap room, where years ago a single person created hundreds of soaps by hand. The distillery remains one of the tour’s most incredible stops, as it’s one of the few perfume factories in the world to avoid modernization. Travelers will pass by the cream room, where they’ll learn about packaging and production before the final sales room stop, where a well-curated exhibition showcases fragrance collections from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

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Cimiez Monastery (Monastere de Cimiez)

Cimiez Monastery (Monastere de Cimiez)

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The Monastery of Cimiez includes a church, a cemetery and a convent where some Franciscan friars still live. The church has significant paintings by 15th century local artists the Brea brothers. The convent houses the Musee Franciscain which is decorated with 17th century frescoes, many documents and a recreated cell showing how the austere religious life is lived. The chapel dates from the 17th century and the lovely gardens have sweeping views across Nice.

The painter Henri Matisse is buried in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez. His grave is signposted 'sépulture Henri Matisse' from the cemetery's main entrance (next to the monastery church on av Bellanda). Raoul Dufy (1877 - 1953) is also buried here.

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