Rosé All Day in the French Riviera
My favorite part of France has long been the French Riviera with its Mediterranean coastal views, vivid colors, and a vibe that is both relaxed and luxurious. Also known as the Cote d’Azur (azure coast), its brilliant blue waters beckon visitors to take a dip and soak up the region’s warmth, glitz, and glamour.
The Riviera has famously been regarded as a playground for the chic and wealthy, its disparate cities each offering up their own unique brand of luxury. And while the Riviera was historically a respite for celebrities to escape dreary winters, the region now caters to all budgets and travelers.
Although there’s no official boundary, the Riviera roughly extends from St Tropez in the west to its Italian counterpart, “The Italian Riviera,” in the east. Its close proximity to Italy influences not only the relaxed vibe but also the food. You’ll see hints of Mediterranean fare peppered throughout the local delicacies - lots of olive oil and tapenades, seafood-based salade niçoise and bouillabaisse, and the anchovy pizza-like “pissaladière.” Soaring summer temperatures encourage late outdoor dining and many glasses of rosé. Pale pink, dry and crisp, the local varieties are delicious and so much better than anything you’d get in America for the same price point; it’s no wonder the pink elixir is so ubiquitous in the South !
Like many of my favorite artists, I’ve always felt a special love for the French Riviera. Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, and Cezanne all flocked there at some during their careers for the region’s unique quality of light and vibrant array of colors. Its visual beauty abounds and I’ve no doubt it’s what makes it so appealing to French and foreign tourists alike. But honestly, my favorite part about the region is really how it feels - radiating a relaxed summer vibe that can really only be achieved when everyone else around you is also basking in the sun, sporting sandals and sunhats, taking in the cool, blue shades of the Mediterranean over a glass of perfectly dry, Provencal rosé. And to me that’s how the Riviera feels - like sunshine and rosé.
Here is a list of some of my favorites cities and sights, lodgings and eats along the Riviera ----
The Riviera’s largest city is Nice, and it serves as a great central hub to station yourself while exploring the rest of the coast. It has the leisurely, laid-back air one finds in most sunny beach towns and I’ve always found the locals to be warm, friendly, and relaxed. The Old Town of Nice is called “Vieux Nice,” a maze of narrow streets filled with cafés, wine bars, and good eats. The rest of the city is a modern delight, featuring some excellent museums and innovative Michelin-starred restaurants. I've stayed in Nice a few times, and use public transport to day-trip to all the amazing cities nearby.
STAY - Hotel La Villa Nice Promenade (11 Rue Saint-Phillippe, 06000 Nice. 3 stars, $118/night.) Modern boutique hotel two blocks from the main promenade, balconies with a view of the sea, and a 15 min walk to Old Town. Cute, chic and decently priced.
EAT - Restaurant JAN (12 Rue Lascaris, 06300 Nice.) With a gorgeous interior space and beautiful plating, Michelin-starred JAN features a polished seasonal menu combining the chef's South African heritage with traditional French plates. If you go for lunch, you can get a 2-course prix fixe menu for an incredibly reasonable 45 €.
EAT - Olive & Artichaut (6 rue Sainte Réparate, 06000 Nice.) In the heart of Old Town, adorably rustic Olive & Arthichaut features Mediterranean fare with a strong emphasis on local produce.
EAT - Rossettisserie (8 rue Mascoinat, 06300 Nice.) If you're in the mood for a casual hearty meal, family-owned Rossettisserie has an amazing selection of meats like braised lamb, herbed roast chicken, and roast beef - to be enjoyed with buttery potatoes, ratatouille, and a generous pour of red table wine.
SEE - Promenade des Anglais (Promenade des Anglais, 06000 Nice.) The main road (promenade) along the seashore. Gorgeous views of the water on one side, with historic buildings and architecture on the other. Wade in the water and stop by for a drink at sunset.
SEE - Old Town - (Vieux Nice, 06000 Nice.) Constantly buzzing with energy and activity - the local eats, good wine, and historic architecture of Old Town will take you back to the Nice of the past.
SEE - Cours Saleya Market (Cours Saleya, 06300 Nice.) Daily, year-long flower market in the heart of Old Town. Fruits and veggies also available in the morning; closed Mondays.
SEE - Matisse Museum (164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, 06000 Nice.) A comprehensive collection of Henri Matisse's works - showcasing his style evolution from the beginning to the end of his career.
30 minutes from Nice lies the hilltop village of Èze, with stunning views and medieval architecture that will transport you back in time. The cobblestone paths can be steep and narrow so wear good shoes and allow yourself leisure time to wander the alleys and enjoy the exotic botanical garden at the top. I recommend taking public transportation to avoid parking hassles.
EAT - Le Café du Jardin (Rue du Barri, 06360 Èze Village.) Château de la Chèvre d'Or is Èze's renowned luxury hotel boasting a 2-starred Michelin restaurant with the same name. I hear it's divine. But if you're just stopping by for a casual lunch or glass of provençal rosé in the sun - Le Café du Jardin has reasonable prices and incredible panoramic views of the Riviera.
SEE - Èze Botanical Garden (20 Rue du Chåteau, 06360 Èze.) Exotic botanical garden with panoramic views from the majestic mountains down to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.
Despite being the world's second-smallest country, Monaco is a bastion of wealth and extravagance. Home to Formula 1's annual Grand Prix and the famed Monte Carlo casino, it's a fun place to sneak a peek at how the other half lives - yachts and Maseratis, opulence and beauty - before returning home. I stopped by the casino for a drink and felt like James Bond.
SEE - Monte Carlo Casino (Place du Casino, 98000 Monaco.) You can enter for free, but it's worth the extra 10 € for access to the gaming rooms to enjoy the lavish ambiance - have a drink under the bar's crystal chandeliers and enjoy the palatial decor.
Antibes is primarily known as a resort town by the beach. My favorite part, however, was the Cap d'Antibes Hiking Trail. The trail is surprisingly wild, and some of the rocky coves almost feel like ancient ruins. Friends and families picnic along the shore and dip in the water for a swim when temperatures soar.
SEE - Cap d'Antibes Hiking Trail (Cap D'Antibes, Antibes.) 2-hour hike along the coast, peppered with mansions, gardens, and spectacular views of the sea.
SEE - Picasso Museum (Place Mariejol, 06600 Antibes.) I've never been, but hear it has quite the collection - with more than 240 of his pieces, including some donated by Picasso himself.
St Paul de Vence
Many of my favorite cities in the Riviera actually lie a bit further inland - smaller villages paved with cobblestone, bursting with rustic charm and flowers. Saint Paul de Vence is one of the more well-known towns with its incredible medieval architecture and abundance of modern art museums and galleries. I love walking through the twisting paths and residential alleys lined with the loveliest doors and shutters, which I love to photograph. Each home is personalized with the most minute of details - from the manicured gardens down to colorful chipped paint.
STAY - Le Hameau (528 Route de la Colle, Saint Paul de Vence 06570.) About a 10 minute walk from the main centre of St Paul de Vence lies Le Hameau, a charming and quiet escape. The rooms are rustic Provençal, and the grounds are lush with grape vines and bougainvillea. The grounds are filled with adorable little nooks for the the hotel staff to serve you a glass of wine by the pool or in the heart of the gardens.
Vence is another historic walled village with fresh spring water bubbling from its local fountains. I stayed here for a couple wonderful weeks in my teens. The city is less pristine than St Paul de Vence, but feels a little more "real" and "lived in." Its main draw is the Chapelle du Rosaire, a hillside chapel erected in the ‘40s by legendary artist Henri Matisse. Near the end of his life, Matisse collaborated with a nun (formerly his nurse) to design the chapel and the result is truly a masterpiece. Outfitted with his magnificent murals and stained glass windows, the chapel’s decor and design are small and simple. Matisse is one of my favorite artists, so it gives me great pleasure to see his career culminated in a piece of such reverence and beauty; I make an effort to see the chapel every time I visit the region.
SEE - Chapelle du Rosaire (466 Avenue Henri Matisse, 06141 Vence.) Petite yet stunning chapel by Henri Matisse - with incredible murals and stained glass windows.
EAT - Les Lavandes (8 Rue du Marche, 06140 Vence.) A friendly husband and wife team serve up traditional French fare with a touch of Asian flair. Pretty, picturesque seating in one of the town's many little squares for a sunny and casual lunch.
And The Rest.....
I talked about my favorite spots on the Riviera, but there are so many more to choose from - the annual film festival of Cannes, the luxurious yacht-life of St Tropez, the charming fishing village of Villefranche, and more. One need only do a bit of research to see which cities and activities most resonate with you before planning your trip !
Overall, I would recommend staying in Nice and doing day-trips to various towns with the region's easy and efficient public transportation system. June and July are both sunny and balmy, with less crowds than August (when many French head South to relax for their summer vacation.) If you do stay in Nice, I highly recommend the blog Best of Nice, which gives wonderfully detailed descriptions by a local of transportation, hotels, restaurants, and events. Santé !!
Coming soon....exploring the magnificent Gorge of Verdon and the adorable village of Moustiers Sainte Marie.......