The French Riviera Feature

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One Week on the Riviera: Cruising the Côte d'Azur

7 Days

To hit the highlights of this sun-blessed region and get up close and personal to the tropical glamour of the Côte d'Azur, here's a weeklong itinerary that allows you to get a good feel for what makes the Riviera famous—and wonderful. Make like a movie star and follow the coastline from Antibes to St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat—hitting the best beaches, circling the emerald-green capes, perusing the markets, and making the requisite hill-town stop. Other than St-Paul-de-Vence, all destinations here are on the coast and linked by the wonderful coastal railway.

Days 1–2: Antibes and St-Paul-de-Vence

Sitting on the western side of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), Antibes is a heavenly place. While a bustling town, it has a waterfront quarter that is so picturesque you'll be tempted to set up an easel—mere photographs don't do it justice—just like Picasso, whose works are on view in the town's Château Grimaldi. The surrounding alleys are a maze of enchantment with the Cours Massena overflowing with charm and flowers at its daily market and Le Safranier, a historic quarter of tiny cobblestone streets and flower-box-filled windowsills. Then enjoy a day of tropical hedonism on the Cap d'Antibes, a rocky promontory (which juts out into the Bay of Millionaires) adorned with Gilded Age mansions, one of which, the Villa Eilenroc, is open to the public. Then, even if you're too sunburned, fit in an excursion by bus up to the pretty perched medieval village of St-Paul to lunch at the Picasso-blessed Colombe d'Or (a must and the highpoint of any trip to the Riviera) and a visit to the Fondation Maeght's Giacomettis.

Day 3: Haut-des-Cagnes

Could this be the most beautiful village in southern France? Part-time residents Renoir, Soutine, Modigliani, and Simone de Beauvoir are just a few who thought so. You will forever dream about this place after leaving: with its tiny medieval streets, array of 15th- and 17th-century houses, corkscrew alleys, and vaulted arches draped with bougainvillea, it is a lovely dip into the Middle Ages. Many of the pretty residences are like dollhouses (especially the hobbit houses on Rue Passebon) but looming over all is the medieval town castle, with a grand Renaissance courtyard and three quirky collections.

Day 4–5: Nice

Just 15 minutes away from Haut-des-Cagnes by train, Nice is the big-city leg of your trip, so immerse yourself in culture: the Matisse and Chagall museums (set in the Cimiez suburb, high over the city), or the cutting-edge modern art museum. Start the day at the magnificent Cours Saleya Market, which shuts down by 1 pm—if you’re up early enough, you can watch the chefs squabble over the best produce. Then stroll through the labyrinthine Old Town. A few steps away lies the shoreline, where you can spend an hour or two strolling the famed Promenade des Anglais bordering Nice’s vast crescent of beach. Amble toward the port and you’ll find La Promenade des 100 Antiquaires, which runs up to Place Garibaldi.

Day 6–7: Villefranche-sur-Mer and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Either of the pretty ports of Villefranche or St-Jean takes you back to the days before the Riviera became the land of pink concrete, and both offer easy access to the tropical glories of Cap Ferrat and the sky-kissing perched village of Èze. First, marvel at Villefranche's deep blue bay, study the hillside estates (one is Paul Allen's Villa Maryland), and visit the town's Chapelle St-Pierre, decorated by Jean Cocteau. Then take the bus or walk over to Cap Ferrat, a favorite getaway of the sunglasses-and-sapphires set. Be sure to tour the art-charged rooms and expansive gardens of the Villa Ephrussi-Rothschild on Cap Ferrat. Then set out to do the half-hour hike along the Promenade Maurice Rouvier (lots of movie stars do their power-walking here) to nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer, home to the fabulous re-creation of ancient Greece that is the Villa Kerylos. Your final excursion should be to the sky-high village of Èze, an eagle's-nest wonder threaded by stone alleys that lead to the most spectacular vistas of the coast. One step higher and you will be, indeed, in paradise. Take the shuttle back down to the coast and then the train to Nice to get back home.

Updated: 2014-04-21

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