The name “Azure Coast” goes back to Stéphen Liégeard's book entitled La Côte d'Azur, published in 1887. At that time the southern coast of France had just been discovered by wealthy Brits who liked to spend the winter between Menton on the Italian border and Saint-Tropez. The abundance of colors and shapes attracted many painters: Renoir, Matisse, Chagall and Picasso are only the well known among them. They left behind a number of museums, which are best visited during winter, when they are less busy. For many, the French Riviera is a holiday destination par excellence because of its sun, beach and sea combined with a picturesque hinterland and a few sophisticated cities.
French flair and luxury yachts in Port Vauban
The port city with 75,000 inhabitants is one of the oldest on the Côte d'Azur. “Antipolis” was founded around 340 by Greek merchants and became a bishop's seat in late antiquity. The seaside resort Juan-les-Pins was opened in 1882 and has since been incorporated. At the beginning of the 20th century, writers and artists settled there, including Picasso, to whom a museum is dedicated at Château Grimaldi. Port Vauban is now one of the largest marinas in Europe, with up to 1700 luxury yachts anchoring here. The best view is from the fortress Fort Carré.
Vertical cliffs, stunning views
The stretch of coastline near Marseille is one of the most beautiful landscapes that France has to offer. Wildly romantic coves, some of them cutting deep into the country like fjordes, are dominated by enormous, almost vertical cliffs. Inside the coves with the bottle-green water are small sailboats. Walks through the white limestone rocks will be rewarded with forever changing, breathtaking views. In summer, hiking is prohibited. Then one has to resort to a boat tour.
Monastery island off Cannes
The small island off Cannes was a nucleus of Western monasticism. Around 410 AD, Honoratus of Arles founded a hermitage on the island – modeled on the hermits in Egypt and Syria. After a long and eventful history, about 30 monks still live on Saint-Honorat today. The vineyards belonging to the monastery occupy one third of the island. From the fortress tower you have a beautiful view of the sea and the yachts. The landscape around the seven chapels is laid out like a park. The monastery offers homemade wines and the liqueur Lérina for sale. The restaurant is usually busy despite the quiet monastery life.
Archipelago between Marseille and the Côte d'Azur
The archipelago between Marseille and the Cote d'Azur is located a few kilometers off the French coast. Because of its reddish colored rocks, the three islands are also known as the Îles d'Or – islands of gold. The largest of them, Porquerolles, is 7.5 km long and 3 km wide. Especially in the north, near the capital of the same name, one can find a few pretty beaches with crystal clear water. From there, hiking trails lead through the original macchia to a fort, a vineyard or to Sémaphore, with its 142 meters the highest mountain on the island. From there one can look far across the sea, to the other islands and to the mainland. Porquerolles is easily accessible within minutes from the Giens peninsula by passenger ferry. During high season it runs every half hour. The car can be left in the car park at the ferry terminal over night.
Provençal village in the Massif des Maures
The Provençal village is located at the top of the Massif des Maures pass. You can reach the place, which has preserved its authenticity, by a picturesque road through a wild and ravishing landscape. La Garde-Freinet is considered the place where the Saracens settled in Provence after 890 until they were expelled 100 years later after the Battle of Tourtour. From the village you can walk to the Croix des Maures, where you will be rewarded with a beautiful view over the sea.
Popular destination for mountain bikers
The “Vinegar Mountain” is with 614 meters the highest mountain of the Esterel Mountains. The mountain, which is under nature protection, is partially forested, but the original vegetation of cork oaks and chestnut trees has been destroyed by numerous forest fires, so that today macchia predominates. From the west, a forest road leads to within a few hundred meters of the summit. From here a driveway, then a footpath, leads to the summit. The GR 51 long-distance trail also leads to the summit, where there is an old lookout tower and a transmitter. From here you have the most beautiful view of the coast to the Italian Riviera, but also of the Alps.
Glamorous capital of Côte d'Azur
Nice is the urbane capital of the Côte d'Azur. The “Sky-Blue Coast”, as the French call the Riviera, has been a vacation paradise ever since it was discovered by British aristocrats in the 18th century. The shield provided by the Alps just north of the city makes the climate pleasant all year around and promotes the growth of a wide variety of flora. The area's main attraction, of course, are the endless beaches stretching along the coast. The fact that the 5th largest metropolis in France is just 30 km from the border to Italy becomes most apparent after sundown when the city's nightlife begins in the cobble stone streets of the Old Town.
From a fishing village to the playground for the rich and famous
Named after an early Christian martyr, the harbor town on the Cote d'Azur was a simple fishing village until the 20th century. The boom began in the 1950s when “St Trop” became a meeting place for the rich and famous. Wealthy vacationers from all over the world spend their summers in the famous beach clubs: Tahiti Plage, Club 55 or similar. Saint Tropez is known for its exclusive marina and the Baie de Pamplonne, the longest sand beach on the Cote d'Azur. The numerous shops and gourmet restaurants are priced for their special clientele.
Historic railroad to the Alpes Maritimes
The so-called “Pine Cone Train” is a historic narrow-gauge railroad from Nice to Digne-les-Bains. In addition to diesel railcars, steam locomotives are sometimes used. It takes three and a half hours to cover the 150-kilometer route. Via Annot, St. André-les-Alpes and Barrême, you then reach Digne-les-Bains, a small town in the countryside with a beautiful old town, where the big lavender festival also takes place in August. Four times a day, the route climbs over 80 tunnels, bridges and viaducts to a thousand meters. On the way you can get on or off the train. Along the route run beautiful hiking trails of varying length and difficulty.