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.
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.
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.
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.
Situated in a medieval castle atop Le Suquet, the Castre Museum is home to a wide collection of antiquities, particularly from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The chateau itself is a historical monument, and the collections housed within will be of particular interest to art lovers and ethnographers.
The art collections and objects from Oceana, the Himalayas and the Americas are presented in a suite of small rooms surrounded by gardens, a collection of Mediterranean antiquities and pre-Columbian ceramics. The 12th-century Saint Anne Chapel houses a remarkable collection of musical instruments from Asia, Africa, the America, and Oceana. A few rooms dedicated to 19th century Provencal paintings of Riviera landscapes open out onto the courtyard and a square tower displaying spectacular views.
The Chapelle Bellini was well-known painter Emmanuel Bellini's studio, and houses an exhibition of some of his works. Built in the late 19th century by Comte Vitali, the chapel was part of the Villa Fiorentina and was once home to the Princess of Serbia. A Cannes native, Bellini later purchased the chapel and converted it in to his studio.
In Italian Baroque style, the chapel features a clock tower, an exterior embellished with "gingerbread" and statues, Comte Vitali’s coat of arms, and an inside gallery with a restored wooden staircase. It is a real artistic and architectural delight.
Next door to St Tropez, the seaside town of Port Grimaud is known as the “Venice of Provence” for its famous canals. Just 50 years old, the town was designed by architect François Spoerry in the 1960s, who designed the pastel-colored houses in the traditional fisherman’s style of the French Riviera—all wrought-iron balconies and terracotta tiles.
Initially controversial and seen as a faux Provence town, today Port Grimaud is a popular pleasure port full of luxury yachts, fancy restaurants and manicured gardens beloved by the European elite. There are over 3,000 berths and three ports at Port Grimaud, but no cars. In this land dedicated to the luxury yacht, every home has its own personal mooring space at the end of its garden. Port Grimaud is also known for its modernist Church of St Francis of Assisi, with abstract stained glass designs by Vasarely. Near the church at place du Marché is a market of fresh Provençal goods on Thursday and Sunday mornings.
Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon) is a deep and wild limestone canyon worn away by the Verdon River in the French Riviera. Running up to 700 meters deep, Verdon Gorge is aptly known to locals as the Grand Canyon du Verdon and receives over 100,000 visitors a year. With glacial waters as blue as the sky, the gorge is popular among swimmers, kayakers, sunbathers and hikers. It’s also especially beloved by rock climbers, with hundreds of climbing routes across its rocky 25-kilometer-long expanse.
If you’d like to boat along the crystal clear waters of Verdon Gorge, rentals are available from nearby towns like Castellane during summer. Or you can just hop right in for a swim in the refreshingly cool water. For hikers, there are plenty of trails that take in the canyon’s jagged limestone cliffs and azure waters, including the popular nine-mile Martell trail, which takes about seven hours each way.
Forty-five minutes from Antibes in France’s Alpes-Maritimes region, the scenic drive along the Gorges du Loup takes visitors up close to the Loup River (pronounced “Lou”) as it follows the deep canyon out to the Mediterranean Sea at Bouches-du-Loup. Cutting through the hills at the foot of medieval Gourdon village, the Gorges du Loup road is full of beautiful twists and carved-out tunnels.
Two and a half miles (4 km) into the narrowing gorge, keep an eye out for Cascade de Courmes. For a small fee, you can park your car and walk down the steps to the terrace, where the free-falling cascade descends 130 feet (40 meters) below. There are two other waterfalls to be visited at Gorges du Loup: Saut du Loup and Cascades des Demoiselles.
Located in the south of France by the Loup River, the beautifully preserved village of Gourdon looks all the way out to the Cote d’Azur from its mountaintop peak. A place of refuge and defense during medieval times, the feudal village is surrounded by thick ramparts and has only one entrance, the Roman Gate, which leads onto Gourdon’s medieval stone house-lined main street, rue de Major. Here, look out for Maison d’Anglars at No. 17, which dates back to the 13th century.
Chateau de Gourdon, a historic monument since 1971, is a popular spot in Gourdon. The castle’s 17th-century gardens were designed by André Le Nôtre, who was also responsible for the Palace of Versailles’ famous gardens. At the top of the village sits a beautiful square revealing the huge church of St Pierre. For a perfect view of Gourdon’s golden-stoned ramparts, make sure to stop at the lookout point right before you enter the village.
For visitors to Nice, a stroll up to the top of Castle Hill offers extraordinary views of the city from the Old Town straight on to the airport. And with such beautiful weather being the norm, getting a bird's eye view of the Cote d'Azur can be addictive! For those who want to see even more from up high, Fort du Mont Alban is a must.
Built in the mid-1500s for military defense, Fort du Mont Alban is located close to Nice in Mont Boron Park, just outside of Col-de-Villefranche. Although it suffered some damage in WWII, the fort is in excellent condition and was declared a national monument in the early 20th century. While tours of the fort are available only by appointment, the grounds are open to the public and free to enter. From the top there are sweeping views from Italy to Antibes – and after a rain, when the skies are clear, those with binoculars can even see Corsica!
Grasse is said to be the center for luxury fragrance in France, and subsequently has many attractions that are perfume-related. The International Perfume Museum extensively covers the famous French perfume industry. Exhibitions retrace the history of perfumes, soap and cosmetics for thousands of years.
The International Perfume Museum is situated in the former Hugues-Aîné perfumery built in the 19th century and was recently reopened in 2008 after refurbishment. The museum invites visitors to explore the prosperous history of french parfumeries in the historic town of Grasse.
High among the lavender hills between Avignon and Nice, the L’Occitane Factory is open for popular one-hour guided tours. The site is located near the Provence hamlet of Manosque, and as you go through the factory, you’ll get to see production line rooms and learn how L’Occitane harvests and distills its organic ingredients from the area: lavender, olives, rosemary and almonds are all used in the creams and perfumes that make the brand famous worldwide.
On a tour of L’Occitane, you’ll learn about the history of the company. Once Olivier Baussan founded it in 1976, he started out making rosemary essential oil and selling it at local Provence markets. By 1981, Baussan had opened his first store in Provence, and today, there are over 2,000 L’Occitane stores in 90 countries around the world.
Those looking for an outdoor experience on the Cote d'Azur will find what they're looking for in the Massif des Maures. This mountain range sits back from the coast and runs from east of Toulon to west of Cannes; the peninsula on which St-Tropez lies, roughly halfway between, is also a part of the Massif. Even casual hikers find its forests, vineyards, and rolling plains yielding wild orchids and strawberries a welcome change from the sometimes frenetic energy of the Riviera in high season.
The Massif des Maures roughly translates to “the Moorish Mountains,” and its highest point (2,559 feet; 780 meters) is called Le Signal de la Sauvette. While its steep contours and isolated pockets leave much of the mountain range pristine, the villages of La Garde Freinet and Collobrieres can show visitors what life is like here.
Opio, just a half-hour's drive inland from Cannes, puts visitors in the middle of the many things to see and do in the Alpes-Maritimes department. From world-class golfing to a Club Med, Grasse perfume makers and of course the Cote d'Azur, there is something for everyone. And as usual when it comes to this region, there is plenty of history as well.
Traces of the Iron Age and the Roman era have been found in Opio; in addition, there are records of Opio being a part of Antibes and Grasse through the French Revolution. The only thing to see in the village, the 12th-century St-Trophisme Church, is an indication of its vast history. Yes, the village really is that small – just a few houses, really! But the larger surrounding area is where all the fun is.