The French Riviera is one of the most beautiful places that France is known for. It is renowned worldwide for its beautiful beaches, weather, food, and overall ambiance. Nice, in particular, is now my favorite city in Europe as it is a perfect blend of urban and coastal. Its buildings are similar to those you find in Paris, yet it has a more laid-back vibe which comes from being by the sea. I spent 10 days exploring various cities in the French Riviera, and have compiled this guide with must-see towns, ideas for day trips from Nice, best hotels for different needs, and some traditional foods to try.
Where to stay in French Riviera
The best places to stay in French Riviera:
Splendid – located in the heart of Nice, this hotel is perfect for someone who is looking to enjoy both the city and some hotel amenities. Splendid offers comfortable rooms, a spa, and good service, but the best part of the hotel is its rooftop. This rooftop has a pool and jacuzzi with a stunning view of the city. It also has a restaurant with ample outdoor seating and a great happy hour. It is also a few minutes walk from the beach and old town Nice.
Le Negresco – the most luxurious and impressive hotel in all of Nice. This 5-star hotel is the epitome of luxury. It is an oceanfront hotel and is stunning inside and out. The hotel is like a museum! The owner is an art and vintage collector and has all of her findings displayed throughout the property. It has over 200 rooms, yet no 2 are alike. Each floor and each room is decorated in a different manner, but all with vintage art and furniture. It also boasts luxurious common areas, meeting rooms, and a 2-star Michellin restaurant. Le Negresco is the owner’s lifelong masterpiece. It is even used regularly to shoot movies.
Villa Otero – this hotel is also located in a great, central location in Nice. It is perfect for those simply seeking a comfortable place to sleep at night, and be close to everything in the city. Villa Otero is located only minutes from the beach, old town, shopping, and bus and train stations. It offers comfortable rooms with cute French balconies that I fell in love with. However, it does not have any other amenities (like a pool or spa). It’s simply reasonably priced, comfortable, and in a great location.
Le Mas Candille – this 5-star resort is located in a little artsy town called Mougins (more on that below). It sits on a huge piece of land on top of the hill. It has luscious gardens, 3 pools, a Shiseido spa, a Michelin star restaurant, luxurious rooms and a stunning view. This hotel is meant to be enjoyed. It is perfect for a relaxing vacation away from the bustle of city life. Do as I did and stay in the grounds enjoying the pools, spa, and your room’s luxurious amenities. Anything you could possibly need for a relaxing getaway is right at your fingertips. Just don’t forget to explore the actual village of Mougins which is only a short walk away. It is truly a gem.
Welcome Hotel – an oceanfront hotel in the cutest village – Villefranche Sur Mer. It offers spacious, comfortable rooms with an ocean view and patio. Welcome Hotel is only a few feet from possibly the most beautiful beach in the French Riviera, and it is right in the village’s picturesque old town. Restaurants, shops, and plazas are only steps away. It also has a bar with oceanfront seating which serves breakfast for hotel guests in the morning.
Best places to visit in French Riviera
The French Riviera has so many beautiful towns and things to do that’s it’s hard summarizing it into one short list. No doubt, you should try seeing each place along the coast at least once in your life, but if you’re pressed on time then check out the following 5 locations.
Nice – this is the biggest city in the French Riviera. It is so charming! I stayed here for the bulk of this trip, as it’s very centric and offers the most variety in terms of restaurants, shops, and things to do. Consider getting a hotel here and taking day or overnight trips to some of the neighboring towns and villages. Or just spend your days relaxing at the beach, staring out at the gorgeous azure waters, and exploring the town in the afternoon.
Villefranche Sur Mer – this village is the most beautiful I saw in the French Riviera. It’s a seaside village right in between Nice and Monaco. It’s only about a 20 minute train-ride from Nice, and definitely worth seeing. Villefranche Sur Mer has crystal blue waters, a picturesque old town, and plenty of delicious restaurants. The village is small, so I wouldn’t recommend staying here for your entire trip to the French Riviera, unless you’re strictly looking for relaxation. My suggestion is getting a hotel for 2 nights to enjoy the beautiful beach and explore the village without dragging it on to the point of boredom.
Mougins – this is another cute, picturesque village near Nice. It is located in the hills right over Cannes, and is a beautiful place for a real getaway. The village is very French, authentic, and artsy. I was told that this village is where Picasso had lived, so you can just imagine how artsy it is. Again, this is a small village so if you’re looking to stay busy you will only want to come here either on a day-trip or for a few nights. I stayed at a resort, Le Mas Candille, which made the experience here great. Explore the town on the first day, and spend the remainder of your time relaxing at the resort, enjoying the greenery and views from above.
Cannes – situated further into France from Nice and the Italian Coast. Cannes is another great city to explore as it offers plenty of shopping, restaurants, and attractions. It is similar to Nice, but on a smaller scale. The great thing about Cannes is its beach. Cannes has beautiful sandy beaches, unlike Nice which has a pebble beach. It is worth a trip!
Monaco – only a short train or bus ride from Nice is one of the smallest countries in the world. Monaco is extravagantly luxurious with stunning hotels, a yacht lined coast, and the famous Monte Carlo. If you’re in the French Riviera you must visit Monaco, at least for a day! The sightseeing is impressive, and just being there will make you feel like you belong in the Millionaire’s club.
Where to Eat
Surprisingly I did not try many restaurants while staying in the French Riviera simply because I missed homey meals. By this point, it had been 2 months of full-time travel around Europe, so I mostly went to markets and prepared easy meals at “home”. This is what happens when you do long-term travel – you start making places your home. However, there are some places I do recommend going, and traditional Niçonian food you need to try.
Cafe Frei – this cafe is located in the center of Nice, near the coast. It has the whole Parisian look from the outside which is what drew me in the first place. What makes it stand out? Coffee from ALL OVER THE WORLD! Yup, you have the chance to try lattes, cappuccinos, and other coffee specialties from different countries. I tried a latte from Guatemala and it was sooooo smooth and delicious! Try that, or the Cannes latte which is the cafe’s most popular option. Pair either with a quiche for a delicious breakfast or mid-day snack. One thing though, avoid the panini. I tried one and it did not have enough filling.
Boulangerie Patisserie– this French bakery is located right by Cafe Frei, near the beach. They have the best everything. Plain and simple. Whether you want a quiche, croissants, baguettes, macarons, or other sweet or savory pastries, you will love absolutely everything here. Trust me, I went crazy during my first visit and tried their entire selection
Curry House – the only Indian food place in the artsy village of Mougins. I found this place on the first night in town. I tried some of their Poulet (chicken) dishes and they were flavorful and delicious without breaking the bank.
What to eat in the French Riviera
Traditional Niçonian foods to try:
La daube niçoise (beef)
Salads niçoise (tuna salad)
Pissaladiere (onion bread)
Socca (potato pancake)
Ice cream brand: Finocchio
Ravioli à la niçoise
Tourte aux blettes