The French Riviera, also known as Côte d'Azur (the Azure Coast) is a stunning stretch of the Mediterranean coast in southeastern France. It is what dreams are made of! Sapphire blue coast, the smell of the sea, abundant sunshine, vibrant culture of the medieval towns, and the dreamiest of landscapes! The Riviera had been on our bucket list for a really long time, and we must say, it exceeded our expectations in every possible way!
We have put together an itinerary and detailed guide for your next trip to the South of France. It was our first time here, and we did a road trip along the Riviera for an entire week. Arjun and I are most certain that we will be back here very soon (can't wait!), and we will update our post again then for more travel tips up your sleeve!
A map highlighting the towns we explored in our Riviera road trip... PS: An entire month would not suffice to explore the South of France!
Okay, so here we go! Our TRIP HIGHLIGHTS >>
Day 1 - Travel to the South of France Train from Paris to Marseilles, Drive from Marseilles to a town called Roquefort-les Pines near Valbonne. Roquefort-les-Pines was our base for the entire week/duration of this trip.
There are so many other towns other than the ones mentioned above, such as Villefranche-sur-Mer, Grimaud, Grasse, Saint Tropez and MANY OTHERS for which we didn't have the time to visit on this trip. So feel free to switch up your itinerary using ours as a basic guide. We also visited Monaco on this trip but we would honestly not recommend this city, and have hence not included it in our itinerary. We found the city to be very flashy and superficial, and we feel that there are so many other towns that are culturally richer, and would provide a more fulfilling travel experience!
If you're in a hurry, you can skip the Q&A below and head straight down to the ITINERARY.
When is the best time to visit the South of France?
South of France sees 300 days of sunshine a year (which is amazing especially when you live in London, haha!) and is best experienced in Spring (April-May), Summer (June - August), and Autumn (September - October).
We travelled in late April, which is shoulder season and we always recommend traveling during off-peak times, simply because the crowds are smaller and the rates are cheaper! The weather is also perfect, with cool breeze in the evenings (so we recommend carrying a light jacket with you during Spring and Autumn).
During peak summer, you can experience the beautiful lavender and sunflower fields in their full bloom (mostly during late June through July), but during this time, the Riviera, and in fact all of Europe gets super crowded and expensive. In September, the crowds reduce, prices start to fall once again, and the autumn foliage is stunning during this time.
Few people travel in the Riviera during the winter months, but we do not recommend doing that as the towns are mostly dead and a lot of the restaurants and hotels are shut. So if you are looking for that bustling, coastal vibe, then traveling in winter may not be your best bet.
How many days do I need in the French Riviera?
Well, a whole year would not suffice to experience the charm and energy of the South of France! But we recommend staying here for at least a week. We spent 7 days in the Riviera, and got to experience only a few of the many French towns. We can't wait to come back and explore more!
Visas & Travel + How do I get to the South of France?
*Please note that this article was written in June 2023. Rules related to visa applications are subject to change*
As Indian passport holders, we were required to obtain a Schengen Visa (Short Stay Visa - Type C). We would suggest you to check online the visa requirements and latest rules pertaining to the citizenship you hold.
There are many ways to get to the South of France. If you are flying in from outside of Europe, there are flights to Nice and Marseille (both of which have international airports). You can also first fly into Paris (the capital city), and then take a train to any of the towns in the South (Marseilles/Nice/Aix-en-Provence) like we did. We chose Marseilles as the tickets there were the cheapest. We used trainline.com for our train bookings. For flight bookings, we recommend running a quick search on Skyscanner to check for flight routes and rates based on your location.
How do I get around in the South of France?
The BEST way to explore the Riviera, in our opinion! Renting a car and driving along the coast gives you freedom & flexibility to explore the different towns at your own pace. We booked our rental car on Europcar.com which at the time had a mega sale going on! We rented an electric car for about €600 (for a total of 7 days inclusive of insurance) and were pleasantly surprised by the number of electric charging stations across the region. Apart from being a more sustainable option than petrol-cars, the advantage is that parking spots designated for electric cars are free of cost, provided you are using them to charge your vehicle.
We would also recommend getting a FULL PROTECTION INSURANCE COVER over the basic one, because its stress-free especially when you're on holiday, and in case of damage or thefts you would end up bearing minimum cost!
We picked up our rental car from Marseille International Airport. There are frequent shuttle buses from the train station in Marseille to the airport.
Driving License Requirements*
You can drive in France as a tourist with your foreign license as long as it meets the below two requirements:
a. It must be valid
b. You must additionally obtain an International Drivers Permit (IDP) or get an official translation of your license document into French
However, if you hold a UK driving license, you do not need to obtain an IDP or translation due to a post-Brexit agreement.
*Please note that this article was written in July 2023. Rules related to driving license requirements are subject to change!*
Public transport (Trains and buses)
The TER train system connects some of the bigger cities of the French riviera such as Marseilles, Cannes, Nice, Èze, Monaco, and Antibes. We would recommend running a search on this website for train timetable and ticket prices. There are local buses as well, but they are definitely not as fast as the trains.
We met a few travellers who used Uber on their trip, and they said it worked quite well for them. It is one of the more expensive options of the lot, and we aren't really sure about how reliable it is. But definitely a great option to keep in mind if you have been partying out and had one too many drinks! Please don't drink and drive!
What important apps should I have on my phone during this trip?
GPS Apps - WAZE is the best, our most favourite driving navigation app ever! We have found it to be more accurate than Google Maps. We still use Google Maps for simple routes while walking, but WAZE is our clear winner while driving!
Google Translate - This is hands down, one of the the best inventions ever! English may not be widely spoken or understood in France, but with an app like this, you can manage to have conversations with the French people. The app is also especially useful while ordering at restaurants or asking around for directions!
Budgeting for the trip
The South of France is a relatively more expensive region in the country. Rates can shoot up pretty high during peak summer months, which is why we recommend traveling in the shoulder season. However, with proper budgeting and a little bit of research, you can definitely get great deals on accommodation and food options.
PS: The Euro (€) is the official currency of France.
Accommodation - Prices vary depending on the season you are travelling in, as well as the town that you choose to stay in. Cities like Nice and Cannes are generally more expensive than say, Antibes or Valbonne. In peak season, you can get a decent AirBnB room with a double bed starting from €80-90 per night. You can get even cheaper options but the facilities or the quality of the stay might not be the best. However, its nice to consider these options in case you are on a strict budget.
We stayed in the French countryside in a town called Roquefort-les-Pines in an old 18th-century house called Le Mas Saint Pierre . Head to the 'Where do I stay in South of France?' section for more details (including prices etc) on our incredible stay!
The average price for a main-course dish in a basic restaurant would cost you somewhere around €8-12. If you add a drink to it as well, then your total bill would come out to be €15 on an average. The best part about France is that the food is excellent in the smallest of restaurants and cafes. So the money you spend on food. is most likely going to be worth it! Head to the 'What do I eat in the South of France?' for a food guide!
Public transportation is indeed the cheapest travel option. Renting a car gets more expensive, but it is also the most flexible way to travel around the Riviera. We travelled in April (which is shoulder season) and came across a huge sale on the Europcar website. We spent a total of about €500 on an electric car for 7 days including a full insurance protection cover. And because it was an electric car, we didn't end up spending on fuel. There are many charging stations across the region and parking spots designated for electric cars are free of cost, provided you are using them to charge your vehicle.
Where do I stay in the South of France?
There is absolutely no dearth of accommodations in this region. Known for its hospitality and tourism, there are countless options from hostels and hotels, to AirBnBs and service apartments. Well, there are two ways of going about your accommodation in the Riviera :
1. The FIRST option is to choose a town and base yourself there for the entire duration of the trip. This option works well especially if you are renting a car and can drive back and forth to the same accommodation every single evening/night. You can choose any town of your liking based on the best available accommodation and rate that you find.
2. The SECOND option is to switch to a new accommodation at every new town that you visit. This option suits especially those who are travelling via public transport, or don't want to drive around too much.
We preferred the first option for our trip, but you can choose what works well for you, or even a mix of both! We personally prefer not having to pack and unpack every single day and don't like changing accommodations too frequently. We stayed in a town called Roquefort-les-Pines which was minutes away from Valbonne and only 30 minutes from Antibes. The farthest we drove in a day was to Menton which was an hour long drive one way.
Our Accommodation - Le Mas Saint Pierre
Our 18th Century accommodation in Roquefort-les-Pines!
This gorgeous house that dates back to 1889! It has a pool and the most beautiful, fragrant porch overlooking the hills of Provence
We stayed in the French countryside in a town called Roquefort-les-Pines in an old 18th-century house called Le Mas Saint Pierre . We were hosted by an incredibly sweet and kind lady, named Iben, who owns and manages the property. Staying here was the best decision of this trip! Away from the hustle and bustle of the main towns, yet within close distance to the major towns, Le Mas Saint Pierre is one of the most beautiful accommodations we have ever stayed at! It was like living in a fairytale cottage. We had an entire floor to ourselves with our own kitchen and porch. It cost us around 70 euros per night, and was worth every single cent! The photographs do no justice to the kind of experience we had for the entire week.
A fairytale cottage, isn't it?
No doubt this was the best part of our trip!
Our host, Iben, and her little doggo, Kalle!
Food in the French Riviera
The smile says it all ;) ...Arjun devouring French food!
French gastronomy is known all over the world for its quality, and one thing we are certain about is that you will not be disappointed by the food in this country. As vegans, we were initially a bit skeptical about what choices we would have, but you will be surprised to know that so many dishes in France are traditionally and naturally plant-based! We enjoyed every single meal that we had on this trip. There were a few exclusive vegan restaurants in Nice and Antibes, but even the non-vegan restaurants have at least some options that you can choose or customise from.
NOTE - *We have recommended restaurants for each city we visited under the relevant headings in the itinerary below this Q&A.*
French Markets - Oh my goodness! The French 'marche' are our absolute favourite thing about French towns. The markets are a sensory feast every morning, where farmers and vendors all gather to sell some of the freshest produce you will ever see! From fresh seasonal fruits and veggies, to Mediterranean olives and oils. from scented lavender soaps to fresh flowers of Provence, the markets are incredibly amazing! Pick some stuff you like, head to the beach, and enjoy the best of French food in the sunshine!
Some of our food recommendations in restaurants are :
Spaghetti and Risotto (Aglio-e-Olio, Arrabiatta, Pomodoro, Primavera)
Fresh Summer Fruits from the local markets
Olives (its the Mediterranean, baby!)
Day 1 - Train from Paris to Marseille, Renting a Car & Driving to Valbonne
The first day was dedicated to solely travelling, figuring out our rental car situation, and just settling in. We took an early morning train from Paris to Marseille. (Check this section of the article to see the different ways to get to the South of France)
We explored the city of Marseille for a few hours and had lunch at a local restaurant, after which we took a shuttle bus from the Marseille train station to Marseilles Airport. We had seen that renting cars at the airport were much cheaper than renting it within the city. (Check this section of the article to know more about renting cars and transportation in the French Riviera)
We rented our car from Europcar at Marseille Airport. It took us about 30 minutes to get all our documents sorted (see here for license requirements). Once that was done, we immediately set off to our accommodation which was close to the town of Valbonne. It was a 2 hours drive on the main highway! Once we got to the room and met our lovely host at the property, we just crashed in bed and slept a deep sleep to be fresh and well rested the following day.
Day 2 - Saint Paul De Vence
Saint Paul De Vence is one of the most beautiful French villages on the coast! Perched on top of a hill with panoramic views towards the Mediterranean sea, the old-world charm of this town will sweep you the minute you step foot in it. In fact, during the World War, many artists escaped to this village to continue creating their art. The town has been home to many famous artists like Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso, and today it is known for its contemporary art museums & galleries - a total paradise for art lovers!
Art galleries of Saint Paul De Vence
We spent the day here exploring its romantic streets and the beautiful galleries at every other corner. We had late lunch at a local restaurant before heading our way back to our accommodation. The first day was quite light and relaxed for us, but if you wish you can also add another little town (like Grasse) in your itinerary, as Saint Paul De Vence is quite small and can be explored in just half a day.
Restaurant recommendation in Saint Paul De Vence: The Artiste (their Vegan Ratatouille and Spaghetti Aglio-e-Olio were brilliant!)
Day 3 - Antibes & a stunning hike along Le Sentier du Littoral!
Antibes is a gem of a town. It might not be as popular as its glamorous neighbours like Nice or Cannes, but this is exactly why you should NOT skip this town! The energy of Antibes is truly, truly special. The streets of the town are lined by pastel coloured buildings with brightly painted shutters, plus it has the most gorgeous harbour where the azure Mediterranean will surely make you want to take a dip in it!
Our favourite part of Antibes was 'Marche Provencal' - the traditional local market - which is bustling in the morning hours until noon, with vendors and farmers from all over Provence selling their freshest harvest! Fruits, vegetables, olives, oils, spices, scented lavenders, soaps.....the colours and smells are an absolute feast for the eyes! Do pick up something you like, and head to the harbour where you can enjoy a bite or two, surrounded by views that you will never forget.
Post all that munching, we drove to Cap d'Antibes for a little hike that was recommended as a MUST-DO by a dear friend of ours. This hike called 'Le Sentier du Littoral' is a breathtaking 5km walk along the coast of Cap d’Antibes with stairs carved in rock along the sea! It is a relatively easy hike (more like a walk), but we recommend starting this an hour or two before sunset for the best views and weather. Indeed one of the most stunning coastal hikes we have ever done!
'Le Sentier du Littoral' - a MUST-DO 5 km walk along the coast of Cap d’Antibes, with stairs carved in rock along the beautiful Mediterranean!
Day 4 - Cannes
We were incredibly excited to finally see Cannes in real, after years of watching and reading about its world-famous film festival! The festival in fact is held every year in May, so while we were there in late April, the preparations for it were in full-swing!
Cannes is very 'bougie'! The town is home to many billionaires as one would expect. There is a stretch called La Croisette along the beach, which is lined by exquisite luxury hotels, while the waters are dotted by thousands of expensive yachts. But in all honesty, what we enjoyed the most was the Old Quarter of the town, Le Suquet. Absolutely gorgeous, and away from the glam and glitz of the rest of Cannes, Le Suquet dates back to the Roman times and oozes old-world charm with its pastel coloured architecture and steep cobbled streets. Another recommendation in Cannes is the Marche Forville if you too are a market-fanatic like us!
Le Sequet - The Old Quarter of Cannes (aka the best part of Cannes!)
Day 5 - Nice
Nice is one of the biggest town and the capital of the French Riviera. It is worth a short visit for its beautiful architecture, vibrant street life, culture, and its epic food scenes. However, we still preferred staying and spending more time in the other smaller towns of the coast. Here are some the things you could do in a day-trip to Nice!
Place Massena - This is the main city square or plaza located in the heart of Nice/ It is usually the meeting or starting point from where you can start exploring the rest of the town.
Old Town of Nice - This is the best part of the city rich with history, architecture, epic restaurant scenes, and the beautiful French markets!
Promenade des Anglais - This is the 7km stretch along the Mediterranean coast of Nice, with uninterrupted views of the sea and palm trees.
Castle Hill (Colline du Château) - One of the MUST-VISIT in Nice. Castle Hill is a 92 metre hill that you can hike to the top (quite an easy walk!), with some of the best views to the whole of Nice and the beautiful Mediterranean!
Restaurant recommendations in Nice:
Paper Plane - BEST breakfast we had on the entire trip! Highly recommend their Oats and Cinnamon Porridge, Almond Butter and Bananas on Toast with Granola, and their lovely chocolate smoothie! We dined here TWICE, it was soo good!
Day 6 - Èze & Menton
A dreamy village on a hill-top overlooking the azure Mediterranean, Èze is jaw-dropping gorgeous with some of the most beautiful flora and landscapes we have ever seen in any medieval town! One of the highlights of Èze is the botanic garden, 'Jardin botanique d'Èze', on the hill-top, known for its exotic collection of cacti and succulents, and its panoramic views of the azure sea! Èze is very small, and can be easily explored in half a day, but we recommend getting there early in the morning to avoid crowds, and also to be able to spend the rest of the day in another town.
What's most incredible about travelling in Europe is that just within a few hours you can be in a completely different country, with a whole new language, history and culture. Menton lies somewhere at the border between France and Italy, and therefore both the countries have had a mixed influence on its architecture, food, and culture! Menton, called the 'Pearl of the Riviera', is particularly known for its yellow and ochre facades topped with bright terracotta roofs. The vibrant architectural facades are complimented by lush lemon trees that beautifully line the streets. Menton has some of the warmest climate in all of the French coastline, which makes it ideal for some of the best lemon trees in the region.
Postcards from colourful Menton!
Menton is very popular for its lemons!
Day 7 - Valbonne
Valbonne's unique urban grid pattern - where all streets intersect only at right angles - unlike any other town in the Riviera!
Rustic stone buildings from the 16th century, and pastel coloured doors...beauty everywhere!
'Renaissance era Place a Arcades' - the centre plaza with a plethora of restaurant terraces!
We explored Valbonne on the last day of our trip before driving back to Marseille airport to return the car, and then took a direct flight back to our home country. Valbonne was our personal favourite, because it was so close to our accommodation and we would pass by it every single day on our drives!
What makes Valbonne characteristically different from all other towns is its unique urban grid pattern (the streets intersect at right angles) dating back to the early 16th century. The town is not very frequented by tourists, making it extremely peaceful to stroll around. The streets are incredibly beautiful, with ochre stone historical buildings, pastel coloured doors and shutters, and lots of beautiful bougainvilleas! We spent hours visiting different boutique stores and restaurants, and simply had the best time getting lost in the town's beauty! Indeed a beautiful end to our fabulous French road trip...
And THAT IS A WRAP on our one-week travels along the enchanting French Riviera! Let us know in the comments below if you have already visited or plan on visiting this beautiful part of the country? We would love to know your thoughts and more!