The Loveliest Villages on the French Riviera
Grab a hire car from Nice Airport and drive up to one of these Côte d’Azur beauties
From glamorous, well-heeled beach resorts to dramatic red cliffs plunging into the sea, it can be pretty tough to tear yourself away from the coastline of the French Riviera.
Hazard a glance inland, though, and you’ll be richly rewarded. Even in this part of southern France, known for its embarrassment of beauty, the villages hold their own.
From vertiginous hilltop spots to networks of cobbled lanes lined with craft shops, these are the best stops for lunch and a potter.car hire Nice
It’s hard to imagine that anyone actually lives in this perched village, which gazes down on the blazingly blue Gulf of Saint-Tropez. Dominated by the jagged ruins of an 11th-century castle, which looms above pine-studded slopes, it barely looks like a real place.
But don’t just admire it from below. Drive up a twisting road to park on the main street, then hike through the narrow lanes and past charming homes, some built into the medieval stone walls and others clothed in pastel shades.
In spring and summer, the view is even prettier – bold cerise blooms of bougainvillea spill from pots and tumble from balconies.
Cute pizza restaurants, bistros and bars are tucked around every corner while, below, the separate area of Port Grimaud is known as the Little Venice of the French Riviera for its narrow streets and canals.
How to get there: Grimaud is located a few miles from the glitzy resort of St. Tropez, on the edge of the cork forests and mountains of the Massif des Maures. The TGV station at Les Arc, and resort towns of Frejus and St Raphael are close by. Grimaud is a 90-minutes’ drive from Nice Airport and two hours’ drive from Marseille.
Another perched village, St-Paul-de-Vence appears to teeter like the top tier of a tall wedding cake. And it’s as intricately, captivatingly decorated as one, with its ancient ramparts, medieval walls, arches and squares with trickling fountains.
On one hand, it feels like time has stood still. But wander around the storied streets and you’ll find modern life in full swing. Market stalls sell fruit, vegetables and local honey. Groups and couples clatter down the lanes and crowd into the many seafood restaurants.
All this charm explains why St-Paul-de-Vence has become a kind of creative mecca. Legendary artists including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Joan Miró were regulars here, often eating at La Colombe d’Or, which used to take paintings in lieu of payment.
The village retains its arty vibe, with galleries and studios at every turn, and people often painting on canvases out on the street.
How to get there: St-Paul-de-Vence is a vertiginous 25-minute drive from Nice Airport or Nice city centre. On arrival at the village you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Cote d’Azur towards Antibes and Cannes, which would also make ideal places to stay.
The cobbled lanes of Seillans wiggle seductively into the hills, revealing beauty at every turn. Olive trees cast dappled shadows on the pavements, which are lined with houses and galleries built into the walls of the old château.
There seems to be a gallery or craft shop every few yards. Head down a narrow iron staircase to Au Tour du Pot, where ceramicist Véronique Spinelli moulds clay into tea caddies, wavy vases and sculptures, painted in bold colours and sold onsite.
Next door, Tilleul Citron is a lovely spot for a bite. Grab a table on the plant-filled patio, which overlooks a park, for herby omelettes, zingy salads or classic steak tartare.
How to get there: Seillans overlooks the plains and valleys close to Cannes and Saint-Raphael, and the Gorge du Verdon. Known as Europe’s Grand Canyon, it’s a great spot for hiking and more adrenaline fueled activities. Nice Airport is the closest international hub, around a 1-hour drive away via the A-8 motorway.
Crouched unassumingly between the popular French Riviera resorts of Saint-Raphaël and Théoule-sur-Mer, Agay is best known for its stretch of sandy beaches. But duck down its narrow streets and you’ll find cute, less-touristy restaurants, cafés, and some lovely souvenir shops.
Smooth olive wood is a specialty in the region, and the village’s Wednesday market has it in pretty much every guise you can imagine, from bowls and spoons to salt and pepper grinders. The scent alone – with a lingering hint of grassy, peppery oil – makes it worth taking a piece or two home.
How to get there: The seaside resort of Agay lies at the foot of the rugged Massif de l'Esterel, close to the twin resorts of Saint-Raphaël and the city of Fréjus, famous for its Gothic cathedral and cloisters, and the Roman amphitheater and nearby aqueduct.
If like attracts like, it makes sense that you might see George Clooney strolling the streets of this sky-piercing medieval village. Neither is short on looks, charm or, well, money. Gorgeous George has stayed at the chic La Chèvre d’Or hotel, which also counts the equally elegant Roger Federer among its guests.
If you don’t fancy splashing out for a room, grab a drink and a bite on the terrace. Don’t forget your dark glasses so you can do some ever-so-subtle star gazing.
The village’s castle is now a garden with cacti and rare plants blooming among the ruins, dialling up the beauty to an almost unbearable level.
To reach Èze, which casts its cool, casual glance over the Mediterranean coast, it’s a 45-minute hike up the winding Nietzsche Path, named after the German philosopher who often stayed here.
And it’s definitely worth it. Especially if the Clooneys happen to be passing through.
How to get there: Nice airport is a 15-minute drive away. Parking options are very limited in Èze village. Èze is very close to the principality of Monaco. Known for its casinos, super yachts and the annual Grand Prix around the city streets, it’s well worth a visit.