Picture the perfect summer holiday in Europe and the mind often wanders to the South of France, where the sparkling Mediterranean Sea laps umbrella pine-fringed shores dotted with striped sun loungers and ice buckets brimming with rosé. There are countless reasons why the world’s most stylish travellers have long been charmed by the Côte d’Azur, so here are a few of our favourite things about this intoxicating coastline which will forever be on our summer wishlist…
Follow the jet setting, star-studded crowd anywhere and you’re sure to find stylish hotels to match, perhaps nowhere more so than the French Riviera. The boutique hotel scene here is ultra-exclusive, having spent decades hosting the rich and famous in between film sets and lobster-fuelled parties. Delve beneath the more-is-more approach to luxury and five-star fabulousness and you’ll uncover the real heart and soul of the South of France, whether it’s listening to the cicadas at dusk swinging from a hammock in the lavender-filled gardens of Hôtel Lou Pinet, returning to the Piano Bar at Hôtel Belles Rives for a Fitzgerald-inspired cocktail after waterskiing the afternoon away, or just letting the waves wash over you on the private beach of Tiara Miramar Beach Hotel & Spa. Browse and book the best hotels on the Côte d’Azur here.
Life on the Côte d’Azur revolves around the sea, which means visitors and locals alike can be found spending long, lazy days on the beach from the season’s start to finish. Soaking up the sun comes in many shapes and forms here, from the red rock coves of Théoule-sur-Mer to the pebble stone shoreline of Nice or Cap Ferrat’s cinematic Paloma Beach, and everything in between.
While there are plenty of public beaches to enjoy, the paid-entry private clubs are worth the premium – and where the French Riviera really shines. Whether you are a regular champagne-popper and yacht-hopper at the legendary Club 55, or prefer the more laid-back, lemon-scented Loulou Ramatuelle which transports sun-worshippers somewhere between Capri and the Hamptons, the beach clubs along Pampelonne are the place to see and be seen – all just a stone’s throw from Saint-Tropez.
The South of France serves up Mediterranean cuisine at its best, washed down with some of that world famous Côtes de Provence rosé, preferably en piscine (with ice cubes). Just-caught seafood is plucked from the waves, grilled on the beach, drizzled with lemon and herbs, and delivered straight to your sun lounger, while beautifully presented salad Niçoise in locally made ceramics actually makes you want to eat your greens.
The region is renowned for its string of Michelin-starred restaurants and celebrated chefs, including Restaurant Le Belrose at hilltop hotel Althoff Villa Belrose where tables overlook the Bay of Saint-Tropez, and the panoramic restaurant at Château Eza which serves a seven-course ‘around the Mediterranean’ tasting menu over 400 metres above sea level. For a more casual affair, order the club sandwich (which comes wrapped in a ribbon) at MUSE Saint-Tropez to your poolside cabana, or picnic amongst the organic vineyards of UP – Ultimate Provence Hôtel with a bottle of the estate’s eponymous wine.
Thanks to the magical light which bathes the honey-hued villages of Provence in a golden glow, in turn inspiring generations of great artists from Van Gogh and Cézanne to Picasso and Matisse, the region has become a haven for art lovers looking to visit the studios of their favourite painters as well as the museums dedicated to their oeuvres. Tap into the Art Deco heritage of Antibes by paying a visit to the Picasso Museum, housed inside a striking medieval château overlooking the sea. This unique collection consists entirely of works the artist produced in Antibes, using the château as his studio. Or admire the world’s largest collection of works by Matisse in the 17th century Villa des Arènes in Nice.
Follow the sixties-inspired art trail while staying at Hôtel Lou Pinet – pretty plates by symbolist and ceramist Jean Lurçat greet guests on arrival, displayed at reception in all their fauvist, cubist, and surrealist influenced glory. Outside, the gardens are dotted with installations by Tony Cragg, a sculptor whose work revolves around the fragmentation and recomposition of forms.
There is much to be said for the rural French way of life, which finds its way to this rustic yet refined stretch of coastline – from browsing the freshly baked spread in the local boulangerie for your morning pastries, to mooching around markets and sauntering down side streets brimming with baskets and fragrant soap stalls.
Rubbing shoulders with glitzy designer boutiques are lively markets selling a sensory selection of seasonal, locally made produce and handcrafted goods – think breezy linens and dried flower bouquets sitting alongside olive oil, cheeses, garlic and honey in homemade pots. Almost every city, town and village has at least one market day per week, which means you’ll never be far from authentic French goodies – just be sure to arrive early and save room in your suitcase!