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The ultimate French Riviera road trip

How to spend two weeks on the Côte d’Azur, Europe’s glitterati summer destination

Sparkling sea views framed by fragrant umbrella pines, striped parasols shading stylish sun loungers, and pastel-painted villas with faded shutters. The South of France oozes old school glamour, and there is something enduringly alluring about this vintage haven which keeps both trendy and traditional travellers coming back for more. From sizzling Saint-Tropez to enchanting Èze, spend your days flitting between super yachts and chi-chi beach clubs, where plateaux des fruits de mer washed down with ice-cold rosé is the diet du jour.

Cote d'Azur

Amidst the bohemian, barefoot hedonism, there is a more rustic charm to be found in the surrounding string of quaint coastal villages, where the Provençal influence of slow market mornings and long cicada-filled country walks starts to creep most welcomingly in. Wherever you choose to stay on the French Riviera, you’ll be following in the footsteps of a star-studded list of visitors, from Pablo Picasso to Brigitte Bardot – and most recently, the cast of Downton Abbey as the Crawleys take up residence in a Belle Époque villa this summer. Whether you plan to make like Lady Mary or live it up à la Kate Moss, hop from one sun-kissed spot to the next while staying in some film-set worthy hotels along the Côte d’Azur

AT A GLANCE

  • A 14-day independent itinerary journeying up and down the Côte d’Azur, based on flying into and out of Nice.
  • Unwind by the Mediterranean with your toes in the sand and a cocktail in hand, before spending balmy evenings on the seafront or in a hilltop hideaway.
  • Highlights include waterskiing around the bay of Cap d’Antibes, wine tasting straight from the vines of a rural retreat in Provence, stretching out on the Plage de Pampelonne, and dining above the clouds in a fairytale castle.

START IN STYLE: ANTIBES

It’s easy to enjoy a luxury break in Antibes without ever leaving the waterside. This Riviera resort town has long been a hotspot for watersports with plenty of opportunities to snorkel, dive and sail in the shimmering waves. Sink your toes into soft white sand as you stroll along pristine beaches, or seek out a hidden cove for a leisurely swim. Back on dry land, tap into the town’s Art Deco heritage 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.

TENDER IS THE NIGHT…

Hotel Belles Rives

Stay in the former home of F. Scott Fitzgerald and step straight into the pages of Tender Is The Night, which is set on the blue umbrella-lined beach of Hôtel Belles Rives. While the bold Art Deco styling and blue striped awnings have a nostalgic ring of the Roaring Twenties, when the Fitzgeralds hosted legendary parties (with an equally legendary guest list) at the Côte d’Azur’s first ‘feet in the water’ hotel, today’s travellers may well recognise Belles Rives from their Instagram feeds as A-listers are snapped stepping off their yachts onto the hotel’s iconic pier for some post-Cannes Film Festival rest and relaxation.

Hotel Belles Rives

Work up an appetite with a waterskiing lesson from the Belles Rives Ski Nautique Club, known as the birthplace of the sport since the 1930s, before sitting down to Michelin-starred dishes and almost too-pretty-to-eat desserts handmade by the hotel’s pastry chef beside the water’s edge. For the ultimate indulgence, request a massage in one of the beachfront cabanas, or a beauty treatment by Swiss skincare revolutionary Valmont. Splash out on a sea view suite and drink in the same sparkling blue vistas which inspired one of history’s literary greats. Suggested stay 2 nights minimum.

VIENS À JUAN-LES-PINS!

Held in the warm embrace of next door neighbour Antibes, the charming seaside resort of Juan-les-Pins is best known for its white sandy beaches and lively jazz scene. Plan your visit for mid-July and let your soul be soothed by the Jazz à Juan Festival as the waves lap the shore. Enjoy a picnic beneath the pine trees or on one of the popular pontoons ablaze with colour-popping parasols and just let the buzzy atmosphere wash over you.

Hotel Juana

Within walking distance from its sister hotel in Antibes, Hôtel Juana epitomises 1930s elegance in a stylish seaside setting with a citrus-tree fringed pool. Every room at this Art Deco mansion has a refined Riviera feel, while the Deluxe Rooms and Suites benefit from alluring views of the Lérins Islands and Esterel. Suggested stay 1 night minimum.

COAST TO COUNTRYSIDE: LA GARDE-FREINET

Provence

A scenic hour-and-a-half drive from Antibes Juan-les-Pins, La Garde-Freinet is a quintessentially Provençal village which stands as the gateway to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez. Road trippers come here for the back-to-nature beauty of the surrounding countryside, which is home to a number of forest-filled walking trails winding through oak trees and chestnut groves towards the coast.

LA VIE EN ROSÉ…

Ultimate Provence Hotel

Ultimate Provence Hotel

Tucked away within 46 hectares of immaculate organic vineyards, UP – Ultimate Provence Hôtel is a charming slice of French countryside living. Rows upon rows of Syrah grape-laden vines stretch as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by the tops of two teepees beneath which guests sip the estate’s eponymous wine – or try it mixed into a cocktail. Cool off with a dip in the swimming pool hugged by olive trees, or in the ultra-modern wine cellar with a sommelier-led tasting.

Ultimate Provence Hotel

Once you’ve dined and danced the night away to live music on the restaurant terrace, sink into the crisp white sheets of your spacious bedroom which is decorated in a soothing palette of tones that conjure sea, earth and lavender fields and filled with a bespoke fragrance created by a Grasse perfumery. Suggested stay 1-2 nights.

DO YOU DO YOU SAINT-TROPEZ?

Saint Tropez

Ever since Brigitte Bardot put this quaint coastal town on the map in the 1950s, Saint-Tropez has been a much sought-after celebrity hotspot. But look beyond the sleek superyachts moored in the happening harbour where glitzy designer boutiques have set up shop, and you’ll also find whispers of a traditional fishing village with cobbled streets, honey-hued houses and peaceful cafés.

Saint-Tropez

Spend a slow morning breakfasting beneath the iconic red awnings of Sénéquier on the waterfront, before getting lost in the maze of narrow streets overlooked by the sunshine yellow bell tower. Fuel up with a slice of Tarte Tropézienne, a local brioche and cream-filled cake dusted with chunky grains of sugar, or an ice-cream from Barbarac, then spread a beach towel over the sandy shore of La Ponche, a picturesque cove backed by apricot and peach coloured buildings where locals go to watch the sun set. No trip to Saint-Tropez would be complete without a day at Pampelonne Beach, a three-mile stretch of white sand that’s still the place to see and be seen at the likes of Le Club 55 and the yellow-striped loungers of Loulou Ramatuelle.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS…

Hotel Lou Pinet

Hotel Lou Pinet

Designed to feel like a beautiful holiday home you would share with friends (expect little touches like retro postcards and bookmarks magically appearing in the pages of your holiday reading), Hôtel Lou Pinet has a wonderfully vintage vibe thanks to its sixties-inspired interiors by architect of Mediterranean chic, Charles Zana. Rooms and suites are filled with light and colourful graphic prints handpicked by the art collecting owners, many of which open directly onto the largest hotel swimming pool in Saint-Tropez, lined with cherry red umbrellas and surrounded by private gardens scented with lavender, jasmine and cypress. Hidden within these gardens you’ll find the Tata Harper stocked spa, which cocoons guests in a blissful bubble of organic ingredients and purity-focused treatments. Just a short shuttle ride away from the pretty town, and close to Bardot-approved beaches, you’ll be perfectly placed to explore and unwind in true Tropézian style. Just be sure to return to the hotel for melt-in-the-mouth cuts of Kobe and Black Angus Prime at Beefbar followed by a spritzer under the stars. Suggested stay 2 nights minimum.

MUSE Saint Tropez

Meanwhile, ultra-exclusive MUSE Saint-Tropez effortlessly captures the essence of Côte d’Azur glamour with its creamy, cooling interiors and ecological Mediterranean gardens designed by acclaimed landscape artist, Sophie Agata Ambroise. Pristine white loungers have been cleverly arranged around the tranquil pool so that guests can dip their toes in the water as they soak up the sunshine, while the elegant cabanas make perfect poolside dining spots. The minimalist suites are named after famous muses from Audrey Hepburn to Sophia Loren, each individually designed and promising as much style as space to stretch out in total privacy. Sit back on a sunny terrace overlooking the sea, or take a dip in your private plunge pool with a glass of local rosé in hand (straight from the suite’s own wine cellar). Every little detail has been thought of here, from the beach bag in your suite, kitted out with sunglasses and towels, to the MUSE bicycles guests can hop on for a ride through quintessentially French scenery. Suggested stay 2 nights minimum.

HEAD FOR THE HILLS: GASSIN

Althoff Villa Belrose

Counted among ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’, Gassin is a postcard-perfect Provence village crowning a hilltop overlooking Saint-Tropez Bay. Gaze out across the surrounding landscape and you’ll see vineyards stretching in almost every direction. Take a tour of nearby wineries for a vine-to-bottle insight into this treasured craft – and a taste of revered Côte d’Azur vintages. And with Riviera views at every turn, in Gassin you’re never far from the golden sands of Saint-Tropez.

Althoff Villa Belrose

Boasting some of the best views in the South of France, Althoff Villa Belrose makes quite the first impression from its hill-hugging position. As soon as you step onto the sun-drenched terrace, a vision of endless blue sea stretching all the way to Saint-Tropez greets you, drawing you down towards the pool below encircled by pine forest and rose-filled landscaped gardens. Light and refreshing meals are served just a few steps from your sun lounger at Le Petit Belrose, the hotel’s poolside restaurant – while Vietnamese-French fusion dishes spice up the evening menu at the exciting pop-up concept club l’indochine. Suggested stay 2 nights minimum.

SEASIDE STOPOVER: THÉOULE-SUR-MER

The rugged red rock formations which Théoule-sur-Mer has become known for give this small, under-the-radar former fishing village an amber glow which makes sunsets here particularly spectacular. While there are plenty of pretty coves for swimming and snorkelling, La Plage de l’Aiguille is where we most like to lie our sunhats – set within a protected natural park, this white sandy shore feels far from the usual Côte d’Azur crowds, and you can also walk along the coast to stumble across the more isolated beaches of the Crique Aiguille.

Tiara Miramar Beach Hotel

Tiara Miramar Beach Hotel

Fronting the water’s edge against a breath-taking backdrop of the Esterel Hills, Tiara Miramar Beach Hôtel & Spa is tucked discreetly away in a private cove where the fiery red cliffs meet the cobalt blue of the Mediterranean. Slow, sun-soaked days at this quiet oasis facing the Lérins Islands revolve around the water, thanks to the seafront swimming pool which drops down to the hotel’s exclusive beach area, shaded by a string of bright blue parasols. The majority of the redecorated rooms have enchanting sea views, while diners at Le MoYa Restaurant can tuck into just-caught seafood to a soundtrack of crashing waves. Suggested stay 2 nights minimum.

FINISH ON A HIGH: ÈZE

Eze

Nestled between Nice and Monaco, just a stone’s throw from trendy Plage Paloma in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Èze is a storybook village perched on a hill over 400 metres above sea level, which means mesmerising views across the French Riviera from every turn. Stroll the steep, narrow streets, seemingly carved into the rocks beneath crumbling archways, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the medieval era.

Eze

Follow your nose at the foot of the hill through the Fragonard factory, where perfume enthusiasts can tour the laboratory, make soap in an interactive workshop, and browse the brand’s beautifully made candles, diffusers, and cosmetics range. Keep walking all the way to the top of the village, past the charming ochre yellow church with a cornflower blue clock face, and you’ll reach Le Jardin Exotique – well worth the climb for the views as well as the plants dotted with earth goddess sculptures by Jean-Philippe Richard.

Chateau Eza

Just below these botanical gardens sits Château Eza, a 400-year-old castle and former residence of a Swedish prince where guests are still very much treated like royalty. Crowning the ancient clifftops of Èze, the views from this historic hideaway are truly second to none – particularly from the private balconies of the antique-filled rooms. Four-poster beds and period fireplaces nod to the property’s aristocratic heritage, while the glass-edged restaurant opening onto a panoramic terrace gives guests a taste of the modern day Mediterranean where you’re welcomed with a zesty lemon spritz on arrival. Reserve one of the balcony tables to feel as though you’re dining amongst the clouds, and opt for the seven-course sea-inspired tasting menu presented on coral-shaped plates created especially for the château by French ceramicist Elodie Meirsman. Suggested stay 1-2 nights.

TRAVEL TIPS

If you’re planning to make the most of your time on the Côte d’Azur, renting a car for your trip is a must – our preferred partner is SIXT, who have a presence in 110 countries around the globe. Make the most of the valet service available at the majority of hotels and beach clubs, as it’s best to leave the car and walk into some of the smaller towns and villages where parking can be limited. Bring a comfortable pair of flats with you to navigate cobblestone streets, hilly walks, and steep steps down to beaches. Large, beautiful basket-style bags are not only a stylish souvenir of your stay, but also make the perfect beach and poolside accessory, or to take with you to a local market. Bring your own towel to avoid any hidden costs at beach clubs (some charge for towel use as well as lounger and cabana hire), and whatever you do, be sure to wear your most stylish swimwear – Kiwi Saint-Tropez and Vilebrequin are local favourites.

Saint Tropez

BOOK YOUR BOUTIQUE HOTELS

To book the hotels on this independent itinerary, get in touch with our Voice Reservation Team on 0800 0482 314 (UK) 1-877-234-7033 (US). You can find a full list of our dedicated toll-free numbers here. We’re ready and waiting to plan luxury adventures 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So whenever inspiration strikes, just get in touch.