The wonderful thing about Nice is that you can be in your holiday apartment within minutes of arriving at the airport, yet you can jump in the car and visit a fantastic variety of places within a 30 minute drive. From the chic of Cannes and Monaco, to unspoilt medieval villages, there is something for everybody.
With a nearly three thousand year history and a prime location sandwiched between Nice, which is twenty kilometers away, and Cannes, which is only twelve kilometers off, Antibes-Juan les Pins is the most sensible destination for visitors desiring a large helping of history and culture to be blended into their vacation without giving up their chance to also experience the more modern flavors of the French Riviera.
The Romans, as was the norm, were the first civilization to leave written accounts, arriving around 125 BC. Two Roman tombs were located under the present site of the Château. An engraved tombstone is built into the base of the church bell tower next to the Château. From 1218 until the time of The French Revolution the village of Bar sur Loup was ruled by the Counts of Grasse Bar. After the Revolution, of course, came the government that is familiar to modern France.
From its location in the heart of the Côte d'Azur this beautiful village of Beaulieu sur Mer has historically been the playgrounds of royalty, aristocracy, the super rich and other such celebrities. The Beaulieu sur Mer village has always risen to the occasion when playing host to the royals. The Village of Beaulieu sur Mer is a resort paradise by the blue Mediterranean Sea, and its name Beaulieu sur Mer means "beautiful place by the sea" in French. It lies between Nice and Menton, with either of these cultural and economic centres in easy visiting distance. Nice is the closer of the two at only 10 kilometres, or a little more than 6 miles, away from the heart of Beaulieu sur Mer.
The flavor of fair Cannes can be accurately summed up in the telling of a single anecdote regarding its world famous hotel, the Carlton Inter-Continental, which was designed by the noted architect, Marcellin Mayère, and erected in 1912. When asked what inspired him to create the hotel's much admired twin cupola design, Mayère reportedly explained that he was fascinated by the décolletage of one of Canne's most renowned courtesans, La Belle Otéro, and that he had fashioned the cupolas after her breasts. The fact that the hotel immediately filled with filthy rich European businessmen and royalty from every corner of the world, most of whom were spending millions in pursuit of La Belle Otéro herself, in addition to other courtesans such as Émilienne d'Alençon and Liane de Pougy, seems to lend credibility to this persistent rumour. In any case, the story's validity is perhaps not as important as its style, with its heady mixture of sex and glamour, sophistication and playfulness, as all of these traits are lodged firmly in the heart of Cannes.
The village of Cap d'Ail is known principally for the healing of the sick, since being classified as a health resort since 1921. Many famous people including the royalty of more than one nation have come to this shore to experience peace and healing. The list of famous guests includes the Prince of Wales, the Czarevitch, the Lumière brothers, Greta Garbo, Sacha Guirty, Apollinaire, and Cocteau.
The medieval village of Eze balances precariously on the edge of a small rock, hanging over a precipitous 427m drop into the deep blue Mediterranean sea. Approaching from either Monaco or Nice gives a breath-taking view of the village, justifiably making it the most famous village to visit along-side St Paul de Vence.
Though Golfe Juan's shores were once witness to the dramatic entry of Napoleon Bonaparte as he stormed its shores and prepared to press towards Cannes, today its scenic natural harbour is a decidedly more serene setting. As it is situated in the centre of the long stretch of harbour between Cap d’Antibes to the east and Cap de la Croisette to the west, many might assume that this small seaside resort would be a top tourist hotspot. Though it does see its fair share of vacationers, however, this delightful commune, composed of the towns of Golfe Juan on the coast and Vallauris a mile inland, is a largely untapped resource of the Riviera. While Golfe Juan-Vallauris may not offer the brand name boutiques of Nice or the flood of festivals to be had in Cannes, it has a special pristine beauty and artful flair all its own. Visitors savvy enough to seek out the twin towns as their vacation spot will leave far from disappointed.
In perhaps the most clever publicity campaign ever, the Juan les Pins beach resort was once promoted as "Pajama Land" following an incident in which designer Coco Chanel was temporarily denied access to a major casino there because the doorman objected to her attire - the beach "pajamas" that were wildly popular at the time. Luckily, casino owner Edouard Baudoin happened to spot the scene as it occurred and hastened to assure Chanel that she was welcome in his casino no matter what she was wearing. Soon after, Juan les Pins quickly became known as a resort where such courtesy and freedom was extended to all guests, and it became a haven for vacationers looking to unwind in a big way by spending their days lounging on the beaches and frequenting the casinos in casual, comfortable clothing—often those notorious beach pajamas - and then partying all night to burn off their stored energy. By the time the 1920s roared past, Juan les Pins was firmly established as one of the most commercially successful resorts in the French Riviera, and to this day it retains the saucy, fun-loving attitude that fueled the frolicking, rollicking Jazz Age.
The village was founded almost accidentally in 1537. At first, it was an early suburb of the village of Saint Paul de Vence. It was at this time that François the First enclosed the village of Saint Paul by adding a second wall, thus finishing the village's fortification. St. Paul was now safe from invaders from any direction. Unfortunately, there were some people living where the wall was supposed to be erected. In a medieval type of "eminent domain", a posh way of saying government eviction, these people moved into the valley under their former home in the village of St. Paul de Vence. The people thus displaced founded the village of La Colle-sur-Loup. While, this was probably a traumatic experience, it worked itself out just fine in the end as La Colle sur Loup is one of the most beautiful places in the Southern part of France.
The great Marcel Pagnol often entertained his friends with stories of life in Provence. Usually what the renowned film maker was describing with such heart, human, and outright love was the area in and around the small, picturesque village of Le Gaude, where he moved to after the second world war.
Once one has visited the sunny shores of Menton, there is a certain credence lent to the popular piece of local lore that holds that Eve, upon being banished from the garden of Eden, smuggled a lemon out with her and brought it to Menton, where lemons have flourished ever since. This seems possible not only because Menton has the best and most consistent weather of any city on the Cote d'Azur, remaining blissfully untouched by the cold mistral winds year-round, but also because the abundant lemon, orange, and tangerine groves, in addition to the hundreds of tropical plants thriving there, create the definitive feeling that one has stumbled upon a lost paradise.
For over seven hundred years Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family. In fact they celebrated the 700th anniversary of their reign in 1997. The Grimaldi rule began in 1297 when the fortress of Monaco was under the control of an Italian faction and Francois Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk and led a small army into the fortress. He successfully seized the fortress of Monaco and, in the name of the Pope, reclaimed Monaco. The two monks brandishing swords on the Monaco coat of arms symbolizes Francois Grimaldi's daring victory.
Roquebrune Cap Martin has welcomed some of the most distinguished visitors in Europe. These include political leaders, artists, royalty writers, and other celebrities. A short list of Roquebrune Cap Martin's famous guest includes Winston Churchill, Coco Chanel, Sacha Guitry, Jacques Brel, Silvana Mangano. Many visitors will find their minds boggle at the thought of how many great people have passed here before them.
The little fishing village of St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat is located on a pair of peninsulas in the Mediterranean between Villefranche and Beaulieu, 8km away from Nice. This beautiful location has the sparkling blue water of the Mediterranean that surrounds it, quiet and isolated beaches, and some staggeringly lucrative real estate. To call the area "up-market residential" is like calling New York a place with "fairly high buildings". It is not uncommon for the private villas, with exquisite and well maintained gardens and often their own private beaches, to fetch in excess of €100m. Part-time residents include Roman Abramovich and Bill Gates.
Going up the hill to St. Paul de Vence on the French Riviera in Provence, one feels as if they are going back in time while they go up through space. St. Paul de Vence has some of the best-preserved medieval edifices in Europe. In fact, many of the original medieval ramparts are still intact. These towers dominate the skyline, making one feel that they will soon go back to a more romantic time. Many of these buildings date to the thirteenth century, though the village's history goes back before recorded history. No one can be sure who built the first walls around St Paul or who founded the city. It was ruled by Lords before becoming a Royal Village in 1418. In 1481, along with the rest of Provence, St. Paul became part of France.
The first records of the city are from 1024, when the city is listed as Castrum de Torretis. Later, from the sixteenth century until the French Revolution destroyed the existing order, the town was called Tourrettes-lès-Vence. In 1982, a bureaucratic error somewhere lost an r, which left the village Tourettes sur Loup, the villagers, who have a strong sense of their identity, chose to ignore this change and stick with the town's real name.
The 16th century feel of Valbonne remains intact, even with the addition of a new business district. The Sophia Antipolis high-tech park created jobs for some Valbonnais, but also brought new people into the village to join their community and enjoy the old-world charm of the town.
The city of Vence can trace its history back to prehistoric times. Many archaeological finds including tombs exist in or near Vence. The actual city is credited to the Ligurians, who made it the capital of the Nerusi tribe. There are many artefacts from the Ligurian, Gallo-Roman and Roman times and cultures. These include finds of jewellery, ceramics, inscriptions, and reliefs. From the medieval era Vence was ruled by bishops and lords until the French Revolution. At which point power was turned on its head, allowing France to become the modern country we know today. One of the most notable accomplishments of the middle ages era was the resistance of a Huguenot siege in 1529. Vence stayed loyally and staunchly Catholic.
For those who have already experienced or are simply not attracted to the fast pace, glitz, glamour and gambling of Nice, Cannes, or Monte Carlo, but still want to experience all of the things that make the French Riviera uniquely desirable, the quaint fishing village of Villefranche will prove a dream destination. A tiny village two miles east of Nice and bordered by Monte Carlo to the west, Villefranche rests on a steep hillside overlooking one of the world's most magnificent bays. Due to the limited space and urbanization, this town's narrow winding streets may be some of the most "authentic" to be had on the Cote d'Azur. Lending to the feel that one has stepped into the past are the traditional vibrant colours of the local homes, many of which have trompe l'oeil paintings adorning their already cheery walls and windows. Though those who enjoy clubbing, casino-hopping, and darting in and out of every available high-end boutique may find Villefranche's pace disconcertingly slow, anyone seeking a mellow haven from the modern world should take up residence and never leave.