Rock stars, royalty and the rich love it so much they have made it their second home.
While artists and writers were so intoxicated by the sheer beauty of it all, they let their creativity run riot.
Hollywood has always treated it like a hedonist’s paradise… “a sunny place for shady people” as one famous author once called it.
And for the millions of tourists who head there year after year?
Well, they love it because, quite simply, it’s the Cote d’Azur, that stretch of coast in the south of France where the deep blue Med and long, hot summers leave visitors spellbound.
Running from St Tropez to Monte Carlo near the Italian border with glamorous towns like Cannes, Antibes and Nice along the way, the French Riviera is a playground for millionaires – but don’t let that put you off.
What struck me most was the scenery while driving along the three corniches, the coast roads carved into the cliffs, which run up and down the Cote.
There are sheer drops, gorgeous views as you pull round the hairpin bends, idyllic towns and secluded bays.
Travelling with my family, we took the Eurostar, which whisks passengers from London or Kent to Marseille in just over six hours. Sleek 186mph trains, onboard WiFi, a generous luggage allowance and a good buffet car make it a pleasurable journey.
We then picked up a hire car through Holiday Extras from the station.
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We stayed with Eurocamp at Saint Louis Camping Village in the hills above Cannes, where a big old Provencal farmhouse with shutters and pink terracotta roof has been converted into the reception, bar, restaurant and shop.
It’s a buzzing little resort with a mix of Brits, Dutch, German and French holidaymakers all having a great time in the lagoon pool complex with five waterslides and a separate heated pool.
There’s a play area for kids, ping-pong tables and football pitches. Plus, as the sun sets on the farmhouse’s central courtyard, campers play boules and enjoy pizzas and drinks before the evening entertainment gets going on stage.
Our accommodation was a smart, three-bedroom Azure mobile home with air-con and sun terrace.
The master bedroom had a queen-sized bed… this is fancy camping!
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Palms sway in the hot Med winds, pine trees give off a sweet scent and the cicadas sing at night.
Camp life certainly gets a hold of you.
Then on days out in the car we’d whack up the volume on uber-cool Radio Monaco and check out the Riviera’s best spots along the corniches. If you purchase an electronic Emovis Tag before you leave and attach it to your windscreen, you can drive straight through the motorway toll booths – no need to queue and pay with cash or credit cards.
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The Brits practically invented the Cote d’Azur as a destination since Queen Victoria first holidayed at a villa in Menton in 1882. She returned eight times.
And we visited the same Maison Auer cake and sweet shop in Nice where Her Maj took morning tea.
Writers in the Roaring Twenties such as F Scott Fitzgerald headed to the Cote for hell-raising.
In the 1960s jet-setters and hippies pitched up at swinging Juan-les-Pins and the waterfront jazz town of Antibes where Picasso lived. The Rolling Stones recorded their album Exile on Main St in Keith Richards’ house in Villefranche-sur-Mer, an old fishing port just outside Nice watched over by an imposing Roman citadel.
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I’m a Stones fan and I couldn’t resist tracking down that elegant mansion called Villa Nellcote – the local Gestapo HQ during the war – where the band spent a crazy summer in 1971 taking refuge to avoid paying tax back home. Today, Bono has a huge place you can see from the beach below the mesmerising hilltop village of Eze.
It is one of the Cote’s most impressive “perched villages” – so-called because they sit like crowns on mountain peaks hugging the cliffs with their spiralling mazes of cobbled streets.
The King of Sweden found Eze so stunning he holidayed in the same hotel there for 50 years, declaring the view to be the Riviera’s finest. Walk to the top of Eze and you’ll find an exotic garden packed with art, cacti and statues.
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One of our favourite places was Saint-Paul de Vence, a medieval hilltop village loved by artists.
In the town’s La Colombe d’Or hotel, paintings by the greats like Picasso and Matisse still hang on the walls as artists once traded pictures to settle their tabs.
Further up in the hills is Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. The scent from the town’s 30 fragrance makers literally fills the streets.
A French Riviera Pass gives you access to more than 50 attractions and museums (24hr/26euros, 48hr/38euros, 72hr/56euros).
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You can take an open-top bus tour along Nice’s 4.3mile-long Promenade des Anglais and climb the steps to the old town castle with views across the sweeping Bay of Angels.
The pass also gets you a Segway trip around town, a visit to Matisse’s home and a ferry to Saint Marguerite island.
Visit the Villa Ephrussi, built as a summer retreat by Beatrice de Rothschild, on the super-flashy peninsular of St Jean Cap Ferrat to enjoy panoramic sea views.
Down the road is Cagnes sur Mer, home to the impressionist painter Renoir and now a museum set in an olive grove.
The town also hosts the Grimaldi Chateau.
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The ancient walled town of Antibes with its buzzy vibe, cracking beach and Picasso museum is definitely worth a day out.
For thrill-seekers, Aqualand is the largest waterpark on the Riviera and for a different kind of adrenaline rush, at Gorge du Verdon, France’s Grand Canyon, you can kayak down rivers and over waterfalls.
There is simply so much beauty in this seductive corner of France. So sit back, put on your designer shades and soak up the summer in style.
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at Saint Louis Camping Village, near Cannes, in September from £392. Visit eurocamp.co.uk for more information.
- EUROCAMP offers seven nights’ self-catering in a three-bedroom Azure holiday home (sleeps six)
Eurostar fares from London St Pancras International to Marseille start at £49 one way. Head to eurostar.com.
Holiday Extras offers a week’s car hire in Marseille in September from £127. See holidayextras.com or call 0800 316 5678.
Check out ee.france.fr.
- Travel Advice
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