Europe’s most glam holiday destinations is French Riviera: The Cote d’Azur

by - October 29, 2017

CHARACTER: The quaint village of Menton
Bathed in unique light, the sea lapping this 160km stretch of pristine French coast is so blue it appears to be competing with the sky.

And with five-star hotels, a sophisticated beach scene and glitzy nightlife, its elegant resorts make the ideal retreat for artists, actors and the achingly rich.

This summer it became the sun-drenched backdrop for Riviera, Sky Atlantic’s mesmerising ten-part thriller. Starring Julia Stiles and Adrian Lester, the drama tells the story of the excesses of this playground of the wealthy, putting the loaded Clios family at the centre of a gritty tale of money laundering, murder and deception.

The beautifully shot series ensured that the cash that is flashed around the stylish shores of St Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monaco practically drips off the screen. And on first arriving in Nice, where most of the action takes place, it was obvious that the show did not exaggerate.

SHOPPING: Fruit and vegetable market in Cours Saleya, Nice
The beach promenade is spotless, the designer shops are everywhere and the clientele breezing in and out of swanky hotels look like the expensively dressed extras in the show.

Queen Victoria, the original Nice tourist, put it on the map as the ideal retreat to escape cold British winters.

In fact, the monarch loved it so much she commented on her death bed: “Oh, if only I were at Nice, I should recover.”

I begin with a stroll on the car-free Promenade du Paillon, which splits the old town from the new and features play parks, seating areas and water fountains.
MAJESTIC: Pristine French coast offers sparkling blue seas
The paths take the shape of the river which has now been filled in after it kept flooding the bus terminal that ran alongside.

Re-opened in 2013, it’s now an oasis of green open space. My walk takes me to the Place Massena, which is dominated by an impressive statue of the Greek god Apollo – an artwork with a chequered past.

The original statue put up in the 50s was moved in 1979 to a less conspicuous spot in north Nice as he was deemed too well-endowed. But 15 years later, when they put in the tramway, Apollo was returned to his base, albeit with a more family-friendly silhouette.

Between the squares of Massena and Garibaldi, I sample my first Corsican and Nice specialties at Gaglio, a beautiful Parisian-style brasserie.

OLD TOWN: Nice’s famous street market
I recommend the melt-in-yourmouth gnocchi, accompanied by a crisp French rosé wine – the drink of choice in these parts. My tour of the Nice seen in Riviera continues with a stroll along the seafront on Promenade des Anglais to Baie des Anges.

I then make the long climb up Castle Hill which, until the Middle Ages when the Old Town became the centre of Nice, was the heart of the city.

LUXURY: The Harbour in St. Tropez
Now a place of solitude and shade, each level has sweeping views of the city. I spend the next morning browsing Nice’s famous street market, on the Cours Saleya, which sells flowers, fruit, vegetables and handmade organic soaps.

I sample the street food socca – a chickpea and olive oil pancake, sprinkled with pepper, along with an onion tart called pissaladiere, a pizza–type dough topped with caramelised onions and olives.

The market is in Vieux Nice, or the Old Town, one of the liveliest areas in the city.

Dating back to the 1700s, colourful apartments with wooden shutters line the warren of narrow streets.

Riviera is also shot in Antibes, south west of Nice, and the drive along the mountain roads which hug the coastline gives another tantalising taste of the life of the super-rich.

On the Cap de Antibes, mansions sell for £50-60million and billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich owns four.

The Hotel Belles Rives, which sits in a charming cove on the Cap, was converted from a villa into an elegant hotel in 1929 by Boma Estène and is now run by his grand-daughter Marianne and her son Antoine.

The stunning lobby and terrace feature in Riviera and its elegant cocktail and champagne menu provides the perfect excuse to sit and take in the setting, while raising a glass to former guests including F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The hotel also hosts music events on the beach. And if you stay long enough you could take a waterskiing lesson with the charismatic Marco who’s been part of the hotel family since the Eighties.

If you can’t stretch to more than a cocktail at the Belles Rives, accommodation back in Nice is more affordable and I opt for jazz-inspired Hotel Ellington, a comfortable and friendly abode ten minutes from the beach.

I spend my final day touring the Corniche Roads, three famous mountainside driving routes with breathtaking views from Nice to Menton, a relatively sleepy town.

I hike up zig-zag steps, through jumbled alleyways and past the baroque church with its landmark bell tower.

From the top I savour the tantalising curves of this gilt-edged coastline and am again dazzled by the exceptional blue of the glittering Med.

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