Brigitte Bardot famously described the stretch of Mediterranean coastline running from Saint-Tropez to Monaco as ‘a little nook of paradise’ thanks to its picturesque white sandy beaches, luxurious hotels and inherent glamour. Since the 1920s, the French Riviera has attracted international royalty, Hollywood stars, and artists in search of inspiration, and its appeal has endured to this day. From annual events such as the Cannes Film Festival to its designer boutiques, the myriad attractions of the Riviera have allowed it to remain one of Europe’s most glamorous destinations for more than half a century.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Nice represented the fashionable face of the Riviera but it was only in the 1950s, when Hollywood descended, that the area really began to come into its own. The launch of the annual Cannes Film Festival coincided with, and encouraged, the influx of celebrities – the event has been held every May since 1952. Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor were all early attendees and, in its earliest incarnations, the festival was seen primarily as a social event.
Red carpet dressing
The designer boutiques lining boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes provide the perfect hunting ground for those looking for red-carpet glamour. This famed shopping street plays host to an array of leading international labels; choose a romantic white lace gown from Valentino, a 1960s-inspired minidress from Louis Vuitton or a midi-dress with plunging neckline from Gucci, before adding a touch of sparkle from the counters at Bulgari and Cartier. There are shopping opportunities throughout the Riviera; look out for Rondini’s famous sandals produced in Saint-Tropez and for the outposts of Paris’s Galeries Lafayette in Nice and Cannes.
Happily, the Riviera’s many fine-dining restaurants are well worth dressing up for. Monte-Carlo is home to Alain Ducasse’s acclaimed Le Louis XV, a restaurant with three Michelin stars and an unrivalled reputation. The dining room is the epitome of opulence; the gilt décor takes inspiration from the Palace of Versailles and the stopped clock on the wall serves as a reminder that time is of no consequence when the food is this good.
Cannes’ La Palme d’Or restaurant has portraits of Hollywood stars adorning its walls, so don’t be surprised to spot a few when you visit. Executive chef Christian Sinicropi’s seasonal menu complements the restaurant’s exceptional sea views, and showcases local produce – its two Michelin stars are certainly deserved. Expect dishes such as wild grouse with cockles, Black Angus chateaubriand or veal sweetbreads with melt-in-the-mouth mashed potato.
Despite its designer boutiques and high-end dining spots, the Riviera also has a bohemian character that is sure to surprise. This coastline was once a haven for artists and writers. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso owned houses here – now museums dedicated to their former owners’ work – while W Somerset Maugham was known for throwing lavish parties in his Villa Mauresque and both F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald wrote novels based on their time at Cap d’Antibes.
Today, visitors in search of culture will be spoilt for choice. Aside from the artists’ museums, Monaco’s Palais Princier is a must-visit. The palace is the official winter residence of the Grimaldi royal family and has one of the most lavish interiors in Europe. Be sure to take a tour; the sumptuous state apartments echo the palatial grandeur of the 17th and 18th century décor.
Cars and spas
Aside from its royal family, Monaco is best known for its Grand Prix, the most dramatic and star-studded stop on the Formula 1 Championship tour. This high-octane event epitomises extravagance and its track route takes in all of the city’s attractions, from place du Casino to the luxurious yachts in the harbour. Les Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo provides a perfect counterpoint to the noise and adrenalin-fuelled atmosphere of the racetrack. This luxury spa offers an array of facilities and treatments, tackling everything from anti-ageing and slimming to deep relaxation, including a heated seawater pool, hammam and cardio training room with panoramic sea views.
Further respite can be found away from the Riviera’s main cities on a day trip to Grasse. Considered the world’s perfume capital, the town has produced some of history’s most recognisable scents, including the jasmine tones of Chanel No 5. Start at the Musée International de la Parfumerie (international perfume museum) for an historic overview, before moving on to one of the fragrance houses. Several offer tours: Fragonard takes visitors through its entire production process, whereas Molinard’s visit encompasses its soap room, cream laboratory and perfume distillery.
With its myriad cultural attractions, prestigious shopping streets, Michelin-starred restaurants and exclusive international events, the French Riviera remains one of the world’s most glamorous destinations, and one that is sure to impress.