If you’re looking to explore France beyond its capital, I suggest you head south. While the Côte d’Azur is renowned as one of the chicest beach getaways in the south of France, there is much more to discover. I recently found myself in a smaller town just outside Nice called Valbonne, where I was surrounded by stunning gardens filled with cyprus trees and olive trees, and where the dramatic hills were filled with tiny tospy-turvy streets somehow meant to accommodate two lanes.
This area is home to a magnificent perfume museum, the Musée International de la Perfumerie, in Grasse, which is known as France’s perfume capital. If fragrances aren’t necessarily your thing, be sure to head to the Fondation Maeght, just outside Saint-Paul-de-Vence, another must-see town despite its recent influx of tourists. The Fondation Maeght is a stunning gallery and museum built in the 1960s, designed to incorporate landscape, architecture and works of art. Tucked away up on a hill, the gardens overlook the beautiful surrounding hills, with Saint-Paul-de-Vence delicately placed on the adjacent hill. The building is modern and boasts artwork by Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Alberto Giacometti and other notable artists. The paintings inside are just as striking as the sculptures carefully placed throughout the gardens. The Fondation Maeght even has a lovely, unassuming chapel with a simple interior, drawing visitors’ attention to the simple crucifixion and the extraordinary stained glass in modern, geometric patterns.
Another option is to head to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a walled city with small passages and endless charm. Each passage is filled with what seems like hundreds of galleries offering everything from impressionism to modern art to classic landscapes and much, much more. This town is also the home of the famous Colombe d’Or, decorated with pieces by Picasso and Matisse, as the starving artists used their art as their form of payment when would show up for a meal. Be prepared to pay for both the food and the surrounding artwork.
After you’ve had your culture fix, if you’re in need of some beach time, head to Cannes, host of an international film festival, or to the next town over, Nice. Cannes is home to numerous casinos and all the glam and glitz of the movie stars it attracts, but the beaches don’t quite compete. While the beaches are neither sprawling nor white, the shore is lined with hip beach clubs offering delicious but expensive lunches, which often but not always buy you a chair on the docks stretching into the sea. Shopping in Cannes is also all high-end or mostly chain stores, so if you’re looking for boutiques, you may have better luck in Antibes—another beautiful walled city.
The center of Nice has a similar vibe to Cannes, but the city has rocky beaches, so beware if you’re used to predominantly sandy shores. With Monaco, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Nice and Antibes all situated within driving distance of one another, the south of France is irresistible. Studded between each of these major towns are smaller gems where you can find a more relaxed, authentic southern France experience. So whether you want the glam and the glitz or just delicious wine and food, the Côte d’Azur seems to have it all.
Tags: Allison Corbat, Antibes, beaches, Colombe d'Or, culture & art, dining, film, Fondation Maeght, France, Grasse, Matisse, Monaco, Musée International de la Perfumerie, Nice, Paris, Picasso, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Shopping, southern France, Summer, travel, Valbonne