French Riviera

Commercialism has not robbed the Cote d’Azur of all its romantic charm—you just have to look harder these days to find it. When you do, the rewards are thrilling…

There are few places in the world with more romance and glamour than the Cote d’Azur. At least, you might think that is the case until you visit Saint-Tropez or Monte Carlo in high season…there is nothing romantic or glamorous about 30 pizzas and drive-through McDonald’s. Unfortunately, much of the French Riviera has been commercialized to within an inch of its life, thanks in part to the glory years of the 1960s jet set, who immortalized this slice of Europe as the place to be. Part of the original attraction of the Cote d’Azur was the mystery and intrigue of this beautiful stretch of coast, with its impossibly blue water and untouched, cobbled villages. It is still possible to find all that, you just have to look a little harder. Begin your trip in Eze, located on an intimidating cliff edge 427 meters above sea level, making it the highest seaside village in France, and perhaps the most picturesque. Often overshadowed by its better-known neighbors Nice and Monaco, Eze boasts a warren of charming medieval streets and low-hanging stone buildings, so indulging here in one’s inner flaneur is a real pleasure. It must be noted that the narrow streets get crowded during the day, so drop by early in the morning or late afternoon. Famous inhabitants of Eze include the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who lived there in the 1880s. He trekked every day from the beach to the old town, claiming that the mesmerizing views (and heat) gave him hallucinations, and thus inspiration for his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. You can take his route to the village from the beach today, but don’t do this before visiting the Jardin Exotique d’Eze, a botanical garden with unrivalled views across the Mediterranean. Many would argue the best way to experience the Cote d’Azur is by boat. And they would be right. Think Plein Soleil but more French. A good option would be to sail from the port of Saint-Kean-Cap-Ferrat to the paradise island of Porquerolles. Forget Antibes, skip Cannes and Saint-Tropez, and make a beeline for this little island, which the French state bought in the seventies to preserve it from development. There’s not much to do here except relax on the white sand beaches, the best of which is the Plage de Notre-Dame, mostly because it has the appearance of a remote desert island. It is said that exploring Porquerolles is like perusing the Cote d’Azur of centuries ago, as dense forests, olive trees, lavender, and rosemary line the island in place of the expansive mansions and fancy restaurants of nearby resorts. And there’s no McDonald’s. But what might you take with you on such a Riviera jaunt?