Living The Highlife
Style. Some regions have it, some regions don’t. Where the Côte d’Azur is concerned, the question’s not up for debate. This classic 88-mile road trip along the French Riviera takes in some of the most elegant names in European travel, from Monte Carlo to St Tropez. It’s a region of beaches, casinos, film festivals and five-star hotels; a drive that gives a taste of the high life. And the coastal scenery? That’s pretty special too. Car rental in France doesn’t get any more glamorous.
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The principality of Monaco is the world’s second smallest state – only the Vatican is tinier. Its reputation for luxury, however, is anything but undersized. Drive the streets that were made famous by the annual Formula One Grand Prix, visit the Royal Palace, or make like James Bond with a flutter at the Monte Carlo Casino. In the lanes of Monaco-Ville, the old town, call in at the century-old Chocolaterie de Monaco and sample gourmet dishes at Restaurant Montgolfière. Heading out of town, Nice is just a half-hour drive away.
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Nice has attracted aristocrats and European royalty for centuries, and it’s still seen as one of the most sophisticated cities in France. The palm-lined Promenade des Anglais, famed for its grand beachfront buildings, is an apt place to start explorations. The city’s maze-like historic centre, known as Vieux Nice, is another highlight – seek out the flower market on Cours Saleya, where you’ll also find socca (chickpea pancakes), a local specialty. Wrap things up with a visit to Musée Matisse – the artist was famously drawn to Nice because of the light. Antibes, your next stop, sits 35 minutes further down the coast.
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Synonymous with F Scott Fitzgerald, Maupassant and Picasso, all of whom spent time living here, the town of Antibes is small but exclusive. Its old sea walls are evidence of a history stretching back to the Roman era, while the hundreds of yachts in the marina give it a smart modern feel. Try the seafood at Bacon, in Cap d’Antibes. The adjacent beachside town of Juan-les-Pins is no less stylish than Antibes itself – it also plays home to a superb international jazz festival, Jazz à Juan, each July. Following the coastal road, Cannes is a 20-minute drive away.
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The Cannes Film Festival, now in its 68th year, turns the eyes of the world onto the Côte d’Azur for two weeks each May. Cannes itself, of course, is graceful year-round. If you’re not here for the festival, take in the bay views from Le Suquet, people-watch from a cafe on La Croisette or take a guided tour of Palais des Festivals, where the key screenings take place each spring. For dinner, book well ahead at the two-Michelin-starred La Palme d’Or. Your final destination, St Tropez, is a further 80 minutes away.
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St Tropez’s journey from quiet fishing village to a magnet for the rich and famous has been remarkable. Since Brigitte Bardot filmed here in the 1950s, the town now comes alive each summer as a playground for high-end tourists. Expect Lamborghinis, Ferraris and superyachts. The Plage de Pampelonne is its best-known beach – for fewer crowds, try Plage de la Bouillabaisse or Plage des Graniers. In town, meanwhile, the Rondini store still sells the premium sandals first made here in 1927. And before ending the trip, be sure to try a Tarte Tropézienne, the creamy orange-flavoured gateau sold at the bakery of the same name.
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