Road trip: explore the Côte d’Azur
Explore the Côte d’Azur by road, including the spectacular corniche roads, visiting the famous resorts of St Tropez and Villefranche-sur-Mer as well as the pretty Provencal villages overlooking the coast
Begin the trip in Nice, a two-hour flight from London. Prepare for an exciting drive as you leave Nice on the Moyenne Corniche (M6007) and head east up to Èze, where you can stop and take a stroll through the perched village. Alfred Hitchcock filmed parts of the 1955 comedy-thriller To Catch a Thief on these roads and it’s easy to get carried away by the views. Continue on to La Turbie, where the Romans built a giant monument to victory in 7BC, and peer over the wall for spectacular views of Monaco, the Côte d’Azur and the start of the Italian Riviera.
Negotiate the hairpin bends of the D37 down to the Basse Corniche and turn back towards Nice. There is a new casino in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and two of the most beautiful villas in France: the Greek-style Villa Kerylos and the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, both of which have renowned gardens. Continue to Villefranche-sur-Mer, park near the citadel and walk along the cobbled quayside towards a line of cafés and restaurants. After lunch, head round Nice’s port and along the Promenade des Anglais towards Cagnes-sur-Mer, where attractions include the Musée Renoir and the Hippodrome horserace track on the seafront (evening races take place during the summer).
Stop for lunch at… La Mère Germaine in Villefranche-sur-Mer with tables set out on the water’s edge. Try the rockfish soup or scallop carpaccio
Stay the night at… the five-star Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins, a 15-minute drive from Cagnes. The American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda rented the building in the 1920s. The hotel retains its art-deco feel, and has a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Dine in its La Passagère restaurant
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Continue along the coastal D6007 to the Croisette in Cannes and hug the seafront boulevard until you reach Théoule-sur-Mer, 20 minutes away. As the colour of the rock changes from grey to deep rust, look up and see the extraordinary Palais Bulles, owned by the couturier Pierre Cardin. Stuck on the hillside, it looks like a settlement on Mars with firebrick bubbles and portholes.
Follow the D559 road alongside the railway track, past the Calanque de Saint-Barthélémy and the resort of Saint-Raphaël. The afternoon drive involves a 20-minute spin to Sainte-Maxime and then onward to Saint-Tropez (D559, D98A). The final ten kilometres can be slow going, especially in the high season.
Stop for lunch at… La Réserve Gayrard in Les Issambres, three-course meal including homesmoked salmon, scampi and oysters €31.
Stay the night at… Hôtel des Lices in the centre of Saint-Tropez, which has its own pool, wellness centre and car park. For this extravagantly priced resort, it offers good value, with doubles from €155. Dinner is at the nearby Le Dit Vin, a friendly, lively place with a plat du jour for €18.
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Before leaving town, look around the brocante stalls, have a coffee and a slice of tarte tropézienne, or squeeze in a boat trip to the Pampelonne beaches. Then take the D98A, D61 and D558 inland through Grimaud to pretty La Garde-Freinet and then the D48 to Vidauban across the Plaine des Maures, where parasol pines fill the rocky landscape. Vidauban is at the hub of France’s rosé wine production and all is explained at the Centre du Rosé. Continue on the D48 and D10, passing through vineyards and orchards, towards Lorgues.
After lunch in Lorgues, drive to Fréjus (DN10/ DN7) and visit the exotic gardens of France’s oldest pagoda, built by Indo-Chinese soldiers while stationed in the town during World War I. Continue on the D7 towards Mandelieu-la-Napoule, but turn off at the sign for Les Adrets-de-l’Estérel (D237) and make for Lac de Saint-Cassien. Take the D37 and D38 to enter the yellow tangles of the largest mimosa forest in Europe. At its heart, the village of Tanneron is a great place for admiring the distant Alps while sipping a mimosa cocktail. It is now a half-hour drive (D38/D209/ D6185) to Mougins, home to Pablo Picasso for 12 years, several Michelin-starred restaurants and art galleries.
Stop for lunch at… Just before Lorgues is the famous truffle restaurant Chez Bruno. Menus cost from €76 to €190 depending on the type of truffles you choose. Otherwise, Lorgues has plenty of lunchtime options.
Stay the night at… Le Mas Candille, a five-star hotel with a spa, pools and four hectares of grounds (doubles from €325). Enjoy a gourmet meal at the Le Candille restaurant (mains from €42) before making the 40-minute journey back to Nice in the morning
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