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Although not as popular as their neighbors Nice, Cannes, or Monaco, small French Riviera towns along the Côte d’Azur are the true reflection of French charm. Beaches are more pleasant, clean, and less crowded, streets seem prettier, and you can even meet a local at the cafe (not just tourists) and have a glass of wine in the shade of a lush tree.

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Alpes overlooking the Mediterranean

French Riviera towns

Also, there are a lot of things to see and explore in this part of the French Riviera – from Roman ruins, medieval constructions, and museums, to the antique culinary menus. A lot of those French Riviera towns have the cute name extension – sur mer (meaning at the seaside).

Jean Cocteau in Menton

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French Riviera Map (Google Maps)

At the border with Italy, there is the town of Menton. The first mention of the town dates back to the 13th century. It alternated under the Italian and French flags throughout centuries, until Charles III of Monaco sold it to Napoleon III for four million gold francs in 1861.

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FRENCH RIVIERA TOWNS: A colorful Menton next to Italy

One of the main resources of the town is agriculture, mainly olives, and citrus fruit. There is a lemon festival held every year.

Also, try not to miss out on the Bastion, refurbished under the supervision of Jean Cocteau. It now houses a museum containing his work, such as the huge black and white mosaic entitled The Salamander. Cocteau also did the frescoed walls at the local Town Hall in which civil weddings are held.

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FRENCH RIVIERA TOWNS: Detail from Roquebrune Cap Martin

Not far from Menton, there is another one of those charming French Riviera towns – Roquebrune Cap Martin. The castle of Roquebrune is unique in all of France as it is the only Carolingian castle that was built at the end of the 10th century. Rising upon a cliff, the castle dominates the medieval village below full of narrow streets, lined-up houses, and roofs.

Matisse in Cimiez

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The train station in Nice

In about 13 BC Romans chose the ancient Celtic settlement of Cemenelum as their headquarters. That’s the town of Cimiez today where a lot of Roman city ruins are preserved, namely the Amphitheater from the 1st century and the Baths from the 2nd.

Also, there is the Museum of Matisse with some of the great works of Henri Matisse and his personal belongings.

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Vineyards at Cagnes by Renoir

Another French Riviera town, Cagnes-sur-Mer, and another artist – Auguste Renoir. He spent his last 11 years here. Despite his poor health, Renoir continued with his painting and in his house, there is now a collection of mementos and personal objects, a wheelchair, palettes, and brushes he used. In addition, there are a few of his paintings and sculptures. In the garden, there is a bust of his wife and a sculpture of the famous Baigneuse.

Picasso in Antibes

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FRENCH RIVIERA TOWNS: The marina in Antibes

If you are interested in a bit different tradition of this part of France, in Villeneuve-Loube town you can visit the unusual Museum of Culinary Art. It is the birthplace of Auguste Escoffier, defined as “the king of chefs and the chef of kings”. There is a typical Provencal kitchen with all sorts of cooking devices and implements, a fabulous collection of over 15,000 menus, some of which date to as early as 1820.

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FRENCH RIVIERA TOWNS: Charming village of Eze

Then there is a bit more famous town of Antibes, founded by the Phoenicians in the 4th century BC. The Picasso Museum is located here, since this famous painter fell in love with Côte d’Azur when he was 39, in 1920, when he decided to move here. This is where he stayed for the rest of his life.

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Eze on the top of the cliff

Make sure to have enough time for the beach or just take a break over a drink in other small towns such as Eze, Villefranche, Le Trayas, Boulouris, Agay. Those are smaller bays with clear waters, red cliffs, and nice beaches, away from all the bustle and noise. If you go to Agay, remember that the celebrated writer and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery crushed his plane in these waters in 1944 during World War II. This is where he died.

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Beach at Villefranche (credit – Kristine Li of The Petite Wanderess)

It’s just amazing how every piece of land on the French Riviera has that specific charm related to a certain event or a person, right?

*photos by Pixabay

Next: HOW I FOUND VAN GOGH IN ARLES

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Comments:

  • eulandas

    08/08/2017

    This is an area of France I have yet to discover. I’ve spent time along the Riviera, but would love to explore this region! Thank you for the introduction!

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  • 08/08/2017

    The French Riviera is just so beautiful!

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    • 09/08/2017

      It is, it has that specific atmosphere that makes the whole coast unique.

      reply...
  • Michele Peterson (A Taste for Travel)

    08/08/2017

    Menton looks like a gorgeous place to soak up an authentic French seaside atmosphere.

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    • 09/08/2017

      It does resemble Amalfi coast in Italy, right! Or is it the other way around… That was my first thought when seeing the place. 🙂

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  • 08/08/2017

    Lovely to learn about some alternative places to visit that are perhaps less crowded and less known but equally charming and would be such a joy to visit.

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    • 09/08/2017

      I love to visit “the most popular”, of course, but I actually truly enjoy places around these. Hence, had the best time on the Riviera going around smaller towns. 🙂

      reply...
  • kailaxyu

    08/08/2017

    I can definitely see why some of the greatest artists in the world wanted to stay here!

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    • 09/08/2017

      So true. They actually deserve each other, right – that kind of talent should dwell in such beautiful surroundings. 🙂

      reply...
  • 09/08/2017

    You had me at Matisse and Renoir, two impressionist painters that l hold in high regard. A chance to see their former homes would be amazing. I still have absolutely wonderful memories of my day in Giverny visiting Monet’s house (my biggest love). Thanks for sharing this. Need to plan on making this happen :-).

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    • 09/08/2017

      Really, another Monet’s fan? Well, nice to meet you! 😀 Feel free to check out one of the previous posts in this series, the title is “Knocking on Monet’s door”, it’s about Giverny! 😉 Just click on small image related to France on the right sidebar, and you’ll find all the links there. Thank you so much! So nice to hear there are people out there who appreciate similar things! 🙂

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  • 10/08/2017

    This post is fantastic timing! We’re off to Southern France next week and we def prefer visiting smaller, charming places. Will be referring to this post during the trip. Thanks!

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    • 10/08/2017

      Oh, so glad to hear that! You’ll have great time. It might be hot, but you’ll manage. Looking forward to hearing your impressions, guys! 😀

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  • 10/08/2017

    I love traveling to some of the lesser known places. Eza and Villafranche looks amazing! Those cliffs and that crystal clear water. Sign me up!

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    • 11/08/2017

      Yes, those small towns are beautiful, something you don’t really expect when going to seemingly “all glamorous” coast. Love the diversity. 🙂

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  • 11/08/2017

    My husband and I have long wanted to road trip along the French Riviera. Now here you go and make me want to go all the more. I love the idea of visiting small, off-the-tourist-track places, especially since I’ll have a chance to practice my French. I think my favorite will be ancient Antibes. Or maybe not … too many of those towns are just as historic!

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    • 11/08/2017

      Hehehe, you should probably do them all and then decide on a favorite. 😉

      reply...

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