The Côte d'Azur

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Nice

Broadly speaking, Provence lies between the river Rhône to the west, the French Alps and the Italian border to the north and east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. The present administrative region of Provence-Côte d'Azur consists of the five départements of Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse, Var, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Alpes Maritimes.

The French Riviera (Côte d'Azur) is only an hour away by road and is famous for the Mediterranean coastal resorts of Menton, Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes, Antibes, and St Tropez, and their associations with the sybaritic life. However, the area is also rich in intellectual and cultural values: art galleries, Gallo-Roman antiquities, castles and fortifications, church and domestic architecture - all set in its sparkling air and the stunning coastal scenery. The picturesque hilltop villages, some deserted, some restored and fashionable, like Peille, Peillon and Èze, are deservedly famous. A day trip to any of these towns on a market day would make a splendid outing. You could spend weeks in Nice alone, but the old town of Nice, the Roman remains at Cimiez, the museums of Chagall and Matisse and the Fine Arts Museum, are among the many drawcards.

There is a continuing round of fairs and festivals of international standing, such as the Automobile Rally and Grand Prix at Monte Carlo, the Cannes Film Festival, the May Festival of Nice and music festivals at Nice, Antibes and Vence. Markets, several times a week, are held at Antibes, Beausoleil, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Vallauris, Vence and, just across the border in Italy, at Ventimiglia. Artisans can be seen at work in their studios in villages such as Vence, Tourettes-sur-Loup, Biot and Vallauris.

The Michelin Green Guide for the French Riviera provides an excellent summary of this, the world's most famous holiday destination.

Fields of lavender and sunflowers, mottled-tiled villages and hillsides terraced with vines and olive groves are typical of the countryside. Along the coast between Cannes and Menton, carnations, roses, jasmine, violets, oranges and lemons are grown for their essences, supplying the perfume factories of Grasse. Mimosa covers the Tanneron Massif, west of Cannes, in golden blossom each spring. These strong colours, the dazzling light, the scenery and the Mediterranean climate attracted a succession of writers and painters, such as Cézanne, Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, and Renoir.
Perhaps they were also seduced by the cuisine. Fresh produce from the Rhône valley, lamb from the hinterland, fish from the Mediterranean, and the characteristic use of local garlic, herbs and olive oil have produced the well-known style provençale. Aïoli, agneau de Sisteron, soupe au pistou, ratatouille, salade niçoise, bouillabaisse, and bourride, are world famous dishes. The Rhône valley produces well-known wines from Château Simone, Gigondas, Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Cassis. Well-regarded local wines are from Bandol, Bellet, La Croix-Valmer, La Gaude, Menton, Ollioules, Pierrefeu, St Jeannet, Taradeau, and the boutique vineyard of the nearby Villars-sur-Var.


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Last revised 26 February 2011. Copyright (c) 2004 Margaret Bishop & Jill Ingham. All rights reserved.