You may be surprised to learn that, up until the early 1900s, the Cote d’Azur was a simple and undistinguished collection of fishing villages. It wasn’t until European aristocracy descended upon the pristine shores of Southern France, in search of warmth and relaxation close to home, that the uninspiring coastal towns quite literally boomed into existence. Within a few short years, the cultural and social gems we enjoy now, like Cannes, Nice and St. Tropez became the favoured holiday destination for the élite the world over.
The picturesque town of Cannes, flanked on one side by miles of splendid coast, and the other by luscious green hills, was always bound for stardom. The start of a very humble film festival, which has grown to be the most famous in the world, served to catapult it into the international limelight. Cannes is indeed extremely central, and from here day trips to nearby jewels like Nice, Monaco and St Tropez and extremely easy to organize, either by rental-car or public transport. Yet while most tourists confine their visits to famous villages, there are a few quaint towns worthy of an in-depth look. Book an apartment in Cannes and, while you’re out exploring this gorgeous Riviera make a pilgrimage to the following three simply splendid and less visited treasures.
The less visited yet still intrinsically splendid town of Menton, just east of Monaco and just an hour east of Cannes is a wonderful hamlet of charming old buildings, a pretty-as-a-postcard beach and glorious surrounding orchards. Close to the Italian border, and home to a truly splendid Baroque-designed church (Eglise St. Michel) among its historic city centre.
For a taste of Provincial charm head to Arles, a small yet infinitely enticing town just a 2hr drive west of Cannes. This is where famed painter van Gogh lived for many years, and the surrounding landscapes were his most beloved inspiration. Narrow winding streets, vibrant-coloured houses and charming squares really set the scene in this historic village and are enough to keep you here all day long. Yet Arles also has phenomenal ruins to explore: the ancient Roman amphitheatre is in excellent condition and still used nowadays for concerts and shows.
Van Gogh fans can follow the artists’ trail (marked by plaques all over town) past the site of his former house and the homonymous museum.
Aix en Provence
Most who visit Aix en Provence find it hard to believe that this small and unpretentious town was the centre of art and culture in this region during the Middle Ages and log thereafter. That is, until they get a first glimpse at the stunning architecture found here. Considered by many a provincial mini-Paris, Aix is the ideal day-trip destination for anyone wanting a culture fix, and a little authenticity, when on holiday on the Cote d’Azur.
17th and 18th century palaces, monuments and squares inundate this pedestrian-friendly gem, brilliant eateries offer the very best of Provençal cuisine and the daily produce market on Richelme Place offers a remarkable shopping experience. Combine a drive to Aix en Provence on the same day as Arles and a full day of culture and superlative sightseeing is well and truly guaranteed.