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South of France Itinerary: 10 Days in the French Riviera & Provence

South of France Itinerary: 10 Days in the French Riviera & Provence

As much as I love to travel around France and see the rest of Europe, there is nothing quite like coming back to my home on the French Riviera. That’s why I am so glad to give you my ideal South of France itinerary.

I could write a full month’s itinerary for the south of France if someone had that kind of time, as there is so much to do and see here.

But, to keep it realistic and hopefully convince travelers looking for natural beauty, adventure, luxury, and much more to make the trip to the Côte d’Azur; I have narrowed it down to 10 good days.

Below, you’ll find the towns and attractions that I wouldn’t recommend missing during a trip to the south. While you can mix, match, and switch days, I’ve ordered it in a way here to help you vary your days and minimize car rental time

Read on to find the best things to do, best places to stay, and best ways to get around the French Riviera.

TLDR

  • Most significant landmark – The Monte Carlo Casino
  • Best park – Gorges du Verdon Natural Park
  • Best free activity – Walking on the Promenade des Anglais
  • Best activity for kids – The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
  • Best activity for adults – Saint Tropez & Pampelonne Beach
  • Best foodRestaurants along the ramparts of Saint-Paul-de-Vence
  • Best nightlife – Clubs on the Croisette of Cannes
  • Best all-round accommodationHôtel La Villa Port d’Antibes & Spa

Best & Fun Things to Do Each Day in the South of France

There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of places to visit around the South of France. Beyond tourist attractions, you’ll find incredible natural beauty, rich history, tasty restaurants, and an overall uniquely individual part of Europe here.

If I only had 10 days, here is how I would fill them.

Day 1: Arrive to & Visit the City of Nice

You’ll most likely be flying into or arriving by train to Nice, the biggest city in the area (not counting Marseille, which isn’t nearby most of these attractions).

The international airport here has connections across the world and Italy is less than an hour away by rail and road.

Ocean View in Nice

On your arrival day, I’d recommend taking some time to enjoy the capital of the Côte d’Azur. There are plenty of hotel options in Nice, as we’ll cover below, and my favorite is the Le Méridien Nice. If you’re staying elsewhere, there are places to store your luggage for a few hours around town.

In Nice, you’ll be struck by the electric blue water of the Mediterranean Sea sitting upon the peaceful pebble beaches for miles down the shore. The best place to get a view of this, and the city skyline, is from the #ILoveNice sign just across from the Hôtel La Perouse.

From there, stroll down the famous Promenade des Anglais to reach the old town and the city center. Nice is full of culture and history, and you might consider a walking tour to see it all. This one will bring you to all the main sights, plus the many churches and old port. 

Some more activities in Nice are:

  • Renting a bike to tour the entirety of the Promenade des Anglais.
  • Get the best view of the town and the coast at the top of the Colline du Château, an easy and quick hike to a park with a view.
  • Get a crêpe at my favorite brasserie, the Café du Palais in the old town.
  • See some interesting art at the MAMAC, Nice’s modern art museum.

Day 2: See the Iconic Towns of Cannes & Antibes

If you’re staying in one of the main towns in the Riviera, you can reach the seaside resorts of Cannes and Antibes by train very easily; with more on that below.

Cannes is the better-known of the two, with its famous annual film festival and the Boulevard de la Croisette (just say ‘La Croisette’ to sound like a local). It’s also home to some beautiful, sandy beaches in contrast to the stones on the shores of Nice.

Buildings and Shops in Cannes

Antibes is literally five minutes away by train and a gem of a town on the French Riviera.

Known as the superyacht capital of the world, the old town sits on the beginning of an important peninsula. The Fort Carré medieval fortress sits behind it, protecting it throughout the centuries.

Pathway and Ocean in Cannes, France

Both towns are easily seeable in a single day due to their small sizes and close proximity. They are both also great places to stay and base yourself in the South of France. Here are some top attractions:

  • Visit the Musée Picasso, a museum dedicated to Pablo Picasso’s extensive time spent in the area.
  • Walk through the daily open market in Antibes to buy locally-produced treats and souvenirs, just across from the town hall.
  • Get your shopping done on the Rue d’Antibes street in Cannes, for luxury goods and souvenirs alike.
  • Take a small ferry ride from Cannes to the nearby St. Marguerite Island for a quiet and secluded beach day, surrounded by megayachts.

Day 3: Spend the Day in the Principality of Monaco

The tiny city-state of Monaco, sometimes referred to by the name of its most famous district Monte Carlo, is an iconic destination and amazing experience in the south of France. It is easily accessed by train. Do not miss it!

Ocean and Monaco Cityscape

Monaco is a playground for the ultra-rich: think elegant architecture, fine dining, supercars everywhere, and massive yachts. It’s also home to the ultra-thrilling, world-famous Monaco Grand Prix, which kicks the elegant, ultra-rich factor up several notches.

Every corner of the city is sparkling clean, every building is immaculately designed and cared for, and every plant and garden is manicured.

There is nothing like Monaco. The main attraction seems to be the famous Monte Carlo Casino where you can play a hand of blackjack among the whales if you dare.

Just walking around is an experience, but you can buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus or the Petit Train to see it all. 

Day 4: Take it Slow in Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

These places are two that you might not have considered without the insight of someone in the area. These towns are the next up the coast from Nice and are also super-easy done via train, so still no need to rent a car yet.

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a fishing village on the inside of a deep and narrow cove between two long peninsulas.

This makes it peaceful and picturesque, and I come here every chance I get. The small promenade along the shore is lined with charming restaurants, and at the end of town, you’ll find one of the best sandy beaches in the area.

Sailing Boats

The peninsula that forms Villefranche’s bay is Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, making the two easily walkable from each other. Cap Ferrat is like the Beverly Hills of the French Riviera.

You’ll find massive, luxurious villas lining the wide streets in this exclusive neighborhood with views that only add to their prices.

Cliff and Ocean View in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

This day is mainly a relaxing beach or coastal hike day for me, but there is plenty to do:

  • Walk a couple of streets of Villefranche’s charming old town, and then cool off at the Plage de Villefranche-sur-Mer.
  • Hike the Chemin des Douaniers coastal trail on Cap Ferrat, my favorite hike in the region with secret swimming spots and views that will take your breath away.
  • Visit the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild to get a look at one of the mega-mansions owned by a well-known family in the most exclusive zip code in the south.
  • Take a sunset cruise to see these beautiful towns by sea from Nice.

See Related: Best Spring Break Destinations for Families

Day 5: Get More Riviera Views from Èze and Menton

Two icons of the south of France are Èze and Menton. Even if you haven’t heard of them, you’ll be glad you found them; and they are totally doable by train.

Èze is the closer one to Nice, but there’s a catch – it’s a bit of a hike. You’ll get off the train at Èze-sur-Mer, but Èze (not-sur-Mer) is a hilltop village perched on the cliff above.

There’s a hiking trail to get up there if you are up for it, but you could also access this medieval town by bus or car if needed. 

Sky and Ocean in Èze, France

Menton is the final town in France before you cross into Italy. It’s known as the lemon town due to its annual lemon festival held in the main square, celebrating the fruit grown on the hills surrounding it.

If you are there in February, it is a super-cool thing to see; but even if not Menton is home to delicious food and a lovely old town.

Town by the Ocean

In these towns, try some of these activities:

  • Visit the Fragonard Perfume Factory in Èze village, home to the famous perfume company of the French Riviera and their laboratory.
  • Buy lemon soaps, olive oils, alcohols, and much more on the cobbled streets of Menton.
  • Gaze (or even walk) across the border to Italy from the sandy beach near Menton’s port.
  • Hike down, if you don’t want to hike up, the Chemin de Nietzsche trail to the coast below from Èze.

Day 6: Rent a Car and Visit the Nearby Villages of Saint Paul de Vence and Gourdon

Today, it’s time to rent a car and get off of the beautiful coast you’ve fallen in love with by now. But I assure you that there are villages and nature that will be just as amazing in the backcountry!

A top choice is Saint Paul de Vence, just 30 minutes from most nearby destinations. This is a walled town with narrow streets that is known for its many art galleries.

You can see why so many people would want to paint this place, and you’ll find much more in terms of shops and dining throughout its cobblestone streets.

Saint Paul de Vence Alley

Less than 45 minutes away is Gourdon, a local secret. It’s been voted as one of the most beautiful towns in France, making it well-known around here.

This hilltop village is very tiny, but on a steep hill overlooking the entire coast that you’ve been touring. Its narrow streets and quiet, authentic feel will amaze you.

Gourdon Shops, South of France.

While Saint Paul de Vence could be reachable by bus, Gourdon will require you to rent a car or take a tour to get there. However you arrive, here are my tips:

  • Buy a miniature piece of art from a gallery as a souvenir to commemorate your stop in Saint Paul de Vence.
  • Walk to the end of the town and follow the outside of the walls to find the best restaurants in Saint Paul, like Les Remparts.
  • Book a table at La Taverne Provençale, the main restaurant of Gourdon with sweeping views.
  • On your way home, stop at the Cascades de Saut du Loup: a spot on the river with an amazing waterfall, restaurant, and demonstration of the old way of making lavender oil.

See Related: Best Things to do in Colmar, France

Day 7: Take a Drive to Saint Tropez

Another symbol of the south of France is Saint Tropez and its reputation as a fancy, elite getaway. Well, that reputation is fair, but it’s also a wonderful little village with great beaches and history.

Clear Ocean Water

The setting for Brigitte Bardot’s scandalous And God Created Woman, St. Tropez could be considered a place for adults but not nearly for the reasons from the film. There are high-end bars and restaurants lining the port promenade and expensive luxury shopping among the winding streets.

It is something to see, and therefore I do recommend it – but it’s really best paired with a beach day at the incredible Plage de Pampelonne some 15 minutes away. This massive stretch of golden sand literally reminded me of a beach in Tahiti.

Be careful when driving and prepare yourself for some frustration: St. Tropez is preceded by notoriously horrible traffic, on the way in and out. It’s a consequence of its fame and small roads. When you do arrive, here are the popular attractions:

Day 8: “The Perfect Day in Provence”

This is a one-day excursion that I really love sharing with people coming to the south of France. You’ll get to see a side of Provence that isn’t well-known outside of Europe, and you wouldn’t believe the natural wonders that can be found on the French Riviera.

You’ll start off by driving to Lac de Sainte-Croix, or Lake Saint Croix.

This massive lake sits at the base of the Gorges du Verdon National Park, also known as the Grand Canyon of Europe. You’ll immediately see why and nature lovers will be pleased with their choice.

At the northernmost point of the lake, you’ll find plenty of little stands to rent water toys like kayaks, paddleboards, and even electric boats.

Choose one and voyage up the river into the Gorges du Verdon. You’ll be in awe at the vertical cliffs that surround you and the unbelievably blue water they envelop.

River and Moutain Range in France’s Grand Canyon

After an hour or two of admiring France’s Grand Canyon, drive just 10 minutes more to reach Moustiers-Sainte-Marie; another town on the list of the most beautiful villages in France.

This one sits on a hill overlooking the plains of Provence surrounding the lake. 

On my Perfect Day in Provence itinerary, this is your stop for lunch: choose one of the many locally-owned restaurants on the cobbled streets of the main square.

But don’t just eat and skedaddle; there are plenty of souvenirs and local treats to be had, views to take in, and even a waterfall to hike to if you are up for it.

near France’s Grand Canyon

Finally, the last part of your day is spent in the surrounding fields home to a particularly beautiful crop: lavender.

The best time to do this excursion is in June or July when the lavender is at full bloom and not yet harvested. 

By simply driving west from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, towards the Plateau de Valensole, you’ll find miles and miles of these fields. They seem to disappear into the mountains far in the distance. The point of this part of the trip is to take pictures, so find a good spot and a good tripod!

Lavender Fields

This day is one for travelers who want to see the natural beauty of the south of France besides the coast, those who’d like a more local and less touristy experience, and travelers who love photography.

To summarize, here are the things not to miss in Provence and the Gorges du Verdon:

  • Rent a kayak and take it up the gorge: my vendor of preference is Kanojano, but there are many. No reservation is needed.
  • Get some lunch at a restaurant in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, one of the most beautiful villages in France. I like Restaurant La Cascade for both the food and the atmosphere.
  • Go photo spot-hunting through the lavender fields, which can be reached by inputting Plateau de Valensole into Google Maps navigation. Alternatively, a good spot is marked on the map here.
  • This itinerary is definitely best done in the spring or summer months, and ideally in June or July.

See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the World

Day 9: Hike the Trails of the Calanques National Park

The last two days (or three, depending on how you want to end your day in Provence) take place a bit further west on the French Riviera. You might consider staying closer to the Marseille or Aix en Provence area, but these days are also totally driveable from the Nice region.

The Calanques National Park is another one of the amazing natural wonder that the average first-time visitor to the south of France doesn’t know about. It contains a series of hiking trails to secluded beaches below dramatic clifftops.

The hiking trails begin in the former fishing village of Cassis, which is also a great place to explore and stock up on food and water. The trails aren’t terribly difficult and even a moderate hiker should be able to manage them. Depending on what you’re looking to see, you could take paths to tiny beaches in narrow coves or up to the rocky viewpoints above them.

Don’t forget good hiking shoes and plenty of water, as it can get very hot over here. Some of the top tips for this day are:

  • Take a look at the Calanques National Park website to be sure that it isn’t closed for extreme wildfire risk, which happens from time to time.
  • Download the My Calanques mobile app for maps, itineraries, and even historical sites information while you enjoy the place.
  • Don’t miss the trails to Calanque d’En Vau or Calanque de Port Pin, the two most beautiful – you can also take a guided hike like this one to be sure you don’t miss anything.
  • If you aren’t a big hiker or you prefer to relax a bit more, take a catamaran cruise to see the beauty from the sea instead.

Day 10: See the Roman Villages of Southern France

Finally, we’ll end off the trip with a bit of classic Europe in case you’ve had enough beautiful beaches and nature for now.

Who doesn’t love a good medieval town with cobblestone streets?

Well, you’ll find plenty of them famed for their Roman heritage in the western part of the French Riviera. They are all relatively close to each other, making it very possible to hit several on the same day.

Arles is a good place to start, just about an hour from Aix en Provence. It’s particularly famous for its Roman theatre, which has survived thousands of years and continues to host plays and events just as it did in the Middle Ages.

Vincent Van Gogh was particularly inspired by Arles, who featured the town in many of his most famous paintings.

You might be interested to drive about 40 minutes north to see the famed Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This genius piece of architecture is an aqueduct the Romans built in the First(!) Century AD, still standing in all its majesty today. Even if you aren’t a huge admirer of history, you probably agree that that is impressive.

Finally, Van Gogh fans might be interested to see Saint Rémy de Provence, which was the other main village of his life and work in the south of France besides Arles.

The next village over is Les Baux de Provence, which is much smaller and has a more medieval feel. Both are about a half-hour from Arles.

On your final day in the south of France, enjoy the history and culture in these wonderful towns, and consider these tips:

Where to Stay in the South of France

You won’t be disappointed with most of the places I’ve mentioned in the itinerary above. However, I have some recommendations for convenience on your trip as well as comfort and nearby things to do. 

My top recommendations are in Antibes, Cannes, and Nice.

As incredible as they are, I do not recommend staying in Monaco unless you have a high budget (plus it’s not actually France), and I do not recommend staying in Saint Tropez due to its separation from the rest of the destination and the bad traffic to get in and out.

Hotels in Nice

Le Meridien Nice

Charming Hotel Room

Category: Mid-Range

Booking.com Rating: 8.3/10

TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5/5

This hotel is best for travelers who want easy access to the rest of the destination and who like the Marriott chain and its loyalty program. They have an amazing rooftop pool and bar, ocean view rooms, and overall upscale touches.

B&B Hôtel Nice Aéroport Arenas

Building Exterior of &B Hôtel Nice Aéroport Arenas

Category: Budget

Booking.com Rating: 7.9/10

TripAdvisor Rating: 4.0/5

Don’t be dissuaded from staying at an airport hotel – this can be the best place to stay for budget travelers. The B&B brand is comfortable and well-equipped to save extra money, plus it’s within walking distance from the train station and tramway.

Hotels in Cannes

Okko Hotels Cannes Centre

Room with Desk

Category: Mid-Range

Booking.com Rating: 8.5/10

TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5/5

For a mid-range traveler, this is my hotel of choice in Cannes. It is directly next to the train station, making for easy access to the rest of the Riviera, and within walking distance to the Croisette and beach.

JW Marriott Cannes

Building Front of JW Marriott Cannes Facing the Ocean

Category: Luxury

Booking.com Rating: 7.6/10

TripAdvisor Rating: 4.0/5

Want to feel like a movie star on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival? Then stay where they stay. The JW Marriott is a beachfront, five-star hotel known for its luxury on the Croisette.

Hotels in Antibes

Hôtel La Villa Port d’Antibes & Spa

Colorful Hotel Lobby

Category: Mid-Range

Booking.com Rating: 9.0/10

TripAdvisor Rating: 5.0/5

For a price that doesn’t break the bank but a luxurious boutique hotel experience, look towards La Villa. The location is perfect in Antibes center, the amenities and comfort level are excellent, and the hotel is very highly rated. This would be my hotel of choice out of all in the South of France.

Hôtel Belles Rives

Hotel Building Facing the Ocean

Category: Luxury

Booking.com Rating: 8.4/10

TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5/5

To have peace, quiet, and luxury, stay in the Juan Les Pins neighborhood of Antibes. At the base of the Cap d’Antibes (another one of the Beverly Hills of the south of France), this boutique hotel has amazing views, seaside dining, and a pool and beach to relax at.

See Related: Best Affordable Castle Hotels in Europe

Getting Around in the South of France

Your visit in the south couldn’t be easier thanks to the convenient train line running down the coast of the French Riviera. But, as you saw, there are some places where renting a car would be strongly recommended or even required.

Trains in the South of France

The SNCF is the national train company of France, which operates just about all of the traffic to, from, and within the south of France.

Thello once offered service to Milan in Italy several times a day, but that has been canceled, and the famous Russian Railways line from Nice to Moscow was a victim of the pandemic.

That makes it easy to figure out, at least. Use the oui.sncf app to see schedules and buy tickets. Note that for regional trains (meaning just traveling around the south of France, and not further to Paris, for example) prices are fixed.

You don’t need to buy your tickets in advance for fear of prices rising – you can buy them two minutes before the train arrives if you please.

The mainline that you will utilize runs straight down the coast from Ventimiglia, the town across the border in Italy, all the way to Cannes and beyond to Marseille. Trains generally stop at every coastal town along the way, but there can be express lines, so always double-check. Prices are very reasonable: just four or five euros from Nice to Antibes, for example.

This makes it super easy to use the railways to hop your way around each coastal city on the Riviera.

It can be way more convenient than parking, and cheaper as well. Trains are very frequent as long as there is not a rail worker strike. I recommend train travel for days when a car isn’t absolutely necessary.

Car Rental in the South of France

That being said, you will need a car to get to the sites in Provence and the villages in the countryside. I like to use Kayak and Skyscanner to get the best deals on car rentals, as they show you all of the offers of all of the companies operating at your destination.

Given the choice, I rent from Sixt as I have had good experiences with their customer service and the overall experience.

Don’t forget to check the car thoroughly before your rental, and make sure you use a credit card that provides you with rental car insurance so you don’t need to buy it at the counter.

Driving in France is relatively simple. My biggest piece of advice is to follow the speed limits carefully, even if it seems like others aren’t.

Unlike in the US where you will generally be stopped by the police and ticketed for speeding, here your license plate will be photographed, and a hefty fine (along with a friendly service fee from the rental car company) will arrive in your mailbox months later.

See Related: 12 Best 10 Dollar a Day Car Rentals

FAQ

What is the best town to stay in on the French Riviera?

You won’t be disappointed with most of the towns on the coast. Nice is popular as it is the largest city in the area. Monaco is renowned for its luxurious feel and plenty of things to do. Cannes and Antibes are great choices for a smaller town feel and nearby attractions.

Is the South of France expensive to visit?

It certainly can be, if you don’t mind spending money on luxury! But no, it does not have to be. Look to solutions like the train and buses to save money.

Stay in a less expensive area like Antibes or Menton for cheaper accommodation. And finally, don’t gamble all your money away in the Monte Carlo Casino.

What is the best time of year to visit the South of France?

Most people will undoubtedly say summer, to enjoy the beautiful beaches, great weather, and lively atmosphere of the high season. However, it can get extremely crowded and more expensive. Look to May, June, and September for the perfect balance.

Do you need a car in the South of France?

Not necessarily. If you just want to stay on the coast and enjoy the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, along with the major towns in this area, then you definitely don’t need a car. To go further and see some mountain top villages and more diverse nature, then you will need to rent.

What is the difference between Saint Tropez and Monaco?

Both are very luxurious playgrounds for the rich and famous, but they are not the same place.

Monaco is actually a tiny, separate country in the south of France. Saint Tropez is a town at the tip of a peninsula. Monaco is much more city-like while Saint Tropez can feel like a village if it’s not too crowded.

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