Fancy a Mediterranean bolthole just like Jo Vickers and her family? picks out eight Riviera towns that are just perfect for a pied-à-terre
Eight Riviera towns that are perfect for your seaside bolthole
- Department: Alpes-maritimes - Population: 28,231 - Average house price: €423,400
Just before the Italian border, at the far eastern reaches of the Riviera, Menton is known for its lemons – it holds a spectacular carnival every February/march celebrating the citrus fruit, which thrive due to the local climate, said to be the best on the Côte d’azur. The crescentshaped sandy bay is backed by colourful buildings with beachside restaurants and bars, all overlooked by the foothills of the Alps. There’s a medieval old town, Jean Cocteau museum and popular Serra de la Madone gardens. You’ll find a definite Italian influence here, from the architecture to the cuisine. Menton is popular with househunters seeking a more sleepy and relaxed seaside atmosphere than some of the more glitzy Riviera towns.
- Department: Alpes-maritimes - Population: 342,522 - Average house price: €470,000
Capital of the Riviera, Nice offers a mix of real town and holiday vibes, with hilly streets leading down to the harbour, sandy beach and the Promenade des Anglais – named after the English aristocrats who wintered here in the 18th century. The city has a rich history – it was founded by Greek sailors around 350BC – and heritage sites include Roman ruins on the Colline du Château. The annual carnival is the highlight of a busy annual calendar, while museums include those dedicated to artists such as Chagall and Matisse, both once inhabitants of Nice. The city’s size means it offers a plethora of restaurants, nightlife, culture and shopping – don’t miss the Cours Saleya flower market – and househunters have a choice of different districts.
Closeby, the deep harbour at Villefranchesur-mer (population 5,112) was for centuries the only natural harbour on the Med, and it also has a quaint old town, while the small exclusive peninsula of St-jean-cap-ferrat is home to some of the priciest properties on the Riviera (€9,912/€14,207 per m2).
- Department: Alpes-maritimes - Population: 49,322 - Average house price: €450,000
This Riviera town has a 3.5km pebbly beach, port and old quarter, complete with castle – dating from the 14th-16th centuries, Château Grimaldi was once the most important base in the region. Cagnes is known for its horseracing course and Renoir museum (the town was the Impressionist painter’s last home). Just inland, the hilltop village of St-paul-de-vence is known as the artists’ village and has many galleries, most importantly the Fondation Maeght museum of modern art.
- Department: Alpes-maritimes - Population: 74,875 - Average house price: €558,000
Founded by the Greeks as a trading post, the port town of Antibes later fell under the rule of the powerful Grimaldi family – one of their châteaux now houses the Picasso museum. Today Antibes is a quintessential Riviera resort, with beaches – 48 of them – marina, seafront restaurants, lively nightlife and old town. Just west of Antibes, the small and exclusive resort of Juan-les-pins is popular with celebrities, and is famous for its Jazz à Juan festival. France’s silicon valley, Sophia Antipolis, is also nearby.
- Department: Alpes-maritimes - Population: 74,285 - Average house price: €485,000
Cannes is a busy place all year round, not just in May when the rich and famous come to town for the International Film Festival. The transformation from quiet fishing village to resort town began when the wealthy English Lord Brougham fell for the place in the 1830s. He built a villa and returned every winter for 34 years. Many grand 19th-century villas still stand, particularly in the Quartier des Anglais.
The seafront is where most of the action is, along the mile-long Promenade de la Croisette with its luxury hotels, restaurants and shops.
Cannes’ old town, Le Suquet, forms a labyrinth of yet more shops, restaurants and bars, as well as a monastery turned museum. Just off the coast lie the picturesque Iles de Lérins.
St-raphaël & Fréjus
- Department: Var - Population: 35,296 & 52,897 - Average house price: €480,000 (St-raphaël); €403,200 (Fréjus)
There’s less development along the Esterel coast partly because the hills and pine forests reach almost to the water’s edge; St-raphaël and Fréjus are the only towns of any size. The rocky hills are popular with walkers, while the coastline has many small coves, often only accessible by foot from the coastal road, the Corniche de l’esterel with its magnificent sea views. St-raphaël is the smaller resort, a relatively laidback place with sandy beaches, old town, hotels, casino and 19th-century basilica. Its neighbour, Fréjus is a historic city dating back to before Roman times (ruins include an amphitheatre and aqueduct), and popular today for its large marina.
- Department: Var - Population: 4,305 - Average house price: €2.62m
South of Fréjus the coast becomes rocky and forested again, backed by the Massif des Maures. St-tropez is perhaps the most famous of all the Riviera resorts. In the distant past a peaceful fishing port, it has long been the haunt of the wealthy and famous – Brigitte Bardot helped to put it on the map when she posed on the beach in her bikini in the 1960s; she still lives here today, although much more quietly. With its old port and historic centre, St-tropez remains popular with jetsetters, offering a picture-perfect holiday environment with plenty of shops, hotels, beaches, cafés and restaurants.
Across the bay sits Ste-maxime (population 14,289). The two resorts are not only separated by water, they’re miles apart in terms of celebrity cachet and property prices. For those on a budget who want access to St-trop, Ste-maxime is a good alternative with an average house price of €650,000. Consider too the smaller resort of Le Lavandou (population 5,533, average price €520,000). Both have old towns, harbours, shops, markets and hotels.
The colourful old town of Menton
Capital of the Riviera, Nice has a seven-mile-long promenade alonsgide the sandy beach