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French Riviera: Most Scenic Drives

Eze and Cap Ferrat, viewed from the Grande Corniche
Photo: by bhotchkies  
Eze & the peninsula of Cap Ferrat, French Riviera, viewed from the Grande Corniche

Driving Decisions

Let's say you only have a short week to visit the French Riviera. Where should you go? What should you do? What can you simply not miss? 

If you've been bottled up for months without any sun and stressed like a tightrope, you might want to stretch on warm sand until your batteries recharge.  

But what if you're all charged up and ready to tour the French Riviera on wheels? What would be the best drives in the French Riviera?

Lonely Planet recently added a nifty book to their "Best Trips" series to help answer this question. Lonely Planet France's Best Trips (Travel Guide) covers 37 road trips across all of la belle France. Two of these road trips cover the French Riviera.

Painting of Eze and corniches by Georgette Piccon

Cornering the Corniches

In Chapter 23, the Best Trips France guide recommends a drive along the trio of Corniches above Villefranche, Eze, and Monaco.

Running parallel to each other, the three sister roads are named Grande Corniche, Moyenne Corniche and Basse Corniche. They dominate the coast from Nice to Menton in varying degrees of altitude.

The eldest is the highest, the Grande Corniche. Constructed under Napoléon, it roughly follows the path of the great roman Via Iulia Augusta paved road. The Grande Corniche is probably the most famous of the three for its roman roots, but also thanks to Grace Kelly. Before she became Princess Grace of Monaco in 1956, Grace Kelly was filmed on the Grande Corniche for Hitchcocks's "To Catch a Thief" movie. Sadly, an offshoot of the Grande Corniche also claimed the princess' life in 1982, when her car plunge down a cliff after she suffered a stroke.

The Moyenne Corniche offers stunning views while the little sister, the Basse Corniche or Corniche Inférieure hugs the coastline. While we don't consider it inferior to its bigger sisters, The Corniche Inférieure does clog up in the summer. It links together the coastal towns of Villefranche, Beaulieu, Eze, Cap d'Ail, Monaco, Roquebrune Cap Martin, Menton.

Even if the French Riviera Corniches are legendary, they can be unnerving with their winding ways, their packs of bicycles emerging beyond a bend and their distractingly stunning views. Yet they remain what the French would call incontournables, or inescapable, if you are driving your way around the French Riviera.

We especially appreciate Lonely Planet's Chapter 23 for its useful tips on driving the corniches: the recommended direction for each slice of drive, stops for tasty treats along the way, best days to hop across the Italian border, carefully chosen highlights for each stop. 

Beyond Cannes, French Riviera
Photo:  Fotografiert von Björn Hauffe 
The Bay of Cannes, French Riviera, viewed from the coastal road by Théoule

Cruising the Coast

The next chapter in Best Trips France recommends a drive along the coast from Mougins heading east all the way to Cap Ferrat.

The chapter is spot on with its recommendations for stops along the way - all the classic not-to-be-missed are there including Juan les Pins, Antibes, Biot and others.

Also included is a "Detour" we know and cherish: the coastal drive between red rocky pitons of the Estérel and the jagged coastline between Cannes and Agay. A jewel among the French Riviera scenic drives, to be driven slowly and thoroughly enjoyed! 

Walks in Cannes

Cannes, French Riviera: Walking La Croisette

The New York Times agrees, Cannes is great for strolling. (see NY Times article on best walks in Cannes).

The NYTimes' Top Walks in Cannes?

La Croisette, not surprisingly. The seaside promenade along the Bay of Cannes is the most photographed part of town. We enjoy it most in the late evening, when the sun sets and the city lights begin to glow.

The old town quarters of Le Suquet perched up above the port with its steep cobblestone streets (warnig: high heels nightmare!), its quaint restaurants, large and animated Forville marché and the Musée de la Castre for its incredible views.

AzurAlive's Top Walk around Cannes? :

Island of Saint Honorat, French Riviera, photo by La Tonnelle
The Island of St Honorat, a lush green jewel just beyond the Bay of Cannes. This rare and protected island is home to a monastery of the cistercian congregation. Monks live and work there in silence, cultivating plots of land, caring for the 19 acres or so of vines (Chardonnay, Clairette, Syrah, Mourvedre and recent Pinot Noir grape varieties).

Respectful visitors are welcome on the island, and it's a treat to walk along its footpaths. Set aside about 3 hours to soak in the sites of St Honorat, the scents of the sea, the pine needles, the flowers. And why not reserve a table for lunch at the main restaurant on the island, La Tonnelle.

It's a 20-mins ferry hop over from the old port of Cannes. Check out the current ferry schedule to St Honorat.

St Honorat Island, from their Facebook Photos