FRENCH RIVIERA DRIVING TOURS
1. Var Coastline and The Golden Islands
Round trip of 146 miles starting from Toulon
The city of Toulon should be visited in the local tradition, in other words at a leisurely pace, taking time to explore the intricate streets shaded by centuries-old plane trees. After dropping by the lively marché Lafayette and choosing a few fresh vegetables and mouthwatering local treats, set out to discover “the most beautiful harbor” on the Riviera, passing by Pointe du Fort Balaguier and Cap Sicié. Nestled between land and sea, Sanary and Bandol, and their islands of Bendor and Embiez, will seduce you with their heavenly setting. Farther on, the perched villages of Le Castellet, Beausset and Evenos compose the perfect picture of Provençal bliss. Next, admire the harbor from atop Mont Faron. Continue to the bird sanctuary at La Londe for an escape to the tropics. Treat yourself to a stay on the gorgeous islands of Port-Cros and Porquerolles; the underwater sightseeing trail offers incomparable views of the sea’s fauna and flora for divers and snorkelers. A tour of the Mine de Cap-Garonne at Le Pradet is the perfect way to round off your outing.
2. Le Haut Var
Round trip of 152 miles starting from Draguignan
This itinerary will take you across the upper stretches of the Var Valley, with its rolling wooded countryside dotted with old abbeys and remarkable sites: Tourtour nestling on the crest of a hill overlooking olive groves; Cotignac perched precariously on a cliff; Villecroze and Seillans enhanced by hardened volcanic ash rock formations; Entrecasteaux, whose château is graced by gardens attributed to Le Nôtre. You’ll be surprised by the diversity of the villages and towns you encounter. Some clearly enjoy perpetuating local tradition while others promote a more dynamic artisan culture. Don’t miss the colorful markets offering truffles, goat’s cheese or olives, depending on the season, and the restaurants, where you will be served tasty regional cuisine pleasantly seasoned with aromatic herbs.
3. Le Massif des Maures
Round trip of 171 miles starting from Fréjus
Far away from the coast and its bustling crowd, this tour will take you through refreshingly cool forests of cork oak and the pretty Gratteloup arboretum, where eucalyptus, chestnut, maple, cedar and juniper trees exude their intoxicating aroma. Visit the superb Domaine du Rayol, laid out at the turn of the 20th century, and discover regional arts and crafts: the cork industry in Gonfaron; marrons glacés in Collobrières; pipe-making and carpet weaving in Cogolin. The hill villages of Ramatuelle, Grimaud and Gassin command panoramic views of the coast, as do the Moulins de Paillas. Before taking a swim in one of the many sheltered rocky inlets, you may want to settle on the terrace of the Sénéquier in St-Tropez alongside the rich and famous or you may prefer to browse among the market stalls in the old port in the hope of chancing upon a fake Picasso.
4. Massif de l’Esterel and the Fayence Region
Round trip of 177 miles starting from Cannes
Whatever the season, this itinerary will prove an enchanting experience on many counts: the rich, luxuriant vegetation, the chirping of the cicadas, the delicately fragrant mimosa blossoms, the warm embrace of the sun and the red rock of the Esterel heights. Running between La Napoule and Agay, the Corniche d’Or offers stunning views of the sea. You’ll find it hard to resist the charms of St-Raphaël, a lively seaside resort, and Fréjus, with its exceptional Roman and military heritage, not to mention Fréjus-Plage, which boasts the longest sandy beach on the Riviera. Farther inland, the Fayence area will introduce you to a host of perched villages huddled on mountain slopes, dominated by vestiges of their medieval citadels: Caillan, Fayence, Tourrettes, Seillan, Tanneron and Auribeau-sur-Siagne.
5. Fragrances and Colors of the Pre-Alps
Round trip of 134 miles starting from Grasse
The Pre-Alps of Provence, extending to the foot of the Alpine range and cut across by steep ravines, offer a delightful combination of colors and fragrances, where the heady smells of olive and cypress trees vie with the more subtle scent of rose, jasmin, oleander and violet. Grasse’s reputation is built on flowers, so don’t miss the International Museum of Perfume and the different perfumeries explaining the secrets of the trade. The entrance to the Gorges du Loup is the perfect place to stop and admire the hill village of Gourdon, jealously guarding its abyss, and the Caussols Plateau, a curiously barren stretch of land riddled with chasms. After observing the geological formations in the caves of St-Vallier and St-Cézaire, continue to St-Paulde-Vence, a typical medieval village known for its crafts and world-class art gallery, and to the delightful hamlet of Tourrettes-sur-Loup, where terraced violet fields have been cultivated from generation to generation. The Baou of St-Jeannet dominating the Var River is a sheer rocky cliff popular among seasoned climbers. Lastly, the coastal road stretching between Cagnes-sur-Mer and Antibes offers pretty views of the Baie des Anges and access to a number of contemporary art museums.
6. Arrière-Pays Niçois
Round trip of 168 miles starting from Nice
This driving tour will provide you with a fascinating selection of natural sites and architectural riches: quaint perched villages, chapels decorated by famous painters or unknown artists from the Middle Ages, steep cliffs overlooking gorges echoing with the swirling of crystal-clear waters and lush forests rustling with the sounds of local fauna. Running alongside the lower Var Valley, bordered to the west by the Baou of St Jeannet, approach the heights to the rear of Nice, dominated by Mont Chauve. After driving through Aspremont, Levens and Duranus, take an hour or two to admire the breathtaking Vésubie Gorges. From there, brace yourself for the long series of steep hairpin bends leading up to the Madone d’Utelle sanctuary, a popular place of pilgrimage, and the nearby belvedere commanding a splendid panorama of the Alpes-Maritimes and the Mediterranean. Proceeding upstream along the Vésubie River towards Col de Turini, gateway to the vast Forêt de Turini, stop at Bollène-Vésubie, precariously nestling on a mountain slope. On reaching L’Authion, go round to Pointe des Trois-Communes and feast your eyes on the sweeping landscape. Continue towards the Gorges of Piaon. After the curious Notre-Dame-de-la-Menour Chapel, with its two-story Renaissance façade, head for Sospel, springing from its verdant setting, and visit its fortified bridge and imposing Maginot Line fort. Drive through several passes before rejoining Lucéram Valley, famed for its heritage museums and religious artworks. Finally, three belvederes, each home to a small village, Berre, Falicon and Tourrettes, will complete your tour of the Nice hinterland.
7. The Corniches of the Riviera
Round trip of 155.5 miles starting from Nice.
If you have seen Hitchcock’s thriller To Catch a Thief, then you will know that it is advisable to hug the road winding its way between Nice and Monte Carlo as closely as possible. This route, which features a series of vertiginous viewpoints, goes past some of the prettiest spots on the Côte d’Azur. Set out from Villefranche, famous not only for its Chapelle St-Pierre decorated by Jean Cocteau, but also for its pretty harbor and succulent seafood dishes. Follow the Grande Corniche up to Roquebrune, with forays downhill to Beaulieu (Villa Kérylos), St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (Villa Rothschild and Villa Santo Sospir) and Èze, the muse of philosopher Frédéric Nietzsche, clinging to its rocky spur, where a tour of artists’ workshops can be pleasantly rounded off by a visit to the Jardin Exotique. Enjoy the view from the Vistaero before descending towards Roquebrune with its medieval castle and venerable olive tree believed to be more than 1,000 years old. After Menton and the Cocteau Museum, the road will take you through the perched villages of Ste-Agnès, Europe’s highest coastal village, Peille and Peillon, where steep alleyways (calades) lead to chapels adorned with fine frescoes. .