WHY WE LOVE IT
- The very essence of France, with added sunshine. Exquisite hotels, dramatic scenery, world-class restaurants
- Follow Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, and Brigitte Bardot along the Corniche roads to Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, St. Tropez for beaches and glamour.
- Explore romantic villages perchés; Roman, Romanesque, and medieval architecture, lavender fields.
- Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Chagall, Cocteau, van Gogh, and Renoir were here.
- Walk sur le Pont d'Avignon, sing the Marseillaise in hip Marseille; drink Châteauneuf-du-Pape in situ. Discover the Camargue and the Vaucluse.
- Good buys: handmade santons (clay crib figurines), Provençal-print fabrics; wine, lavender honey, tapenade and anchoiade, first-pressed olive oil, perfumes from Grasse.
WHEN TO GO
July and August are crammed, hot, and expensive—but fashionable. June and September (with vendange wine) have great weather, fewer crowds. April and May (except in Cannes or Monte Carlo) and October are best-buy months. The warm, damp, moody off-season also has its fans!
LE MOULIN DE MOUGINS
Notre Dame de Vie
A longtime stop on any epicurean odyssey has new life thanks to Roger Vergé's successor Alain Llorca (who divides the menu into "classical," "new and amazing," and "natural") and modernized decor (all-white down to the chandeliers) with a dab of moody eggplant.
RESTAURANT DE BACON
Boulevard de Bacon
A tent-roofed dining room and divine terrace overlooking the Baie des Anges make the perfect setting for this 70-year-old, family-run, fish destination—an open secret among old Côte d'Azur hands who love its casual glamour and superfresh catch of the day.
Hôtel de Paris
Place du Casino
The beyond-opulent Louis Quinze rooms that anchor the Alain Ducasse empire should provide a lifelong memory. Chef de cuisine Franck Cerutti turns out foie gras and Breton blue lobster, but also obscure, labor-intensive Monégasque peasant dishes. Expect royal service—and an enormous check.
L'OUSTAU DE BAUMANIÈRE
Les Baux de Provence
Famous for three decades, chef Jean-André Charial's domain has stone arches, a neutral palette, padded slipper chairs at well-spaced tables—plus a shaded garden. Classics of the region are comme il faut: suckling pig, petits farcis (Niçoise-stuffed vegetables), lamb en croûte. This also happens to be a very fine hotel.
LA COMPAGNIE DES COMPTOIRS
83 Rue Joseph Vernet
A 14th-century convent with handsome cloisters has gone very secular with its red walls, big bedlike couches, palm trees, and backlit bar. The local jeunesse dorée comes for the loungey DJs, but also for the fresh food, listed as Vegetarian, Mediterranean, or Exotic.
10 Rue Lascaris
These few simple wooden tables between terra-cotta walls are Nice's hottest, thanks to young Finnish (yes, from Finland) chef Jouni Tormanen, who is a master of the fish—the freshest around, since it's sourced daily by the owner himself.
Tour du Portalet
St. Tropez, fashionable as it is, is no foodie town, so when you want both ambience (white tablecloths, a full frontal of Golfe de Saint Tropez, shaded terrace) and gourmandizing (chef-owner Laurent Tarridec's chestnut galette with cèpes and grilled St. Pierre with sardine cream), this is the must-visit place.
Hotel Port Palace
7 Avenue John F. Kennedy
If the name describes the kind of night you want, you shouldn't be disappointed with this serious room with a grandstand view of the Prince's Castle on the Rocher, and François Pillard (a young alum of Burgundy's L'Espérance) tinkering creatively with the classics.
LE MAS CANDILLE
Just outside the Platonic ideal of the hilltop village is this 18th-century farmhouse, with adjunct building La Bastide, in grounds planted with mimosas and lavender. Here's Europe's first Shiseido spa, an ace chef in the restaurant, and 40 capital-R romantic rooms. Pick a Mas room for charm, a new Bastide room for space.
4 Place de la Mirande
This grand 14th-century cardinal's residence with worn flagstones and Louis Seize mirrors has 20 palatial rooms with tapestries and wood paneling, chintz and toile de Jouy, and huge Carrara-marble soaking tubs. To top it off, the restaurant is one of the region's destination tables.
Route des Plages
Chemin Val Rian
The glam of St. Trop without its frenetic pace: This impeccable bastide two miles from the coast has lush grounds of lemon, palm, and pine trees, a great spa with custom products, and a shell grotto bar. Stunning Florentine-Baroque decor extends to the 39 rooms, some with to-die-for Bay of Pampelonne–view terraces.
3 Avenue Jean Monnet
St. Jean Cap Ferrat
Polished marble, black-and-white checkerboard floors, and muted slate colors—plus a superb restaurant and a Decleor spa—set the sophisticated tone at this calm 1904 villa in landscaped gardens. The best bedrooms overlook olive and orange trees to the sea; avoid the underwhelming standard rooms.
LE BASTIDE DE MOUSTIERS
Chemin de Quinson
Chef-supreme Alain Ducasse owns this heavenly 17th-century bastide in the Alpes de Haute Provence, meaning the kitchen is the heart of the place (you may visit anytime). The dozen rooms vary—there are sleep lofts, private terraces, semi-open bathrooms—but all share an achingly romantic pastel-shaded country mood.
Rue de la Monnaie
One for the style set. The baronial, gated 19th-century stone house and converted stables have eight white rooms, some with vaulted beamed ceilings and slipcovered armchairs, others refined with plaster moldings and coroneted beds. Grounds have cypresses, Paris park chairs, and stone urns, and there's a small spa-hammam in the stone vaults.
3 Quai Amiral Courbet
Villefranche sur mer
Ample charm and good value mark this aptly named seafront hotel that Jean Cocteau used to love. Updated rooms (with satellite TV, minibar, and A/C) have plain-Jane stripes or florals; front and corner ones add balconies with Riviera views.
3 Avenue des Fleurs
You want wacky décor (yellow-glass shower stall, monkey bars, mad colors), a "hi"-energy bar with trip-hop DJs, and the kind of self-conscious hipsterness that's thin on the Côte d'Azur ground? Here it is!
164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez
Henri Matisse came to Nice in 1916, lived around town, then moved to the neighborhood of Cimiez; since 1993, this villa has showcased a great little selection of his works.
St. Paul de Vence
Small, but incredible, this museum in the pines above the town showcases Cannes gallerists Aimé and Marguerite Maeght's collections, with Matisse and Miró, Chagall, Braque, Bonnard, Calder, Léger, and Giacometti represented.
GORGES DU VERDON
This huge canyon with its vertical calcareous cliffs gashes through Var and the Alpes de Haute Provence and is viewable from many vantage points. It also comes in handy for white-water rafting, kayaking, waterskiing, sailing, fishing, and so on.
In this largely 18th-century college town, you can see Cézanne's family estate Jas de Bouffan, and the Musée Granet. People-watch at Aux deux Garçons on the Cours Mirabeau. If it's Tuesday or Thursday, don't miss the markets. After June 2006, dance fans must visit the Centre Choréographique National (preljocaj.org).
Is it really all that? Well, oui, if you like to hang with paparazzi prey. Kate Moss here, Diddy's yacht there, Etro and Hermès all over, but you can still discern the sweet fishing village underneath. For glitz, try the new Pearl Beach lounge (thepearlbeach.com); for calm, catch a game of boules and the market on the Place des Lices.
Vincent's town, though it's sadly devoid of actual van Goghs. Still, visit l'Espace Van Gogh, the cultural center they've made of the institution where he received treatment. Arles is equally renowned for its Roman ruins—the largest group outside Italy.
The Holy See was based at the Palais des Papes from 1309 to 1377, then the Avignon popes stuck it out here till 1417, and now their palace is one of the essential sights of Provence. There's also Pont d'Avignon, Pont St. Bénezet, and an unfair quota of incredible restaurants.
The Grimaldis' Principality is only three miles by one-and-a-half, but it has a vast, entirely deserved, reputation. Spread before the famous Palais Princier on the rock are high-rises, gin-palace yachts, luxe shops and restaurants and, most famously, casinos.