Fast Cars, Nude Beaches, and High-Rollers: The 4-Day Weekend on the French Riviera

FrenchRiviera
La Croisette Boulevard in Cannes  Henryk Sadura / Getty Images


If you’ve only seen the French Riviera in movies and paparazzi photos, you’ve seen nothing. Yes, the stunning Cote d’Azur—that glamorous, sunbaked coastal strip along the south of France named for its glittering turquoise waters—is a playground for Europe’s rich and famous, but even anyone can bask in the generosity of its year-round balmy temperatures and decadent French and Italian influences.

 

 

There’s certainly culture here (you can visit the Picasso Museum in Antibes, Museé Matisse in Nice, and the Fondation Maeght in the medieval village of Saint-Paul de Vence), but the real appeal is the ability for anyone—not just those with an AmEx Black and personal driver—to beach hop from one chic town to the next, without sacrificing a single photo opp or glass of rosé.

Beach umbrellas in France
Kirsty Lee / EyeEm / Getty Images

Better yet, more consistent and efficient transportation options are making it easier than ever to navigate as much of the French Riviera (plus Paris!) in as little time as possible. From the nude beaches of St. Tropez to the Hollywood glamour of Cannes and the high-rolling luxury of Monte Carlo, a long weekend is all you need to hit the major hot spots along the Cote d’Azur (with a little relaxation time built right in). Here’s what to do, where to stay, where to eat, and how to get around.

Friday

Morning: Take a red-eye into Paris so you don’t miss a second of your already too-short long weekend. You can snag a croissant and a café crème pretty much anywhere (no one in Paris could mess up those two staples), but instead of wandering around in a post-plane daze, make a reservation ahead of time at Café Méricourt. They offer a full brunch menu from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. and are famous for their shakshuka, but the sweet pancakes made with lemon and honey ricotta will also erase any lingering memories of in-flight fare.

Afternoon: Paris looks intimidating on a map, but at just 41 square miles, it’s possible to hit all of the city’s highlights in just a few hours (at least for photos). Download the LIME app to snag one of the bright white and green e-scooters laying around town—at one euro per ride plus 0.15 euros per minute, they’re the cheapest ways to navigate the City of Light besides your own two feet. And with a speed of up to 24 kilometers per hour, they’re ideal for dodging the bumper-to-bumper traffic that takes over the twisty, narrow streets at all hours. Start at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, then cross the Seine to make your way up to the Louvre. Then dip into the lush Jardin des Tuileries before motoring up the ritzy Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the imposing L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile. The scooters cover up to 50 kilometers, so cross the Seine once more to finish at the Eiffel Tower; you can sit down for a late lunch or early dinner nearby at Au Petit Tonneau, which is not just authentic but affordable, too.

Evening: Head back to the airport to catch a 90-minute flight down to St. Tropez (they leave once or twice an hour from both the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports). It’s enough time for a quick nap, so when you land in this glitzy beach town you can drop your stuff at Le Sube Hotel—a recently renovated boutique hotel minutes from the beach. Climb up to the rooftop for sundowners before grabbing a late dinner at L’Auberge des Maures, the oldest restaurant in town (Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Brigitte Bardot were once regulars). A set three-course menu will cost you €49, but you can order a la carte as well.

Saturday

Morning: Spend the a.m. sunning on St. Tropez’s famous beaches. The Plage de Tahiti, on Pampelonne beach, is one of the most famous sandy stretches on the coast: The Allied forces landed here in 1944, and since Brigitte Bardot filmed Et Dieu… Créa La Femme here in the 1950s, it’s been the spot to be seen. It’s also been “clothing optional” since the 1960s, but if you’d prefer to skinny dip with a little more privacy, try Plage de La Layet, Gigaro, or Escalet.

Plage de Tahiti
Plage de Tahiti Courtesy of Plage de Tahiti

 

Afternoon: Dine al fresco at one of the many beachfront restaurants along the Pampelonne, then catch the train to Cannes (it takes about 25 minutes, but budget at least another 25 minutes for the taxi from the beach to the station). Home to the most famous film festival, Cannes is worth a stroll but mostly for the sake of ogling the countless couture storefronts and iconic buildings.

Evening: Skip the often gridlocked, hour-long (minimum) ride from Cannes to Nice by calling an UberCOPTER (the option will pop up in your Uber app when you’re in either city). The seven-minute flight costs $160€ per person each way, including rides to and from the airport (a steal compared to what the average Cannes resident is dropping on transportation, judging by the marina). You’ll get priceless views of the azure Mediterranean Sea below and a voyeuristic bird’s-eye view of the billion-dollar homes dotting the coast. Call ahead for seats at Le Plongeior, a seafood restaurant perched on two rocks above the Mediterranean Sea; the catch of the day is always fresh and served with a panoramic view. After indulging in the ice chocolate truffle dessert, make your way home for the night at the Grand Hôtel Du Cap-Ferrat, an iconic Four Seasons property.

Le Plongeior
Le Plongeior Courtesy of Le Plongeior

 

Sunday

Morning: If there were ever a spot to sleep in, the Grand Hôtel Du Cap-Ferrat—with its cloud-like mattresses and secluded spot at the end of Cap-Ferrat peninsula—would be it. But don’t be mad when the golden Mediterranean light beaming through the French windows wakes you; take advantage of the early morning with a dip in the seaside infinity pool followed by a decadent buffet breakfast on the hotel’s protected property.

Afternoon: Explore the maze of Vieux Nice, full of cafes, shops, and ochre-colored buildings in the architectural style of La Belle Epoque (it’s easy to see why artists like Matisse and Chagall called Nice home at one point or another). Then stroll down the four-kilometer Promenade des Anglais, where you can check out landmarks both old (the art-deco Palais de la Méditerranée, built in 1929) and new (local sculptor Sabine Géraudie constructed La Chaise de SAB in 2014). Stock up on fresh produce and snacks like socca (chickpea pancakes) at the Saleya market before catching a 25-minute train over to Monaco.

Evening: Live out all your James Bond fantasies with one last night in Monte-Carlo. Unless you’re a seriously high-roller, you’re not going to see where the real money gets dropped at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, but you can walk in and play European Roulette, English Roulette, Trente et Quarante, Blackjack, and Texas Hold’em poker. The building itself is a masterpiece and the glossy cars lined up out front are enough to make you drool while you wait for seats at one of the two restaurants on site, Le Train Bleu and Le Salon Rose. If you’re not into the casino scene, you can reserve a spot at the Michelin-starred Le Louis XV for (not cheap) local delicacies; sip the only craft beer in Monaco at Brasserie de Monaco; or dance and people-watch until the wee hours at Café de Paris.

Monday

Morning: Good news: Since flying back to the States from Europe is like flying back in time, you don’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch your flight. Sleep off your hangover, then make your way to Museum of Antique Automobiles, where you can gawk at roughly 100 classic cars from Prince Rainier III’s private collection—including the Rolls Royce Grace Kelly rode in on her wedding day, the 2013 Lotus Formula One race car, and many more.