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A Jaunt Along the French Riviera

One of the best-known and beloved resort areas of the world, the Côte d' Azur, or the French Riviera, is located on the southeast coast of France. It stretches east, approximately from the city of Cannes to the border of Italy. Moving east to west, here are some of our favorite Côte d' Azur stops.
Cannes

Within easy access of the Maritime Alps, Cannes, a city of about 700,000 people, stands out for its sandy, mostly public beaches. It is, of course, also known internationally for the Cannes Film Festival, held annually in May, which is a major event for the world film industry and, therefore, a great place for celebrity watching. In contrast — and to the surprise of many — the area around Cannes has developed into a high-tech center.

Cannes was a small agricultural and fishing village from the Middle Ages to the early 1800s. The man responsible for building the city into what it is today was Lord Henry Peter Brougham. This repected British politician "discovered" Cannes on his way to Italy in 1834. He bought land in the area and used his many political contacts to help develop the French Riviera. Soon, foreign and French aristocrats constructed vacation homes in the vicinity, giving birth to the Cannes as a resort city.

Cannes is often considered an extension of the luxury shopper's dream street, Rue Du Fauborg Saint-Honoré in Paris. You'll find shop after shop of haute couture, jewelry, leatherwork, and interior design.

Nice

Nice is a city of about 935,000 people, making it the second-largest city in France. It is also a major tourist area on the Côte d' Azur. The city sits almost entirely on the beachfront, although the beaches are rocky and don't have the soft white sand of the Cannes beaches. This city is famous for its shopping opportunities — including cutting-edge fashion — and for its cuisine, including several local specialties, such as pissaladiere, a pie with onions and anchovy paste. Today's Nice is a conglomeration of the many cultures that have inhabited it, beginning with the Greeks of Marseille, who founded the town in the 5th Century B.C.

Sights not to miss include Nice's beautiful harbor and the Promenade des Anglais, the city's bustling boardwalk. There are numerous museums, the most famous being the Matisse Museum that features the works of the French artist who was so inspired by the city's colors and lines. The Musee d' Art Moderne et d' Art Contemporain (the Museum of Modern and Contemporary art) is world famous and has a permanent collection of avant-garde art since the 1960s.

You will also want to wander through the narrow streets of Old Nice, known as Vieux Nice, where you will find some of the city's best restaurants, shops, and lots of nightlife. Another shopping and hopping area is Avenue Jean Medecin, Nice's major thoroughfare. Finally, visit Le Chateau for the stunning view it provides of the city and the sea.

Villefranche-Sur-Mer

With a population of just under 7,000, this lovely community is about four miles east of Nice, separated by Mont Boron. First settled in 1295, Villefranche has the deepest harbor of any port in the Mediterranean Sea, and as such as used the base for the United States' 6th Fleet until 1968 and is still sometimes used by the U.S. Navy today. Along the harbor you'll find the Promenade des Marinieres, built on the terraced hills overlooking the harbor. At water's edge is the great wall and Citadel, a fortress built in 1557 by the Duke of Savoy, Emmanuel Philbert. Today the Citadel is home to a congress center, the town hall, an open-air theater, and three museums.

Villefranche is popular with tourists because of its sandy beaches, mild climate, and the charming atmosphere of its Old Town, but property here is very expensive. Popular celebrities of the past who lived here include authors Aldous Huxley and Katherine Mansfield and to actor Jean Cocteau. Today its most famous resident is probably Tina Turner.

Beaulieu

Because it is protected by a rock face, this town boasts that it is one of the Côte d' Azur's warmest winter resorts, claiming only four days of frost per year. The town of about 4,000 has two beaches, the Baie des Fourmis and, next to the port, Petite Afrique.

The town has an old-fashioned air, one you'll especially notice by the casino, gardens, and the Belle Epoque Rotunda, which now houses a museum and a conference center.

What gives the town its greatest fame is the lavish Villa Kerylos, which resembles an ancient Greek villa. Though it was completed in 1908, authentic Greek techniques and materials were used in its construction.

Story by Jacqueline Shannon
Photography by Bob Thompson

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