While the Riviera has maintained a glam reputation since the ’50s (Brigitte Bardot basking on Saint-Tropez’s beaches; A-listers strutting down Cannes’ red carpet), there is more to le Midi than just its jet-set resort towns—including idyllic bohemian islands and hilltop medieval towns housing their own Michelin-starred restaurants. Whether you are looking for a day that starts (and ends) with rosé at a celeb-filled beach club or prefer a more secluded seaside escape, here are eight must-see destinations to check off during a visit to the South of France.By Lane NiesetFebruary 14, 2019Share on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Pinterest
Saint-Tropez swells in the summer months as yachts creep into port, but a quick stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Old Town reveals what attracted celebrities to this former fishing village in the first place. Start your morning at La Tarte Tropézienne with an espresso and a slice of the patisserie’s namesake cream-filled brioche (a Brigitte Bardot favorite when she was shooting the 1950s film “And God Created Woman”), then take your petit-déjeuner across the square to the Place des Lices and stroll through the stands of cheese and flowers at the open-air Provencal market, held every Tuesday and Saturday morning. After gathering a basket-full of picnic fixings, head over to the 15th-century stone Portalet Tower and work off those breakfast calories during a coastal hike along the peninsula’s best beaches—accessed otherwise only by boat. At one of the most famous, Pampelonne, you’ll find the swankiest of Saint-Tropez’s beach clubs like Le Club 55 and Miami Beach transplant Nikki Beach, whose anything-goes spirit and lavish costume parties are known to draw celebrities. For something more low-key, trek down to the tucked-away cove of L’Escalet Beach, where you can spread out on a shore sans tourists. Back in town, pause on the port at Sénéquier for a coffee and prime people watching until dinner at the buzzy, Asian-inspired BanH-Hoï, a Saint-Tropez institution in Old Town. Night owls can dance the evening away at the legendary nightclub Les Caves du Roy in Hôtel Byblos; for those ready to call it a night, head up the hill to the secluded 28-room Saint Amour La Tartane Hotel.
Do: Rent a small boat and explore the glamorous resorts and sun-soaked beaches of the French Riviera from the sea.
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Provence is a blanket term for the southeastern part of France that sprawls along the Mediterranean coastline and up into the rolling, vineyard-lined hills beyond. The best way to take in the region is by car, starting in the storybook-like medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence. Make the former farming estate of Domaine de Manville your home base, whose stylish hotel and pastoral 100-acre grounds are within easy reach of Les Baux’s more famous neighbors like Aix-en-Provence and the walled city of Avignon. Sit in the center of Aix and sip a glass of cool rosé on the terrace of Les Deux Garçons—the legendary brasserie has been frequented by everyone from painter Pablo Picasso to chanteuse Édith Piaf—or linger over a spread of foie gras, beef tartar, and black tiger prawns at the shabby-chic restaurant L’Agape in Avignon. When you’re ready to hit the road and cruise through Provence’s signature lavender fields, set your GPS to the 13-room Les Gorges de Pennafort, home to Philippe Da Silva’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Not only is the restaurant a destination in itself, it’s also close to the Gorges du Verdon, a river valley carved with scenic hiking trails that’s been called the Grand Canyon of Europe.
Do: Discover the medieval villages and world famous wineries of Châteauneuf-du-Pape on a small-group day tour.
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Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the town of Hyères, less than an hour from Saint-Tropez, lies an archipelago of three islands with coastlines as white as the Caribbean and vineyards producing rosé on par with some of Provence’s most iconic wineries. On the largest of the islands, Porquerolles, a small village sits in a square along the port that’s full of locally owned restaurants like Pélagos. (Order the catch of the day grilled à la plancha and rosé from Domaine Perzinsky, one of island’s three wineries.) The four-mile-long-by-two-mile-wide (and car-free) island is lined with over 37 miles of marked trails that are best explored by bike. After packing a picnic of local produce and wine from one of main square’s market stalls, rent a set of wheels from Le Cycle Porquerollais (full-day rentals are 15 euros). It’s not hard to navigate the island, but one of the most beautiful beaches worth seeking out is Plage Notre Dame, about a 15-minute ride away on the north coast. After a day of beach hopping and biking, soak up views of the sea on the terrace at L’Orangerie. Because this isn’t a town that stays up late, call it an early night at one of the two stand-out hotels: the charming 25-room Villa Sainte Anne, which overlooks the main square, or the antiques-filled Le Mas du Langoustier, a regal Provencal residence-turned-hotel hidden away on the western side of the island.
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Cannes has been synonymous with cinema for the past 70 years, so slip on your chicest set of heels and take a walk just like the stars along the infamous Boulevard de la Croisette, which separates boutiques like Chanel from the beach. For parties that seep from day into night, Bâoli Beach Cannes is your place. At midnight, the restaurant transforms into a roaring nightclub where sparkler-filled magnums are the norm. (Its sister spot, on the far end of the Croisette in the Port Pierre Canto, is also known for hosting some of the hottest events during the film festival.) If you want to get a sense of where the city started over 400 years ago, take a stroll through the streets lining the hill of Le Suquet, the Old Town. From the Old Port below, hop a ferry to the Lérins Islands, where you’ll find untouched sandy shores and wine crafted by Cistercian monks, the islands’ only residents. Île Sainte-Marguerite is the largest and closest island to mainland Cannes and home to historical sites like the cell of the Man in the Iron Mask as well as haute seaside eatery, La Guérite. Back in town, dine in a villa at L’Antidote, whose menu weaves market-fresh ingredients into rich dishes like foie gras-stuffed ravioli. JS Tip: If you want to sample a Provence specialty, try Chef Christophe Ferré’s version of bouillabaisse seafood stew. After a day of sightseeing, rest your feet in one of the major hotels hugging the Croisette, such as the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez (home to the city’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant) or the Belle-Époque palace known as Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic.