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Michelin Green Guide French Riviera

By: Michelin
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This eBook version of the Green Guide French Riviera is completely revised and expanded, featuring dozens of new sights, hotels, restaurants, and maps. The guide presents top attractions, the most interesting towns, shopping hot spots, and places to eat and stay for a variety of budgets, allowing travelers to plan their trip in advance or be spontaneous on site. Explore historic hilltop towns, sample the region’s rosé wines, or take to sea with our scuba diving, sailing and fishing advice. Michelin's celebrated star-rating system makes sure you see the best of the French Riviera.

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HISTORY

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History

Events in italics indicate milestones in history.

BC

1500 Engravings in the Vallée des Merveilles.

900 The Ligurians occupy the Mediterranean seaboard.

600 Founding of Massalia (Marseille) by the Phocaeans. They bring olive, fig, nut, cherry trees, the cultivated vine; they substitute money for barter.

5–4C The Greek settlers in Marseille introduce trading posts: Hyères, St-Tropez, Antibes, Nice and Monaco. The Celts invade Provence, mingling with the Ligurians.

GALLO-ROMAN PROVENCE

122 The Romans intervene to protect Marseille from the Celts, whom they defeat in 124.

102 Marius defeats the Teutons from Germania, near Aix.

58–51 Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar.

49 Julius Caesar founds Fréjus.

6 Building of the Alpine Trophy at La Turbie.

AD

1, 2 and 3C Roman civilisation in evidence in some coastal towns (Fréjus, Cimiez, Antibes); the Via Aurelia (Ventimiglia-Brignoles-Aix) is the country’s main highway.

 

ART AND CULTURE

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Art and Culture

HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE

The Riviera enjoys an incredibly rich art and architectural heritage, dating from Antiquity right up to the present day. Whether you’re exploring the alleyways of picturesque perched villages or strolling along the coast, you’ll find every major architectural movement reflected in this region.

GALLO-ROMAN REMAINS

Provence and particularly the Riviera have enjoyed a high level of prosperity since Roman times. As later generations took the materials used by the Romans to construct their own new buildings, only a few fragments of this ancient civilisation have survived. Despite this fact, in the districts of Fayence, Fréjus and St-Raphaël, Roman canals are still being used to carry water to this day!

The Roman ruins at Cimiez are extensive and consist of one of the best preserved bath complexes in southern Europe. Fréjus still boasts an impressive restored arena and fascinating traces of a Roman harbour.

 

NATURE

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Nature

TOPOGRAPHY

A LANDSCAPE OF CONTRASTS

Coastline

Extending from Bandol to Menton, the Riviera landscape is extremely varied. The sheltered inlets between the red rock promontories of the Esterel differ markedly from the great sweeping bays and flat shores which gently punctuate the coastline; while elsewhere on the coast, such as at Cap Sicié, mountains plunge steeply into the sea, sheer as a wall.

Relief

Inland, the countryside is just as varied. The fertile plains and foothills of Provence are covered by typically Mediterranean vegetation dotted with barren, rugged heights like those to the north of Toulon. The mountain masses of the Maures, which rise to no more than 2,600ft/800m, are crisscrossed by valleys and ravines and covered with fine forests of cork oak and chestnut; the Esterel massif is dominated by the outline of Mont Vinaigre and the peaks of Pic de l’Ours and Pic du Cap Roux. The country behind Cannes and Nice is one of undulating hills stretching to the Pre-Alps of Grasse, where gorges have been cut into the plateaux and the mountain chains are split by rifts (clues) , particularly in Haute-Provence.

 

TOULON AND AROUND

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DISCOVERING THE FRENCH RIVIERA

Toulon and Around

The city of Toulon and its surrounding villages on the western fringes of the French Riviera are often overlooked by travellers passing through on their way to Provence. But this dynamic region has done much to restore its image over the past decade, offering pleasant surprises throughout the year to curious visitors who take the time to explore its mountain views, charming seaside resorts and historic naval harbour.

Highlights

1 Try your hand at wine-tasting in the prestigious Bandol Vineyards

2 Visit the famous harbour of Toulon, home of the French Navy since the 16C

3 Take in the spectacular views from the top of Mont Faron

4 Explore the Gallo-Roman villa at the Musée de Tauroentum

5 Snorkel in the blue waters off the Îles des Embiez

The Largest Naval Base in France

As the third largest city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region (after Nice to the east and Marseilles to the west), Toulon and its immense harbour have sustained the local economy since the Middle Ages.

 

HYÈRES, THE GOLDEN ISLANDS AND THE MASSIF DES MAURES

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Hyères, The Golden Islands and the Massif des Maures

When most people think of the French Riviera, they imagine sunbathing on secluded beaches, discovering local crafts in the cobblestone streets of historic villages and partying in glitzy clubs surrounded by celebrities. And that’s exactly what visitors to the Golden Islands of Hyères and the Maures Massif will find. This part of the Mediterranean coastline is an Eden-like paradise of unspoilt islands and sandy beaches framed by forested mountains. Chic resorts full of luxury yachts share a decidedly Provençal spirit with tiny perched villages that haven’t changed in centuries. And while humans have made their mark with their lush gardens, Belle Époque mansions, imported palm trees and ancient forts, the natural beauty of the region has been carefully protected from the unchecked development plaguing less fortunate corners of the Côte d’Azur.

Highlights

1 Hire a boat for the day to visit The Golden Islands, a world away from the glitz of the French Riviera

 

INLAND PROVENCE

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Inland Provence

Despite its historic towns and villages, lush green vineyards, dense pine forests and plunging cliffs, the arrière pays or “hinterland” of Provence manages to keep well below the tourist radar. Ideally explored at a leisurely pace, this region is filled with historic gems, from prehistoric funeral monuments and cave villages to towering ramparts and clock towers. Renowned for its olives, truffles and world-famous organic wines, it is also the ideal place to embark on a culinary adventure or two. Tucked away in millennial forests, perched on rocky peaks, hidden in deep valleys or simply located on fertile plains, these towns and villages offer a welcome respite from the crowded coastal cities of the French Riviera.

Villages of Character

Since 1999, an exclusive group of villages in eight French regions, including the Var, have been awarded the “Villages de Caractère” label. To qualify for this label, a village must have a harmonious blend of historic architecture, fewer than 3,500 residents and at least one registered monument or sight. In the Var département, Aups and Cotignac are two of the eight villages which have been awarded this prestigious designation and are well worth a detour.

 

FRÉJUS AND THE ESTEREL MASSIF

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Fréjus and the Esterel Massif

Tucked away in the farthest corner of Provence, on the eastern edge of the Var, Fréjus and the Esterel Massif may not have the “flash and cash” of Cannes to the east or St-Tropez to the west, but nevertheless impress visitors with their perched villages, natural beauty, unspoilt forests and red rock mountains framing the cobalt-blue sea. Many come to this part of the Riviera to escape the summer crowds, while lively towns like Fréjus and St-Raphäel, as well as the convenient proximity to Nice, keep it from feeling overly secluded. For those who enjoy sweeping panoramic views, coastal hikes, Provençal meals overlooking deep gorges, ancient history and sandy beaches, this is an ideal area to explore.

Highlights

1 Attend a musical concert in Fréjus’ 2C Roman arena

2 Take a guided tour of the ancient cloisters and baptistery of Fréjus’ Groupe Episcopal

3 Explore underwater wrecks with the diving club at the Port-Fréjus

 

CANNES & THE GRASSE REGION

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Cannes & The Grasse Region

For centuries, Cannes and the Grasse region have been enchanting visitors from around the world. Encompassing the legendary perfume-making town of Grasse and its surrounding perched villages, Grasse includes three of the most dynamic resort towns in France. Travellers can enjoy the quiet Provençal atmosphere of the Îles de Lérins and inland villages like Biot and Gordon, or take advantage of the lively nightlife and window shopping in Cannes, Juan-les-Pins or Antibes. This is where prestigious museums and chic art galleries easily coexist with ancient fortified ramparts and centuries-old ruins. The proximity to Nice International Airport, easy access to major coastal and inland routes, and regional train services also make this an ideal base from which to explore the rest of the French Riviera.

Highlights

1 Visit the newly restored Musée Picasso in Antibes

2 See panoramic views from the Baou de St-Jeannet

 

NICE, THE RIVIERA AND MONACO

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Nice, The Riviera and Monaco

Nice and Monaco are the uncontested stars of the French Riviera, the headliners who never fail to impress or draw a crowd. Nice’s seaside Promenade des Anglais and Monte-Carlo’s majestic casino have been the stuff of legend since the late 19C, when the arrival of the railway brought throngs of tourists eager to see this millionaires’ playground of sumptuous villas, private yachts and palace hotels. Of course, one doesn’t have to break the bank to enjoy this part of the French Riviera, where the roads winding between coastal resorts and precariously perched villages offer panoramic views and scenes of stunning natural beauty. Important vestiges of Roman, Greek and medieval structures enrich this architectural heritage and a vibrant arts and music scene continue to enhance the cultural character of this dynamic region for the millions of visitors who still flock to its sunny shores.

Almost Not French

This part of the French Riviera is, historically speaking, hardly French at all. Although much of the southeast of France was controlled by the comtes de Provence, Nice and its surrounding villages were mainly governed by the ducs de Savoie and the kings of Sardinia, from their secession from Provence in 1388 until their purchase by Napoleon III in 1860. Monaco’s Grimaldi lords purchased their own principality from the Genoese in 1308 and, although ruled independently, have been under French “protection” since 1861, when they sold Menton and Rocquebrune to France. Not only has the architecture, cuisine and even language of the Niçois, Monégasques and their neighbours been strongly influenced by their colourful and diverse Italian roots, they have also contributed to the fiercely independent and highly distinctive character of the region’s inhabitants.

 

THE PRE-ALPS OF NICE

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The Pre-Alps of Nice

Although officially part of the Alpes-Martimes, and therefore grouped with the French Riviera, the mountains and valleys north of Nice have their own distinctive character. There are no fancy casinos or palace hotels, no beaches or yachts and few examples of the conspicuous wealth found along the coast. This is a region of modest inns and humble perched villages, where nature-loving visitors come to admire the flora and fauna, try their hand at forest skiing, discover its religious art treasures and ancient churches, or simply to get away from the crowds and heat of the Riviera. And, while the deep ravines and vertiginous peaks make for impressive panoramic vistas, the narrow, winding roads require attentive driving as they hairpin up and down the mountains, and through the often icy or even snow-covered forest roads.

Highlights

1 Stunning views from the Madone d’Utelle Panorama

2 Drive the Authion or Col de Braus Road in the forest of Turini

 

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