Written by Esther Barney
Photography by Antton Mietinen
The weather is still balmy but the summer crowds have dispersed, and there is something for everyone from supercar junkies to oenophiles to glamour hunters. Esther Barney shares her hit list of things not to miss.
STAY IN A MEDIEVAL HILLTOP TOWN
Chèvre d’Or, Èze village, near Monaco
A favourite among discerning local and visiting clientele, this is where many a champion Formula 1 Grand Prix team comes to celebrate after their win, away from the hustle and bustle of Monaco.
A hotel as well as a restaurant, the Chèvre d’Or is set in the cobbled Medieval hilltop town of Èze. The views from the hotel’s terrace over the St Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula are unbeatable, while the quizzical garden with its menagerie of animal statues is a fun touch. The infinity pool’s views are out of this world, while those in need of pampering after walking the docks of a yacht show can call on the hotel’s wellness treatments.
Standard rooms start at 399 euro per night, while the Presidential Suite with private pool and Jacuzzi overlooking the glistening Mediterranean will set you back 3,600 euro per night.
RUB SHOULDERS WITH THE FASHION PACK
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Cap d’Antibes
Since its renovation over the last decade, the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, has returned to its former glory and been attracting a glittering crowd of all generations. Its location in a grand chateau on the exclusive Cap d’Antibes gives it a very private feel, with tennis courts, 22 acres of gardens and wellness centre, not to mention the buzzing Bellini bar, gourmet restaurant and sea-view private cabanas. Those with a sweet tooth can try out the pastry and chocolate workshops from the celebrated chef Lilian Bonnefoi.
Throughout the season, superyacht tenders can be seen dropping off and picking up guests who enjoy long rosé lunches and lounging by the iconic swimming pool that teeters on the edge of the rocks. It was also the location for this year’s amfAR charity ball, where the who’s who at the Cannes Film Festival descended for the swish evening.
Rooms start at 660 eur per night and suites at 1,200 eur. For ultimate privacy, stay in one of the hotel’s two charming three-bedroom villas, which include a private terrace, Jacuzzi or pool, and view over the manicured gardens. A dedicated butler will take care of your every need. Villa prices start from around 9,000 eur per night.
GOURMET DINING MEETS RIVIERA CHIC
La Résidence de la Pinède, St Tropez
For the ultimate combination of gourmet food and luxury accommodation, look no further than La Résidence de la Pinède in St Tropez. The quaint but lively fishing town was made famous by the likes of Bridget Bardot in the 1960s and is now the summer retreat of fashionistas and business moguls alike. In the summer months, superyachts jostle for space on the dock or bob up and down at anchor in the bay, with the town nestled between the water and the pine-forest hillsides beyond.
The only hotel in St Tropez with a private beach, not to mention an alluring infinity pool, it is also home to superstar chef Arnaud Donckele, the youngest person to be awarded three Michelin stars. The upscale restaurant, La Vague d’Or (meaning the ‘Golden Wave’ in French), “invites guests on a magical journey between land and sea”. Such outstanding culinary experiences include a 14-course tasting menu, with food so imaginatively prepared it looks like artwork.
Superior Sea rooms start at 800 eur per night, or 3,540 per night including the Fil du Temps menu and breakfast.
CRUISE THE COASTLINE IN A SUPERCAR
Whether you want to keep to the coastal roads or cruise the dramatic, hilly countryside behind, the French Riviera is a car-lover’s dream. It’s not uncommon to see fleets of rare supercars parked up in front of the grand hotels such as the Carlton or Martinez in Cannes or in Monte Carlo’s Casino Square.
A number of rental companies offer top-of-the-line rare cars to hire from just a few days to a few weeks. If you just can’t choose your favourite, then why not pick and mix during your stay.
AAA Luxury & Sport Car Rental specialises in rare motors, offering both chauffeured and self-drive options, and is located in Cannes and Monaco. Top picks include the head-turning yellow Lamborghini Aventador LP 750-4 Superveloce, which reaches 0-100kmph in just 2.8 seconds and is available for a daily rate of 5,500 eur.
If your motoring tastes are more British than Italian, then why not take the McLaren 675LT Spider for a spin; newly available with AAA this year, it has a top speed of 326kmph and rents for a cool 3,800 eur per day.
For something a little statelier with room in the trunk for your shopping, a Mansory-edition customised gold Bentley Continental GTC is a great choice. With the roof down and space in the back seats for the family, there’s nothing more chic to fit in with the Riviera jet set. Available to rent at a daily rate of 2,300 eur.
TAKE A PRIVATE TOUR OF A WORLD-CLASS VINEYARD
From Champagne and Burgundy to the Var
When it comes to wine, the French don’t do things by halves. If you’re visiting the Riviera, it would be a tragedy to miss out on tasting some of the world’s best wines in the terroirs themselves.
Christopher de Doby, Managing Director of French Indulgence travel company (frenchindulgence.com) and international advisor to the French Tourism Board, knows a thing or two about the best experiences available. His top recommendation is to head north to the Champagne and Burgundy regions for a tasting tour, where Gonzague Descamps will tailor a private tour to your tastes, whether just for one day or over a few. The tours will set you back upwards of 500 eur per day but this once-in-a-lifetime experience is hard to beat (champagne-burgundy-gdwinetours.com).
A trip to the great champagne houses wouldn’t be complete without a stay in the archetypal French chateau. De Doby praises Domaine Les Crayères (lescrayeres.com) as the ultimate spot to rest your head after a day of serious wine tasting.
“Les Crayères is by far the best and most prestigious hotel in the whole region,” he advises. “A luxury Napoleon III chateau, it oozes understated style and elegance, and is a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group. Situated in the city of Reims, the Pommery champagne house is across the road and a dozen or more of the champagne houses are within 10 minutes’ drive. As for rooms, I recommend numbers 15 or 16, which each have a large terrace overlooking the park. The hotel also has a fabulous Michelin-starred restaurant run by Chef Philippe Mille.”
If your schedule won’t allow for venturing as far as Champagne, the French Riviera is home to some superb vineyards, which should still provide a special experience for die-hard oenophiles.
Chateau d’Esclans (esclans.com) is located a short trip inland from St Tropez and produces Whispering Angel, considered by those in the know to be the finest rosé in the world. Located on a stunning site in an elevated spot near the Gorges de Pennafort and 25 kilometres north-west of the Roman city of Fréjus, it is in the heartland of rosé country, where the paler the wine the better and drinking young is considered wise.
Private tours of the vineyard taking a few hours are available, though booking is recommended at least a few days in advance via firstname.lastname@example.org. The best way to enjoy a tour without headaches from traffic jams on the notoriously busy coastal road? From your yacht or hotel in St Tropez, jump in a helicopter with local company Helisecurity and in under 10 minutes you will touch down on the vineyard’s helipad. It doesn’t get better than this for a superior rosé experience.
CREATE A SIGNATURE PERFUME
Galimard Perfumerie, Gourdon
Take a trip up winding roads from the coast to the clifftop town of Gourdon, where the Galimard perfume house has been crafting scents from mountain flowers and herbs since 1747. After a tour of the boutique distillery, work with an expert ‘nose’ to create a scent that is totally unique to you, whether masculine or feminine.
Learn the importance of balancing your perfume’s different notes to create a formula that is harmonious and irresistible. To enjoy the full personal scent experience, is possible to have personalised body cream and shower gel created to match the new creation. The studio will even keep a record of your personalised formula so you can re-order and have it sent directly to you in the future. Two-hour group workshops set you back 49 eur and enquire for private tours and classes.
DIG IN TO A UNIQUE TRUFFLE EXPERIENCE
87th International White Truffle Fair, Alba, Piedmont, Italy
Alba is the bona fide home of the truffle, and each year the epicentre of activity for this uniquely desirable fungus is found in the rural North Italian town at the International Truffle Fair. As it has not yet been possible to cultivate truffles on farms, this has maintained their allure, limited availability and high price. There is even a truffle ‘stock market’ that tracks the price per 20g. It has been said that an Alba white truffle is the most expensive thing you can eat – by weight – after gold leaf; in 2010, a 1.1-kilo prized find was sold for a staggering $417,000.
Taking place 7 October to 26 November, a week after the Monaco Yacht Show, it is the perfect time to get behind the wheel of your rented Lamborghini and head north for a stay in Piedmont to sample the world’s best truffles, of which the finest picks will be snapped up and whisked off to top restaurants around the world. A range of events, competitions and outstanding culinary delights awaits.
PULL ON YOUR LYCRA AND GET PEDALLING
Café du Cycliste, Nice
Road biking has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity over recent years, and there are few better places to jump in the saddle than in the hills and cols behind the Côte d’Azur. The legendary Cols de Turini, Madone and Vence are just a short day trip away and will give you some serious Strava bragging rights when you get home.
Head to the fashionable Café du Cycliste in Nice’s Port for a strong espresso before heading off on one of the top-of-the-range Officine Mattio custom road bikes. The Lemma offers “a perfect combination of weight, responsiveness and comfort” with three unique layers of carbon fibre within the frame. Add in the latest SRAM RED eTap groups, Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels and Fizik saddle and you are good to go (daily rental price is 95 eur, in sizes 50 to 60).
Ex-pros Veronica Larsson and Kieran Page take out a small but feisty amateur peloton on group rides each weekend. But if you fancy something a little more personalised, they are available for private one-on-one rides to give pointers on your technique as well as challenge you on some of the spectacular climbs along the coastline; keep your eyes peeled for the local pros on their training routes.
Café du Cycliste also offers performance cycle clothing that is high in the style stakes; take a look at the ranges on display and why not kit yourself out for the ride in one of the vibrant new African print-inspired Zahira jerseys.
EXPLORE THE RIVIERA’S SPECTACULAR HIGHLIGHTS BY WATER
Wine-making monks, the Man in the Iron Mask and hidden gems of the Calanques
Putting aside the stunning, cliff-lined coast between Nice and Monaco or the martian red-rock landscapes of the majestic Estérel, there are both cultural and natural sights to behold by yacht along the French Riviera.
A short hop from Cannes, find the Lérins Islands, including St Marguerite and St Honorat. The 17th Century fort of St Marguerite is most famous for having been the home of the ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ – the king of France who was incarcerated by his brother who took the throne in his absence. Take a tour of the spooky fortress followed by lunch at the popular restaurant La Guérite (advised booking advised).
Across the water is St Honorat, home to a fully operational monastery whose monks also make a well-liked local wine. Tours are available and the rare wine is available to purchase here and in only a handful of other locations in France.
If you have tired from the hustle and bustle of the Riviera’s busy towns, a trip west to the protected Calanques Massif near the quaint fishing village of Cassis is a must. Here you will find white limestone cliffs dropping vertiginously into bright, jewel-hued waters with the hum of cicadas your only audible distraction. Just a short trip from St Tropez, it is well worth the journey and also accessible by land for those who left their yacht at home.