Faremax Top Logo
Faremax Side Logo

The French Riviera

Riviera, France

Additional Research, Images

Many travelers will tell you that the French Riviera promises much and delivers little – that it’s beaches are overrated and crowded, it’s towns and villages dirty, commercial and messy, and its people in general given to the kind of snobbishness that might have been justified in 1956 but is just a little out of tune with the times today.

Like most legends, there’s a little truth behind the myth. The Riviera, on the southern, Mediterranean coast of France as it bends round towards Monaco and Italy, is no longer enjoying its heyday. They was in the late 1950s and 1960s, when this really was the playground of movie stars, Brigitte Bardot reigned supreme and to vacation in the area – or, if you were super-rich, own a local home – was the very definition of class.

That’s no longer the case. Capitalism has moved in, and some of the resorts are indeed getting a bit tacky. But locals will tell you it was always that way – it’s just that our perceptions of different areas change. If you’re visiting the area as part of a cruise, some stops on the Riviera might well come early in your itinerary. Barcelona and Marseille, further along the coast to the west, are developing themselves as cruise ports, and many cruise routes hug the French coast before taking off south for Sardinia or southern Italy.

It’s likely that you’ll stop at either Cannes, or Nice, or both. Of all the Riviera towns, Cannes remains the coolest – largely because of its association with the international Film Festival which arrives every summer, bringing with it nearly all the really major stars of Hollywood. Cannes has always been one of the least French places in France. For centuries it was little more than a fishing village. Then, towards the end of the nineteenth century it was ‘discovered’ by Henry Brougham – a Brit – during the course of a leisurely journey to Italy. Between the turn of that century and the start of the Second World War, it was a regular stamping ground for English men and women abroad, and it was regularly said that at the height of the vacation season there were more upper class Brits to be found in Cannes than native French residents.

Today the town has to an extent been reclaimed by its natives, though it still remains popular as a resort with rich foreigners. However, these days you’re more likely to come across ‘Monte Carlo Overspill’ – rich Europeans with thick orange tans lounging on their yachts. If all the commercialism and upmarket tat of Cannes gets you down, pay a visit to the Cimetière du Grand Jas, where many local dignitaries of French and foreign birth – including Henry Brougham – are buried. A cemetery may not sound like much of a fun afternoon away from your ship, but the cool shade of the trees and walkways can make a welcome break from the noise and heat of the downtown area at midday.

A little further along the coast is Nice, the unofficial capital of the Riviera. These days it’s not much more than a string of luxury condos and apartment blocks, owned by the very rich. But there are some things to see and do in the town that are worth getting off the ship for. This is one of the few places on the Riviera where it’s actually possible to get a good-value meal; they hate to be reminded of it, but modern French cooking is easily outclassed in terms of flavor and price by the Italians, so, in general, if you’re going to stray ashore to dine you’d be best off waiting until your ship calls into an Italian port. However, Nice is the exception. Unless you’re after pure swank you should steer clear of the upmarket restaurants – where you can easily pay several hundred dollars a head for fairly mediocre food – and head for some of the backstreet pizza parlors. Southern French pizza in many ways rivals its Italian parent dish, typically consisting of a very rich, almost sweet tomato sauce on a fantastic thin and crispy pizza base. There’s actually a pretty strong rivalry between Nice and Naples, Italy, for the title of ‘home of pizza’ – although most food authorities recognize Naples as the source of the western world’s favorite snack, there are many in Nice who will tell you that the recipe started right here in their home town.

If you are visiting the Riviera on a cruise, don’t expect the most glamorous place on earth – because you’ll be disappointed. If, however, you expect to have a good time in some interesting places, you should be on course for some fun.

© 2001-2012 Faremax, Inc.  All rights reserved.
faremax.com and its contents are trademarks and/or service marks of Faremax, Inc.
Use of this Website constitutes acceptance of the User Agreement and Privacy Policy