Are you planning a holiday on the French Riviera? A holiday French Riviera style may require a bit of advance planning, simply because it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Which probably conjures up images in your mind of crowded places, expensive hotels and restaurants and traffic jams...true, those things do exist, but if you plan ahead, and choose your destination wisely, taking into account the time of year and your budget, you will most likely have a very enjoyable stay in an area rich in natural and cultural beauty.
As for my holidays, I quite frequently spend them here, on the French Riviera, because there is always something new to discover and not so new things remain always beautiful; apart from that, I travel a lot for my work, so it is nice to stay close to home for a change!
The French Riviera is beautiful in all seasons, but for different reasons.
Spring is the season of changeable weather (which means the sunshine can be interrupted by rain every now and then; rain which may last up to 2-3 days at a time). Warm days are possible, but nights will still be cold. It is a good time for some mountain hiking, late season skiing and exploring villages, towns and cities.
Summer of course is the season of swimming, sun bathing, discos and night life, but also the season of long lazy lunches in some remote Provençal village, in the shade of large Plane trees; of camping and beautiful balmy summer nights.
Coastal resorts like Juans les Pins, Antibes, Cannes, St. Tropez are extremely busy and congested, but only a tiny bit further inland you can easily find solitude and tranquillity.
Autumn is good again, like spring, for mountain hiking, exploring towns and villages, but also still quite nice for sun bathing and swimming. Added bonuses: the day time heat is slowly receding, the light becomes golden and most of the tourists have gone. The weather will typically remain stable and sunny until early to mid October.
Winter of course is great for skiing, finding solitude on the beaches (even in Cannes!), mountain hiking (low altitudes), and exploring cities, musuems and markets.
Camping in general is a great way to relax. You do need to find the right place though, and it needs to be warm and sunny (well, that's what I think anyway!). The French Riviera is a great region for camping, with loads of beautiful camping sites and a near perfect climate.
Camping holidays are not necessarily limited to the summer season, and most camping sites are open from mid March until mid October. If you'd rather avoid the hottest and busiest period, why not try April - June or September?
Renting a villa is a great idea, if you're not the camping type and want all home comforts when away on holiday. I do like camping, but when there's only limited time for a holiday I like to indulge, choose a beautiful area, a comfortable house to stay in, and just relax. Some place where you can explore if you want to, but where you could just as easily stay at home because the sun, olive tree groves and inviting sparkling swimming pool are all you really need.
Quite a few locals either have a second property specifically for holiday renting, or they rent out their own home for a number of weeks during the peak season.
This is largely a private market, and villas for rent on the French Riviera can be found through classified ads on a number of dedicated web sites.
One such villa I know really well, as it is owned by a good friend of mine, is the "Villa Sainte Rita des Oliviers" in Valbonne. A beautiful Provençal style house, completely refurbished in 2011, in a central location; just picture the warm sun, the terrace, feet dangling in the pool, a fine glass of wine...the ultimate relaxation! (note: web page is in French, but the owners do speak English).
In general, use only well-known web sites for your bookings, and only use those that include feedback and reviews from at least a couple of real-life people!
There's a number of famous luxury hotels in the French Riviera region, such as the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, or the Negresco in Nice... what about the splendour of the Hotel Cap Estel, pictured here?
Of course there are many many options offering quality accommodation at more reasonable prices - best place to find these are on booking.com and hotels.com.
A car is by far the best way to discover the French Riviera; that is, if you want to see as much as possible. You may equally decide to stay in one place, and make the most of that!
Most well-known car rental companies are represented on the French Riviera. At Nice airport they are located just 5 minutes walk from Terminal two. If you're arriving at terminal 1, there is a free shuttle between the terminals, operating from 6am until 11pm. More info on Nice Airport web site.
Most companies are also present in all major cities and towns.
Note that speed limits are strictly enforced and there are frequent alcohol checks too.
Road conditions in general are quite good, on the French Riviera, as in France as a whole. There are of course interesting back roads, which may be very winding and / or narrow, but in nearly all cases will be tar sealed.
In winter, of course, when leaving the coastal region for higher altitudes, snow and ice may make certain roads impassable. The zero degree isotherm may descend to as low as 500m above sea level.
Traffic conditions are not good in July and August, on the main arterial routes into the region, as well as on all coastal roads. Certain bank holiday weekends, especially in May, may also see heavy traffic. Which is of course not the end of the world, as long as you are prepared for it.