A Travel Guide to The French Riviera By an Expert Francophile

By Over The Moon
Photographer Lucy Cuneo in St. Tropez wearing Cabana Vintage.
Photographer Lucy Cuneo in St. Tropez wearing Cabana Vintage.

Photographer Lucy Cuneo knows her way well around the South of France. After all, she’s been going there her whole life. “My mom started taking me when I was a baby,” she explains. “My grandmother eventually bought a house and ended up living there for six months of the year. France was the perfect place for the entire family to gather in the summer. It was always a totally wild and fun time—lots of littles racing around, dancing under the stars.”

For those planning a vacation or upcoming honeymoon, below Cuneo shares her expert tips, picks, and dreamy photographs from the French Riviera.

First things first: take the redeye!

The flight from New York to Nice typically lands at 10:00 a.m. local time, but the lost night of sleep is easily forgotten when the plane turns over the brilliant blue sea and lines up a landing perpendicular to the stunning coastline.   

After arriving, one must immediately adjust to the pace of French life, particularly in the South, where small pleasures are celebrated over long moments. I suggest loading up on espresso and croissants the moment you hit the ground.

A picnic on the beach en route to Cannes—such a pretty coastal drive.
A picnic on the beach en route to Cannes—such a pretty coastal drive.

Enjoy the ride:

A thrilling coastal drive awaits those heading in the direction of St. Tropez. A coffee in the cafes of Antibes and a stretch of the legs among the boats in Cannes are the perfect pick-me-ups before taking on the winding roads that take you through the heart of the Riviera. If you have the time, take the coastal route over the highway. It feels similar to Big Sur, only tighter and with smaller cars. You can stop for a swim as the beaches are open to all and the ocean is just so inviting. But fair warning, it’s a bit of a climb.

Where to check in:

Following the winding coast road you’ll land in San Raphael. Be sure to check out the Roche Rouge hotel, which is newly refurbished and teeming with stylish young families.   

St. Tropez is the next big stop along the coast. For all the bling and buzzy reputation, I love the understated parts the most. At its heart, St Tropez is an ancient fishing village, and has somehow retained much of that charm.  

The path to Club 55, one of my favorite restaurants.
The path to Club 55, one of my favorite restaurants.

If you want to party:

The closest I get to the night clubs these days is the techno pumping as I order ice cream at Barbarac, right on the town quay.  Don’t miss it, it’s exceptional!

Heading South from St. Tropez, the Pampelonne beach faces directly east into the Mediterranean. It is the best beach on the coast and home to famous yachts and storied beach clubs. My affinity for Club 55 is well documented, but there are countless others on this long beach catering to all tastes: Indie beach and Tahiti beach are fun low key alternatives and Bagatelle beach always takes it to the max.  

For the cheese hunters:

The St. Tropez Market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and it’s not to be missed. Try to go early to beat the crowds and the heat.

The antique fairs and flea markets are my favorites. The Jas des Roberts is a very good one outside of Grimaud on Sunday mornings, and there is also a more polished one in Aix-en-Provence.

For those who love quaint towns:

There are many wonderful villages inland from St. Tropez. Grimaud is known for its cascading flowers and it’s also a medieval village complete with a castle and awash with charming cats. Another noteworthy village within striking distance is Gassin, a beautiful hilltop fortress town that has views of the vineyards and the sea.   

For the oenophiles:

You can head to any of the vineyards at the foothills of Gassin (Minuty is there) or head to the Pampelonne vineyard, which has views overlooking the sea. In addition to wine, this region is well stocked with pottery; there’s a very sweet little potter in Cogolin called La Poterie de Cogolin.

A favorite candle shop in St. Tropez.
A favorite candle shop in St. Tropez.

If you want to do a little shopping:

For sweet dresses and pastel sweaters, Des Petite Hauts. If you’re more into crochet and flow dresses à la Calypso, go to  LULUBaar & Bass is my favorite store, it has a really cool selection of accessories, clothes, and a bit of home. Gas Bijoux, a jam-packed jewelry store, and By Marie boutique are both long standing favorites. BLABLA has lots of kaftans, one-off ethnic pieces, and is absolutely packed to the brim; it reminds me of shopping with my mother when I was little. There’s also a little shop called Dupuis 1903, which has great presents (for both men and women) and staples for the wardrobe and home. And finally for St. Tropez style in a nutshell, dig around  Sunday to find the perfect pastel beach dress, which can take you through the summer and your winter sun trip.

A wall of bougainvillea in Grimaud, a five star flower village.
A wall of bougainvillea in Grimaud, a five star flower village.

If you’re looking for a day trip:

Heading further inland from the coast, you climb to higher, cooler ground. The Verdon Gorge is among the top attractions in the area—the boat trip inside is well worth the visit, as is spending a day circumnavigating the rim.  If you don’t fancy the long drive back to the coast in the same day, check out Moustieres-Sainte-Marie, a rather beautiful village built directly into the side of a cliff. One more stop before returning to the heat of the coast is Tourtour, a relaxing village blessed with great views and surrounded by forests, waterfalls, and olive groves.

Go west!

Driving east from St. Tropez in the direction of Marseilles, do not miss Cassis, a picturesque resort fishing village with a beach in the town. From Cassis, the really adventurous can spend a day hiking the Calanques, a national park comprised of the most beautiful small bays in limestone cliffs that filter the water, turning it the most iridescent blue. A system of ferries will take the less hearty, or those with children, for a stop on the beach in a few of the larger bays.

Marseilles is an industrial hub that heats up rather much by high summer, but it’s neighbor Aix-En-Provence is a glorious college town with the amenities of a larger city. Shopping for antiques, gifts and clothes here is a joy. From Aix it’s a stone’s throw to Luberon, epicenter of the lavender fields that flood Pinterest so effortlessly each summer. We bring home lavender scent bags for closets, and herbs de Provence as presents from every trip.

Throughout the region you will find the most extraordinary produce.  The markets and roadside stands are well stocked with vegetables and fruits which will far exceed expectations. The tomatoes are bursting with flavor, as are the berries, cherries and melon. Most bakeries are amazing—the Tarte Tropezienne is a solid chain seen throughout the region, but I do encourage you to try to find the smaller, local bakers.