Welcome to Monaco
Squeezed into just 200 hectares, Monaco might be the world’s second-smallest country (only the Vatican is smaller), but what it lacks in size it makes up for in attitude. A magnet for high-rollers and hedonists since the early 20th century, it's also renowned as one of the world's most notorious tax havens and home to the annual Formula One Grand Prix.
Despite its prodigious wealth, Monaco is far from being the French Riviera's prettiest town. World-famous Monte Carlo is basically an ode to concrete and glass, dominated by high-rise hotels, super yachts and apartment blocks that rise into the hills like ranks of dominoes, plonked into an utterly bewildering street layout seemingly designed to confound lowly pedestrians.
In dramatic contrast, the rocky outcrop known as Le Rocher, jutting out on the south side of the port, is crowned by a rather charming old town, home to the principality's royal palace.
Welcome to Nice
With its mix of real-city grit, old-world opulence, year-round sunshine, vibrant street life and stunning seaside location, no place in France compares with Nice.
Before everything else, there was the sea, and the Mediterranean climate – the twin factors that made Nice a tourist magnet as early as the 1700s. Look around and you’ll find the same elemental attractions that drew Europe's belle-époque aristocrats to promenade along the waterfront in horse-drawn carriages. Even now, nothing compares to the simple joy of a balmy beach day interspersed with a spot of people-watching astride the Promenade des Anglais' famous blue chairs. Whether you're skating, kayaking, swimming, sprawled on a beach lounger or transfixed by sunset over the ever-present Med, it's all still happening by the water.
The Italian Influence
For any lover of French and Italian culture, Nice is the perfect hybrid. Long affiliated with Piedmont and Liguria to the east, Savoy to the north and Sardinia to the south, this city only joined France in 1860 and has always kept one foot in Italy. The Italian influence remains palpable everywhere, in Vieux Nice's tall-shuttered, ochre-hued buildings that look airlifted straight in from Portofino, in the fresh pasta shops on every corner and even in the football cheer Issa Nissa! (Go Nice!), shouted in the local Nissart dialect that’s been coloured by Ligurian Italian as much as Occitan French.
Welcome to Menton
Last stop on the Côte d’Azur before Italy, the seaside town of Menton offers a glimpse of what the high life on the Riviera must have been like before the developers moved in. With its sunny climate, shady streets and pastel mansions – not to mention a lovely old port – it’s one of the most attractive towns on the entire coast. Menton’s old town is a cascade of pastel-coloured buildings. Add a fantastic museum dedicated to the great artist and film director Jean Cocteau, as well as several excellent restaurants, and Menton really is a must.
Menton is a town on the French Riviera in southeast France. It’s known for beaches and gardens such as the Serre de la Madone garden, showcasing rare plants. East, the hilly, medieval old town is home to Basilique Saint-Michel, with its 18th-century bell tower, and the ornate facade of La Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs. Nearby, the Musée Jean Cocteau collection Séverin Wunderman displays works by poet Jean Cocteau.
To French people, the town is also known for its lemons, which are renowned for their flavour and celebrated every February with a big lemon-themed party.