We’re just 2 of approximately 11 million tourists who flock to the Cote d’Azur each year to promenade along one of the world’s most glamorous and romantic coastlines so come with us as we continue our driving expedition along the French Riviera.
Ten kms from Nice and we’re cruising along Cannes’ famous palm tree-lined Boulevard de la Croisette. Having viewed it over the years through the prism of international news coverage, particularly of its glittering film festival held each May, it feels strangely familiar. Parking in a side street, we stroll past the fabulous InterContinental Carlton hotel, home-away-from-home at festival time for movie moguls and the glamour squad. For over a century the Carlton has hosted real and rock royalty and been the background to some of celluloid’s celebrated couplings from Grace Kelly and Carey Grant to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Further along the Croisette, the sturdy white Palais des Festivals looks forlorn without its red carpet although celebrity hand prints set in concrete turn out to be the French version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. It’s soon obvious that along this broad egalitarian promenade with its sun-spangled sea and marine bleu deck chairs corralled by white picket fences, getting a tan is the only game in town. In a seafront park, a group play boules, the silvery balls gleaming in the afternoon sun, while others take the plunge at the sandy public beach.
Place l’Ondine on La Croisette, opposite the end of rue Pasteur, is known as one of the best luncheon spots but away from the Croisette, a walk up rue Saint Antoine leads to the Old Town which has plenty of gourmet shops, cafes and smart boutiques. Needing a French Riviera fashion fix, we check out rue d’Antibes and rue Hoche before heading to the Place de la Castre for epic scenic views over the Bay of Cannes.
Since the 1960s, Saint-Tropez has been forever linked to topless sunbathing, celebrities and glossy super-yachts that crowd its busy quay. However, this pretty, sun-bleached fishing village remains as captivating today as it was back in the day when Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Ernest Hemingway frequented its waterfront bars.
Author Somerset Maugham once referred to the Riviera as being “a sunny place for shady people” and over the years, the Cote d’Azur has captured many legendary tales of the rich and famous. Saint-Tropez’s rise to jetset prominence came with Brigitte Bardot’s break-out role in Roger Vadim’s 1956 film ‘And God Created Woman’ and has remained in top spot ever since.
Pampelonne beach where the bikini-clad Brigitte emerged Goddess-like from the sea is a short drive from the town centre, a broad 5km swathe of pale sand that scoops around the bay. A handful of original beach bars remain just beyond the nudist section but it’s the glossy beach clubs like Nikki and Bagatelle that have the jetset swooping in to by helicopter, valet parking or wading ashore from mega-yachts!
Along Saint-Tropez’s winding narrow streets, we find serious shopping along rue Francois Sibilli, Place de la Garonne and rue Gambetta while Passage du Port has shops oozing with quintessential Saint-Tropez style – think glossy, couture-class BoHo chic. Along the quay, visitors are madly selfiing in front of mega cruisers where lotharios pose with nubile young women supine on the sundeck. Saint-Trop is a town of superlatives: super-yachts, super-rich, super-tanned and super-expensive.
It’s where a pair of espadrilles can set you back Euros350 as Tropezienne style (think gingham sundresses and capri pants) enjoys a fashion moment. Bargains can still be found every Tuesday and Saturday at the market on Place des Lices while the tiny fish market at the Porte de la Poissonerie retains its original charm. At sundown, the real fun begins as the floating gin palaces moored at the marina get ready to par-tay. It’s a heady blend of celebrity and new money as lights twinkle in immense super-yacht saloons and the chicly-dressed smart set check out the action at waterfront restaurants and bars.
Too soon it’s time to leave and reluctantly, we turn away from the azure coast and drive sun-streaked provincial roads lined with plane trees. Glancing back, glimpses of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez wink a seductive farewell before disappearing in the rear vision mirror. Somehow, I know we’ll be back…..
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