Ruled by the Grimaldi family from Genoa in Italy since 1297, the sovereign state of Monaco is a tiny principality (1.95km²) with a large reputation.
From Europe’s poorest state in the ninteenth century, Monaco has transformed itself into a world class luxury resort. If you can’t afford to holiday here a visit will give you a taste of the life.
The residential and resort area of Monte Carlo is where the wealth is, and over 18s with a passport and proper dress code can visit the famous casino where fortunes have been won and lost.
The old fortified Monaco-Ville is set on a rocky hill around the PalaisPrincier. Various museums tell of the principality’s history. Actress Grace Kelly’s tomb is in the nineteenth century cathedral. La Condamine around the harbour is the place to find your dream yacht and also hire bicycles.
Displays in Monaco’s museums range from Prince Ranier’s vintage cars, to religious art. Don’t miss the cacti in the Jardin Exotique and great Musee Oceanographique aquarium (both open all year Boat trips, including a bus tour, are available from Menton. Remember the Monaco formula 1 Grand Prix takes over Monaco from 26 - 30 May 2011 when only motor racing enthusiasts should consider a visit.
Until Nice and Menton chose to become French in 1860, the French Riviera was Italian and certainly geographically there is little difference between the two. Blue sea and attractive beaches fringed by palm decked promenades link elegant holiday resorts sheltered by the Maritime Alps.
The Liguria coast from Ventimiglia (home of the World Heritage Hanbury Botanical Garden) to Cervo is known as the Riviera of Flowers where you can visit the colourful resort of San Remo.
Further east are well-known beaches at the resorts of Alassio and Finale Liguria. As in France, coast roads can be busy in high season. Boat trips are available from Menton which give good views of spectacular scenery with a backdrop of cliff-top villages.
The many perfumeries around Grasse offer free guided tours in English in summer. Fragonard is the oldest factory, in use since 1782, open daily including Sundays and public holidays 9am - 6pm daily (closed 12.30pm - 2pm Nov-Jan).
Create your own perfume during a workshop at Galimard. Galimard also provide visits to flower fields in Gourdon and to its perfume museum in Eze. Molinard began with flower-scented waters and colognes in 1849 and also give workshops.
Modern Fabrique des Fleurs on the outskirts of Grasse gives free guided tours of the laboratories and packing areas.
Walking in the scented hillsides around Grasse offers wonderful views across the Cote d’Azur. Several circuits such as the 4 hour Plateau de la Malle walk follow the Route Napoleon while the Vallee Verte takes 2hrs 30mins. Itineries from Grasse Tourist Office.
The GR4 long-distance walking trail from the Cote d’Azur to the Atlantic follows a route taken by Roman legionaries. Follow red and white markers north of Grasse past hill-top villages en route to the Alpes de Haute Provence.
There’s plenty of scope for scuba diving in the blue Mediterranean of the Cote d’Azur. Be aware France has state laws covering diving safety and it is necessary to obtain a doctor’s certificate before starting a course. Look for training centres with FFESSM or PADI instructors such as the Plongee International Centre at Cannes Marina, tel: (00 33) 4 93 49 01 01.
Diamond Diving has English diving instructors and takes diving tours, tel: 07737 176052. More information can be obtained from Comite Departmental de Plongee, tel: (00 33) 4 93 61 26 07 or relevant tourist offices.
Several sites off Cap d’Antibes suit a variety of abilities. Wall dives ranging from 4m to 40m are found off Ile de Saint Marguerite and a further cluster of dives centre around the rock formation of La Formigue in the Golfe Juan. These include an underwater village and cave (Grotte de Miro) with a statue, sponges and coral.
The coast around Nice has about 30 dive sites of all levels. An underwater statue of the Virgin Mary off Cap de Nice has been used at underwater weddings. Other diving areas include Cap Estel, Bai de Beaulieu, Cap Ferrat and Villefranche Bay.
If you visit Cannes do take time to make the 15 minute boat trip to the Lerins Islands, a world away from the busy mainland. At Fort Royal on Ste-Marguerite, the largest island, you can see where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned, walk the nature trail through evergreen oaks and pines and swim from the southern shore.
On peaceful, traffic free St-Honorat visitors can book a retreat at the Abbey de Lerins. This haven of quiet is run by an ancient order of monks who produce organic wine from their vineyards, Lesina liqueur, jams, lavender oil and honey.
There are 21 courses on the French Riviera. Just 10 minutes from Grasse, the St Donat Golf Course gives golfers the chance to enjoy a game in a wonderful Riviera setting. Open all year, this international 18-hole par 71 course also offers a practice area, tuition and equipment hire. Take lunch in the well-appointed clubhouse overlooking a lake. Tel: (00 33) 4 93 09 76 60.
If you want to ski in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon, Alpes-Maritime is the place. The Alpine foothills make up over 80% of this department and 465 peaks are over 2000m.
Good weather extends the ski season from December to late April and slopes can be as little as an hour’s drive from the beach. Large resorts like Isola 2000, Auron and Valberg offer alpine skiing at all levels, ski lifts, child facilities including ski schools and baby sitters plus snow sports ranging from paraski to dog-sleigh rides.
Away from the slopes, enjoy cinemas, discos and gyms and more. Smaller resorts, such as Estenc Entraunes, and Roubion which has a variety of pistes mainly open at weekends, offer good value. Local tourist offices have details.
Three coastal roads, known as Corniches, stretch from Nice to the Italian border through some of the Rivera’s most scenic countryside. However, they are hugely popular, particularly during school holidays so be prepared for busy roads and crowds at the area’s hotspots.
The Corniche Inferieure is busiest and clings closest to the sea. The Moyenne (Middle) Corniche was built at a higher level to alleviate congestion on the lower road and demands more from your driving skills.
As befits its name, the highest Grande Corniche follows an old Roman road and was built by Napoleon. There are great views from here at every turn. At La Turbie, a huge plinth built in 6BC once held a statue of Augustus Caesar.
This route follows part of the GR51 long distance hiking trail along the lower hilltops parallel to the coast from Grasse to Menton. Include the spectacular hill village of Gourdon and the dramatic Gorges du Loup. Views contrast strikingly between the isolated mountains looking north and the showy coastal resorts looking south towards the golden beaches and blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
Garden-lovers are spoilt for choice in the Rivera’s sub-tropical paradise. One such garden surrounds Cap-Ferrat’s Grand Hotel du Cap (where stars often stay for the Cannes Film Festival) and in the zoological park animals share their surroundings with Mediterranean and tropical plants.
Grounds of the Italian style Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, built by the Baroness in the early 1900s, are open to the public. Its 7 gorgeous gardens are laid-out in different styles - French traditional, Florentine, Spanish, Exotic, Lapidary, Japanese and Provencal. Jardin Thuret at Cap d’Antibes, a botanical gardens containing over 3,000 exotic plants and belonging to France’s National Institute of Agronomy, has free entry for individuals Monday to Friday.
Plants from the 1920s and Antibes olive trees flourish in the restored park and gardens of nineteenth century Villa Eilenroc - open 9am - 5pm Tues and Wed (except July and August).
Five of Menton’s 7 gardens of world importance are open to the public, including Palais Carnoles which has the largest collection of citrus trees in Europe and steeply terraced Val Rahmeh garden above Garavan harbour.
Just across the Italian border in Ventimiglia, Hanbury Botanical Garden is a not-to-be-missed World Heritage Site. Sir Thomas Hanbury, who gave land to the Royal Horticultural Society for Wisley, collected plants here from all over the world and his Moorish mausoleum is at the heart of the garden. Tel: (00 39) 1 84 2298 52 for opening times.