That fabled coastline of southern France, also known as the Côte d’Azur, sprawls between tony Saint-Tropez on the west and the Italian border to the east. It has long inspired artists and writers such as Chagall, Matisse, Picasso and Fitzgerald, who found their muses in the red and chalk cliffs, verdant olive groves and vines, and myriad shades of Mediterranean blue. Families can also find vacation inspiration in the form of year-round sunshine, swimmable beaches and unique experiences that elevate travel memories to new heights. An international airport in Nice, now with two direct flights from the USA (United and Delta), and TGV trains from Paris, make getting here easier than ever too.
Whether you choose a hotel with family-friendly activities or would rather nest in a seaside village and find your own diversions, the French Riviera delivers options alongside endless joie de vivre. Here are three ways to stay that we just can’t get enough of. Our Ciao Bambino Family Travel Advisors can help book these properties, in some cases with exclusive perks to pass along to our clients — reach out for more details!
Sometimes vacation means not lifting a finger, yet you want to feel at home too. Hotel Metropole in Monaco has mastered this art, thanks to a call-you-by-name staff who know how to fulfill family vacation wishes in their fairytale setting. Just steps from the legendary casino favored by 007 himself, the 62-room hotel sits in the center of the tiny Principality, making it a perfect pied-a-terre for a family stay. The Italian border is just a few minutes away by car or train (gelato for lunch, anyone?).
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Air-conditioned and eco-friendly buses crisscross Monaco with ease and stop at places such as Larvotto Beach, where kids can safely swim in warm, waveless seas and grab a snack along the pedestrian-friendly promenade. Car buffs in the family should check out the extensive automobile collection of around 100 rare and luxury vehicles owned by the royal family, while soccer fans might be surprised to learn Monaco is home to two professional teams: the men’s football club, AS Monaco FC, and the women’s football club, OS Monaco. For budding mermaids and mermen, Hotel Metropole’s heated saltwater pool is open year-round, covered in the winter and alfresco in the summer, and kids can dive in beginning at 8 am.
Not to miss are the hotel’s bespoke “Just For You” experiences, including a cooking class with the pastry chef for ages 6 to 12. The fan favorite, however, is an after-dark visit to Monaco’s world-renowned Oceanographic Museum. Up to six guests are invited inside for a tour of the grand rooms and hidden hallways, where they’ll admire fish and sea life by flashlight. It’s a memory-maker exclusive to Metropole guests, and one that will stick with you long after you return to reality.
If over-the-top experiences are your family’s raison d’être, Amavia Collection’s Villa Gaia in the hills above Villefranche-sur-Mer is the French Riviera stay you’ve been searching for. Five ensuite bedrooms accommodate up to 10 guests, and each has a king-size bed, TV and private balcony with pinch-me views of Cap Ferrat and its yacht-encrusted coves. A sixth ensuite bedroom on the main level is available too, but does not have the vistas.
Staying at home for a day means being surrounded by original art, working out in the gym and lounging by the heated infinity pool. Villa Gaia’s dedicated English-speaking concierge is available to plan outings and activities as needed, such as massages under a shade tree and yoga sessions with a professional instructor. If you can pull yourself away from the 4,400-square-foot mansion, the concierge can organize excursions to museums and gardens, like nearby Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, as well as outings such as hiking, biking, perfume making or tours of picturesque villages like Eze and St.-Paul-de-Vence. A day at a private beach club is a French Riviera rite of passage, as is enjoying the abundant fine dining venues, many within easy reach of the villa.
However, why go to a swanky restaurant when your own kitchen is helmed by a Michelin-star chef? At the heart of a Villa Gaia stay is its partnership with chef Alain Llorca, who oversees the villa’s menus. Meals are prepared to your taste onsite six days a week and served alfresco or at the sleek marble dining table. After sundown, kids can curl up with popcorn and watch a movie in the cinema while grown-ups relax in the sauna or sit under the stars with a chilled glass of local rosé and plot their return to this dream scene.
Note: Villa Gaia is not suitable for toddlers.
When you want to let village life dictate the day’s agendas, this well-appointed house rental in Sainte-Maxime has you covered. Though small, the light-filled two-bedroom/one-bathroom home is packed with upscale furnishings in an open-air living room, with air conditioning in both bedrooms, a kitchen, washer and dryer, and even a wood-burning fireplace if you come during winter. The best feature, however, is its setting smack dab in the heart of the village, with all you could need just outside the front door. A car is only necessary if you want to leave town (and there happens to be a car rental agency in town too), but no one would blame you if you just wanted to stay still and soak up village life.
Fresh fruit and vegetables at the covered market and flaky croissants are minutes away, as are scores of all-day dining cafés with kid-friendly dishes, and shops stocked with everything from coastal home décor to beach essentials. Come summertime, the home’s balcony turns into a front row seat for village life. (Tip: the balcony also has the best views of Sainte-Maxime’s fireworks show on Bastille Day). For young kids, Sainte-Maxime’s sandy beaches and carnival-style rides are a big hit, and its private beach clubs (accessible by a bus that picks up down the street) are fun for all.
Teens clamoring for a little independence will appreciate the village’s safe streets, perfect for spreading their wings. Sainte-Maxime’s location is also ideal for cultural excursions to cities such as Aix-en-Provence, 90 minutes away. Saint-Tropez, known for its world-famous shopping and epic night life, has a huge Tuesday and Saturday farmers’ market and is a 15-minute scenic ferry ride from Sainte-Maxime’s port, where boats also set sail for Porquerolles, one of the prettiest islands off the French Riviera coastline. Drop by Sainte-Maxime’s new tourist office for maps and advice on hiking, biking, sailing, and more family adventure in the area.
Editor’s Note: Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer who has been traveling to her pied-a-terre on the French Riviera for 17-plus years.
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