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Beyond the coast: 3 villages to discover in the French Riviera

Beyond the coast: 3 villages to discover in the French Riviera

Here’s a look at three inland villages along the Cote d’Azur that you must explore when you’re on the French Riviera.

It is no surprise that some of the most groundbreaking 20th-century artists were inspired by the colors, sights, and smells of the French Riviera. While many head to Provence and the Cote d’Azur cities of Nice and Cannes, there’s another area in the region that holds some true delights – the Alpes Maritimes.

Though often grouped with Provence or the Coast, this small region nestled between the blue Mediterranean and the Alps has its very own cuisine, culture, and gems to discover.

1. Saint-Paul-de-Vence

The picturesque medieval village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence has long been a haven for the famous, counting Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, Jacques Prévert and French and American film stars as visitors.

The center of town, mostly known for its close ties with the art world, is dotted with galleries that house everything from sculpture and ceramics to paintings. Saint-Paul-de-Vence’s most eminent artistic connection is with Marc Chagall, one of the 20th century’s biggest names in surrealist and expressionist art, who lived, died and is buried there.

As well as the art galleries, art lovers must visit the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, and the 17th-century Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, with its stained-glass windows, paintings, sculptures, and vibrant mosaics.

If you fancy going further afield, Vence, a stone’s throw from Saint Paul boasts a chapel designed and decorated in the late 1940s by none other than Henri Matisse. Here, you can also find Auguste Renoir’s house and workshop, which offers insight into the work and life of the artist. Here, he entertained friends of the likes of Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Monet, and DH Lawrence.

For a truly authentic, and luxurious stay in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the hotel La Colombe d’Or, the favourite buen ritiro of many of the town’s illustrious guests offers an exquisite stay.

2. Eze

The earliest settlers in the Eze area date back to 2000BC, and it’s no surprise as the backdrop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most spectacular the French Riviera has to offer.
Perfect for a day trip from Nice, Eze is situated in the hills behind the city and Monte Carlo.

Perched at the top of a rocky hill, it affords the most perfect views of the coast. Wander the winding streets lined with French brasseries, art shops, and cute boutiques or climb up to the Jardin Botanique d’Èze, to view its collection of cacti and succulents as well as the medieval castle remains. Those who feel inclined may take the Chemin de Nietzsche or Nietzsche’s Path, a 90-minute hike from the cost up to the village. Strenuous, but definitely worth it.

For a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience, book the two-star Michelin-rated La Chèvre d’Or, where your meal will be accompanied by the stunning views of the blue Mediterranean. If fine dining is not your thing – stop in one of the many restaurants perched along the city walls for a similar view with a smaller price tag.

3. Biot

The village of Biot, with its Roman history, is another unmissable medieval village in the Alps de Provence region. Once overrun by pirates, the village was eventually taken back to civility by the Knights Templars who settled in the Biot Chateau. Today, the village is most famous for its bubble glass and quiet atmosphere.

A visit to Biot would not be complete without four stops: in the newest part of the village, a visit to the Fernand Léger Museum and a tour of the La Verrerie de Biot for an insight into glass blowing (you can also try your hand at it) and some souvenir shopping. It is then worth climbing to the old village to wander the winding streets that lead to the Place des Arcades, the central square lined with arcades. Here the eponymous restaurant holds a special secret: the cellars were painted by one of its most famous patrons, Pablo Picasso himself. If you ask nicely, they just might let you admire this little-known mural by the famed artist.

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