The French Riviera is famous the world over as the playground of the rich and illustrious. Here, at places such as Cap Ferrat, in mansions tucked away behind walls and tall, well-trimmed hedges, one can find virtually anything and everything that all the money on the planet will buy.
Still, despite its glamor and well-heeled society and all its trappings, the French Riviera can be enjoyed just as easily by the average tourist. For the Riviera lends itself to a fabulous array of outdoor activities and brilliant landscapes - the stuff that attracted all the beautiful people and the uppity crowd in the first place. So, to the visitor on a modest budget, one can only say that there's really no reason to shy away.
The French Riviera's Towns, Villages and Coast
The French Riviera is practically a work of art, dotted with some of the most picturesque coastal towns and villages - among them Antibes-Juan les Pins, Menton, Nice, Villefranche and Beaulieu sur Mer - and interspersed with memorable drives along Les Corniches de la Riviera and delightful coastal walks that run the gamut, from leisurely strolls to strenuous climbs. Up above, the skies are typically punctuated with paragliders who float down in a sea of serenity from launch sites that are among the most notable on the Mediterranean.
And there's more. Heading out from Antibes and journeying east, where the back country rises and the Alps tumble down to the water, one encounters villages in even more dramatic settings. Here, for example, are Èze, perched on a narrow, rocky dome at an elevation of 427 meters (1,400 feet); La Turbie, elevation 500 meters (1,640 feet), significant as the locale of Roman Emperor Augustus' Trophée des Alpes, a 165-foot monument that overlooks the coast and Monte Carlo; and Sainte Agnès, a splendid medieval village, situated just inland from Menton at an elevation of 800 meters (2,600 feet), with the distinction of being the highest coastal village in Europe.
Most surprising of all yet, just a short hop - in fact, a brief train ride up the mountains - from the variegated tropical coast with its banana, date, carob, orange and lemon trees, are the ski resorts of Alpes de Haute Provence and Alpes Maritime. Here, in a decidedly alpine setting, one can ski and snowshoe all through winter and early spring, and even scuba dive under the ice at a few of the resorts. During the warmer months, there are ample opportunities for hiking and mountain biking on mountain passes and high-elevation trails, typically between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.
Also worth exploring here, both for its variety of environments and the experiences it offers, is the 50-mile stretch between Cannes and the Italian border. It is an extraordinarily lovely region, for which the French actually have a word, éblouissant, meaning fantastic, overwhelming, outstanding, ravishing - all at once!
And again, visitors on limited budgets should not be deterred by the French Riviera's glitzy underpinnings, for this is a slice of Provence that offers breathtaking landscapes and a supremely varied selection of outdoor activities and both mountain and airborne adventures.
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