The French Riviera is synonymous with summer sunshine, humming Ferraris and sexy, glamorous all-night parties on the beach.

Come August, stars and models jostle for strutting space along Cannes' seafront promenade, La Croisette. St-Tropez, plus the much-hyped Plage de Pampellone around the corner, is stacked with yachts, each one dripping celebrities like celebs drip jewels. To spend your summer on the Côte d'Azur, you must be very beautiful or very rich, or at a stretch, at least know someone very beautiful or very rich. Don't you?

As a long-time resident of Nice, I beg to differ. Yes, most of the Riviera's major towns boast a parading ground (or three). But these spots are just slivers of the real Côte d'Azur.

Not only is there plenty here to satisfy travellers not swimming in cash, there are scores of activities that are free, including the majority of museums in Provence and almost every single beach on the French Riviera, from St-Tropez to the Italian border. In an effort to prove doubting friends and family oh-so-very wrong, earlier this summer I set off on a penny-pinching jaunt along the coast.

Husband in tow, I set off on the panoramic basse corniche bus from Nice (€1) to the tiny town of Cap d'Ail. (Standard bus rides on the Riviera are €1.) We book into the basic but lovely Hôtel Miramar (00 33 4 93 78 06 60;, where rooms with a sun-terrace and stupendous sea views are €78. I even score one of Ian Rankin's Rebus trilogies from the book swap.

We hit the rocky waterfront's three-kilometre coastal path. Three water-skirting trails also ring Cap Martin, Cap Ferrat and Cap d'Antibes, but this one is great for beginners. Wedged below a row of seafront villas, the shoreline is alive with climbing flowers, figs and samphire. We dip in and out of a handful of sandy, turquoise coves before arriving in Monaco's Fontvieille harbour, then looping westwards back to Plage Mala. This chic, sheltered beach has two exclusive restaurants, top snorkelling and kayaks for hire (€10/hr). We opt for an easy bob around the bay, before laying a sunset spread and cracking open a bottle of rosé. Budget bliss.

Footprint Provence & Côte d'Azur by Kathryn Tomasetti and Tristan Rutherford (rutherfordtomasetti is on sale now (£13.99)