The Best Of Cote d'Azur

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The Independent Travel

The Cote d'Azur is enjoying a renaissance. It is more popular than ever thanks to the Hollywood "royalty", supermodels, business moguls and Saudi princes, who drop in for the "mad summer months" of July and August.

The Cote d'Azur is enjoying a renaissance. It is more popular than ever thanks to the Hollywood "royalty", supermodels, business moguls and Saudi princes, who drop in for the "mad summer months" of July and August.

This stunning stretch of coastline which runs from Saint-Tropez to Monaco, has been a favoured destination of the rich and famous since Queen Victoria put it on the map back in 1882. Life here today revolves around the simple pleasures of sunbathing, eating, drinking and partying.

To make the most of the Cote and to see its many different sides, you need to stay in at least three places. By flying into Toulon, a much more convenient and nicer airport than Nice, you are closer to Saint-Tropez, a fantastic first stop. This pretty little fishing village, with its mile-high yachts moored in the harbour, is a dazzling array of flash-trash new-money glitz; a far cry from the days when the luminous light attracted the post-impressionist artists such as Matisse and Signac to paint here.

For old-money glamour and romance, head for St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a lush peninsula packed with millionaires' Belle Epoque mansions tumbling down the hillside into the Med amid parasol pines and plane trees. Stroll along the 10 kilometres of coastal path and try to pick out the homes of Bill Gates, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Norman Foster, to name-drop but a few.

At the heart of the Cote is Cannes, catapulted to superstar status by the eponymous film festival, which began life back in 1939. Here you find new-money mixes with old in a timeless and classy display of tradition and opulence. Where else would you expect to see a posse of pampered pooches prancing along the Croisette, sporting trendy shades?

Best hotel

Hotel Byblos Saint-Tropez (00 33 04 94 56 68; www.byblos.com), is clustered around a swimming pool in sumptuous grounds dotted with olive trees, palms and bougainvillea. Pastel-coloured villas house 99 Provençal-themed rooms and suites, making the hotel feel like a village within a village, but a world apart. Expect discreet but high security for the A-list celebs who flock here to party. However, there's nothing snooty about Byblos; just great attention to detail and highly personable and welcoming service. Double rooms from £241 per night, (room only). In St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the Hotel Royal Riviera (00800 2888 8882; www.royal-riviera.com) dates from 1904 and is a stately Grande Dame palace hotel fully renovated and modernised in 1999. A neo-Hellenistic design prevails, there are large lush grounds, a spectacular pool area and small private beach. Guests wander around in fluffy white bathrobes - the perfect sun and rest cure. Double rooms from £135 per night (room only). Smack in the centre of the Croisette, the colossal InterContinental Carlton (00800 1800 1800; www.intercontinental.com), in Cannes with its wedding cake façade is the epicentre of the film festival. Everyone in the film business has stayed here from Liz Taylor to Liv Ullman and the hotel famously provided the backdrop to the Hitchcock movie To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Seven new suites have just opened on the seventh floor. Double rooms from £207 per night including breakfast.

Best restaurant

Spoon at the Hotel Byblos (00 33 04 94 56 68) remains faithful to Alain Ducasse's original concept of choice and combination but with a Mediterranean theme from the Riviera to North Africa. Shrimp ravioli, tomato syrup and ginger followed by pan-seared tuna with satay sauce and wok-sautéed vegetables, topped off with chocolate pizza is hard to beat. Around £48 for three courses excluding wine. The African Queen (00 33 04 93 01 10 85) in Beaulieu, a short stroll from Cap Ferrat, is a good marina-side brasserie serving up pizzas, pastas and salad. Approx £25 for two courses including wine. Up in the hills of Mougins above Cannes, spend an entire evening with the six-course Candille Discovery menu on the terrace of Hotel Le Mas Candille (00 33 04 92 28 43 43). Inventive dishes such as slowly cooked skate wing with goats cheese, olive and tomatoes followed by fillet of Chinese duck with lemon spices work well. Costs £40 excluding wine.

Best cultural attraction

The newly reopened Musée de l'Annonciade in Saint-Tropez houses the best collection of early 20th century art outside Paris and is much overlooked. This summer the museum showcases a big Matisse exhibition. In Cap-Ferrat, the Villa Ephrussi-de-Rothschild is an over-the-top Italianate extravaganza packed with impressionist paintings. The expansive and exotic Mediterranean gardens have one of the best views on the Cote. Immerse yourself in heavenly scents at the Fragonard Perfume Museum and Laboratory in the hilltop village of Eze above Cap-Ferrat. Free guided tours and factory prices in the shop.

Best shopping

Saint-Tropez's tiny streets sport all the big-name designers such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Robert Cavalli, Chanel, Hugo Boss et al with prices to match. But there are plenty of small cheap and cheerful little boutiques selling good summer gear at great prices. Top tip: Zara in Cannes is used to showcase the best of their inexpensive trendy clothes.

Best sightseeing

For great overviews of the coastline climb to the top of the Citadel in Saint-Tropez, visit the village of Eze, perched precariously on a pinnacle of rock some 430 metres above sea level, and take a drive on the Grande Corniche, which winds along the top of the Alpes Maritimes. Essential listening: as you cruise along the Cote, go armed with a copy of the cool new Hotel Byblos Double CD Volume 2, featuring classic hits from Les Caves du Roy.

Best nightspot

Without a doubt, Les Caves du Roy at the Byblos still reigns supreme, which is why wannabes queue for up to three hours in the hope of swishing past the plush velvet rope. Naomi Campbell recently had her birthday bash here.

How to get there

British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from London Gatwick to Toulon daily with return fares from £69 including tax. Hertz (0870 848 4848; www.hertz.co.uk), which is now part of the Nectar rewards scheme, offers one-week pre-paid "World on Wheels" all-inclusive car rental in Toulon from £125. Toulon-Hyeres airport is 55km from Saint-Tropez and takes approx 45 min by road. A taxi costs approx £67.

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