Cote d'Azur Attractions
The Côte d'Azur ("Azure Coast"), as the French Riviera is known in France, extends along the Ligurian Sea from Marseilles to the Italian frontier at Menton.
This beautiful region, whose attractions were discovered in the 19th century by well-to-do British visitors, has now become a cosmopolitan holiday area, crowded with visitors during the main holiday season and ravaged by overdevelopment, not only on the coast but also inland and in the hills. Politically speaking, the Côte d'Azur and its hinterland lie within the Provence-Alps-Côte d'Azur. Nestling within this region, too, is the independent principality of Monaco on the coast. It is preferable to visit the Côte d'Azur at the less busy times of year, in spring or autumn or during the mild winter.The varied topography of the Côte d'Azur reflects its varying geological structure. The Cretaceous limestone coast to the east of Marseilles, the Côte Æ Calanques, with its deeply indented inlets (calanques, from Provençal calanco, "steeply scarped"), gives place between Toulon and the mouth of the Argens to the Côte des Maures, formed by the Massif des Maures (alt. 779m/2,556ft), with the offshore Iles d'Hyères. The Massif des Maures is an isolated range of ancient hills some 60km/40mi long by 30km/20mi wide, consisting of granites, gneisses and schists, pinkish or dark gray in color with golden flecks of mica, the remains of a primeval continent which occupied the whole of the western Mediterranean.From St-Raphaël, where the Côte d'Azur in the narrower sense begins, the Massif de l'Esterel (300-618m/985-2,028ft) extends to just before Cannes. Geologically related to the Massif des Maures, it is partly Alpine in character, 20km/12mi long by 12km/8mi wide, and consists of a massif of gneiss enclosed by schists, interrupted in many places, particularly on the coast, by eruptive rocks, blue and red porphyry. The red porphyry of this much indented coast and the deep blue of the sea, here dotted with numerous islets, combine to produce charming effects of light and color. East of Cannes the coast rises in terraces from the shore. The Cap d'Antibes juts out into the sea, with the Iles de Lérins clustering picturesquely round it. Beyond this is the mouth of the Var.Between Nice and the Italian frontier the foothills of the Alpes-Maritimes, consisting of Cretaceous and Jurassic limestones, fall steeply down towards the coast, barely leaving room for the Principality of Monaco, cramped into an area of 2 sq.km/0.75 sq.mi on the narrow coastal strip. Thanks to its sheltered situation at the foot of the hills which flank the coast and protect it from the cool north winds, the Côte d'Azur has an exceptionally equable climate - not too hot in summer (July average 25°C/77°F) and not too cold in winter, with day temperatures of 6 -15°C/43 -59°F, although it can become quite cool at night. Rainfall is not heavy, and occurs mainly in spring and autumn; the winter months are sunny. In the western part of the coast, between Hyères and Cannes, the mistral sometimes blows. In summer the sirocco will occasionally bring in hot air from the south.The main contributor to the economy of the region is probably still the tourist trade (with eight million visitors a year), but the economic structure of this classic holiday area is in process of change. The old-established trades of the region are still of considerable importance. Second to the tourist industry come the growing of flowers and the perfume industry which they supply. The main center of these activities is Grasse with its surrounding area, where several million kilograms of flowers (oranges, roses, jasmine, thyme, rosemary, mignonette, violets, etc.) are processed every year. The distillation of lavender is mainly concentrated in the catchment area of the river Verdon. The inland region, particularly round Brignoles, occupies the leading place in the extraction of bauxite, with some 70% of total French output. In addition to agriculture and forestry the Côte d'Azur has another source of raw materials in the extraction of salt from seawater. There are productive salt-pans, for example, on the Etang de Berre and around Hyères and Giens.Nowadays, however, "clean" industries like research establishments, computer manufacture and service industries are achieving turnovers which exceed the income from the tourist trade.The Côte d'Azur first appears in history as the territory of the Ligurians, whose name is preserved in the Ligurian Sea and in the Golfe du Lion. The city of Massalia (Marseilles), founded by Greeks about 600 B.C., gained a monopoly of trade in southern France, with an eastern outpost in Nikaia (Nice). From the third century B.C. the Romans were involved in fiercely fought wars with the Ligurians for control of the military road which ran by way of Nice to Spain.In 122 B.C. the Romans were victorious, and in 102 B.C. Marius halted the advance of the Teutons near Aix. After his conquest of Gaul Caesar founded the city of Forum Iulii (Fréjus) in 49 B.C. In the early centuries A.D. there were further Roman foundations at Nice and Antibes. During the fourth and fifth centuries Christianity spread along the coast. Then in the first half of the eighth century the Saracens reached the Mediterranean coast of France, settling in the Massif des Maures and harassing the whole coastal region in the ninth and early 10th centuries. The name of the range, however, does not come from the Moors but from the Provençal word maouro ("dark forest"). In later centuries the Côte d'Azur, like the rest of Provence, several times changed its political allegiance. In 1486 Provence finally became part of France, though from 1388 Nice was held by the Count of Savoy. In 1815 Nice was assigned to the kingdom of Sardinia, and finally in 1860 it was ceded to France.
With its Mediterranean climate, the Côte d'Azur has an extraordinarily rich flora. The original vegetation, including various species of pine (Aleppo pine, maritime pine, northern pitch pine) and deciduous trees (holm oak, cork oak, English oak, hornbeam, sweet chestnut), has suffered from human intervention and catastrophic forest fires and is much reduced from its former extent. The plants which are now characteristic of the landscape - the silver-green olive trees which cover the hills to a height of 500m/1,650ft, the orange and lemon plantations, the palms, vines, cypresses, pines, agaves, aloes, cacti, etc. have come from all over the world, some of them in Roman times.Near the sea is found the maquis (macchia, garrigue) characteristic of the whole Mediterranean area - an impenetrable scrub of kermes oaks, lentisks, myrtles, strawberry trees, tree heaths, carob- trees, liana-like climbing plants and much else besides. Particularly prominent are strongly aromatic herbs and shrubs like lavender, thyme and rosemary.
The port of St Raphaël, half-way between St Tropez and Cannes, has a charming situation on the north side of the Gulf of Fréjus at the foot of the Esterel range.In the old heart of the town stands the 12th C. Eglise des Templiers (a Templar church), with a tower which was built as protection against pirates. Adjoining the church on the north side is the Musée d'Archéologie Sous-Marine (Museum of Underwater Archeology) with a notable collection of amphorae which were mostly rescued from ancient wrecks. Parallel to the shore runs the Promenade René-Coty, which is beautifully laid out and extremely popular in season. From here and also from the pleasant avenue de Gaulle there is a good view of the strange rock formations, the Lion de Terre (Lion of the Land) and Lion de Mer (Lion of the Sea) near Port Santa-Lucia.
A very charming, winding road along the red rocky Mediterrnean coast from St-Raphaël leads (9km/5.5mi eastwards) to the delightful resort of Agay on the bay of the same name, which is enclosed by Cap Drammont and the Pointe de la Baumette. At the latter there is a lighthouse and a memorial to the French airman and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.Agay is a good starting-point for trips to the Esterel mountain range.
Monastery, Saorge, France
Franciscan monks selected the Roya gorge to build Monastère de Saorge in 1633. The church of Notre-Dame des Miracles is of baroque design and the cloister is decorated with frescos of the 18th C.
Map of Cote d'Azur Attractions