Just some of the places I (Bert) enjoyed visiting, and some subsequent annotations by others. No claim to completeness, no particular ordering...
I also have some photos of the area (slow link).
Fondation Maeght (St. Paul): The best of all modern art museums in the area. Great sculptures, especially those by Miro, in a building that is very pleasant, and that is a single whole with its garden: you walk in and out several times. [more]
Marc Chagall museum (Nice): a couple of large paintings of biblical scenes, with all the action around the edges of the canvas. I was there with two small children (3 and 5) and they had a great time finding and counting all the different animals hidden in the corners. Also has changing expositions, typically of art related to biblical themes. [more]
Picasso museum (Antibes): Picasso's paintings made in 1949, when he lived in Antibes and Vallauris. Apparently one of the most happy periods of his life (he was in love, with a woman and with the Riviera sun) and it shows. Great setting, in the old castle on the sea front, right in the old center. [more]
Fernand Leger museum (Biot): A not very large, but very brightly lit museum of the impressionist well known for these two styles: thick black lines in front of large areas of primary colors, that apparently have nothing do do with each other (but only apparently); and people made out of cylinders with very primitive color gradients that serve as shadows. [more]
Modern art museum (Nice): The last-but-one Rough Guide still mentions that there is nothing to see, but that is no longer the case. And if you don't like the paintings and sculptures, you still have a nice view over Nice from the windows. [more]
There are often matinees at the Nice Opera. The operas itself are sold out a year in advance. [more]
Nice has a nice range of cinemas, Cannes also, of course. Antibes only has one (with dubbed films, except on Tuesdays). Valbonne has a film-club type of cinema. [more]
Cannes is a very bad city for cinema, unless you are able to make it for the 10 only good days [Yves]
Antibes' English theatre troupe, The Red Pear, has unfortunately stopped its activities in January 2005. But the small Antibea Theatre still shows French plays.
(Modern & classical) dance is mostly to be seen in Nice and Monaco.
The small villages in the mountains above Nice sometimes have story-telling festivals, where people tell stories in the Provençal language. This just FYI, because I can't understand a word of it either :-)
Concerts in the churches (organ, but not only that) occur in all villages, but usually in the summer (festival) season, I believe.
Jazz festivals (often open-air) happen all along the coast (Juan-les-Pins, Nice…), but again only in the festival (i.e., summer) season.
Le Bar sur Loup: a medieval village perched on top of a rock. A little larger, less frequented, and with less breathtaking views than Gourdon (see below), but worth a stroll through its narrow alleys.
Gourdon: opposite Le Bar sur Loup, higher up on the mountain, on an even steeper rock, that is visible from just about everywhere from Cannes to Nice. It's tiny, and nowadays consists of souvenir shops, perfume shops, and some restaurants, but even so, still worth a visit. Take a roll of film and a bag, because it is impossible to leave there without buying some soap, perfume, or just some lavender leaves :-) Also a great base for an (easy) hike over the plateau.
Mougins: frequented mostly by the foreigners that live in the area, and so it is well-kept. Nice view over Cannes as well.
The old town of Antibes: On either side of the Marché Provençal, the old, roofed marketplace, there are narrow streets, some old and beautiful and others just old. A very pleasant place to sit and have a coffee (which means espresso, of course). The ex-cathedral (still a church, but no longer a cathedral) is very different on the inside (romanesque) than on the outside (baroque). For the best (picture postcard) view of the old town, go to the little park at the end of the Avenue Albert I, near the Hotel Royal. [photos]
The old town of Nice: larger and dirtier than Antibes (Yves will not agree:-) ), but still some nice-looking alleys. Interesting shops, too, including great ice-cream. And you can go up the rock for a nice view over Nice, its harbour, and the coast in general.
Well, I agree that it is larger and dirtier, but there are people living there ;) Unfortunately, the ice-cream place is closed for the winter but there are numerous beautiful churches there and also the Palais Lascaris. [Yves]
Fréjus: Roman and mediaeval mixed, this old harbour of the Romans that now lies well inland. It still has its Roman arena (now used for bull fights, among other things), and some other very old buildings. The drive from Antibes (or Cannes) to Fréjus would have been enough reason to go there: take the coast road (built early this century especially to give the motorized tourist a treat) one way and the mountain road (N7) back (or vice versa).
Castellane: A little bit further away, along the Route Napoleon (N98) that goes all the way from Antibes/Juan les Pins to Grenoble, following more or less (and built in remembrance of) the route that Napoleon took when he came back from Elba. Great drive. Castellane's main feature is a chapel that is built on top of a 300m high rock that goes straight up from behind the town hall in the old center. At night, the lighted chapel is an eerie sight: you see nothing of the town but high up in the air is this light that traces the outline of the chapel. But be careful, the road makes many turns before you reach the town.
Moustiers Ste Marie: Even further away (2 hours from Antibes), at the other side of the Gorges du Verdon (see below), it lies in a steep narrow ravine, along a small stream. It's full of tourists, who come here by the busload, not only to see the village, but also because it the obvious starting point for rowing on the lake or for exploring the canyon. It's beautiful, and it tries to sell you ceramics (faience). [photos]
Eze: halfway between Nice and Monaco, this old village lies around the ruins of a castle (now cactus garden) on top of a hill, that looks like the center piece of a citrus press, especially if you turn your back to the sea and look at the mountain range that surrounds you over 180 degrees. [photos]
The village itself is quite tourist-oriented, but the view is breathtaking! [Yves]
Menton: Menton somehow looks different: more palm trees, citrus trees, more italianate architecture, more flowers, more gardens, and a slower pace. And if it feels like it is warmer here than in Nice or Antibes: yes, it really is. You feel like you are in a spa. [photos]
They even have banana trees and not in greenhouses! Menton is the warmest place in France during winter! [Yves]
Biot: Right next to Antibes. You can visit glass blowers, or just walk a bit in the (tiny) old village, on top of a hill.
If you want to go even further away, there are many more places at 2 hours or more from here: Aix en Provence, Avignon, Nimes, Arles, Forcalquier, Faience…
Cannes: For expensive boutiques, you go here. Stroll over the Croisette, looking out over the sea (or at the other people), and then buy the latest haute couture (or do as if…)
St Tropez: Even more make-believe is St. Tropez: the setting is great, the shops are miniatures of those on the Champs Elyssees, and you have to empty your savings account in order to buy a drink on a terrace at the harbour… but the light and the colors are indeed unforgettable, and nearly free (just the cost of the parking). And better to go out of season, even if that means you cannot lie on the crowded beach (which, anyway, is at the other side of the peninsula), because in summer it takes you 2 hours just to pass the traffic jam from the mainland onto the peninsula (unless you come by yacht). [photos]
Nice: but if you really want to buy things, the Avenue Medecin and the streets on either side have everything, including a Mark's & Spencer's (the coastal boulevard connecting the airport with the center of Nice isn't called Promenade des Anglais for nothing)
Carrefour (Antibes, Nice, and other places): I know some people that cannot spend less than 2 hours at this cross between a supermarket and a department store.
The Gorges du Verdon: between Castellane and Moustiers Ste Marie. If you are early enough, and you don't stop too often to take pictures, you can even do both sides in one day. The roads (like the coastal road between Cannes and Frejus) have been made for no other purpose than to provide stunning views. You can also walk down to the Verdon river (ice cold), which takes about an hour (plus an hour to climb back up). [photos]
The Gorges du Cians: above Nice, but you have to come back next year, because it is closed for road construction until spring 2000. When you drive up the ravine, you will know why: the red rocks (flagstones) can be broken off with your bare hands. But the sudden change from gray to red rock, the narrow passages, the fresh green vegetation against the read backgrounds, and the sudden alpine landscape (including ski slopes and chalets) at the end is amazing. [photos]
Esterel: between Cannes and Frejus, along the coast. More red rock, but more open and less steep. Great for (easy) walking, with views of the coast and the towns along it as a reward.
The Route Napoleon (N98): from Juan les Pins to Grenoble, but the best part is between Grasse and Digne, with Castellane in the middle. You go up to 100m, via hairpin curves and narrow ravines (but the road is wide enough, so no danger, unless you let yourself be influenced by the French that want to drive there about twice as fast as you think is possible. [photos]
Vallee de Fontanalba: There is snow up there now, so you'll have to wait until it melts before you can see what it is famous for: thousands of prehistoric engravings. It's quite a climb, up to 2300m. The path is fine, but the air is rather thin. Count 2 hours to get to the parking at the base, then 2 hours to walk up (unless it's summer, in which case you can take one of the 4x4 services that will drive you up) and another 2 hours to see the engravings and the views. If it is the first time, go with a guide, or with somebody who has been there before: there may be thousands of engravings, but there are tens of thousands of rocks… [Yves' photos] [photos].
The Var (river): start at Nice airport and go up the Var. As soon as you leave Nice, you'll see fantastic views. You can either follow the Var, or take any of the valleys that join it (except the Cians, see above): they are all different, but all beautiful.
The Cap d'Antibes: A little less built-up then the rest of the coast (beacuse the people that live there are so rich that they can afford large gardens), it is actually quite a pleasant place to walk. Also go up to the lighthouse, for the view, but especially for the old church next to it. Once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, you'll be amazed at what the sailors have offered to Mary. [photos]
The Vallee de la Roja: The river ends across the border in Italy (in Ventimiglia). All along its course, there are narrow ravines, and old villages.
Le Pont du Gard: a bit far away, but since it is the largest still standing Roman aquduct in the world, and a really impressive sight, I mention it anyway. Just imagine that the Romans managed to built the water supply for Nimes by linking a source 50km away and only a few meters higher than Nimes, via this engineering feat of a bridge, that is subtly, but perfectly curved to withstand the wind and the water.
The Camarque: nothing could be more different from the rest of the Provence: this wetland, I'm told, is the habitat of rare birds, wild horses and nasty mosquitos. I saw it only from the air, flying low at about 700 feet… well above the mosquitos but near enough to see the flamencos. As a special treat, in the far corner there is the perfectly square fortified town of Les Aigues Mortes. [Camarque photos] [Aigues-Mortes photos]
Les Iles de Lerins: the two small islands (one small, one tiny) in the bay before Cannes are an amazingly easy way to get out of the crowd and noise of the coast. Just walk around a bit, look at the monastery on the small island or the fort on the large one, enjoy the view and the quiet. It takes only 15 minutes by boat from the harbour of Cannes.
(cf. Benoit's list)
Le Moulin de Mougins: you won't go here, but I cannot help mentioning it anyway, as it was the best dining experience I ever had. It's about 750FF per person (excluding wine, count another 750FF for a bottle), but the tastes and the ambiance are something special. (And then to imagine that this only has one Michelin star; I wonder what magic goes on in a 3-star restaurant…)
La Jarre: old town of Antibes. 300FF per person. The magret de canard is excellent.
Le Sucrier: old town of Antibes. The attention to detail is just a bit better than elsewhere (always excepting the Moulin de Mougins, of course). Try to be there during the hunting season: deer, mmmmm…
Le Pistou: center of Antibes. You won't get away with eating anything else than the soupe de pistou (bean soup with garlic, basil, olive oil…) and the “plat du jour,” but you wouldn't want to, anyway.
L'Aubergine: center of Antibes. Good value for money, friendly atmosphere. Provençal style menu and Swiss fondue (in winter).
too much to mention… If you go to Nice, ask Yves for a recommendation: he hasn't disappointed me yet, and sofar I haven't been anywhere twice.
Don't you remember Bert, the restaurant in Nice we went in with Janet and Ralph. It was recommended by Yves, and I found an insect in my coffee… [Coralie]
Espresso (what the French call simply “café,” everything else has a longer name) you usually get the best at a bar-tabac. You stand (there may also be a few uncomfortable chairs) among the people filling in their lottery tickets, but somehow the coffee is top notch. Maybe it is because they make it more than anybody else. The price is about € 1.20, against often € 2 if you sit on the terrace of a “grand cafe.”
Jardin Exotique (Monaco): cacti and other plants from warm climates provide many photo opportunities, with or without the sea in the background. Nice view over Monaco.
Jardin Exotique (Eze): among the ruins of the castle, with a great, 360 degrees view.
There are also beautiful gardens in Menton, but some of them are not open to the public… [Yves]
A good site for inland Provence is Provence-Beyond.