Brief Overview of the Area
The French Riviera hinterland is Provence at its very best. The area has been immortalised by writers and painters over the years and is always a favourite of the jet set during the summer season. This part of the region has been favoured with a glorious Mediterranean climate and an ideal location in the hills overlooking the coast, while the lure of locally produced wine and olive oil amongst fields of flowers is a strong one indeed. Sun-dappled and lavender-scented, a visit to the picture-perfect villages and towns behind Cannes will make you fall in love with the French countryside. This area is so beautiful, and the towns are so charming, you might just forget about the beaches back down on the seafront altogether!
Grasse is not only the best-known town in the hinterland, but it’s also where the legend of the French Riviera started, way back when. The town was discovered by the British and Russian royal families in the 19th Century and became a prime winter getaway for everyone who was anyone. Grasse has, of course, been famous for producing perfume since the 18th century, and the fields around the town have been used to grow beautiful scented flowers for hundreds of years. Bizarrely the town’s perfume industry only came about because Grasse originally specialised in tanning leather, a profitable but fairly smelly activity. An enterprising tanner came up with the idea of producing perfumed leather gloves, presented a pair to Catherine de Medici, and the rest, as they say, is history. These days the tanners are long gone, but the flower industry is still going strong, and you can tour many of Grasse’s perfumeries and its perfume museum to learn how the world’s most luxurious scents are created. Aside from perfume, Grasse also has a very pretty old town to explore with lots of winding streets and stairways. Don’t miss visiting the Notre Dame du Puy Cathedral and the Museum of Provençal Art & History for a little local flavour. There are lots of restaurants and cafés to choose from in the town, and there are also some very good artisanal ice-cream shops. Make sure you stop off for a scoop or two, you definitely deserve it, you’re on holiday after all.
Just down the road from Grasse is the little village of Opio. Dating back to the middle ages, the village sits in the middle of a protected wilderness site and is surrounded by trees, fields and flowers. The main attraction is the town museum with its Roman remains, but Opio is also a fantastic place to visit if you’re keen on a healthy lifestyle. The town boasts its own 18-hole golf course with scenery so magnificent it might just throw you off your game. Plus you can go hiking or horse trekking through the surrounding pine forests or simply take a stroll around the village’s fitness trail to work up an appetite for dinner.
Nearby Valbonne is pretty much a perfect example of a Provençal village. Even the name Valbonne means good valley in the original Provençal, and the town has been charming visitors for years with its pretty townhouses and cobbled streets. The town dates back to Medieval times and has been beautifully preserved with a central square lined with cafés and shops. This is the place to go for a lazy coffee or a cheeky aperitif, as the Place des Arcades has been the heart of the village for centuries. Unlike most of the nearby hillside villages, you won’t find any twisty streets in Valbonne. Instead, the town centre is laid out on a rectangular grid, showing its roots as a Roman settlement. Pop over on a Friday to visit the traditional market and pick up some local goodies, or visit on the first Sunday of the month to check out the antiques fair. Valbonne celebrates anything and everything with a parade, so you’re sure to get caught up in a procession with live music if you visit during the summer months.
Between Valbonne and Grasse is Mouans-Sartoux, another medieval village which is well worth a visit. Originally 2 villages, Mouans and Sartoux, Napoleon III joined them together in the 19th century to create one super-village instead. The original Chateau de Mouans is still standing, thanks to some serious rebuilding work over the years, and houses a fascinating art museum with its own residential artists. Mouans-Sartoux plays host to a popular literary festival every October when the whole town is taken over by books and writers ranging from local historians to the authors of the latest summer blockbusters. And it’s not just books that are celebrated during the year, the town also has a santon exhibit in the winter months with hundreds of Provençal creche figures on display. It’s definitely not one to miss if you’re a fan of all things Christmassy.
Close to Mouans-Sartoux, you’ll find the pretty village of Mougins which is mostly famous for its art galleries, gourmet restaurants and numerous estate agents. As you’d expect from the place where Picasso chose to make his home, the village is outstandingly beautiful with cobbled streets, stone fountains and breathtaking views over the Mediterranean coastline. These same views have been inspiring artists for years, and there are galleries and workshops dotted all over the village, just waiting for you to pop in and browse their works. And along with food for the soul, there is also delicious food for dinner, as Mougins is known as the home of gastronomy on the French Riviera. Using fresh herbs from the hills behind the village, local chefs serve up delicious Provençal treats in the village’s 30 restaurants and cooking schools. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the great and the good have been coming to Mougins thanks to its reputation as the land of gourmandise, and now it’s your turn to do the same. The village once boasted the most Michelin stars of anywhere in France, so you are sure to find your new favourite restaurant hidden away in the streets of the old town.
Further up the coast towards Nice is the popular town of Biot. This medieval village was built on the site of an ancient volcano, and although it hasn’t erupted for a long, long time, residents have been extracting stone and clay from it for centuries to use for pottery and building. Biot is best known for its glass works which produce glassware with distinctive bubbles under the surface. The glass-blowing factories are fun to visit, watch the traditional glass-blowing process then check out the shops for some gorgeous and unique pieces to take away with you. Once home to some of the Mediterranean’s most notorious pirates and thieves, these days Biot is a peaceful little place with some lovely café terraces where you can watch the world go by over a coffee. Sit surrounded by flowers in the Place des Arcades and enjoy a slice of traditional village life in one of the most charming villages on the French Riviera.
St Paul de Vence
From Biot, wind your way back up the hillside towards St Paul de Vence, a small village which has played host to every big name of the last couple of centuries and then some more besides. Originally a fortified medieval village, St Paul de Vence was discovered by the art world in the 19th Century thanks to its golden light and Baroque architecture. Today it is packed with art galleries, and there are sculptures all over the village which have been donated by former (famous) residents. Reserve a table at the most glamorous restaurant in town, the Colombe d’Or, to get up close and personal with original works by artists like Miro, Braque, Picasso and Chagall while you wait for your order to arrive. Legend has it, hungry and cash-strapped artists donated paintings to the restaurant in exchange for some home cooking back in the 1920s and 30s, but these days they’re of course worth far more than the price of a plate of steak and chips! And if you just can’t get enough art, check out the Fondation Maeght at the entrance to the village for some fabulous contemporary pieces. Viewing over, take a stroll through the narrow streets of the old town to imagine life in the South of France during medieval times. Many of the original parapets are still intact, and today they house some of the town’s most beautiful terraces. Stop for a drink and enjoy a sunny afternoon spent sitting on a medieval rampart high over the hills and coastline below, this is living, Provence-style.
Up the road from St Paul de Vence is Vence, a little market town known as the City of Art. Just like smaller neighbour St Paul, Vence has been inspiring artists for years, and all the big names have passed through its medieval gateways in search of beauty and light, and a little of that Provençal flair. Just outside the town, visit the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, known locally as the Matisse Chapel with its glorious stained glass windows. Matisse loved Vence and considered the chapel to be his masterpiece, don’t miss his original sketches which show just how much planning went into creating the tiny chapel. Vence has been a market town for centuries and the daily food market in the Rue du Marché is the perfect place to spend a few hours wandering about. Browse the busy stalls where you can buy local honey, olives and the ubiquitous herbes de provence. Pick up some warm bread from the bakery stand to nibble on as you wander.
Every Wednesday the town also puts on an antiques market, and there is still the odd bargain to be had if you look closely enough amongst the piles of linen and glassware. If you get warm walking around, stop off at the fountain in Place Peyra for a glass of water direct from the source, although be warned, you might have to queue! The local water is actually mineral water and so delicious that locals fill up bottles and jugs to take home every day. Check out the stone plaque above the fountain to see a list of all the minerals found in it. If you’re thirsty for something other than water, head to Henry’s Bar on the Avenue Marcellin Maurel. This place is a local institution, order a drink and sit at one of the tables surrounded by locals putting the world to rights over tiny glasses of pastis. With its small town atmosphere and beautiful surroundings, it’s no wonder that Nostradamus dubbed Vence, the ‘marvel of Provence’.
The little villages of the hinterland have been quietly celebrating their traditional way of life for hundreds of years. So why not take advantage of one of the numerous festivals to pay homage to the beautiful flowers of the French Riviera. Or enjoy some of the musical and cultural events organised year-round in the hillside villages, you’ll be amazed by all there is to do away from the coast. We’ve put together a list of the year’s highlights to pop in your diary:
- Mandelieu Fete des Mimosas ~ February
- Valbonne Fête des Jardins ~ March
- Vence Le Printemps des Nuits du Sud ~ March- April
- Bar sur Loup Orange Blossom Festival ~ April
- Opio Rose Festival ~ May
- Grasse International Rose Exhibition ~ May
- Mougins International Gastronomy Festival~ June
- Vence Les Nuits du Sud Festival ~ July
- Grasse Jasmine Festival ~ August
- Mouans Sartoux Book Festival ~ October
- Mandelieu Mediterranean Land & Flavours Exhibition ~ November
- Grasse Christmas Fair ~ December
Luxury Properties for Rent in the Area
Our luxury properties in the hills behind Cannes are the perfect place to get away from it all. You’ll love the quiet and privacy of our villas set high above the coast with stunning views of the Mediterranean below. Treat yourself to a vacation in the French Riviera hinterland and enjoy the best of village life in fabulous style and comfort.
Sumptuous doesn’t begin to describe this incredible mansion situated in Grasse. Ultra-luxurious with 11 suites, the Renaissance-style house is set in beautiful Italian gardens, surrounded by orchards and even vineyards. Inside, you’ll love the spacious main living area and impressive amenities including a wine cellar complete with tasting room, gym plus massage room and large home cinema. Outside, there are 3 swimming pools in total featuring a waterfall and full-service bar.The huge garden also boasts 2 helipads, meaning your guests will always find it easy to find a parking space when they come to visit!
For a truly peaceful vacation, this beautiful contemporary villa in Mougins is exactly what you’ve been looking for. The villa’s interior and exterior were inspired by Japanese design and the zen influence is strong throughout the house.The gardens are impeccably landscaped ensuring stunning views over the bay below, enjoy a dip in the heated pool before cooling off with a drink in the summer kitchen. This is not just a rental property but rather, a luxury experience.
This traditional Provençal Mas in Grasse is a gorgeous setting for a family vacation. Set in a huge garden and surrounded by lavender plants and olive trees, you’ve found the heart of the French Riviera countryside. The Mas has 7 bedrooms and a large living space, ideal for getting all the family together. Spend your afternoons sitting on the terrace with a glass of local rosé while the kids play in the swimming pool, before challenging them to a game of boules on your private court. As the sun goes down, fire up the BBQ in the outdoor kitchen, this is a summer they’ll remember forever.
Set in the greenery of Mougins, this 5-bedroom villa is ultra modern and ultra comfortable. It has 4 floors in total featuring a rooftop terrace with a jacuzzi, plus a fitness room, sauna, steam room and home cinema to keep you entertained on the lower floors. The interior of the house has been designed with full-length windows throughout to make the most of all that Riviera sunshine whilst the outside spaces are conveniently located around the pool area. There is plenty of outdoor seating for guests and a fully-equipped summer kitchen for alfresco meals. With all this on hand, you might not need to leave the house at all during your vacation.
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Must See and Do in the Area
There are endless places to explore in the area around Grasse. Leave the coastal towns behind you and head up to the hill-top villages to discover a little of the region’s history and traditions. Enjoy the quieter pace of life in the hinterland, visit ancient historical monuments and medieval castles or go hiking amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Shop for hand blown glass jewellery in the tiny boutiques of Biot, perfume made with local roses in Grasse or original artwork in St Paul de Vence. Enjoy a gourmet meal in Mougins or relax with a coffee in a sunny square in Valbonne, the list is endless. We’ve selected a few of our favourite things to do in the area below to help you make the most of your visit to this fascinating part of the French Riviera.
No visit to France would be complete without trying some delicious French cheese. The French are famous for producing hundreds of different cheeses, in fact there are now more varieties made in France than days in a year! In the old town of Valbonne, passionate cheese fan Eric Gayraud runs 365 Fromages, a boutique which sells all things cheese-related. Pop in to learn more about the noble art of cheese-making and more importantly to try some of his best-selling products. He has a wide selection of locally-produced cheeses plus varieties from all over Europe and he’ll not only tell you all about them, he’ll even give you recipes for the best way to cook them. His little shop also sells locally-made olive oil, honey and chutneys to accompany the cheese selection, be warned you might need a basket to take all your goodies home with you! The shop’s speciality is a homemade brie and truffle which is an absolute must-buy, grab a baguette from the nearby bakery and enjoy an impromptu picnic in the sunshine once you finish your shopping. With so much choice and so much fabulous fromage on offer, this little shop is truly a cheese-lover’s paradise.
Turn the clocks back
There are dozens of hill-top villages to be found all over the hillside behind Cannes. But one of the loveliest is also one of the most overlooked with most visitors bypassing it completely. Chateâuneuf de Grasse is tucked away on a hillside facing the coast in the outskirts of Grasse. An authentic medieval village, its tiny streets are both charming and completely empty of tourists, which makes a refreshing change from the lively resorts farther down the coast. Spend a few hours discovering the picturesque Old Town with its decorative flagstones and trompe-l'oeil buildings but plan ahead, there are no shops or cafés in the village, so morning coffee is not an option. However what Chateauneuf lacks in commerces, it more than makes up for in scenery, climb to the top of the hill to check out the stunning views over the bay of Cannes and the mountains behind. And while you’re exploring, keep an eye out for the town rangers with their uniforms and distinctive leather sleeves. The village employs the rangers to scare off pigeons in the traditional fashion by using birds of prey. Spending a morning in Chateauneuf de Grasse means experiencing a slice of authentic village life, and discovering that the old methods are sometimes still the best.
Wine and dine
The French Riviera is blessed with hundreds of restaurants, but sometimes you find one which really stands out from the crowd.
La Cave de Tourrettes hidden away in the small village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup, is a fantastic wine bar and restaurant with an incredible view over the Loup gorge. The cosy atmosphere and warm welcome will make you feel right at home, this is very much still a traditional village restaurant. The menu is small but the food is delicious and everything is made with fresh local produce, the pork dish served with a red onion confit is mouthwateringly good. Ask the staff to recommend a wine for your meal, they have the biggest cellar in the area and they really know their stuff. For a meal with a view, ring ahead and ask for a table on the tiny hidden terrasse. With seating for just 12 people, you’re guaranteed a extra special evening in one of the prettiest villages on the hillside.
Olive oil is synonymous with the hills of the French Riviera. Olive trees are everywhere, and olive mills have been pressing the local black olives into oil for hundreds of years. One of the oldest olive mills is in the village of Opio, a few minutes drive away from Grasse. The Moulin d’Opio has been producing oil with seven generations of the same family at the helm since it opened in 1848. Take a drive through the beautiful Provençal countryside to Opio and go on a gourmet tasting tour of the mill. The tour kicks off with a guided visit of the two mills, one a traditional mill and the other a modern electrical mill. Learn about the history of the Niçois olive, the Michel family and the mill itself, before discovering just how the oil is produced. Then head to the sunny courtyard to try fresh green and black olives, homemade tapenade, and of course the famous olive oils. The mill produces some delicious oils flavoured with garlic, rosemary, lemon and truffle. Owner Mr Michel recommends accompanying them with a glass of rosé wine for the full Provençal experience. After the tasting, make sure you visit the gift shop where you can purchase the oils and olives, but also hand carved olive wood bowls and toiletries made with olive oil to keep your skin glowing with that French Riviera touch.
If you’d like any further suggestions for things to do in and around this area, please just let us know. Our dedicated concierge team will be more than happy to give you some recommendations.
When is best to Visit?
We’re pretty sure you’ll love this area of the French Riviera whenever you decide to visit. The hinterland enjoys long hot summers and very mild winters, so you’re guaranteed sunshine all year round. The peak season for visitors is from May to September when the green hills make a welcome change from the heat of the coast and the villages are always celebrating a saint’s day or two.
In summer, come to the hinterland for the village celebrations, outdoor concerts and fireworks displays which light up the hillside during the months of July and August. A big advantage of the area is having Cannes, Nice and Monaco on your doorstep. You’ll be able to check out the glittering French Riviera nightlife down in the city before leaving the summer crowds behind and heading home to your countryside villa.
This part of the Riviera has been welcoming winter visitors since European royalty decided to put it on the map back in the late 19th Century. Come during the cooler months and take part in some of the traditional festivals held all over the area. There are events dedicated to chestnuts, wine and even nativity scenes during the latter part of the year, plus of course all the Christmas fun and fairs in December. Spending winter in the hinterland is also a great excuse to enjoy the fresh powder up in the mountains. The Southern Alps are just a short ride away with the nearest ski station, Gréolières Les Neiges less than 40 minutes drive from Grasse.
The hillside of the French Riviera is truly an idyllic holiday location. With so much going on, you’ll always have somewhere to go during your stay, in fact, you might just need to book a return trip to ensure you have time to fit it all in!
How to get there
Getting to the French Riviera hinterland couldn’t be easier. The villages and towns behind Cannes are close to the seafront resorts and there are lots of ways to get from the coast to the hills in comfort. Here are a few of our suggestions to help you plan your journey:
- By plane: Book a flight to centrally-located Nice Côte d'Azur International Airport
- By helicopter: Transfer from Nice to Cannes via helicopter
- By rail: Travel by train to the Antibes, Cannes and Grasse railway stations
- By yacht: We have partnerships with local yacht brokers if you would like to reserve a yacht berth on the coast during your stay
If you are travelling to the area from within the French Riviera, we can organise a private car service to pick you up. Your driver will take you directly to your rental accommodation in air-conditioned comfort. If you would like any further information about this service, please get in touch with our team.
If you’d like any more information about our luxury rental properties, or you have any questions about the French Riviera Hillside area, please contact our team. We will be happy to find you the perfect place to stay during your vacation.