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The culture of the Cote d'Azur: the best places to visit in the South of France

By Richard Watkins   10 July 2019

Steeped in history and culture, the French Riviera boasts plenty of museums, art galleries and public gardens. Discover them all on a luxury yacht charter. 

The South of France has long been one of the most popular destinations for private yacht charter vacations, and it is easy to see why.

Home to spectacular beaches, sophisticated resorts and excellent restaurants drawing the international Jet Set throughout the year, the French Riviera has it all.

However, for those interested in exploring the history and culture of the Côte d'Azur there is so much more to enjoy, from world class museums and art galleries to architectural treasures and exquisite gardens.

Below are some suggestions of places you might like to visit during your next superyacht charter in the South of France.

The Matisse Museum, Nice

Facade of the Matisse Museum in Nice, with three rows of tall windows and trees in wooden planters in front
Facade of the Matisse Museum, Nice
Excavated Roman remains in Nice, with standing, broken columns and a wall
a close-up view of a Matisse painting, showing red and yellow fruit in bowls and a vase with a flower

Housed in an elegant 17th century villa in the quiet Cimiez district of Nice, just north of the city centre, the Museé Matisse holds an important collection of the paintings, drawings, sculptures and paper cut-outs created by the French artist Henri Matisse.

As well as works from all stages of his career, the museum displays some of the personal belongings of Matisse, bequethed by the artist after his death in Nice in 1954, and there are regular temporary exhibitions.

Also worth a look while you are here are the remains of the Roman bath complex behind the museum, and the nearby ruins of a Roman theatre.

After your visit, return to the city centre and round off your day with a fine dining experience at Le Chantecler at the legendary Hotel Negresco.

Oceanographic Museum, Monaco

A sea-facing view of the Oceanographic Museum in Nice, a tall white building perched on the rock face
Sea-facing view of the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco
Inside the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, showing a tank of tropical fish
A close-up view of an eel, with its mouth open underwater

Occupying a comanding seafront location, the Oceanographic Museum is an unmissable destination for those visiting the area on a Monaco yacht charter.

Founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I, this is one of the oldest aquariums in the world, holding a collection of some 6000 specimens of marine life, including hundreds of Mediterranean and tropical fish species and its famous centrepiece, the 6m-deep shark lagoon.

There is also an opportunity to get close to some of the sea creatures in the tactile pool and enjoy a light and sound show in the Whale Room, with its gigantic whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling.

Following your visit to the Oceanographic Museum, head to Nobu for cocktails and a fabulous seafood dinner on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.

The Val Rahmeh Exotic Garden, Menton

A lilly pond, with large lilly pads and trees in the distance at the Val Rahmeh Exotic Garden in Menton
A lilly pond at the Val Rahmeh Exotic Garden in Menton
The Val Rahmeh Exotic Garden in Menton, showing a stone amphora on a lawn with palm trees behind
Close-up of a purple tropical flower in the Val Rahmeh Exotic Garden in Menton

Close to the Italian border, Menton is said to enjoy a warmer micro-climate than elsewhere on the French Riviera, ideal for cultivating tropical plants and fruits, including, of course, its famous lemons.

Menton is renowned for its beautiful gardens, including the Jardin Exotique Val Rahmeh, established by the English Lord Percy Radcliffe in 1905. Located just east of the centre of Menton, the garden is now owned by the French Museum of Natural History and is open to the public.

Full of colourful tropical and sub-tropical flowers and plants, the garden boasts intriguing exotica such as banana and kiwi trees, bamboo and cacti, as well as a rare sophora toromiro tree from Easter Island, where it is now extinct.

If you want to stay in Menton for dinner after your visit, head to Mirazur, named the best restaurant in the world in 2019.

The Picasso Museum, Antibes

The outdoor stone terrace of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, showing a bronze abstract sculpture

Formerly known as the Chateau Grimaldi, this imposing medieval fortress was used as a studio by Pablo Picasso in 1946, and twenty years later it became the first museum in the world entirely dedicated to the works of the Spanish artist.

Today one of the best known museums on the French Riviera, The Picasso Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in 20th century art. On show are 245 of Picasso's paintings, including one of his most famous works, La Joie de Vivre. Also here is a collection of his ceramics, drawings and etchings.

The Private Collection Of Antique Cars Of H.S.H. Prince Rainier III, Monaco

Racing cars inside the Collection de Voitures Anciennes in Monaco behind a rope barrier
View of racing cars in the Collection de Voitures Anciennes in Monaco

Based around the private collection of classic car enthusiast Prince Rainier III, which he began in the 1950s, the Collection de Voitures Anciennes was opened to the public in 1993, and is now on show in Monaco's Terrasses de Fontvielle.

Around one hundred cars are on display, ranging from a 1903 De Dion Bouton to a 2013 Lotus F1, as well as a variety of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Rolls Royce models and racing cars which competed in the Monte Carlo Rally and Monaco Grand Prix.

After you have perused the automobiles on show, you might like to relax with a cold drink by the pool at Nikki Beach, and perhaps stay on for the party.

The Lerins Islands, near Cannes

Well-preserved fortified ruins of a medieval monastery by the sea on the island of Saint Honorat
Fortified ruins near the Abbaye de Lerins on Saint Honorat Island
Aerial view of the Abbaye de Lerins  on Saint Honorat island, showing the bell tower and main buildings, trees and sea in front
Inside the church of the Abbaye de Lerins on Saint Honorat island, looking towards the altar, showing gret stone columns and arches and wooden pews

Just off the coast of Cannes, the Îles de Lérins are renowned for their unspoilt natural beauty and tranquility, offering a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the mainland, and an easy destination for those visiting the Cote d'Azur on a private yacht charter.

On the largest island, Saint Marguerite, you'll find the Fort Royal, a former prison which was once home, it is said, to the legendary Man in the Iron Mask made famous by Alexandre Dumas. Also here is the Maritime Museum and 22km of forest hiking trails.

The smaller island, Saint Honorat, has been home to a monastic community since the 5th century. The abbey offers guided tours and sells wine and honey produced by the resident monks, while there is also a restaurant if you want to stay for lunch. For dinner, head back to Cannes and spend the evening at Baoli Cannes.

Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence

A bizarre abstract statue in white stone in the garden of the Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence
The exterior of the main building of the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence, with large windows and unusual curved white roof designView of a long rectangular pool in the garden of the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence, with trees behind

On a hill overlooking Saint-Paul de Vence, around 9km inland from Cagnes sur Mer, the striking modernist building of the Fondation Maeght is home to one of Europe's largest and most important collections of 20th century art, including works by Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti and Fernand Léger.

Established in 1964 by Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, the museum is set in beautifully landscaped gardens laid out with sculptures, and temporary exhibitions are held throughout the year. An easy day trip for those vising the coast on a French Riviera yacht vacation, the Fondation Maeght is the perfect excursion for art lovers.

For dinner, there are some fine restaurants around Saint-Paul de Vence, or if you prefer, head back to Nice and enjoy the laid-back seafront style of Le Plongeoir.

Frejus Cathedral, Frejus

Internal courtyard of Frejus Cathedral showing a two storey building with arched windows
Internal courtyard of Frejus Cathedral
Exterior of Frejus Cathedral, showing a tall pale stone bell tower and baptistery against a blue sky
A cloister at Frejus Cathedral, with arched windows supported on columns with an internal courtyard beyond

Outwardly rather simple and plain in appearance, Frejus Cathedral is a fine example of early Gothic architecture, and its octagonal baptistery, dating from the 5th century and incorporating Roman columns, is one of the oldest Christian buildings in France.

One of the highlights of a visit to the Cathedral is its cloister, with its 14th century wooden ceilings adorned with colourful paintings of Biblical scenes, as well as a vivid assortment of domestic and fantastical animals, angels, devils, and humorous human figures from daily medieval life.

National Sport Museum, Nice

Interior of the National Sport Museum in Nice with a display of motorbikes and other vehicles
Display at the National Sport Museum in Nice

Originally established in Paris in 1963, France's National Sport Museum relocated to a purpose-built venue in the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice in 2014, with extensive displays chronicling a wide variety of sports going back as far as the 16th century.

The museum has a collection of more than 100,000 sporting items, one of the biggest and most important in the world, including comprehensive displays on the history of the modern Olympic Games, as well as exhibitions covering cycling, football, rugby and other major French sports.

Cast an eye over Olympic torches, athletic trophies, paintings, sculptures and assorted sporting memorabilia, and at the end of your day, relax over drinks and dinner on board your superyacht.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Pink and red roses beside stone ornaments in the garden of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in SaintJean-Cap-FerratFront view of the horseshoe shaped double saircase in the garden of the Villa Ephussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat with trees either side
View of the Villa Ephrissi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a pink mansion surrounded by trees with a long pond in front

Built between 1905 and 1912 for Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild, a member of the famous banking dynasty, this elegant rose-hued seaside villa surrounded by nine lush gardens, is one of the architectural gems of the French Riviera.

The Baroness was a keen collector of antique furniture, porcelain and Old Master paintings, and filled her villa with these treasures. After her death in 1934 she bequeathed her property to the Académie des Beaux-Arts and it is now open to the public.

The sumptuous interiors, complete with their 18th century furnishings, have been kept as the Baroness left them, while the themed gardens are perhaps the greatest attraction, laid out with waterfalls, ponds, flower beds and mature trees following various styles.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is an easy excursion from Nice, and following your visit to the villa, head to Le Chantecler restaurant for a suitably elegant dinner.

If you'd like to discover more about what the region has to offer, you can view our guide to South of France yacht charters

Ready to take the first step towards planning your dream superyacht vacation? View and compare the complete fleet of luxury yachts for charter in the South of France


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