The French Riviera, also known as Côte d’Azur, is one of the most popular places to visit in France for gay travelers because of the gorgeous weather, rich history and relaxed attitude. It stretches from the town of Menton, near the Italian border, all the way to Toulon.
The area was a wellness retreat for British and European aristocrats during the winter months, in the late 18th century. It then became a top vacation spot for the likes of Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Pablo Picasso, and Francis Bacon. In the period after the Second World War, novelist Colette helped rebuild the area and the legendary Cannes Film Festival debuted in 1946.
In 1956, popular American actress Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco, making the area more well-known globally. This cemented the Côte d’Azur as a favorite choice for the elite, including Princess Diana during the months before she passed. In a place with such rich history and culture, it can be overwhelming deciding what to fit into your trip, so here are a few pointers.
Towns to see & things to see:
Nice is the capital of the French Riviera, and is often referred to as France’s other gay capital outside of Paris and Montpellier. Nice has an incredibly rich gay culture, so you will find plenty of gay bars, clubs and more for you to explore. Interesting things to see include the Vieille Ville, the Cours Saleya Market, Mont Boron and The Matisse Museum.
The Cannes Film Festival put Cannes on the global map, but this resort town has been a popular destination for the rich due to the gorgeous sandy beaches, luxury boutiques and charming buildings. Make sure to check out Rue d’Antibes, Île Sainte-Marguerite, La Croisette, and the Star-Studded Walk.
Menton is one of the quieter coastal villages that is right on the Franco-Italian border. Its location means that there are many Italian influences, the main one being the food. There is also an annual Lemon Festival, as the area heavily relies on the production and harvesting of lemons. The Jean Cocteau Museum, Le Salle des Mariages the Promenade du Soleil are popular places to visit for gay travelers.
Antibes is one of the better known parts of the Côte d’Azur, and was one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s favorite places as it inspired him so much. There are plenty of food markets to go to, as well as Picasso’s old home Chateau Grimaldi. Visit Le Sentier du Littoral, Old Town, Le Nomade, and Port Vauban.
La Colline du Chateau
La Colline du Chateau, which translates to Castle Hill, is a must-see purely for the views of the Mediterranean. Make sure to head to Old Town (Nice) and explore the historic city, and check out the gay nightlife in the evening.
Grasse, a medieval village, is known as the world’s perfume capital. This village is picture perfect, with vast lavender fields and is perfect for exploring the rest of the Riviera as it is sandwiched between Nice and Cannes. Here you will find perfumeries, as well as a wide range of old paintings, including some by Rubens. Make sure to visit the Musee du Bijou et du Costume Provencal, the Gorges du Loup, and Molinard.
When in the French Riviera, you must visit the micro state of Monaco. One of the richest cities in the entire world, this little pocket of the Riviera is lined with luxury and opulence. Apart from admiring the pretty yachts, you can visit the Cathedral, Monte Carlo casino, or make friends with someone that owns one of the said yachts and go for a spin. Other interesting places to visit in Monaco include the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, the Prince’s Palace, Vieux Monaco, and the Casino Square.
Èze is a charming medieval village that is famed for its amazing views of the Mediterranean from any vantage point. Whilst you’re here, make sure to see the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix which has been standing since the 1300s, visit the exotic gardens Le Jardin Exotique Èze, and walk the Nietzsche path. Some other gorgeous places to visit include the Eglise NOtre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, Fort de la Revère, and Mont Bastide.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is most known for the extravagant Villa de Rothschild, the pink mansion that is sat on top of a hill, that you can tour. There is also the option to hike around Cap Ferrat, or head to Fosses Beach which is particularly good for snorkeling. Other beaches include Paloma Beach and Plage de Passable.
Due to it being sunny for at least 300 days out of the year, the French Riviera’s beaches are some of the best in the world.
Plage de Tahiti
The Plage de Tahiti is a nudist beach located on the northern end of Pampelonne beach in St. Tropez, and has been the place to be seen since the 1950s. This beach is incredibly popular and has around 30,000 visitors daily. For more information on the best nudist beaches, click here.
Èze-sur-Mer Beach is a well-kept gem and is a must-visit if you are in the town of Èze. It can be reached via the Nietzsche Path which connects the village to the beach.
Larvotto Beach, located in Monaco is one of the best places to visit in the area if you are on a budget. There are plenty of restaurants and bars in the area, but note they will be expensive, so consider bringing a picnic.
Calanque d’En Vau
Calanque d’En Vau is a gorgeous beach that is sat the in a national park, in Marseilles. Whilst arguably outside the boundaries of the Riviera, this beach is close enough to Toulon that a day trip is possible. It is surrounded by cliffs, crystalline water, the occasional wild boar wandering on the beach, the Calanque d’En Vau is truly picturesque.
Most of the gay nightlife in the French Riviera can be found in Nice, which is known as France’s other gay capital, after Paris. There are plenty of gay-specific and gay-popular events, bars and clubs, here are a few examples of both gay and non-gay specific events that you can go to:
Lou Queernaval is France’s first queer carnival, located in Nice, is part of the Nice carnival which takes place in February. The carnival features live acts from drag queens and gogo dancers, as well as live singers and much more!
Pink Parade is part of the Pride festivities in Nice, which usually draws in large crowds and is a great place to immerse yourself into one of the biggest gay scenes outside of Paris.
In&Out Festival & Zefestival
In&Out Festival is a queer film festival, taking place in April, and can be found in both Nice and Cannes. Zefestival is also an LGBT film festival that screens films by up and coming queer filmmakers. Screenings can be found in Nice and Toulon, and the festival usually takes place in September.
The Monaco Grand Prix
The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most well known events to come out of the French Riviera, and naturally there’s many a lavish event you can attend. Hotels in the area offer packages for those wanting to take part in the festivities.
Nice Carnival takes place in February, and considered one of the largest carnivals in France. There are giant, spectacular floats and fantastical annual themes, making this festival famous globally.
Events in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is where you will find the Great Venetian Night, a masked parade that happens in August, as well as an annual Jazz festival.
Much of the nightlife in the French Riviera is naturally gay-friendly with it being such a gay-popular place. Some must-visit bars and clubs include:
- Les Toits is located at the Hotel de Paris in St. Tropez and is a rooftop bar that has sweeping views of the Mediterranean. This bar has a heated pool, as well as regular DJ sets.
- Le Bar Americain is an iconic, long-standing bar that is located in Hotel de Paris, in Monte Carlo, Monaco. It has a retro 1920s feel to it, with signature cocktails, a patio and much more.
- Drinkers Club is a wine and cocktail bar located in Antibes, and is well-known for hosting live jazz music.
- High Club is a very popular nightclub located in Nice. The venue has world-renowned guest DJs play sets, it has three dance floors, and even has a snack bar to satisfy your late night cravings.
- Le Gotha is a lively nightclub that is located on the Croisette, Cannes. This club is near so close to the beach that is has gorgeous views of the sea, and is a great place to go if you want to dance all night long and catch the sunrise.
As the French Riviera is incredibly popular with LGBT travelers, many of the hotels here are by nature gay-friendly even if they are not gay-specific. Some suggestions would be any major hotel chain such as AC by Marriott (an IGTLA member), Hotel Le Negresco (located in Nice) which is also an IGTLA member, and the Best Western Plus (Antibes).
Transportation in the French Riviera is tricky, as there isn’t much parking space due to the narrow roads. There are plenty of options however, ranging from car rental which is convenient for exploring without having to worry about parking. You can also make use of the public transportation such the regional trains (TER) and buses.