The Côte d’Azur, known for its sunny beaches and glamorous cities, attracts many travelers to its iconic destinations. In this article, we try to take you on a different journey, exploring the “secret” corners of the Côte d’Azur: village, beach, promenade, islands…
Read our tips for discovering the Côte d’Azur off the beaten track.
This guide is completely independent, based on our experiences. We visited the region anonymously, making our own choices and paying our bills in full.
Hidden gems of the Côte d’Azur: the reality
The Côte d’Azur is a highly-developed and touristic region. As a result, you won’t find any undiscovered “secret” locations. There are people everywhere.
In this article, we share with you:
- Places where we went in the middle of the day and didn’t see many tourists.
- The places we were able to discover almost single-handedly by getting there before 10 a.m.
We use the modern definition of the Côte d’Azur from Menton to Cassis.
1. The village of Sainte-Agnès
Sainte-Agnès is an unspoilt medieval village with narrow streets, stone houses and a timeless atmosphere. It’s known as Europe’s highest coastal village. It’s perched at an altitude of 800m, overlooking the sea!
Thanks to its strategic location, it has a long military history, with the ruins of a castle at the summit, and the Fort de Sainte-Agnes (part of the Maginot Line), built before the Second World War, which juts out into the rocky spur.
It has the “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” label, and in our opinion is one of the most beautiful villages in the region.
It lies in the hills behind the town of Menton.
2. The town of La Ciotat
It’s a city, so it’s always busy. But, in our opinion, visiting La Ciotat is an excellent alternative to the ultra-touristic neighboring town of Cassis.
We fell in love with its pretty little port, its long sandy beaches and its history of shipbuilding and cinema… And above all, we were surprised to be able to enjoy the magnificent calanques, surrounded by rock formations, on foot.
What’s more, the city is very easy to explore on foot, with a relaxed atmosphere.
It lies to the east of Marseille.
OUR TPS FOR RENTING YOUR CAR IN Provence
- Compare prices on our preferred platform: DiscoverCars – one of the best rated sites.
- Choose a car that is powerful enough (the roads are steep) but compact (some passages are narrow).
- Think of thecomplete insurance (some roads are tortuous and narrow).
- There is a lot of demand, book it early.
3. Èze beach
We fell in love with this beach, which is much less well known than its associated village, one of the most beautiful on the Côte d’Azur.
We loved the blue-graded waters, from turquoise to deep sapphire, creating a captivating aquatic landscape. We were also fascinated by the view of the sheer cliffs, offering a dramatic yet majestic setting.
Admittedly, it’s not a sandy beach, but we find it beautiful and much quieter: a place to rest and breathe. We enjoyed the serenity.
Some list the island of Porquerolles as one of the Côte d’Azur’s hidden gems. It’s indeed a jewel, but it’s also a very popular tourist destination in all seasons. The name may be less familiar to foreigners, but you’ll never be alone.
For a lesser-known island, we recommend Ile Verte in La Ciotat. It’s much smaller (you can get around it in 1 hour), but it’s got a lot of charm:
- Its three beaches
- Its impressive calanques
- Views of the sea and the La Ciotat coastline
- The forts that protected the port
- see more photos
From the town of La Ciotat, east of Marseille.
5. The Villa Thuret garden
The Côte d’Azur harbors a number of botanical gems to delight the senses.
One of the lesser-known gardens, more discreet in its beauty, is the Villa Thuret.
Unlike the other gardens, Villa Thruret is a scientific research site. The team has been working on acclimatization since 1857.
It’s a magnificent garden that’s a little less visually oriented for tourists, but allows you to discover some superb trees. Georges Sand wrote in Lettres d’un voyageur in 1868: “…the most beautiful garden she had ever seen…”.
It’s very quiet and a little less visited than the others, allowing you to lose yourself in contemplation and listen to the sounds of nature.
South-west of Antibes.
WHERE TO STAY ON THE Côte d’Azur
Option 1: City of Nice
A city with beautiful architecture, a long seafront promenade and lots of museums.
Option 2: Menton
For a town full of charm, close to several charming villages and mountains.
Option 3: Saint-Tropez
A small town surrounded by nature, known for its jet-set but also with a lot of charm!
6. Saint-Honorat Island
The island of Saint-Honorat, a hidden treasure on the Côte d’Azur, is an ideal destination for lovers of nature and tranquillity.
From Cannes, many people visit the island of Sainte-Marguerite (which we also love), but not so many visit the second island behind it.
On the garden island of Saint-Honorat, monks have for centuries perpetuated the art of caring for magnificent trees, vines and plants, creating a veritable haven of peace. Far from the hustle and bustle of the Côte d’Azur, the island of Saint-Honorat offers a quiet getaway where time seems to slow down. In addition to its peaceful beaches and secluded coves, the magnificent gardens surrounding the monastery add to its charm and invite contemplation and meditation.
7. Coastal path at Cap d’Antibes
Locals will tell you that it’s not really off the beaten track. It’s true that they like to walk there.
But outside the summer or school vacations, it’s really very quiet.
In our opinion, this is one of the most beautiful walks on the Côte d’Azur.
We really enjoyed the rock formations and mountain views.
South of Antibes.
8 à 10. Avoid the crowds before 10 a.m.: the most beautiful jewels at their quietest
8. Village Èze before 10 a.m. or at night
Èze is the most popular village on the Côte d’Azur and even in Provence. So we had a preconceived notion when we went there. But he absolutely deserves his popularity. It’s exceptional!
Perched on a steep hill some 427 metres above the Mediterranean Sea, it offers spectacular views of the coast and sea. It’s a maze of narrow lanes and cobbled streets, typical of the Mediterranean region, with tunnels and arches. You can stroll through the picturesque alleyways, explore the local craft stores and discover Èze’s charming medieval architecture.
Arrive early to enjoy the charming alleyways with no one around and discover the exotic garden with its exceptional views before the crowds arrive.
You can even stay overnight at two exceptional hotels.
- At Hotel Chateau Eza – see photos and availability
- At Hotel La Chèvre d’Or – see photos and availability
9. Calanques de Cassis hikes before 10 a.m.
The calanques of Cassis are a must-see on the Côte d’Azur. These arms of water in the heart of the cliffs really deserve their popularity.
We advise you to start your hike early, so that you can begin your return journey at 10 a.m. when people start arriving. There may be a little less sunshine, but you’ll be able to admire the beauty of the transparent waters, the rocks and the trees in peace and quiet.
Excellent moments of serenity that we loved!
10. All beaches before 10 a.m.
And of course, not all the Côte d’Azur’s most beautiful beaches are crowded before 10am. It’s time to savor the calm, with your toes sunk in the sand (or gravel…) and your eyes riveted on the horizon, admiring the shades of blue and green.
And explore the interior
And the further inland you go, in the rest of Provence, away from the coast, the more hidden gems you’ll find, far less touristy.
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO THE Côte d’Azur
- Where to stay