With its turquoise inlets, Medieval hilltop towns, and winding coastal roads, there are thousands of reasons why a French Riviera road trip should be on your bucket list. Also known as the Côte d’Azur, this renowned Meditteranean region is famous for its pastel-colored resort towns, the Cannes Film Festival, and year-round good weather. Seriously, if 300 days of sun isn’t enough for you, we don’t know what is!
Doubtless one of the world’s most luxurious destinations, the French Riviera’s high-rolling casinos, and yacht-filled marinas might seem a stretch if you’re on a budget. But you don’t have to be Beyoncé to make the most of this beguiling region. In this article, we’ll show you how your can do a fantastic French Riviera road trip without breaking the bank. This two-week itinerary shows how to experience the region’s highlights without tripping into any costly tourist traps. That’s also why, with over 400 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve found our user’s favorite accommodation that comes in at under USD 200 per night.
When to Go on Your French Riviera Road Trip
With the Mercantour Alps to the northwest and coastal hills to the west, you can expect good weather most of the year-round. July and August are peak tourist season, with busier beaches and forward planning recommended if you’re looking for affordable accommodation. Meanwhile, June and September are arguably the best months to visit if you want space to throw down a beach towel. Pushing further into Spring and Autumn, swimming in the sea is still an option, but the weather can be variable. Anything more than dipping your toes is off the cards during the winter months. However, the weather remains mild and there are some delightful Christmas markets to be explored in villages like St Paul de Vence. In February, Nice holds a 15-day carnival parade drawing huge crowds of revelers.
Days One and Two: Nice
Nice’s Côte d’Azur Airport is by far the easiest point of entry for your French Riviera road trip, with direct flights from across Europe and as far afield as New York in the summer. But convenience isn’t the only reason you’ll want to kick off your adventure here. Nice is a stunning seaside destination, known for its elegant Italianate buildings and seafront boardwalk, Promenade des Anglais. Save a few hours to wander along with its pebbly beachfront, or lounge on the sand at nearby Plage des Marinières. Away from the sea, the old town, Vieille Ville, rewards ambling visitors with tiny alley side cafés and creperiés. While you’re there, don’t miss the market sellers on Cours Saleya, who hawk fresh flowers and regional delicacies like socca. You’ll find them every day but Monday, when there’s a flee market instead!
Where to Stay in Nice:
Nice offers plenty of affordable accommodation, and you’ll get more for your euro here than elsewhere on the riviera. Hôtel Suisse, for example, offers one fo the best views of the seafront and easy access to Vieille Ville. The rooms themselves are warmly decorated contemporary spaces, the smaller of which Juliet balconies overlooking the water. An upgrade to the privilege room comes with a larger terrace suitable for dining, and a welcome glass of champagne.
- Castel Plage. Scenic waterfront restaurant with great seafood and a private beach (100 meters)
- Saleya Food Market. Old-town bazar hawking flowers and local treats like succo (350 meters)
- Castle Hill. Historic mount with city panoramas and a man-made waterfall (400 meters)
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 178 – USD 586
Guest Rating: 8.6
Address: 15 Quai Rauba Capeu, 06300 Nice, France
You’ll find this charming boutique hotel in Thiers, an arty downtown neighborhood known for its belle epoque architecture. Villa Victoria’s central location didn’t stop it from scooping out 600m2 of space for its leafy garden, filled with cozy terrace seating and a dreamy creeper-covered gazebo. Opt for either a boulevard or garden view room and sleep soundly thanks to their soundproofed design. Begin the day with a breakfast buffet in the garden or have pastries and coffee brought to your room. If you’re eager to start exploring immediately, there are a number of exceptional cafés right on your doorstep.
- Le Séjour. Cozy regional restaurant serving upscale cuisine that’s full of surprises (400 meters)
- Plage de Carras. Pebbly yet pretty city beach along the Promenade des Anglais (650 meters)
- Masséna Square. Open public square with picturesque Italian architecture (900 meters)
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 155 – USD 332
Guest Rating: 8.7
Address: 33 Boulevard Victor Hugo, 06000 Nice, France
Proximity to the train station, ample parking, and a short walk to the beach make Hôtel Nice Excelsior great for a fuss-free start to your French Riviera road trip. Still, there’s plenty to love about the accommodation itself. The vibrant guest rooms are fairly memorable, with city line drawings and illustrations scribbled all over the walls. A similar sense of fun can be found on the patio, where you can sip on colorful cocktails from sundown until late at the terrace bar.
- L’antica. Cozy Nicoise bistro popular for its fantastic local fare (350 meters)
- Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. Vast 19th-century neogothic cathedral (350 meters)
- Downtown mall housing various international brands (700 meters)
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 107 – USD 240
Guest Rating: 8.2
Address: 19 Avenue Durante, 06000 Nice, France
Days Three and Four: Vence
With the brilliant blue of the Baie des Anges on your left, you head south before switching away from the sea at Cagnes-sur-Mer. Here, you ascend into the coastal hills, leaving the tourist crowds behind you. The time-weathered hilltop town of Vence receives fewer visitors than elsewhere on the riviera and is hugely underrated. This is one of those slices of rural France you normally have to get well off the beaten track to experience. Think old men in flat caps, street-side games of boules, and cozy shoebox bistros. Losing yourself along Vence’s 13th-century alleyways is in itself enough of a treat. Once you get your bearings, check out cobble-stoned Place du Peyra and its delightful terrace restaurants.
Where to stay in Vence:
Allow yourself to fully appreciate Vence’s historic charms by staying inside in medieval walls. Built into the fortifications, this 17th century building still displays much of its historic architecture, especially in the dining room, with its wood-burning fireplace and grand cooking alcove. Diners can look forward to rustic French fare, which in summer can be taken on their roadside terrace to fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. A family run establishment, Auberge des Seigners has been run by four generations of the same Vençois family. A testament to their excellent service — some guests have been coming back for over 40 years.
- Restaurant la Litote. Artfully presented local specialities served in a historic setting (120 meters)
- Cathedral of Our Lady of the Nativity. Medieval cathedral with historic exhibits (260 meters)
- Porte Signadour. A 13th-century watchtower, at times decorated with bushels of fresh flowers (290 meters)
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 97 – USD 113
Guest Rating: 9.3
Address: Place du Frêne, Vence, Alpes-Maritimes, France
Days Four and Five: Antibes
Antibes sees less foot traffic than neighboring Cannes, but we’re struggling to see why. Combining rural cobble-stone charm with a gorgeous seaside location, we’d argue it belongs on every French Riviera road trip itinerary. In decades past, idyllic Antibes seduced numerous writers and artists. Graham Greene lived here for 24 years. Pablo Picasso fell in love with the town and depicted it in many paintings. You can follow the master’s footsteps along the Picasso Trail.
For beach lovers, Antibes is an ideal destination. Plage du Ponteil offers golden sands and plenty of seaside dining. A little further afield, Plage Mala is a cliff-cut inlet with the saucy distinction of being used as a secret getaway for Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his mistress.
Where to stay in Antibes:
The waterfront location of this property is pretty sweet considering that it’s in one of the pricier parts of the French Riviera. Royal Antibes has it’s own private “beach” — a rocky outcrop with plenty of sun loungers and a bar on site. If you want to wriggle your toes in the sand a but, Plage du Ponteil is just a few steps out the hotel.
In terms of accommodation, the guest rooms and suites keep it the decor contemporary and the lines clean; a luxury boathouse kind of vibe. If you’re eager for a sea view, you’ll have to stretch for a suite. But with generous terrace spaces (and a jacuzzi if you request the Royal), there’s plenty of reason to do so.
- Salis Beach. Sandy beach perfect for swimming and sunbathing (750 meters)
- Picasso Museum. Museum dedicated to the master painter housed in the charming château where he once lived. (750 meters)
- Absinthe Museum. Bar cum museum dedicated to the notoriously bohemian liquor. Becomes a live music lounge on Friday and Saturday (750 meters)
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 174 – USD 893
Guest Rating: 8.1
Address: 16 Boulevard Marechal Leclerc, 06600 Antibes, Alpes-Maritimes, France
Days Six and Seven: St Raphael
Like many resort towns along the French Riviera, St Raphäel thrived as an escape for artists and writers during the early 20th century. That appeal has survived untarnished, despite widespread destruction during World War II. St Raphäel’s charming harborfront and sandy swimming beaches charm those who stop here on their French Riviera road trip. Best of all, it’s much cheaper than elsewhere on the coast.
Give yourself a day to chill around in the town proper and then use the rest of your time to explore nearby Cap Estérel. This mostly protected region is the western end of a small coastal mountain change, and there are a number of undeveloped beaches and pretty hikes to explore here. Thrillseekers will love the ziplining and cable walk at Les Lacs Adrénaline.
Where to stay in St Raphael:
Best Western Plus Hotel La Marina is resort-style accommodation right next to the St Lucia harbor. Its sensibly decorated rooms come with all the holiday comforts you’d expect at this price range: cable TV, a minifridge, and a balcony with the exception of the city view rooms. Request a port view to enjoy a terrace dining space that overlooks a fleet of bobbing yachts. If you want to lounge about for a couple of days, you’ll be pleased to know this hotel also has an outdoor pool.
- L’Obsolète. Creative cocktails served in a bluesy, unpretentious setting (300 meters)
- Sentier du Littoral. Scenic walk along rocky cliffs and through coastal woodland (900 meters)
- Plage des Fournas. Discreet cove with a pebble beach and lovely scenery (1.1 kilometers)
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 114 – USD 328
Guest Rating: 8.4
Address: 30 Place de la Marina, 83700 Saint-Raphaël, Var, France
Stay at Hotel Continental and you’ll have two sandy swimming beaches less than 10 minutes’s walk away. There’s plenty of interesting beach-town ambling to be done around the Hotel Continental, with downtown and the old port nearby. Once you’ve dawdled with ice cream, heard back to your airy guest room. Interiors are a pleasing Mediterranean standard in white and terracotta. If you’re taking the kids on your French Riviera road trip, ask for the Famille Ville, which accommodates four.
- Clos Séméria. Artfully created seafood and lighter fare in an intimate setting (550 meters)
- Saint-Raphael Archaeological Museum. Artifacts from antiquity and the middle ages presented a former church (600 meters)
- Roc D’Azur. Local country club (3.6 kilometers)
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 159 – USD 230
Guest Rating: 8.0
Address: 101 Promenade Rene Coty, 83700 Saint-Raphaël, Var, France
Days Eight and Nine: Hyères
With its oche apartments and shuttered windows, Hyères is a delight to explore. The town’s historic center is a network of winding cobbled streets and creeper-covered cottages that rise sharply away from the coast. Follow them up the hill and you’ll find yourself in Place Massillon, a charming medieval square with plenty of outdoor restaurants serving rustic local fare.
Not all of Hyères charms are to be found in the old town, however. Head down to the ferry terminal and you’ll be able to hop over to the nearby Giens peninsula. For outdoorsy types, this rugged headland is a natural playground of scrambly coastal hikes, watersports, and undeveloped beaches. In particular, Almanarre Beach is a wonderful sandy stretch for paddling and windsurfing.
Where to stay in Hyères:
Even if you’re not looking to gamble on your French Riviera road trip, there’s still plenty to make you consider a stay at Hotel des Palmiers. Housed in an elegant 19th-century building, it’s palatial exterior makes it one of the more glamorous hotels near the old town. Furthermore, the high grade rooms open out onto their own private terraces, with sea or city views. Order a drink to your sunny perch, or head down to the Palm’Hyeres Bar, which serves an extensive range of cocktails from midday to way past your bedtime.
- Porte Massillon. Medieval gate opening onto a walking street with pretty botanical frescoes (260 meters)
- Rue Jules Romain. Historic street with many cafés, shops, and restaurants (750 meters)
- Chateau d’Hyères. Botanical garden with city views (1.2 kilometers)
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 95 – USD 182
Guest Rating: 8.2
Address: 1 Avenue Ambroise Thomas, 83400 Hyères, Var, France
Ibis Styles pride themselves on being purveyors of affordable, boutique accommodation, and that shows at this cozy contemporary hotel. The guest rooms are a comfortable standard, with modern furnishings and plenty of natural light. But it’s the amenities that will be of interest to most. Above all is the rooftop tapas bar, which has a 360º vantage over the sea and old town. Treat yourself to a tipple on the roof and then head over to the onsite spa, or steam in solitude at the hotel’s sauna.
- Gare de Hyères. Train station (160 meters)
- Spa La Coupole. Rituals and massages with unlimited access to certain facilities (1.1 kilometers)
- Le Béal. Popular wine pairings in an elegant setting (1.4 kilometers)
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 110 – USD 125
Guest Rating: 8.2
Address: 45 Avenue Edith Cavell, 83400 Hyères, Var, France
Don’t Get Short-Changed on your French Riviera Road Trip
Stretching from the Italian border all the way down to Toulon, the French Riviera offers medieval history, a unique food culture, and a string of luxurious seaside resort towns. For decades, spending a lazy couple of weeks on this sunkissed southern corner has been associated with wealth and glamor. It’s surprising to many, then, that the Côte d’Azur can actually be very friendly on your wallet. So fret not. With the abundant offering of budget-friendly accommodation in charming seaside towns like Nice, Antibes, and Hyères, you make your French Riviera road trip an A-lister experience.
Have you ever done a luxury destination on the cheap? Tell us about it in the comments below!