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There are four small islands on the Lérins Islands off the coast of Cannes, two of which are large enough to visit by boat. It’s not possible to stop at one after the other in a round trip, though, so you’ll have to decide which to go to beforehand. The Île Ste-Marguerite has an old fort that is said to have been where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned and the Île St-Honorat has been home to monks for centuries. While the monks still observe a vow of silence, this is not required during visits to their abbey, where you can taste the wine that has been harvested here for years. If you don’t want to leave just yet, you can even choose to stay on retreat with them.
A trip to Cannes wouldn’t be complete without igniting the James Bond within all of us and taking a trip to Monaco via the hillside town of Èze. Monaco is the place to play out your fantasies of being rich – visit the casinos and watch the superyachts come in and out of town. Many movie chase scenes have been filmed along the winding roads on the way to Èze, so you’ll be in for an exhilarating ride.
While the Marché Forville in Cannes and the nearby Marché aux Fleurs in Nice are truly wonderful for local, seasonal French produce, foodies might want to experience something a little Italian. Ventimiglia is the French-Italian border town in Italy that offers something a bit different to the French Riviera. It has changed hands several times – it was once a Roman settlement and was later invaded by Napoleon, but in 1861, it became part of Italy when it unified. At the end of World War II, it was again briefly occupied by France before being returned to Italy once more – a little of this to-ing and fro-ing can be seen in the town’s architecture. For food lovers, the Friday street market in Ventimiglia is the main event: it brings the town’s traffic to a standstill and it’s the perfect place to pick up some fresh pasta, have great pizza and buy some Italian cheeses before returning to France.
Saint-Tropez might only have a few thousand residents but every summer, it comes alive and inflates in size. During the summer months, it is believed that day-trippers increase the number of residents in the small village by as much as ten times its usual population. Drive to Saint-Tropez’s main beaches, which are mostly outside of the little village, and lounge like Brigitte Bardot on Pampelonne Beach or visit the nudist Tahiti Beach. Alternatively, park up and watch the sun set over the old port at one of its seafood restaurants or savour the local delicacy, rosé wine, in one of the many surrounding vineyards. Saint-Tropez – as you’d expect for such an exclusive place – is not easily accessible by anything other than car or boat. A boat is best because the one road running in and out of town can get crammed – be patient and watch the views, both the bling and the scenery.
Hyères, close to Toulon, is the place to go for rugged, wild beaches, especially if you prefer things a little less manicured. Pass through traditional seaside villages like La Londe-les-Maures and Bormes-les-Mimosas on the way from Cannes and you can celebrate the famous yellow mimosa flower when it comes into bloom every spring. Make like a president and wade through the water around the Fort de Brégançon, a national monument and one-time home to French presidents (Chirac and Hollande both used to holiday here). A day trip to Hyères is great for picnics, swimming, making sand castles and watching windsurfers when the weather suits.
Grasse is ideally located for a day trip inland from Cannes. Wander the cobbled streets and look at the 11th-century cathedral, which contains not one but three Rubens paintings. However, the main draw here is the perfume. Grasse has long been home to major perfumeries, as well as the Musée International de la Parfumerie, where you can discover the history of the craft and create your own scent.
Marseille and Aix-en-Provence are well worth a drive from Cannes but in high season or at busy periods, the journey might be too much for a comfortable day trip. While the two are technically only a couple of hours away by car on the motorway, it can take much longer if everyone else is on the same road with you. Play it safe and limit your horizons for a much more enjoyable day.