A very simple question but it deserves more than just a simple answer. Please read on for a comprehensive guide to not only where the Cote d'Azur is but where it got its name from, why it is so called and what to expect when you go there.
The Cote d'Azur is situated on the easterly edge of the southern coast of France. It sits on the most easterly edge of France, nestled up against the Italian border but holds a central position in the glorious sweep of the Mediterranean arc that rises in Barcelona, Spain and falls in Pisa, Italy, and represents one of the most important regions of France after Paris.
The Cote d'Azur itself is not a town or an area but it is part of a French department that comprises cities, towns, mountains and coastline from the lapping edges of the Mediterranean to the freezing tips of the Maritime Alps. It is part of a department known in France as PACA, Provence, Alpes, Cote d'Azur with Nice as its principal city followed closely, in notoriety if not in size, by Cannes, Antibes, Menton and Grasse.
Obviously Cote d'Azur, translated to mean the blue or azure coast, refers specifically to the gorgeous coastline but the whole region is one of momentous beauty and appeal, from the ancient perched villages of Provence to the wild, rugged mountains of the Maritime Alps.
The Cote d'Azur area is, after Paris, the most loved and frequented place in all of France, owing in no small part to its 300 days of sunshine per year, its 40 kilometres of beaches, 35 pleasure boating ports and marinas, 14 ski resorts, 9 national parks and 80% coverage of natural greenery despite housing 22% of all of France's hotels not to mention luxurious villas and bounteous apartments.
The Cote d'Azur is a place defined by division, geographical, historical and cultural, the sum of which somehow still manages to equal perfect harmony; the coast and the mountains, the urban and the rural, land and sea, Provence and Savoy, France and Italy, the ancient and the modern.
This could be why it is a region that sits so comfortably with its international and cosmopolitan clientèle. It has been welcoming international visitors for hundreds of years to its shores.
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|»Holiday rental villa|
|»Price per night||:||$380.19|
|»Per person (x10)||:||$38.02|
Swimming Pool, Traditional
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The Cote d'Azur literally translates as the 'Blue Coast'. There is some debate about whether this refers to the multiple shades of blue that weave through the Mediterranean or the never ending depths of the year round blue skies overhead but there is no doubt about where the phrase was first coined.
Once this part of France had been discovered by foreign travellers and heralded across the globe for the wonders of its natural beauty by the very first travel writers then it began to attract a certain type of visitor. Travelling was an expensive affair in those days and largely the preserve of the rich but it also attracted artists, poets, writers and thinkers who sought inspiration in the region.
One such artist was the French writer Stéphen Liégeard born in Dijon in 1830 who, as a former successful lawyer was both wealthy and artistically inclined, came to visit the region. His most famous work was a book entitled 'La Cote d'Azur' published in 1887. A phrase that would prove to be enduring.
Sky or sea no one can really say which blue the azure in Cote d'Azur is referring to but it a phrase that is irrefutable in either case. The Cote d'Azur has more than 150 kilometres of coastline and approximately 40 beaches.
It boasts more than 300 days of clear skies and sunshine annually and is framed by a ring of maritime Alpine mountains that act as a pointer to the endless blue sky.
Although the blue skies are momentous it is the multiple shades of blue in the sea that are truly mythical on the Cote d'Azur. Ranging from deepest midnight to the brightest aquamarine or indeed 'azure' blue, this part of the coast presents a maritime face that is usually reserved for some coral kissed Caribbean retreat.
The unusual array of blues is caused, in some part, by the underlying limestone rock of the area. The white stone is washed down by the rivers and reflects a spectrum of blues back to the surface, in much the same way as coral in the Caribbean.
Who's who on the Cote d'Azur
The Cote d'Azur has some of the earliest remnants of human habitation in all of Europe, so it has been populated for more than 400,000BC years. the Ligurians are the oldest known tribe of humans to occupy the area who were followed by the Phoceens, Romans, Greeks, Ostrogoths, Franks, Barbarians, Sarascens, Savoyards, Provencals, Italians until the area became fully and enduringly French in 1860.
The first welcome visitors to the area, as opposed to invading forces, made an appearance in the early part of the 19th century. Travel was still expensive, difficult and dangerous so their numbers were few and far between but includes the very first travel writers who reported back their magnanimous finds.
By the late nineteenth century transport and travel conditions had greatly improved and the influx of affluent visitors were welcomed. They would set the tone for the region that would pervade and persist until today. Their affluence was to be reflected in the architecture, the industry and the customs of the area, all of which continue to attract tourists and visitors today from all over the world.
Following in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, the Tsars of Russia, the Emperor of Brazil, the King of Belgium came artists, writers, composers, philosophers, musicians, politicians and the rest of high society from all over the world.
Today Royalty continues to rub shoulders with the rich and famous as young royals, Hollywood starlets and celebrities from all walks of life gather during the holiday season to see the magical Cote d'Azur for themselves.
Nice International airport welcomes more than 12 million travellers through its doors annually with 56% of the traffic arriving from international destinations making the French Riviera one of the best loved holiday destinations in France.
Nice airport ranks in the world's top 100 busiest airport and is France's 2nd busiest international airport, behind Paris. Cannes Mandelieu airport may only service an immediate area with around 80,000 people but it remains the 2nd busiest airport in France for private planes.
The Cote d'Azur is accessible by air from 97 destinations in 29 countries, and growing.
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|»Holiday rental apartment|
|»Price per night||:||$816.35|
|»Per person (x6)||:||$136.06|
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Once upon a time the only way to get to the Cote d'Azur was by foot at worst and by donkey at best. The terrain and the journey were treacherous owing to the furious rivers dividing its shores and the perilous mountains plunging into death defying ravines.
The routes were ancient Roman paths who marched their armies across the mountain peaks in order to keep them safe from flash flooding of the lower valleys.
It was the turn of the century, into the 1800s, before Napoleon built his roads along what is now known as the Moyenne Corniche which greatly improved transport in the area. However it was the arrival of the train in the late 1800s that really opened up the French Riviera to the world.
Nowadays Nice International airport has daily flights from 29 different countries. all of mainland Europe is connected by superb rail and road networks making access easier than ever before.
The most popular reason to visit the Cote d'Azur is undoubtedly its climate. With more than 300 days of sunshine per year and eight micro climates it is a year round holiday destination.Nature
The beauty of the area and its natural resources remain one of the largest draws with 40% of the region covered in forest and woodlands despite the development of its coastal plains.
The proximity of the mountains to the coastline don't just give it a breath taking back drop but provide a wealth of walks, treks and hikes for people of every level of fitness and interest, whether it's a gentle saunter by the sea to an adventurous climb through the ravines.
The miles of coastline offers a vista of untold natural beauty as well as beaches, caves, coves and islands.
The official PACA region is divided into three areas; the wilds of the mountains in 'le haut', the rural forested slopes of 'la moyenne' and the dramatic curve of the densely populated coast on 'la bas'.
The highest peaks sail to over 3000 metres above sea level at Cime du Gelas and drop away to the Mediterranean coast.
40% of Alpes Maritimes is forested despite its urban conurbation with Valbonne and Roquefort les pins the most densely forested of the coastal regions. Much of the natural parks and wild countryside occupies the middle grounds and the highlands of the Cote d'Azur.
The forests are mostly comprised of Aleppo Pines, Cork Oaks and Maritime Pines, fragrant with the scent of wild herbs; Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano, but the region is also populated by olives, lemons and palm trees that were introduced by the Romans.
The plant life and flora of the region is famous, many exotic species introduced in the 19th century were brought by wealthy villa owners and experienced horticulturists and botanists. Plants that are commonplace today such as the lush purple and pink blooms of the bougainvillea, the cheerful yellow mimosas, scented eucalyptus, agaves and cacti.
Culturally the region shares close ties with Italy with many of the customs, much of the architecture and most of the food reflecting this link.
Many of the customs and pastimes are linked to the region's rural heritage: lavender, olive and citrus festivals or to its historical pursuit of leisure: Nice Carnival, Monte Carlo Opera, Cannes Film Festival and many jazz festivals.
The Cote d'Azur became a centre for artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The landscape, the light, the laid back culture became a magnet for some of the greatest artists of our time; Marc Chagall, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso to name just a few.
The area attracted great writers, poets, musicians and thinkers. You will find evidence of this in the works they left behind, the villas they lived in, the museums established in their honour and their names claiming the streets.
The region had more than 84 museums and holds over 500 cultural events every year.
|Chagall|Fun La Belle Epoque translates as the 'beautiful time', it was a period of time in history that is also referred to as the golden or gilded age. It was an era of optimism, when great leaps were being made in medicine, sciences, the arts and technology.
Dating from the end of the 19th century it coincided with the time when the Cote d'Azur was being 'discovered' by the international elite.
Built on the foundations of great empirical wealth, a rigid class structure and cheap labour the Belle Epoque era is nowhere more visible than on the French Riviera where the style is encapsulated and enshrined in the architecture on the Cote d'Azur.
Called 'Beaux Art', it was a neo-classical architectural style that originated in the halls of Académie Royale d'Architecture founded by King Louis IV and later in the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris. The style is recognisable by its grandiose façades, ice cream castle colours and ornate interiors.
Many of the grand hotels, casinos and private villas and palaces in Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo were built during this era. Beausoleil houses some particularly fine examples but it is the turreted and domed cityscapes of Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo that we associate with the Cote d'Azur.
Not to be over shadowed however, are the more ancient perched villages and ancient fortifications of the Cote d'Azur. Eze village, Peillon, Grimaud, Saint Paul de Vence, Antibes, La Turbie are a Cote d'Azur to discover of an different age. Built for their strength and protective characteristics these thick walled, impenetrable villages and towns speak of the centuries of unrest, fear and invasion that the coastline was subjected to.
The Cote d'Azur is a magical mystery tour through the ages of man from Prehistoric, Roman, Medieval, Belle Epoch, the roaring twenties to the sleek newness of ultimate modern.
The Cote d'Azur was founded on fun, perhaps it was not referred to as such when it was part of the 'Grand Tour' and stately Victorians were to be found promenading on the sea front but fun is essentially what they flocked here for. The mild climate, the relaxed atmosphere and the effervescent sun light.
Fun is the foundation of the Cote d'Azur, it has no major industry beyond the pursuit of pleasure and beauty. With the rise of a moneyed bourgeoisie the doors of the French Riviera were opened to more than just the wealthiest visitors and now the Cote d'Azur caters to every taste.
Family days out, beach side frolics, wild nights out and peaceful mountain retreats. Nature lover or hedonist the Cote d'Azur has everything; beaches, water-sports, hiking, skiing, clubbing, gastronomical delights, wine tours, art galleries, museums, festivals, music events.
It has high end extravagance and low end budget hostels, you can break the bank on €60,000 bottles of champagne or keep it in the bank with picnics on the rock outcrops of the Caps.
Recipes for a great holiday
It is more a question of what won't you find on the Cote d'Azur. What you won't find are generic, all you-can-eat style, all-inclusive factory hotels. What you won't find are McDonald lined, high streets with cloned chains marching the same path through every town and village, topped and tailed by competing low cost supermarkets.
What you will find is something typically French, mercilessly protected and rigorously executed from the overflowing flower baskets to the boutique shops, artisan bakeries and artistes galleries, from the buffed, pink stoned villages to the hand raked home made beaches.
The Cote d'Azur's most numerous visitors are the French themselves, as with all things French it is loved, protected and perfected, an altar for us to worship at and worship we do, in our throngs, praying at the white sand altars, under the divine shine of this magical 'blue land'.
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