The Côte d'Azur is a magnificent area! The temperate climate and the proximity to both sea and mountains make it perfect for all kinds of sports. The region is also very rich in history and tradition, so there is much to see and experience. As an extremely popular holiday destination for both French and foreign tourists, the Côte d'Azur is abundant in culture and has some superb facilities for leisure activities.
To find out what is going on, you can consult La Semaine des Spectacles, a publication that comes out every Wednesday and has local listings for movies, theaters, concerts, exhibits, and so on. You will find it wherever magazines are sold. Nice Matin, the local newspaper, is also an excellent source of information; on Wednesdays or Thursdays, it features a free supplement called Loisirs which is a weekly guide to everything that is happening in the region.
As one might expect, dining out is one of the favorite ways for the French to spend an evening. The real authorities on the best (and most expensive!) gourmet restaurants are the Michelin and the Gault Millau guides. Apart from the gastronomic restaurants, the region has restaurants with many different themes:
Meals are presented in a menu (three or more courses for a set price) or à la carte where one chooses what one likes from a selection. Every day, there is a recommended main dish (plat du jour). Prices quoted include all necessary taxes and gratuities, though it is customary to leave a tip if one is particularly pleased with the service.
The French are very strict about meal times. Restaurants usually serve lunch between noon and 3 PM and dinner between 7 PM and 10 PM, although establishments are practically empty before 12:30 at lunchtime and 8 or 8:30 PM in the evening. We have painful memories of walking through the old town of Antibes one afternoon in search of some food. We were absolutely famished, but it was 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and we couldn't even get a pizza!
The main towns, Nice, Cannes, and Monaco offer the widest choice. There are opera houses in Nice and Monaco as well as theaters and frequent concerts offering a wide range of music. Consult La Semaine des Spectacles for schedules.
Nice, Cannes, and Monaco have a rich night life all year around, with bars and night clubs open well into the wee hours of the morning. This is to cater not only to local residents, but also to the many people who attend the numerous international forums, seminars, and exhibitions.
Movies are generally released in French, but there are some cinemas in the area that show films in their original version with French subtitles. In the newspaper, the movie title usually still appears in French, though the description will include the label VO (for version originale). La Semaine des Spectacles and Nice Matin both include movie summaries, cinema addresses, and screening times.
The Côte d'Azur has been home to many celebrated artists, such as Picasso and Matisse. There are many cultural activities, such as conferences and exhibitions as well as a wealth of museums and art galleries. As a matter of fact, Nice is second only to Paris as far as the number of museums is concerned: there are around 50! Some of the larger villages can have museums of their own. Examples are the Fernand Léger museum in Biot and the Maeght foundation in Saint Paul de Vence.
The history of the region began in 600 B.C. when the Greeks brought their civilization and culture to the Côte d'Azur. Over successive centuries the area has been subjected to many other foreign influences, something that is still very much in evidence in the region's architecture. The Romans occupied Antibes in 43 B.C., and Nice and its surroundings were part of Italy for five centuries. In the early part of the 18th century, the Côte d'Azur became a fashionable winter residence for the English, a tradition which lives on to this day and extends to Americans.
It is an area where many traditional crafts have survived and there are still plenty of opportunities to see artisans at work, such as at the glass works in Biot or the potteries in Vallauris. There are industries which are well over 100 years old; the perfume factories in Grasse are a good example.
There is a rich variation in topography and landscape: the coast line and beaches, the villages of the arrière-pays, the mountains to the North... It is definitely worth investing in a copy of the Guide Michelin Côte d'Azur (available in any book store, even in English). The tourist offices in the area are also a rich source of information.
The region features many tourist attractions like zoos, floral parks, aquatic parks, amusement parks, exotic gardens, and so on. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Parcs d'attractions et centres de loisir" or consult La Semaine des Spectacles for details.
The close proximity of sea and mountains means that all kinds of outdoor sports are easily accessible. In fact, it is difficult to come up with sports that cannot be practiced in this area. Winter sports centers, such as Valberg, Auron, Isola 2000, and several others, are within easy reach, making it possible to go for one or more days. During the summer season, there are many places along the coast where you can swim, water ski, jet ski, paraglide, and so on. There are also clubs which organize scuba diving (look in the Yellow Pages under "plongée sous-marine"), sailing, and water-skiing (look under "Voile, navigation, sports nautiques et aquatiques" in the Yellow Pages). For hikers, opportunities abound. Once of the most gorgeous places on the planet has to be the Parc National du Mercantour where one can also observe wildlife.
Some sports are almost an institution in this part of France. These include Pétanque or Boules, the traditional local pastime and virtually a symbol of the South of France; Horseback riding; Golf; and Tennis. Some sports, like athletics, swimming, cycling, basketball, and so on can be practiced individually or in clubs. The latter option offers an advantage in that club fees usually include insurance. If you practice a sport individually, you would be well advised to check your coverage with your insurance company. To find clubs in your area, contact your Mairie (town hall) or look in the Yellow Pages under "Sports (associations et clubs"). In the same way, one can find clubs for sports that are considered unconventional in France, such as baseball, cricket, etc.
There are certain cultural and sporting events that take place annually, such as
There is a wide choice of radio stations on the FM band. Most broadcast in French, of course, but Radio Riviera (FM 106.5) is aimed at English speaking residents of the Côte d'Azur. It features a comprehensive "What's On" guide and an hourly broadcast of BBC World Service news. This is an excellent way to find out what is happening in the region... and in the world.
There are six national television channels that are broadcast through the French network:
La Cinquième and Arte actually share a channel: the former broadcasts during the day while the latter takes over in the evening. Canal Plus is a paying channel that is scrambled most of the time. To view foreign and special interest stations, such as BBC, EuroSport, etc. one needs a subscription to cable or a satellite dish (look in the Yellow Pages under "Télévision, vidéos"). TMC (Télé Monte Carlo) is a local station broadcast from Monaco. France 3 also has regional programming on Saturday afternoons and local news every evening.
There are a multitude of TV guides that you can purchase in tabacs, librairies, and kiosks. They all cover the stations named above, and some have additional listings for cable and satellite television stations. In France, programs are categorized by their suitability for children. During movies, one of three symbols may appear at the bottom of the television screen (the absence of a symbol denotes the film's suitability for all audiences):
Foreign films are occasionally broadcast in their original version with French subtitles, especially on Canal Plus, Arte, and France 3. In the TV guides, this is indicated by a VO or VOSTF label next to the listing.
Newspapers and magazines are sold in kiosks, in tabacs, and in retail outlets. For the widest selection, look for a Maison de la Presse where it is easy to find the main foreign daily titles (English, American, German, Italian, Spanish...). Other outlets are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Journaux, presse, revues (détail)".
There are also publications specifically made for foreign residents of the Côte d'Azur. For English speakers, there is the Riviera Reporter. This is a bi-monthly publication filled with useful information. It is distributed for free in many hotels and shops, though it is also possible to subscribe (for a very reasonable fee).
For information on where to buy English books, please see the Shopping page.
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