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Tastescape: the French Riviera

TASTEscape: the French Riviera

by Kevin Hin 29 February 2016

Kevin Hin sheds light on some of the unknown treasures in Provence, from artisan perfume factories to spectacular beachside walks.

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The legendary French Riviera is epitomised by its sunny climate, lush vegetation, opulent architecture and spectacular scenery – but there is so much more to see and enjoy than the glitzy hubs of Nice, Monte Carlo and Cannes. Follow this journey of discovery around some of the lesser-known parts of the Côte d’Azur; all easily accessible from the port town of Villefranche-sur-Mer.

The scent of the French Riviera

The perfume industry of the French Riviera dates back to the 18th century when Grasse, an inland town an hour's train ride to the west of Villefranche, became known as the perfume capital of the world. This was due to the splendid microclimate that encouraged the culture of flowers and aromatic plants such as lavender and jasmine, enabling the creation of top quality perfumes. The industry continues to thrive today and is a great draw for visitors to the Riviera, with almost 14.000 hectares of aromatic plants in the region. The historical perfume producers Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard have large plants in Grasse and the first two also have smaller production facilities in the spectacular village of Eze, just a short hop away from Villefranche-sur-Mer.


See how perfumes are made

Just stop by one of the two major factories, Galimard or Fragonard, and take part in one of the free guided tours that takes you back through time, from the history of the Riviera’s perfume industry to where it is now. At the Galimard factory you will also be able to see a live demonstration of how natural soap is produced.

Handmade natural soaps of all colours and scents can be bought in the local villages
The Riviera is famous for its lavender, which is used in both cosmetics and cooking

Create your own scent

Some of the world's best perfumes are made around Villefranche, and the most famous factories offer private or group sessions with a master perfumer known as a nez (nose) in French to learn all about how a perfume or cologne is created. The experience at Galimard sees you sat at a desk in a special laboratory with hundreds of small aromatic bottles, which you can then select according to the different olfactory scales to create the perfect balanced scent, before returning home with your own bespoke, gift-wrapped perfume.

Stock up on local perfume

All the perfume factories have on-site gift shops, which are ideal for buying high quality scents at outlet prices – you can really sense the difference compared to more industrial perfumes. For the full experience you can also travel to the larger production facilities in Grasse, which are only about an hour away from Villefranche.

Tasting the Côte d'Azur

Local produce is at the heart of the delicate and subtle yet flavoursome cuisine of the Riviera. Even flowers and aromatic plants can be found in the local specialities – how about a refreshing lavender crème brûlée?

Taste the local olive oils

After your visit to the perfume factories of Eze, why not explore the medieval streets of the old town? Situated near the village's botanical garden Deli’ is a salad bar that highlights the Riviera's amazing regional produce, particularly the delicious local olive oils. The friendly managers will guide your choices and help you discover the different nuances and aromatic qualities that make a high quality extra virgin olive oil so special.

The gourmet experience: la Chèvre d'Or

The French Riviera has one of the world’s highest concentrations of fine dining experiences and Eze village is no exception. Try out the two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the legendary Chèvre d’Or hotel and enjoy gourmet French cuisine, fine wines and spectacular views of the coastline – a truly memorable experience!

A table with a view: La Mère Germaine in Villefranche

One of the oldest dining venues in Villefranche, la Mère Germaine is the perfect place to sit down for an al fresco meal, gaze over the marina and enjoy spectacular views of Cap Ferrat whilst enjoying some local delicacies. This famous restaurant is one of the few places on the French Riviera that serves authentic bouillabaisse, the legendary rock fish soup from Marseille.


Natural beauty on France's Mediterranean coastline

One of the main draws of the French Riviera is its splendid natural scenery, blending the blue Mediterranean Sea with the spectacular southern Alps and around 300 days of sunshine each year. Here's how to make the most of the stunning natural beauty of the Côte d’Azur.

Walk the footpath to the Cap Ferrat lighthouse

The spectacular lighthouse at the tip of the Cap Ferrat peninsula provides beautiful coastal views in both directions: west towards the Baie des Anges, Nice and the Esterel mountains, and east towards Italy. Take a leisurely stroll via a beautiful coastal path from either Villefranche or the port of Saint Jean. The latter path is shorter and flatter but less spectacular; it all depends on your time and energy.

Cap Ferrat lighthouse
The Cap Ferrat lighthouse is an iconic landmark, but it's the walk there that's truly breathtaking
Botanical garden
Eze's botanical garden offers incredible views of the coastline

Visit the botanical garden of Eze

The medieval village of Eze has always been known as an eagle’s nest – it’s easy to see why, given the village's cliff top location. Enjoy the vantage point over the whole Riviera from the beautiful botanical garden perched at the top of the hill with stunning views of the coastline and mountains, whilst wandering through rows of vibrant plants and amongst the graceful sculptures of local artist Jean-Philippe Richard.

Take a picnic to the Plage de la Mala in Cap d’Ail

If you want to enjoy the warm Mediterranean waters, take a fifteen-minute train ride eastwards to Cap d’Ail just before Monaco and follow the coast to one of the region’s most spectacular beaches, the Plage de la Mala. Surrounded by limestone cliffs and nestled in a quaint bay only accessible on foot, this secluded cove is the perfect place to unwind, have a drink and enjoy the Riviera’s farniente (‘lounging about’) attitude. An easy forty-five-minute walk along a beautiful coastal path surrounded by Belle Epoque villas will take you east to Monaco, from which you can also take the train back to Villefranche.

Still have time to spare?

– The historical rue du Poilu is situated one block behind the waterfront in Villefranche (near the famous Ruelle Obscure) and is where you'll find all sorts of shops selling local products and souvenirs.

– Jean Cocteau's chapel in Villefranche was totally renovated by the artist in 1957 and has come to represent the golden age of the Riviera in the 1950s.

– The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Cap Ferrat was built between 1905 and 1912, and offers sublime architecture, refined atmosphere and extrensive gardens with vegetation from around the world.

Discover the French Riviera from Villefranche-sur-Mer on a Mediterranean itinerary with Celebrity Cruises.

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TASTEscape: the French Riviera


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