Cannes, Monaco, Nice, St-Tropez… the names conjure up thoughts of glitz and glamour in the south of France. However have you ever thought about catching some sport whilst sunning it up on the French Riviera? A visit to Nice and Monaco at the end of March 2019 got me thinking exactly that, as it turns out there are several top level teams, venues and events on offer around the area across the year. Read on for a guide to visiting the Riviera on your next sports tourism trip.
The city is home to OGC Nice, who compete in the top tier of French football (Ligue 1) and was the recent hunting ground of Mario Balotelli. The club play their football at the modern, Allianz Riviera, opened ahead of France hosting UEFA Euro 2016 and due to host a number of matches at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Unfortunately the weekend I visited, Nice were not due to play at home. No bother I thought, I’ll visit the stadium anyway. Not so simple – public transport destined near to the stadium is extremely difficult and irregular on non-match days, and the website for booking tours wouldn’t let me book for March, whilst the club wouldn’t respond to my emails. Obviously wasn’t meant to be.
Nice is also a popular destination for cycling, both for amateurs and professionals, with a number living in the area. The annual Paris-Nice cycle race, held annually in March, concludes on the focal point of the city, the Promenade des Anglais, whilst the Tour de France has visited the city 35 times previously and is due to host the Grand Départ of the 2020 tour.
Nice is also the host of two long-distance endurance events – the Ironman France (June) event and the French Riviera Marathon (November) which finishes in Cannes.
What to do in Nice
The Promenade des Anglais is the famed promenade which runs the length of the Baie des Anges (Bay of the Angels) and the city’s pebbly beach. The city’s historic quarter of Vieux Nice is just 2 minutes away from the most popular free stretch of beach, Plage Publique des Ponchettes. The old town has a number of historic squares, including Place Masséna (the city’s main square), Place Garibaldi (with its statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi), Place Rossetti (the heart of the old town), Cours Saleya (the most traditional of the squares) and Place du Palais (home of the city’s law courts).
The city also has several famed museums and art galleries, including the MAMAC which displays contemporary art including Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can. The Musée Matisse is dedicated to the work of famed French artist Henri Matisse.
Where to stay in Nice
With our intention of having a low cost long weekend, we were looking for somewhere ideally we could cook our own meals. We found exactly that at the Adagio Access Nice Acropolis, which offered a small kitchenette within the room. Although the room was small, similar to a studio apartment, for a price of £150 for 4 nights you can hardly complain. A good location, being just a 10 minute walk to a large Carrefour supermarket, 15 minutes to the closest train station at Nice Riquier, or a 20 minute walk to the Promenade des Anglais.
Travelling to Nice
I personally caught an Easyjet flight from London Luton Airport for the very reasonable price of £44 return. With a flight time of just under 2 hours, you’ll be sunning it up in no time!
Airport – Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is only 6km away from the city of Nice. The airport is the third busiest in France, offering flights to a number of different destinations.
Ferry – Nice is the main port for ferries to and from the island of Corsica, with several crossings per day.
Train – Gare de Nice-Ville is the main train station in Nice, with the station offering high speed services (TGV) to cities such as Cannes, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Monaco and Paris. There is also a weekly night service further afield to Milan (Italy), Innsbruck (Austria), Vienna (Austria), Warsaw (Poland), Minsk (Belarus) and Moscow (Russia).
The second smallest country in the world, think of Monaco and more often than not sports fans will think of Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix (and more recently the Formula E Monaco ePrix) held annually on the streets of the microstate that make up the Circuit de Monaco. Considered the most prestigious and perhaps most demanding on the drivers, the race features narrow roads and tight turns. If like me, you’ve always wanted to walk the circuit, it is relatively easy to do so and would probably take you about an hour? (a route map is available on Google here) Although walking the circuit on a weekday didn’t quite have the same allure seeing an Smart car stuck in Friday afternoon traffic congestion, rather than a Ferrari F1 car hurtling round the track.
AS Monaco compete in Ligue 1, winning the championship on 8 occasions and being runners up in the UEFA Champions League in 2004. The club play at the Stade Louis II, which also hosts the Herculis IAAF Diamond League athletics meet. I did walk to the stadium with the intention of having a look around, I’d checked out the website beforehand and apparently stadium tours (for the reasonable price of €5) weren’t running until the 1st of April. When I asked at the reception I was told unsurprisingly I couldn’t have a look inside, I did try various doors around the famed underground car park to get a glimpse but all I found were a swimming pool and indoor basketball arena – once again wasn’t meant to be!
At the other end of Monaco (and technically in France), the Monte-Carlo Masters tennis event takes place on the clay courts of the Monte-Carlo Country Club. I did have a brief detour of my F1 circuit walk to head along the coast to the tennis club to have a quick look, on this occasion I did succeed and saw the club getting ready to host the event just a couple of weeks after my visit.
The famous Monte Carlo Rally, as part of the World Rally Championship, also takes part across the area in January – although the event is usually held in French territory!
What to do in Monaco
The Place du Casino is the heart of wealth in Monaco, surrounded by glamorous hotels and the famed Casino de Monte Carlo. The principality’s royal family still reside in the palace in Le Rocher, with changing of the guard taking place everyday at 11:55am. The most popular museum is the Musée océanographique de Monaco, with the centrepiece being the aquarium.
Where to stay in Monaco
Travelling to Monaco
Airport – Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the closest airport to Monaco, being approximately 30km west of the principality. The airport is the third busiest in France, offering flights to a number of different destinations.
Bus: Bus number 100 travels from the port in Nice and bus station in Menton every 15 minutes, or bus number 110 runs every 30 minutes from Nice Airport.
Train – The underground train station of Monaco (Gare de Monaco-Monte-Carlo) has regular services from Cannes, Genoa (Italy), Marseille, Milan (Italy), Nice and Paris. There is also a weekly night service further afield to Innsbruck (Austria), Vienna (Austria), Warsaw (Poland), Minsk (Belarus) and Moscow (Russia).
Not as glamorous as some of the other towns but Toulon is very much located on the Riviera. Home to RC Toulonnais (who play at the Stade Mayol), one of the most successful teams in recent years in French rugby’s Top 14 tournament, as well as on the continent in the European Rugby Champions Cup.
The nearby Mont Faron is a challenging climb that regularly features in cycling’s Paris-Nice and Tour Méditerranéen. The local region also hosts the famed Toulon Tournament, an under-21 football tournament featuring some of the world’s leading nations.
What to do in Toulon
Not considered as much of a must-see on the list of tourists to the French Riviera, Toulon does still have some sights to see. Walking around The Old Town with its narrow streets, squares and fountains is pleasant. Mont Faron overlooks the city and can be reached by cable car or a nerve-wracking drive up a steep and narrow road. The harbour is one of the largest in Europe, with the small nearby fishing port of Le Mourillon offering sandy beaches.
Where to stay in Toulon
Travelling to Toulon
Airport – The closest airport is Toulon-Hyères, being just 12 miles east of the city. Flight options are however extremely limited, with Paris-Orly and Paris-Charles de Gaulle being the only regular destinations, with several other European destinations only offering seasonal flights. A shuttle bus will take you to the city in approximately 30 minutes.
Close by airports with a wider ranger of connections include Marseille Provence Airport (90km away) and Nice Cộte d’Azur Airport (140km).
Ferry – Toulon has regular ferry crossing’s to the island of Corsica.
Train – Gare de Toulon is located a 10-15 minute walk from the city centre and has high speed trains to Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Paris.
Home not just only to the world famous Cannes Film Festival, but also fifth division side AS Cannes, who play at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin. Cannes last played in Ligue 1 in the 1997-1998 season, and has seen the making of French internationals Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Johan Micoud, Gaël Clichy, Sébastien Frey and Jonathan Zebina.
The annual French Riviera Marathon (November) also finishes in Cannes, with showjumping’s Global Champions Tour (June) also holding an event in the town.
What to do in Cannes
Cannes is famed for its sandy beaches, although the majority are fee paying. The historic quarter is Le Suquet, with steep alleyways and wonderful views of the Baie de Cannes from the top of the hill.
20 minutes away by boat, the islands of Îles de Lerins is made up of Île Sainte-Marguerite (where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned in the 17th century) and Île Saint-Honorat (home to Cistercian monks).
Where to stay in Cannes
Travelling to Cannes
Airport – Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the closest airport to Cannes, being located approximately 24km west. The airport is the third busiest in France, offering flights to a number of different destinations.
Train – Gare de Cannes offers regular services to major French cities such as Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris and Toulouse, as well as Monaco, Genoa (Italy) and Milan (Italy).
The picteresque town of Cagnes-Sur-Mer is home to the second busiest racecourse in France, the Hippodrome de la Côte d’Azur. The most prestigious meet is the Grand Criterium de Vitesse de la Cote d’Azur, usually held in March.
What to do in Cagnes-sur-Mer
The estate and museum of famed French artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Les Collettes is found in the town of Cagnes-sur-Mer which also has a medieval castle, le Haut-de-Cagnes.
Where to stay in Cagnes-sur-Mer
Travelling to Cagnes-sur-Mer
Airport – Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the closest airport to Cagnes-sur-Mar, being just 9km away. The airport is the third busiest in France, offering flights to a number of different destinations.
Train – The Gare de Cagnes-sur-Mar railway station is on the Marseille-Ventimiglia line calling at major stops including Marseille, Toulon, Cannes, Nice and Monaco.
The seaside commune hosts the annual, Hyéres Regatta in April, one of the events on the Sailing World Cup series.
What to do in Hyères
The oldest resort on the French Riviera, Hyéres has some fantastic architecture, history and culture which can be found in it’s Old Town. The beach of Plage de l’Almanarre is one of the best in France and offers activities including kayaking, boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing and surfing.
Where to stay in Hyères
Travelling to Hyères
Airport – The closest airport is Toulon-Hyères, being just 4km east of the city. Flight options are however extremely limited, with Paris-Orly and Paris-Charles de Gaulle being the only regular destinations, with several other European destinations only offering seasonal flights.
Close by airports with a wider ranger of connections include Marseille Provence Airport (100km away) and Nice Cộte d’Azur Airport (145km).
Train – The Gare d’Hyères railway station has services to Marseille, Paris and Toulon.
Although the town doesn’t offer much in the way of sports events (except for another stop on the French Riviera for showjumping’s Global Champions Tour in September), its not possible to do a guide of the French Riviera without mentioning St-Tropez.
What to do in St-Tropez
In the summer months, the Plage de Pampelonne beach is filled with celebrities visiting exclusive beach restaurants and clubs. The Musée de l’Annonciade is a famous art museum offering a collection of modern art, whilst the Citadelle de St-Tropez is a historic citadel on the hillside overlooking St-Tropez, built in 1602 to defend the coast against Spain.
Where to stay in St-Tropez
Travelling to St-Tropez
Airport – The closest major airports to St-Tropez are found at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (95 km away), Toulon-Hyères Airport (52 km away) and Marseille Provence Airport (158 km away).
Train – There is no railway station in St-Tropez, with the closest station being Saint-Raphaël-Valescure, 40km away. There are services from Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Paris.