The Côte d'Azur is made for explorers – so when you’ve had enough of the coastal buzz, head inland to see some of the area’s most breathtaking hilltop villages. There are more than 120 scattered through the area. Coaraze is a medieval hilltop village with narrow cobbled streets, numerous vaulted passages and old stone houses. Many artists and artisans have also settled here to devote themselves to the crafts of leather, tin or engraving. Èze is a magnificent eagle’s nest village overlooking the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, with remarkably preserved medieval architecture and a renowned tropical garden stuffed with rare plants. Built on a rocky outcrop, Gourdon dominates the valley of the Loup river and its incomparable panorama stretches over 80km of the Riviera coast, from Théoule-sur-Mer all the way to Nice. Its magnificent gardens were designed by André Le Nôtre and certain scenes from Les Misérables were filmed here.
Sainte-Agnès and Peille are charming medieval villages near Menton, the latter with a chapel classified as a monument historique, while the Plus Beau Village of Saorge clings to the steep slopes of the Roya valley. Facing the Mediterranean that shimmers at its feet, Saint-Paul-de-Vence leans against the southern Alps and is a must-see for art lovers with its many galleries, as is Tourrettes-sur-Loup, lined with artists’ workshops and also home to the violet, with a dedicated flower festival taking place every March. The mountain roads that wind from one perched village to the next are a dream for drivers, and despite the variety of the landscapes dependent on the season – lavender fields, olive groves, maquis (fragrant scrubland) and even snow-capped mountains – you never lose sight of the sparkling Mediterranean in the distance.