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5 unexpected things to do on the French Riviera

Posted on Wednesday, 5 September 2012
5 unexpected things to do on the French Riviera5 things you didn't know you could do on the French Riviera

1. Go skiing

The French Riviera is synonymous with beaches, golden tans, summer sunshine and pink wine. Nothing says 'sun' quite like the Cote d'Azur but did you know there are six ski stations within a two hour drive of the famous blue coast?

The city run ski buses during the ski season that depart from Nice in the early hours of the morning and whisk you up to the slopes for a day of skiing and home again in the evening for dinner in the city. The bus ticket includes your daily ski pass and you can get onto the slopes for approximately 50 Euro per person including the hire of your skis.

An ideal activity for less committed skiers who like a bit of variety to their skiing holiday. Arranging your ski holiday from abroad is notoriously expensive, which can be off putting for less confident and experienced skiers who don't want to commit to a high priced holiday for an activity that they may hate. By using the French Riviera as a base you get the benefit of a city break and can test the waters of a ski holiday without fear of being stuck on a snowy mountain with a new found dread of snow.

Try different ski stations and different slopes or skip a day and hang out on the beach instead. It may not be bikini weather during the ski season but the sun still shines all year round on the French Riviera and the wine is always pink.

2. Watch a film

It might not be your first thought as a holiday activity. Those of you from colder climes tend to think of the cinema as dark and cosy places to go on a rainy night when there's nothing to watch on TV. You might also expect the movies in France to be exclusively in French. Not so. Many of the communes have gorgeous outdoor summer cinemas that show English language films, noted by a VO (version original), throughout the summer months.

The Monaco open air cinema offers a dramatic back drop of a cliff face up in the old town with the sea crashing on the rocks below you. The chairs are cushioned sun-loungers and the kiosk serves wine, champagne and beer to accompany your pop corn or ice cream.

During Film Festival week Cannes run free black and white movies on the beach on a first come first serve basis for seats, while in the seaside town of Villefranche you find yourself in the atmospheric setting of the ancient Citadel.

3. See an elephant walk through the streets

The International Circus Festival in Monaco has restarted the old tradition of visiting circus taking to the streets in a promotional parade prior to the start of the official performances. There is nothing quite like watching the slow, close-enough-to-touch tramp of a giant elephant through the decorative streets of Monaco Old Town to cause a bit of a stir.

Accompanied by other performers the elephants gather outside the Palace gates to showcase a little of what can be expected at the live shows. There is no entrance fee just the thrill of getting close to these magnificent docile animals. The circus festival itself is an annual event that gathers some of the biggest acts from the circus world in a series of competing shows. The winning acts perform at a special gala evening and take home the circus equivalent of an Oscar.

4. Listen to an Opera

The French Riviera maybe known as a celebrity hangout these days but it has long since attracted a more cultured visitor with poets, writers and artists frequenting its shores in search of inspiration. There is a rich cultural treasure trove to find if you are so inclined from architectural city tours to artist exhibitions and classical music festivals organised throughout the year.

Nice Opera House was originally built in 1776 as a small theatre with the permission of the King of Sardinia. In 1826 it was rebuilt on a grander scale by King Charles Felix using local architect Brunati, Torino schooled architect Perotti and the skills of painter Biscarra to create an impressive Municipal Theatre.

This structure was destroyed by a gas explosion in 1881 but was rebuilt in stone in 1885 using the best architects from the school of Turin.It is home to the Nice philharmonic orchestra, Nice ballet and Nice operatic choir. A full season of performances are staged throughout the year.

5. Taste a gourmet feast

The French Riviera is not known as a part of France from which particularly gourmet food heralds. Unlike other regions in France its roots are poor with the mountainous, scattered hilltop villages yielding little more than a subsistence living for its inhabitants. The traditional food is simple peasant fair of wild game stews and fish caught from the Mediterranean.

Nowadays there is scarcely a restaurant that does not feature the ubiquitous tuna based salad Nicoise or daube de beouf. Despite this however, there are more Michelin starred chefs in this region than almost any other in France with the exception of Paris.

The clientèle who frequent the French Riviera have demanded a higher level of gourmet experience than is perhaps traditional in the region and the small hilltop village of Mougins, located in the hills behind Cannes is modelling itself as something of a centre for 'foodies' in the area. An annual gourmet food festival in its sixth year, is held in the village and welcomes almost 25,000 visitors each time.

For three days the tiny village is transformed into a 'theatre of food' with 1,2 and 3 starred Michelin chefs in attendance, food demonstrations, work shops and tastings. It is a must do for the French food lovers and professional foodie fans.

So while you can holiday on the famous beaches of the French Riviera why not sample some of the more hidden treasures of this versatile holiday haven.
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