Why the Côte d'Azur is the place for springtime serenity

Anna Richards

Anna Richards

The appeal of a sun-drenched summer on the French Riviera is undeniable but for fewer crowds, vibrant festivals and tapestries of wildflowers, visit in spring.

Mimosa blossom, usually the first sign of spring
Mimosa blossom, usually the first sign of spring © Horia - Adobe Stock Image

Bookended by the snow-capped Alpes-Maritimes to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Côte d'Azur enjoys a microclimate.

While other regions of France* shiver their way through winter, the coast around Nice* enjoys relatively balmy temperatures, even in the depths of winter.

A natural theme park, during early spring visitors to the Côte d'Azur really can have their tarte tropézienne and eat it; it takes just 90 minutes to get to the most southerly ski stations in the Alpes-Maritimes, with Isola 2000 and Auron under 90 km from Nice.

Getting there: find affordable trips to the likes of Nice and Cannes with TUI*, as well as the chance to visit numerous ports along the French Riviera for less with Marella Cruises*.

The zesty Menton Lemon Festival

At the annual Menton Lemon Festival (17 February to 3 March 2024), 140 tonnes of lemons and oranges are used to create immense sculptures. Giant elephants, Chinese dragons, camels, anything and everything is crafted out of the fruit and paraded through town.

Splendid citrus sculptures at the Menton Lemon Festival
Splendid citrus sculptures at the Menton Lemon Festival © Magspace - Adobe Stock Image

Other activities on the agenda include guided walks through lemon groves, artistic workshops using lemons to paint and create prints, live music and plenty of tastings.

The aroma of citrus fruits perfumes Menton, whose old town is as colourful as a packet of Fruit Pastilles year-round, and although it's rarely cold, the lemonade scent evokes the nostalgia of long, summer days.

Colourful Nice Carnival

Nowhere in France is Mardi Gras celebrated with more fervour than in Nice. Running alongside Menton's Lemon Festival, they're just half an hour apart, so it's easy to combine both during one trip.

The main event is the carnival procession, but in Nice, there's a fragrant twist. During the 'Battle of Flowers', actors in full costume parading through town on chariots give out more than 100,000 flowers to the watching public.

Spy elaborate costumes at the Nice Carnival
Spy elaborate costumes at the Nice Carnival © Mark Fischer - Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The biggest statue of all is the 'Carnival King', an almost grotesquely huge, illuminated figure which is set on fire at the end of the carnival. As it burns it reveals the theme of the following year's celebrations, to a soundtrack of watchers chanting Nissa la Bella (beautiful Nice in Occitan, the city's unofficial anthem).

Spring flowers in the Alpes-Maritimes

As the Alpes-Maritimes begin to shed their winter covering, resilient little alpine flowers make the slopes look as though they're being viewed through a kaleidoscope.

Periwinkle blue gentians, soft violet orchids, orange lilies (which as the name would suggest are fiery in colour), buttercup-hued globe flowers and scarlet poppies.

Rising to over 3,100 m where Italy and France meet, it's not hard to find the snowline, even as the spring advances and many of the ski stations stay open until mid-April. Spring walks, skiing and a dip in the deep blue are all possible in one day, provided you've got the energy for it.

Peaceful St Tropez

St Tropez has been the buzzword in beach holidays ever since Brigitte Bardot shed her clothes and danced topless on Pampelonne Beach when filming And God Created Woman, the start of the transformation from humble sardine fishing village to one of the glitziest resorts on the Med.

Enjoying quieter times on St Tropez’s beaches
Enjoying quieter times on St Tropez’s beaches © Barmalini - Dreamstime.com

The 5-km stretch of sand is now lined with expensive beach clubs, where the privilege of renting a sun lounger often sets you back at least €50.

In the summer, a trip here requires careful planning and a fair amount of disposable cash, but visit in early spring and you may just find a sliver of golden sand to yourself, fewer crowds and a whiff of how St Tropez would have been before it became so fashionable.

The abundant waters of the Verdon River

After a winter of deluges of biblical proportions, it's difficult to believe that many of the rivers which snake through France's canyons all but run dry year after year.

The Gorges of Verdon is the continent's largest canyon, which has led to it being nicknamed the 'Grand Canyon of Europe'.

Kayaking the Verdon Gorges
Kayaking the Verdon Gorges © LR Photographies - Adobe Stock Image

Cutting through the middle, the Verdon River is as electric blue as a dragonfly, and it's one of the most scenic spots imaginable for kayaking.

Sadly, years of low rainfall have meant that a kayaking trip is significantly shorter than it used to be, and the water levels are so low that kayakers often run aground less than a kilometre into the gorge.

In spring, water levels tend to be much higher than at the beginning of the summer, when the Riviera sun has flambéed away most of the Verdon's water. Lucky visitors in May may also glimpse the first lavender fields in bloom before the Instagram influencer tribes descend.

Perfect cycling in Estérel

Avoid the Lycra-clad sweat-fest of Tour de France season when cyclists reach summits resembling human flypaper, and embark on a cycling holiday in Estérel in the spring instead.

April daytime temperatures are around 15°C, compared with 26°C in July. Road bike routes run through historic hilltop villages and the Estérel Massif.

For more of an adrenaline hit (just arm yourself with a bike that has the suspension of a pogo stick), tackle some of the gnarly mountain bike routes which jolt down through the ravines and arid hills that frame Estérel's headland.

The manicured Garden Festival

If all the world's a stage, then all the Côte d'Azur is a garden, and never more so than when the annual Garden Festival takes place between 25 March and 1 May 2024.

Scattered throughout the Riviera, landscape architects, gardeners and artists compete to put on the best display. It's accompanied by workshops and seminars on botany and guided tours, with a strong focus on responsible tourism.

Local flora is at the forefront and in this mild, Mediterranean climate, the horticulture is seriously diverse.

Climate in the Côte d'Azur

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows the climate in Nice. Find out more about conditions across the region in our guide to the climate in the south of France.

Ready to explore the Côte d'Azur? Browse the latest offers on holiday with TUI and itineraries with Marella Cruises.

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Anna Richards

Anna Richards

Posted on Wednesday 14th February 2024 in: Europe Marella Cruises Season TUI Winter sun

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