Everyone's heard of the Côte d'Azur or French Riviera in south-east France, with its wonderful weather, excellent beaches, gorgeous Mediterranean coastline, famous cities and towns – Cannes, Nice, St Tropez – famous people, famously rich people and famously high prices.
Fewer know that this celebrated stretch of coast, lacking in official boundaries, is part of the département of the Alpes Maritimes, which is in turn part of the Provence–Alpes–Côte d'Azur region (popularly known as the South of France).
It's not all glitz and glitter, either. The Alpes Maritimes has some great traditional seaside resorts, several child-friendly art galleries and, bizarrely, a number of family ski resorts that are within just an hour’s drive of the beaches of Nice. Indeed, you might not readily associate the South of France with mountains, but this area is a great place for skiing and winter sports as well as summer outdoor activities.
Things to do with kids in Alpes Maritimes
Head for the beaches of the Côte d'Azur: Antibes and Menton are charming, family-friendly seaside resorts without the stratospheric prices of their more famous neighbours.
Check out the art museums of Nice and its arrière-pays or back country; with kids, we particularly recommend the Fondation Maeght at St-Paul de Vence and the Musée Marc Chagall in Nice itself. Nice also has a fabulous market at Cours Saleya and some interesting Roman ruins.
Discover gems such as the the perfume city of Grasse and foodie hotspot Mougins.
Go wild in the country: summer activities including walking, mountain-biking, kayaking and rafting in the rivers Var and Verdon, plus bungee-jumping off an 80-metre bridge, trampolining and more, some of it in the mighty Parc National du Mercantour. Walk the superbly maintained networks of footpaths in the mountains, at all levels – gawp at gorges, splash in lakes and streams, puff up peaks and spot the plentiful wildlife, including marmots and chamois. Luge in Valberg, abseil down a waterfall, or cycle or horse-ride through the meadows.
There are also charming villages to explore, castles and forts to explore, and small market towns to wander around. Amble the medieval alleys of Entrevaux and check out its fortress on the cliff above, complete with dungeons, then visit tiny local museums and traditional farms to buy cheese and yoghurt more or less straight from the cow or goat.
Check out the Alpes Maritimes' family ski resorts, less than an hour’s drive from Nice, including Isola 2002. The mountains begin the moment you leave the coast, and the higher you climb into the superb alpine landscapes, the more appealing – and affordable - the idea of a family holiday in the same region as the Monte Carlo Casino becomes.
Nice at sunset.
The Alpes Maritimes offer much of the best that French cuisine has to offer, with some Italian thrown in. Local fare, relatively simple by French standards, includes tasty lamb, plentiful vegetables (tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, courgettes) and some pasta dishes from across the nearby border with Italy. The usual suspects are also on offer, including pizza, pancakes and ice cream, as are all the decadent delights of the French bakery. And no family holiday in the Alpes Maritimes is complete without a trip to a local market.
Most restaurants offer the traditional French three-course menu for less than €20 a head, and child-friendly food will set you back even less.
A marmot in the Parc National du Mercantour.
When to go to Alpes Maritimes
Summer properly begins in June and lingers to the end of September, but the weather is often still fine in October, when the autumn colours in the mountains are magnificent. May half term can also be a great time to visit, before the crowds arrive and before it gets too hot for younger kids. This is when spring comes to the mountains in, with snow lingering on the peaks but wonderful flowers and lush landscapes below, and rivers now at their best for white-water rafting and kayaking.
The Alpes Maritimes' winter-sports season lasts into April at the highest resorts (including Isola 2000).
Wildlife in the Parc National du Mercantour.
Staying in the mountains rather than by the coast will help you to keep family holiday costs down, as will eating out at lunch instead of in the evenings.
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Flying time2hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.
Carbon footprint0.95 CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.
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