The Riviera Hillsides Experience

Hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence

2024 Dates: May 18 – 25 (Women’s Week); May 25 – June 1

2025 Dates: May 17-24 (Women’s Week)

We were delighted to offer The Riviera Hillsides Experience for the first time in 2022. This trip bases for the week in the scenic foothills behind the famous French Riviera, just west of Nice and Cannes, officially called the “Alpes Maritimes.”

We discover a very different ambiance in the hills above the glitzy beaches of the French Riviera. Dramatic hillsides are dotted with homes and perched villages, with glimpses of the Alps in the distance. The backcountry of the Côte d’Azur shares many of the characteristics of Provence, bathed in sunshine and carpeted in olive groves. The protected micro-climate escapes the Provençal Mistral wind and favors temperate plant species such as bougainvillea, palms and citrus trees and flowers of all kinds.

The intense light and colors have provided a playground for artists over the centuries. Populated with Mediterranean gardens, this area has also evolved as the center of the world’s perfume industry. Just 10 miles above the coast, we’ll discover the surprising and authentic side of the “red carpet” French Riviera: ochre colored villages, bustling farmers markets, typical café squares, and pétanque players under the shade trees.

colorful village with palm trees

The village of Grasse in the hills above the Riviera

Our groups base in the traditional village of Le Rouret, inland from the coast and about 15 minutes from the famous town of Grasse. We stay in a beautifully-landscaped, traditional, family-owned hotel where our groups receive a very warm welcome. Le Rouret is ideally situated for our week.

Experience the Riviera Hillsides

The Riviera Hillsides Experience follows the same approach as our other Experience trips, including a variety of special activities and experiences unique to this area:

  • Visits to several hilltop “pre-alpes” villages, including St Paul de Vence, Mougins, and Valbonne. The highest, Tourettes sur Loup, is the capital of violet flower production, offering farmers and craft markets, tiny French boutiques, and cobbled lanes.
  • Visits to lush gardens featuring Mediterranean plants such as roses, mimosa, and fig trees, which contribute their scents to the famous fragrance houses of Grasse. We’ll visit local flower fields produced by families of perfume makers since 1740. And we’re usually able to include a visit to a very special “jardin remarkable.”
  • A day trip with an art theme, exploring the hillsides through the eyes of famous painters, such as Matisse, Picasso and Chagall. We’ll visit several diverse sites, potentially including Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire near Vence, the Musée Fernand Léger near Biot, the photography museum in Vallauris, and outdoor installations at Fondation Maeght in St Paul de Vence.
  • An excursion down to the coast for a different view of the hillsides. We’ll cruise out to one of Cannes’ offshore islands, Ile St Honorat, with its inhabited monastery. On the island we’ll enjoy a relaxing guided walk, taste the monks’ wines in the olive groves, and relax over a picnic lunch.
  • Food-related experiences including a visit to a family-owned olive oil mill and a cooking demonstration and dinner.
  • A special day in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. Grasse is an enchanting town, painted in mixed golden hues, with meandering lanes between tightly-built tall medieval houses. We’ll enjoy an immersive visit, learning the history of the artisanal, and now international, fragrance industry dating back to the 1700s. We’ll meet a “niche perfumer” making contemporary scents.
  • Optional activities including morning walks, sketching in our hotel’s garden (we’ll supply the materials on request– and you’ll be surrounded by inspiration), and perhaps a spontaneous game of pentanque.
  • Memorable meals of local specialties in a variety of settings including picnics, bistrot lunches, and a gastronomic dinner.
  • Time for relaxing and exploring on your own.

Our “Women’s Week” is a special variation of this Experience trip. We’ll follow the same overall itinerary, with some adjustments based on the interests of the group. As always with our all-women groups, there’s a unique camaraderie and spirit that’s an important part of the week.

See a typical itinerary for The Riviera Hillsides Experience

abbey on an island

Lérins Abbey on the island of Saint-Honorat

Arrival and Departure

Our meeting/drop-off point is Nice-Ville train station in the center of the city. There’s an international airport just 30 minutes west of the center of Nice. (There are now direct flights to Nice from four USA airports: JFK, Newark, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.) Nice is also accessible via a coastal train from Marseille (where there’s another airport), a trip of less than three hours. We’ll meet the group on the first afternoon and drop-off after breakfast on the last morning at the station. We will potentially also arrange a drop-off at the airport. (The specific pick-up and drop-off times will be confirmed six months before the trip.)

We always recommend arriving in Europe at least one day before our week begins. This allows you to adjust to the time difference and also provides a buffer in case of any travel delays. We highly recommend spending some time in Nice before or after our week together. The city of Nice walks a fine line between Italian and French cultures, with its colorful old town, laundry hanging between buildings, and animated population. You’ll enjoy strolling along the waterfront on the Promenade des Anglais, the daily flower market, the luxurious aristocratic villas, a choice of art museums, and the blue backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea. From Nice you can easily take public transportation to explore other destinations on the coast.

Leader: Jennifer Dugdale

Prices: $4,300 per person double occupancy; $4,650 single occupancy of a double room