Driving to the south coast can be a cross-country epic. Instead, put your car on the train in Paris, courtesy of Autotrain, board a separate passenger train, and take to the road in Avignon, Fréjus or Nice (ring Rail Europe on 0844 848 4050).
British Airways, BMI Baby, EasyJet and Air France cover the regional airports of Nice (in the east) and Marseille (in the west) between them (www.ba.com; www.bmibaby.com; www.easyjet. com; www.airfrance.com).
From London, take the train via Lille to Marseille; from Paris, board the TGV. The coast-hugging track from Marseille to Menton - stopping at Toulon, Saint-Raphaël, Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monaco - is spectacular, in some spots putting you closer to the Med than a beachfront sunlounger (www.tgv.com).
France: 33. Southeast: 04 (drop the zero when ringing from abroad).
Super-Cannes by JG Ballard; Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald; To Catch a Thief by David Dodge.
Do go / Don't Go
To make the most of the coast, go May to September, but check the social calendar to avoid the road-clogging traffic that accompanies events such as the Monaco Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival.
Light, pale rosé wine from Provence. Langoustines, goat's cheese and Cavaillon melons are among the region's big-flavour, low-food-miles favourites. Expect plenty of grilled fish, bouillabaisse and authentic salade niçoise.
Towns such as Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo have taxi ranks, but you'll have no luck hailing. For middle-of-nowhere fares, ask your hotel to book a cab.
By law, a service charge is automatically added to all restaurant bills, but it's nice to leave a euro or two.
Merrell walking shoes for rambling in the hills; budgie-smugglers or your least substantial bikini for the beach at Cannes.
An impressive roll-call of artists have fallen for the Côte d'Azur: Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Cocteau and co, inspiring less-garlanded painters and sculptors (and art lovers) to flock here. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a hilltop village crammed with galleries and arty residents; you can dine among incredible canvases at Picasso's old haunt, the legendary La Colombe d'Or (+33 (0)4 93 32 80 02). In Nice, head to the starkly striking Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain on the Promenade des Arts, to explore the American Pop and New Realist art collections (www.mamac-nice.org).
The working port (and resort) of La Ciotat stakes its claim on cinematic history, as the home of movie pioneers the Lumière brothers, and as the set of their 1895 motion picture (among the first ever to be shown in public) The Entrance of the Train into La Ciotat Station. Their story is recorded at the Ciotaden Museum on Quai Ganteaume (+33 (0)4 42 71 40 99; closed Tuesdays).
Monte Carlo's fancy retail is found around the Boulevard des Moulins and in the Metropole mall. Cannes is well stocked with labels, jewels, art and Rolls-Royces (you'll have to head to Antibes to buy your yacht). La Croisette, Rue d'Antibes and the streets between them are the credit-card-flexing centre, where you'll find Hermès, Chanel et al. Get up early in Marseille and enjoy the spectacle of fish and seafood traded daily at the marché aux poissons at the Vieux Port. Cours Saleya market in Nice is a foodie paradise, except on Mondays, when it's all antiques.
There are many reasons to visit the perched mediaeval village of Èze: castle ruins, the picturesque Jardin Exotique and, not least, the bird's-eye views of Cap Ferrat from the restaurant terrace at swish Château Eza (+33 (0)4 93 41 12 24). In Cannes, walk up to Notre-Dame de l'Espérance, atop Suquet hill, for views east over the Vieux Port and the bay, and west towards La Corniche de l'Estérel coast road, as it wends its winding way along the craggy coast to Saint-Raphaël.
Grasse perfumery Fragonard welcomes visitors to a free guided tour of its premises, both at its original base in the town centre and at the flower factory on the edge of town (www.fragonard.com).
February Monte Carlo's glamorous Primo Cup sailing competition fills the marina (www.yacht-club-monaco.mc). May The Cannes Film Festival lures industry luminaries and gong-hopeful A-listers to town, for premieres, parties and paparazzi opps (www.festival-cannes.fr). It's followed by the F1 Monaco Grand Prix (www.monte-carlo.mc/formule1). July The Nice Jazz Festival takes place, largely in the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre (www.nicejazzfestival.fr). September Les Etoiles de Mougins brings chefs from across the Continent to the mediaeval village for demonstrations, tastings and general gastro celebrations (www.lesetoilesdemougins.com).