Ooh La La! Everything You Need to Know about the South of France

Villefranche-sur-Mer and restaurants along quai.

The French Riviera is one of those legendary locales that conjures images of decadent luxury. Of a fabled resort playground for the rich-and-famous. Of endless sunshine and romantic nights spent along Mediterranean beaches. It’s all that, but also a place where you can kick back and chill, dropping as much cash as you want—or as little. You can party and shop like a rock star here, but much of the South of France’s appeal—beach-hugging coastlines, 300-plus annual days of dazzling sunshine—comes courtesy of Mother Nature and doesn’t cost a dime.

Weather-wise, most of the year is great for visiting the French Riviera—or the Côte d’Azur, as the French call it. It’s gorgeous right now and through October, when the sun’s still shining and the weather’s pleasantly warm. (July and August are when the area is most densely packed.) But don’t forget about the “off-season.” Come after New Year’s or through March, when you can don a light jacket, fabulous shades and still dine al fresco, taking advantage of the sparse crowds, lighter traffic, and more affordable prices.

And there’s a spot for everyone. If you want to be part of the sexy, “beautiful people” scene, St-Tropez and Cannes are for you. If you want the hustle of a city with incredible art inside museums and on public view, don’t miss gorgeous Nice. Feel like maxing and relaxing in an authentic seaside village? Villefranche-sur-Mer is your place. Want to feel like you’ve stepped into Italy? Check out Menton, the French Riviera town just minutes from the French-Italian border. If you’re all about the high-roller, international player thing, there’s no place like Monaco. And there’s much, much more.

LIVING THE LIFE OF LUXURY

When visiting the French Riviera, your best bet is to choose a resort town or village as your “home base” and make day or overnight visits to others. If St-Tropez is your place, it’s ALL about the Hotel Byblos Saint-Tropez, a legendary and luxurious 5-star property that looks just like you’d expect a well-heeled Mediterranean village to appear. That is, if everyone was gorgeous and fabulously dressed. And just this summer, it earned “Palace Distinction,” granted to exceptional 5-star properties that both boost French culture and France itself as a destination. A spacious heated pool sits inside the middle of the 91-room resort, offering its glamorous guests a place to soak up the sun, chat on their mobiles, or savor breakfast, lunch or aperitifs from B. Restaurant, depending on the hour. The Byblos’ spacious suites, many of which feature balconies with stunning views, will make you wish you lived this well at home.

[PHOTOS] Visit the South of France

[PHOTOS] Visit the South of France

The hotel’s Soins Essentiels Spa by Sisley  even features a Lebanese-motif treatment room with dark leather and wood shades, paying homage to the Byblos’ original owner. There’s an ever-present aural thing going on here, as luxurious showers allow guests to listen to rainforest or foot-pounding DJ sounds from the Byblos’ world-famous nightclub while they rinse their cares away.

Sleeping in the “big city” of Nice? Its most famous hotel is Le Negresco, a pink-domed, Belle Epoque-era grande dame that dominates the Nice’s famed Promenade des Anglais, a gorgeous long stretch of sidewalk that runs alongside the city’s beaches. The renovated 5-star property—which has hosted stars ranging from Elizabeth Taylor to Michael Jackson—owns a dazzling 2,000-piece art collection that’s displayed throughout the hotel. Many of Le Negresco’s 96 rooms and 21 suites (all of which are uniquely decorated) look out on the Mediterranean Sea—and guests can enjoy it up close at the hotel’s partner private beach across the boulevard. This whimsical hotel legend kicked off its 100-year anniversary with a fabulous party in July and is offering a range of special offers through 2013. If you’re there on the first Thursday of the month, don’t miss its “Jazz Evening” events.

If you’re headed to Monaco, check out the sublime Hotel Métropole Monte-Carlo. A stunningly chic 5-star property that takes full advantage of its Mediterranean locale, it’s hosted everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Sting. A sensual experience from the moment you walk in and are greeted by the scent of Nepalese amber, a stay here is all about understated luxury for the Métropole’s international guests. Whether you’re traveling to Monaco for the annual Formula 1 Grand Prix car races or merely using the hotel as a base for visiting the principality’s casinos (guests get free access to the glamorous Casino de Monte-Carlo), you can’t go wrong staying here. The luxury style factor will soar this fall when the Métropole introduces its Karl Lagerfeld-designed outdoor space, including a new pool, terrace, gardens, poolside Robuchon restaurant and glass fresco-style art installation.

Pretend you live in this paradise—and get way more room than in a hotel—by renting one of seven beautifully decorated apartments from Riviera Experience, in the