The Provence and the Côte d'Azur region packs in the most incredible diversity of sights, landscapes and activities.
The coast tends to be relatively built up, with exceptions around the Camargue, the Calanques and the unspoilt Îles d'Hyères. To get away from the crowds, head inland to the sparsely populated Haute-Provence, the majestic southern Alps, the vineyards of the Var or the storybook Luberon.
Back in town, Nice is utterly delightful, its old town teeming with life and the Mediterranean lapping the shores of its promenade, whereas Marseille, France's second-biggest city, blends urban grit with culture on the rise.
And then there's Monaco, a law unto itself, with its skyscrapers, tax-haven residents, scandal-prone royal family and hedonistic fun.
The grey wolf made a much publicised comeback to the Mercantour from Italy in the 1990s, but as well as wolves you could see vultures, eagles, mountain ibexes and cute marmots.
From Europe's deepest canyons to some of its highest peaks, Haute-Provence's alpine scenery is majestic and unspoilt. Even the night sky will bowl you over with its incredible clarity.
Adrenalin junkies, Haute-Provence is for you: you can go rafting, canyoning, skydiving, bungee-jumping, mountain biking, cycling, paragliding and climbing. Hiking, in comparison, will look meek, but make no mistake: trekking here is tough.
Churches & Abbeys
Long a Protestant stronghold in a Catholic country, the Luberon is steeped in religious history, from glorious churches to peaceful abbeys.
With its rolling hills, postcard landscapes and light traffic, the Luberon is prime cycling territory. And, happily, there is plenty of help out there to facilitate your journey, from itinerary planning to luggage-carrying services.
Gordes, Ménerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux: this is the Provence of your dreams. There are 101 ways to enjoy these stunning villages: stroll, cycle, browse the weekly market or stop for a long lunch.
Ascend giant Mont Ventoux, hike the stunning Dentelles de Montmirail, paddle below Pont du Gard or along the glassy Sorgue and breathe Provence's fresh air.
With three of Provence's most famous wines – reds Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise – the Avignon region is a must for wine connoisseurs.
Romans & Popes
The Romans and the popes all decided to call the area home: find out why by exploring the ancient town of Glanum, Orange's theatre and Avignon's imposing Palais des Papes.
Camargue's specialities – its red rice, bull meat and seafood – are reminiscent of Spain. Try them, as well as modern French cuisine, in one of the area's mighty fine restaurants.
More than 500 species of bird regularly visit the Camargue, chief among them the colourful flocks of pink flamingos. The mosquitoes seem just as abundant as the birds, so pack repellent along with your binoculars!
Arles flourished under Julius Ceasar, and the town's past prosperity is still awe-inspiring: amphitheatre, theatre, necropolis and a leading mosaic-renovation centre.
The western end of the fabled Côte d'Azur brings yet more golden beaches, from the celeb-heavy, nudist-friendly sands around St-Tropez to the lesser-known coves of the Corniche des Maures.
This is the home of Provence's signature rosé wines, so spare an afternoon to visit the vineyards of Côtes de Provence, Bandol or Correns organic wine makers.
A few miles offshore lies the little archipelago of the Îles d'Hyères, where you should be able to escape the summer hustle of the coast – and with luck, find a deserted patch of sand.
You certainly won't go hungry in this part of Provence. Dine on just-landed seafood and authentic bouillabaisse in Marseille, or seek out one of the excellent Provençal restaurants dotted along the backstreets of Aix-en-Provence.
The rugged, mineral beauty of the Massif de la Ste-Baume, Les Alpilles and the Calanques has captivated painters and writers; follow in their footsteps with a walk, paddle or drive.
From Marseille's museums (such as the flagship Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée) to the many impressive galleries and artistic sights of Aix-en-Provence, this is a region that's awash with history and culture.
It may be pint-sized, but little Monaco knows how to party – whether that means dressing to the nines and placing a bet at the famous casino, attending the opera or partying till late at a portside bar.
Monaco's royal family is a constant source of fascination: peek behind the curtain by visiting the fabulous royal palace and watching the pomp of the changing of the guard.
The highlight of Monaco's calendar is its annual grand prix, held every May. At other times, you can trace the famous circuit on foot, or visit Prince Rainier's private collection of classic cars.
Belle Epoque History
The French Riviera was all the rage in the 19th century and we can thank wintering royals and high-society divas for their legacy: meringue-like buildings, operas, casinos and promenades.
Parks & Gardens
With its mild, sunny climate, the Côte d'Azur has always been a gardener's heaven. Cue the region's many exotic, botanical and themed gardens, which reach their prime in spring.
The coast rises abruptly from the sea along the Riviera, reaching 800m in places, with mind-bending views along the way. Drive the Grande Corniche or visit Ste-Agnès or Èze for knock-out vistas.