The hilltop villages or villages perchés are one of the most endearing attractions of the Cote d'Azur. Perched like hats on top of verdant hills, these villages combine the allure of medieval architecture with birds-eye views of the Riviera coast and mountains. Most villages emerged during the 12th and 13th centuries when peasants clustered together in an easily defensible position to protect themselves from pirates and marauding armies. Many villages are still buckled with medieval walls and their crooked, cobbled streets are pleasant to stroll. Some are topped with arches and arcades to provide shelter from the rain and all are punctuated with a church and bell-tower.
After a postwar period of neglect, the perched villages gained new life when coastal residents renovated the crumbling town houses to serve as second residences. Next, artists and artisans moved in and set up boutiques and galleries to show their wares. Now, most villages have a thriving commercial life catering to tourists, retirees, and part-time residents.
Visiting the Hilltop Villages
The core of each village is a web of streets that is pedestrian-only. Parking is available at the edges of the village. There is a limited amount of free parking and it fills up quickly especially in the summer. There is bus service to each village, usually from coastal cities such as Nice and Cannes. A good time to visit is during the summer when there are likely to be medieval festivals and free concerts.
The Best Hilltop Villages on the French Riviera
Known for its pottery and glasswork as well as Fernand Leger Museum.
At 760m altitude, this beautiful medieval village overlooking the Loup river has been lovingly restored.
Home to a large community of British expats, Mougins is the place to go for anything from Indian curry to fine cuisine.
St Paul de Vence
An ideal position for coastal views and an arty but touristy ambience.