When you talk about Nice, Cannes, Antibes or Menton most people associate these names with the French Riviera or Côte d'Azur and few with Alpes Maritimes. So let's bring some order into this.
The Alpes Maritimes is the name of the département, an administrative entity within the Region Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur (PACA), one of the 26 regions of France. The name Côte d'Azur is a geographical term used for the Mediterranean coast from the Italian border to some point west. Most French would say that the western demarcation of the Côte d'Azur is around Cassis or Marseille. The Azuréens, as the inhabitants of Alpes Maritimes like to call themselves, argue that the Côte d'Azur ends at Théoule sur Mer west of Cannes. The coast further west should be called Côte Varois, the coast of the Var, which of course rarely anyone does in France. Côte d'Azur is such a valuable brand name!
The tourism potential of the coast between Livorno in Italy and Cannes was first discovered by the British in the 19th century. They called it the Riviera - hence the name French Riviera for this part of the coast.
When the county of Nice was ceded to France in 1860 it was combined with the Arrondissement Grasse to form the Département Alpes Maritimes. This is actually a very old name. Alpes Maritimæ was a Roman military district formed in 14 BC, which became a province later with the capital Cemenelum, todays chic residential quarter Cimiez in Nice.
In the late 19th century Alpes Maritimes had a population of roughly 250.000. Today more than 1 million people live here, most of them in the coastal areas of Menton, Nice, Antibes and Cannes with a rapid expansion inland to Grasse. The remainder of Alpes Maritimes is very mountainous and sparsely populated. Nice-Antibes-Cannes-Grasse and the towns and villages in between form pretty much a contiguous metropolitan area of about 1 million inhabitants. If they would be joined into one metropolitan area it would be France's 5th largest! In other words don't expect the quaint Provence van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, Rodin and even a Picasso enjoyed. Instead you find congested roads and highways, public housing, seemingly endless residential developments (called lotissements), shopping centers, malls, building supply stores, car dealerships and other highlights of modern civilization. Most of it in the clean and organized way which is the trademark of France, quite unlike its chaotic neighbor Italy. Like islands in this sea of cities, towns and suburbia you have many marvelous sights which are worth a trip, worth to spend a vacation! There is a good selection of hideaway type lodgings, from small hotels, pretty B&Bs to vacation rental apartments and houses. Just to give you an example: Would you expect to find a tree house B&B in an ecological setting with a natural pool a few minutes from Nice?
Going from the Italian border in Menton to Cannes we have sections on the follwing sights:
Menton, the warmest and the most Italianate of the towns on the Côte d'Azur with a stunning 331 days of sunshine - lemon trees, English gardens, a place with a genteel, slow moving pace, basking in its beautiful setting.
Côte d'Azur: Nice to Menton, the classical part of the Côte d'Azur, a coast of extreme beauty, outrageously expensive real estate and picturesque towns like Villefranche sur Mer, Cap Ferrat, Roquebrune-Cap Martin and the hilltop village of Èze.
Nice, they called it the faded queen of the Côte d'Azur, but after the recent regeneration of downtown and the construction of a ultra-modern tramway it has reemerged as "La Bella" - this bustling city with the Italian flair. Promenade des Anglais, Vieux Nice, the Château Hill, the port and the many outstanding museums make this a "must see" type destination.
Antibes-Juan les Pins has one of the prettiest historic towns on the Côte d'Azur, Vieille Antibes its with narrow cobble-stoned streets and the aura of "Picasso once lived here". Close by is the Cap d'Antibes, one of the most exclusive areas on the Côte d'Azur and the more democratic Juan les Pins, the place where in the 1920's and 30s, "les années folles", the likes of Scott and Jelda Fitzgerald, Douglas Fairbanks and other Americans vacationed.
Côte d'Azur: Nice to Cannes with Mougins, Biot, Cagnes, Vallauris and Villeneuve Loubet, names and places associated with the great painters and sculptors of the 20th century: Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Rodin, Lêger, Cocteau and many others. A densely populated area where these hilltop villages preserve the heritage.
Cannes, the most prestigious of the seaside towns of the Côte d'Azur. Lovely location with la Croisette, one of the great seaside promenades of this world and the annual Cannes Film Festival - the best marketing tool for Cannes, when all the who's who in film and entertainment congregate here - 30.000 official visitors with 4.000 accredited journalists.
St.Paul de Vence: around 2.5 million visitors per year walk its narrow cobblestoned streets absorbing the unique setting which made this hilltop village a favorite spot for Picasso, Matisse and other contemporary artists - Marc Chagall even chose to be buried here. It is with no doubt the most visited village on the Côte d'Azur and a "must see" destination.
Grasse: Unless you are interested in the historic aspects of perfume production there is no reason to visit Grasse. Tourism pretty much lives of Grasse's proud past: Peasants collecting flowers, essences being extracted, the fragrant smell of perfumes, Edith Piaf (who died in nearby Plascassier). Nowadays the historic town center is mostly inhabited by poor immigrants. The area around Grasse suffers from ever increasing population pressures and heavy traffic. Perfume aficionados can visit a number of perfume factories, where guided tours are available.