If you’ve had the pleasure of spending some time in the South of France, you’ll know this sparkling stretch of Mediterranean coastline is synonymous with sun-kissed afternoons drinking carafe after carafe of pretty salmon-hued Côtes de Provence rosé. The arrival of shorter days and cooler nights doesn’t seem to hamper anyone’s enthusiasm for a glass of it, either! In fact, even the merest hint of sun during winter is accompanied by cries of ‘time to open a bottle of rosé!’
Never fear, however, if you’re not a fan of said pink drink. It doesn’t hold a liquid monopoly along the Côte d’Azur! Far from it in fact! If you prefer to seek out a locally brewed beer, a specialty spirits bar, the perfect view to share a bottle of Champagne, or (dare we say it), a glass of vin blanc or vin rouge, here’s our drinker’s guide to the French Riviera!
A recent (and welcome) addition to the French Riviera drinking landscape, Colgan’s Brewery is the region’s first micro-brewery. From their base up in the hills overlooking the bay of Cannes the Colgan Brother’s brew four styles of beer (with a fifth to be released over the summer); from their signature, and eponymous, blonde pilsner, to the Pirate pale ale, Hopbuckler IPA and a strong Captain’s stout. The range has been thoroughly embraced by many of the region’s English and Irish bars; including popular tourist spot Ma Nolan’s, in both Nice and Cannes. To explore the inner workings of a micro-brewery, you can even visit the brewery in Mouans-Sartoux itself.
That cheeky green fairy has taken hold in Antibes, a pretty seaside town popular with the yachting crowd between Cannes and Nice. The Antibes Absinthe Bar is a Riviera institution and, since its inception in 1974, drinkers have been drawn to this atmospheric local, with high vaulted ceilings, vintage drinking posters decorating the walls, live music and an Absinthe list that boasts its fair share of 70°-plus proof. Plus, if you find yourself the next day with a camera roll overflowing with shots of you and your friends posing in random hats, don’t write it off as just another Absinthe hallucination! One of the bar’s most beloved quirks is the array of funky ‘chapeaux’ which patrons can make use of. The poses become more outrageous the more Absinthe consumed!
Nothing says special occasion like a glass of sparkling, and there French Riviera boasts no shortage of champagne-worthy venues. This is France, after all! Nice’s old town boasts a speciality champagne bar, l’Effervesence, yet, if you prefer your bubbles with a view it’s hard to beat the breathtaking Mediterranean panoramas offered from the rooftop bars of the region’s luxury hotels. Take your pick from the Billionaire Club (you don’t have to prove you are one to gain entry) atop Monte Carlo’s Fairmont Hotel, or Nice’s Le Méridien, boasting an unrivalled location on the Promenade des Anglais, and Cannes uber-trendy 3.14 hotel, a Cannes Film Festival favourite.
There’s more to French Riviera wine than rosé, I promise you! In fact, vineyards can be found all along the coast, from Menton near the Italian border along to La Napoule, on the other side of Cannes. What’s more, they produce as much white and red as they do rosé! The vineyards in the hills of Nice boast their own appellation, the AOC Bellet. One of the smallest in France, the vineyards are clustered on the western hills of the city and this is the only place in the world where you will find the grape varieties Braquet and Folle Noire grown, used to make an AOC Bellet rosé and red respectively. Another traveler favourite is the Riviera’s very own Holy Wine! Easily reached from Cannes, the monks who have called l’Île St Honorat home since the 5th century make a reputed range of white and red wines, as well as liqueurs, from a small plot which has to be one of the most breathtaking locations for a vineyard in the world!
Have you any favourite French Riviera drinking spots of your own to recommend?
Chrissie McClatchie is an Australian freelance writer and wine specialist who has been living in France since 2008. You can follow her on Twitter @RivieraGrape as she explores the wines of the French Riviera and Italy's Liguria.