Embark on an unforgettable adventure and uncover a myriad of unusual things to do on the French Riviera. Hidden gems and thrilling escapades await at every turn. Leave the crowded beaches behind and delve into a world where snorkeling among monumental sculptures becomes a reality. Dive into crystal-clear waters off Sainte Marguerite island, just off Cannes, and marvel at the larger-than-life “masks” resting on the white sand beneath.
But that’s just the beginning. From canoeing through stunning landscapes to paragliding above medieval villages, the possibilities for excitement and exploration are endless. Discover a side of the French Riviera that few have experienced, where casual meets extraordinary and lifelong memories are waiting to be made.
Let’s take a look at some of the unusual things to do on the French Riviera
All of these activities have been tried out by me and my family or our friends. If you’re looking for unusual things to do French Riviera, something off the beaten path or out of the ordinary, read on, you’re in the right place. I’ve put together a selection of different activities covering all tastes and ages from gentle walks to extreme sensations, not forgetting a little culture and creativity.
Unusual Things to do French Riviera – In The Dark
First up, for those who crave exhilarating action and like to get their adrenaline pumping, don’t get claustrophobic and are happy in the dark here are some unique and memorable things to do.
Underground Via Ferrata
Have you heard of Via Ferrata? Well, this is an underground version, a “souterrata”. Kitted up in a boilersuit and helmet with a headtorch, you follow a secure trail, clipped onto wires, for an extraordinary discovery underground. The course passes through caves with monkey bridges, footbridges, rungs and fixed ladders, set against a backdrop of stalactites and stalagmites.
You need to support tight confined spaces, pitch dark and heights to do this activity. It certainly isn’t for everyone but it is a truly unique experience, possible from 8 years old. Open all year, must book in high season. (Photo provided by Nature Eveil).
Website: Nature Eveil
Discover The Hidden World of Caving
And if the souterrata is not adventurous enough for you, it’s possible to go caving in the Côte d’Azur. The area is awash with natural caves which you can explore in small groups with a qualified caving instructor. Discover the mysterious world of caves and caverns in a unique encounter with a beautiful, wild and virtually untouched natural world.
Half-day and full-day trips every day of the year from age 12 up, from beginners to advanced. (Both photos of caving provided by AccroAventures).
Nighttime Tree Top Adventure Course
This nighttime activity is only available on limited dates in the summer, so think ahead and book early if you want to give it a go. All the thrills of an “accrobranche” (Go Ape in UK) tree-top rope climbing adventure course…in the dark! You climb along the course, clipped onto wires with the only light coming from your head torch.
This gives another depth to the activity. Certain parts of the course are quite creepy as you whizz along a zip wire in the dark, seeing nothing until a tree looms out of the obscurity at the last moment. A unique experience for thrill seekers!
Website: Canyon Forest
Unusual Things to do French Riviera – Fly High
Do you dream of flying? Take a look at these unusual things to do in the sky. Soar like a bird or speed like a rocket, these uplifting activities will intoxicate you.
Fly on France’s Longest Zipline
Fly over alpine meadows and lakes, on France’s longest zipline (tyrolienne in French) at La Colmiane. 2663 metres long with speeds up to 120 kmph this is not for the fainthearted! You can go it alone or in a double, with young children from 8 allowed only when accompanied by an adult. There are weight restrictions which are outlined on the website.
The Tyrolienne is open throughout the year, on weekends and public holidays from September to early July. Every day from early July and all of August. Must book online.
Website: La Colmiane Tyrolienne
Paraglide Between Mountains And Sea
Soar above the spectacular medieval perched village of Gourdon for a birds-eye view of the whole of the Côte d’Azur, pre-Alps and if you’re lucky as far as Corsica. Fly high strapped to a qualified instructor for an unforgettable 20-30 minutes of adrenaline-fuelled fun.
If you’ve never paraglided before this is a really special place to take your first flight. And if you’ve done it before you won’t be disappointed as this is one of the most iconic places to glide in France. Possible from 5 years up.
Unusual Things to do French Riviera – on or in Water
Do you prefer something more gentle? Then you’ll adore these tranquil water-based activities, snorkeling, paddling or pottering around on calm rivers or marveling at surprising underwater art.
Snorkel With Statues
Snorkel off Sainte Marguerite island (just off Cannes) among monumental sculptures! There are 6 gigantic “masks” over 2 metres high, located on the white sand at a depth of 3-4 metres. The crystal clear water and relatively shallow depth make exploring these magnificent portraits accessible for most swimmers.
To reach the Underwater Eco-Museum take the ferry from Cannes to Sainte Marguerite and cross the island on foot from where you can dive in and explore. Don’t forget your mask and snorkel and ideally flippers too. Free and open all the time, all year, it’s just up to you whether the water is warm enough for a swim.
More information: EcoMusée Sous-Marin
Kayak on the Argens river
Hire a canoe (1-4 persons) to gently paddle up or down the Argens river under the magnificent rocks of Roquebrune. Despite being so close to the bustling heart of the Côte d’Azur, you’ll feel a million miles away on this beautiful, tranquil river.
You can go alone by the hour, half day or full day or you can join a group to explore the biodiversity of this protected nature reserve. Group tours only on Saturdays in July and August, canoe hire open April – September.
Website: La Base du Rocher
Explore the Siagne river by electric boat
Potter around at your own rhythm on the lovely river Siagne in an electric boat. No license or experience necessary to hire one of these little boats by the half hour or hour. This is a very peaceful easy activity to enjoy with the family, away from the crowds. Expect encounters with cormorants, ducks and swans.
Based in Mandelieu La Napoule, the boat hire can include extras such as breakfast, apéritif or nature hunts (even Easter egg hunts at the right time of year!) Ring ahead for info.
More info: Electric Boat Mandelieu
Unusual Things to do French Riviera – Guided Tours
How about a guided tour with a difference? Cycle, tootle or bounce through the beautiful towns and countryside of the Côte d’Azur. Choose between pedaling yourself, being chauffeur driven in a classic French car or off-roading in a 4WD buggy. Whatever takes your fancy, you’ll be awed by the scenery.
Take a bike’n’beer tour
Cycle around Nice on an electric bike with a knowledgeable local guide visiting all the best spots for views and photos. After this effort you’ll be rewarded with a beer tasting workshop at a Niçois microbrewery. You’ll sample around 5 craft beers with a different tasting theme every month, accompanied by a tasting lesson covering brewing history and cultures, ingredients and brewing techniques.
This tour is adults only and suitable for most levels of fitness. Other tours are available for more advanced cyclists to vineyards and further away breweries. (Photo provided by French Riviera Like a Local.)
Website: French Riviera Like a Local
Experience France’s iconic 2CV car
Discover the special charm of the iconic French car, the 2CV, and experience the Côte d’Azur in a whole new way. Take a tour with Mademoiselle Riviera and see how the 2CV isn’t just any car, it’s a way of life! Depending on the time of year, you can visit mimosa forests, rose fields, an olive mill or vineyards.
Half-day or full-day tours are available or create a tailor-made escapade depending on your own particular interests. Chauffeur-driven trips for up to 3 people or self-drive for 4. (Photo provided by Mademoiselle Riviera.)
Website: Mademoiselle Riviera
Discover the Estérel by 4WD buggy
Bounce on a buggy tour in the forest on the Estérel mountain with spectacular views. In a 4WD vehicle that’s both highly manoeuvrable and safe, you’ll negotiate obstacles on a forest route and enjoy sea views from the road. In a group of (usually) 4 or 5 vehicles (but up to 10), led by a guide after a short road section, you head inland to a wooded area with lots of interesting off-road routes of varying complexity.
During the tour you’ll drive down narrow bumpy paths and experience steep climbs and descents, though nothing is over a couple of meters. You end up with spectacular views of the sea while driving along the magnificent Corniche d’Or road. Lots of fun and thrills for all involved. The buggies seat 2 so you need one person with a driver’s license per vehicle, minimum age 12 years old.
Website: Estérel Aventures
Unusual Things to do French Riviera – Culture
If you prefer cultural activities indoors then I’ve found you the quirkiest little museum just begging to be visited. Experience carnival without the crowds! Or become a “nose” for a day; create your own bespoke scent in the world capital of perfume.
Engross yourself in the gross têtes of Carnival
A visit to the Carnival Museum in Contes will leave you charmed. This little museum is run by an aficionado, passionate about carnival particularly that of Nice. The exhibits (including many gross têtes, big heads, as seen above) are his private collection of carnival memorabilia, from a lifetime of involvement with le Carnaval de Nice.
His enthusiasm for the history and cultural significance of the carnival and how it is uniquely niçois is infectious. His English is limited and all signs are only in French (with plans to translate into English soon), but the place is colourful and fun even without language and you really get under the skin of Carnival. Combine visiting the museum with a ride on the funicular railway that goes up to the old village of Contes.
Website: Musée du Carnaval
Create your own bespoke perfume
Create your own signature scent in the world capital of perfume. This magical experience can be had at three of the most well-known perfumeries in Grasse – Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard. There are varying levels of workshops available depending on your time and budget.
Accompanied by an expert, you’ll discover the architecture of a perfume, the ingredients that make it up, and how they work together and complement each other. This fun activity is mainly possible from age 12 (though there are also some kids’ activities from 4+), and a truly unique souvenir of your time in the Côte d’Azur. Must book online.
Website: Galimard Perfumes
Unusual Things to do French Riviera – Walks
Take a hike in a surprising location. Magically transport yourself to the American West, sacred Asia or even the moon! These unlikely scenarios are (quasi) possible close to the French Riviera! Walk among wild bison, spectacular lotus flowers or across lunar landscapes in these extraordinary locations, for an experience you’ll never forget.
Walk with bison
Visit the Monts d’Azur reserve in the mountains behind Grasse; a place that is home to European bison (Europe’s largest native mammal), roe deer, wild boar, Przewalski horses (the only species of horse never domesticated by humans and the closest to a prehistoric horse), red deer, chamois, royal eagles and vultures.
You have the choice of a guided walk (90 mins) or a horse-drawn carriage with guide (60 mins) where you can find yourself up close and friendly with wild bison. Open all year, with tours by dog sled and snowshoe if there’s snow on the ground. The reserve is situated at 1000m altitude making it cooler than the coast and at only an hour from Nice it feels like another world.
More information: Wildlife Reserves, Animal Parks and Zoos on the Côte d’Azur
Walk on the moon
Not exactly the moon but the Plateau de Calern is an otherworldly and unique nature reserve with a vast open lunar landscape and a series of unusual buildings that make up part of the Observatory of Nice. One of the buildings is a Bubble House built by architect Antti Lovag (photo above).
Located at around 1300m it’s refreshing in summer and is often snow-covered in winter and is a great place to hike, star gaze and get away from the crowds. You can visit the Observatory in the summer as guided tours take place every Sunday from the end of May to the end of September and must be booked online (in French only). The plateau is of course open and free all year round.
More information: Plateau de Calern
Admire Europe’s biggest lotus pond
L’étang de Fontmerle, a 3-hectare pond is home to an astonishing collection of lotuses, planted in the 1960s and now home to the largest colony of lotuses in Europe. These sublime flowers bloom from July to mid-September. It’s quite a sight to behold and hard to imagine you’re on the Côte d’Azur not Asia. The pond is also remarkable for its wealth of birdlife, with over 70 species recorded here, some of which live here all year round, while others come to overwinter.
Located in the Valmasque departmental park in Mougins (with picnic spots and hiking trails), the path around the pond is about 1km long, flat and smooth, suitable for prams and wheelchairs and open all year round. (A winter alternative to this activity could be to walk among the mimosa trees in Europe’s largest mimosa forest which bloom from late January to March).
More information: Etang de Fontmerle
Combine a game of padel with some shopping while admiring world-class art. Sounds unlikely but expect the unexpected at Polygone Riviera.
Play Padel in the most glamorous shopping mall
It seems everyone plays Padel these days! So how about a game under the watchful eye of a giant head in the heart of one of the most glamorous shopping malls in France, Polygone Riviera? Bizarre but true! Two courts are available for hire (racquets available), and lessons are possible too. Open all year. Book online. The giant head is a sculpture Le Guetteur (the watchman or observer) by artist Sasha Sosno.
Other places to see Sosno’s art include the port of St Jean Cap Ferrat, the hippodrome in Cagnes sur Mer and the giant Tête Carée in Nice. Currently (July 2023) there is also an exhibition of his sculptures in Polygone Riviera. And while you’re at Polygone look out for artworks by Anthony Gormley, Pablo Reinoso, Ben and Wang Du among others. It’s a veritable open-air art gallery.
More info: Ultra Padel at Polygone
Don’t forget if you need accommodation on the Côte d’Azur, close to all these great activities, our gîte Lou Messugo sleeps 4 and is open all year round! #bookdirect
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