IT was Somerset Maugham who summed up the Côte d’Azur as “a sunny place for shady people” – as apt a description as it is brilliant.

France’s glittering southern littoral has always fascinated me ever since I backpacked through in awe in the 1990s. I’ve grown older, but heading back south last week, I was relieved to find the Côte d’Azur has lost none of its distinction and – if anything – is even more alluring.

You don’t need to haul down on four expensive trains as I first did to get to Nice these days as there is a direct flight. Getting into the city is a Mediterranean breeze today with a sparkling modern tram a major improvement in a city that has really pulled its socks up in recent years to become one of France’s most liveable. 

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My Riviera bolthole, the Nice Pam Hotel, only opened last month, with some great introductory rates – around £100 a night for a double.

That is a fraction of what you pay for the famous hotel dames on the Promenade des Anglais and I doubt the bedrooms are any bigger. 

A fun, funky vibe wafts through a hotel alive with bright colours that my daughter Tara declared was a Zeitgeist-chiming “straight to TikTok”.

The staff were bright and breezy too, with decent breakfasts topping off this great value option just back from Nice’s port. If you fancy a longer escape – taking a ferry to Corsica or Sardinia – they await here.

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Sweeping around the port, palm trees and the sound of the surf guide me around the hulking old castle district where you can feel the centuries peel back when it’s quiet at night. Rounding the castle bluff the centre of Nice unfurls.

Centre stage is the famously pebbly beach and the elegant Promenade des Anglais. 

The sun is burning down over the ancient Mediterranean as a modern-day Hemingway contender scribbles in a notepad as his buddy sketches away in the shadow of Matisse. The light here has always been special, inspirational to myriad writers and artists.

Nice is awash with superb places to eat and drink. I choose Le Patio at La Perouse ( When it’s dry, the outdoor space is the place to be, but it’s turning dreich so we seek refuge inside.

That lets us concentrate on the food – prawn ravioli (culinary influences flow across the border in this corner of France), followed by a cream risotto made with courgettes from Nice, which have just come into season, seasoned with lemons from Menton just along the coast.

Nice is a great city, but the whole point of the Côte d’Azur for me is that you can enjoy an expensive stretch of coastline. 

We make a foray east in search of the high life on the cheap rail network in the city-state of Monaco and its hub of Monte Carlo – the owners of the millionaire yachts jostling for space would probably take the helicopter  from Nice.

My 16-year-old daughter Tara is too young for Monte Carlo’s casino so we go somewhere where you don’t risk breaking the bank,  or the casino if you’re really lucky.

Instead,  we wander around a royal quarter home to  the intriguing Grimaldis who make British royalty look dull and lacking in glamour  in comparison. 

I introduce Tara to Grace Kelly. We slip down to one of Monaco’s few egalitarian boltholes – the public swimming pool down by the waterfront. In winter, it transforms into an ice rink, which once caught me out when I brought my swimmers through from Nice.

The following day we ease west on the train to another glamorous Côte d’Azur name: Cannes. They are already well into setting up for their world-famous film festival next month.

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The team behind achingly hip Nikki Beach have just opened Lucia, a beach bar and restaurant. I like that they’ve fitted in with the local noise restrictions and vibe, “a more maximalist rather than minimalist Nikki Beach décor approach”, as Marie Feichtinger calls it. “Here it’s all about sharing time and experience with friends  and family. That for me is the essence of the Côte d’Azur.”

We sit inside as rain splashes the sunbeds on the beach. In summer, they will be occupied by the international jet set sipping cocktails and dipping in the Med.

Today we settle for superb modern Mediterranean cuisine, kicking off with a twist of Nicoise salad with hulks of tuna sashimi, followed by a delicious lobster dish made with bomba paella rice. A wee glass of bone-dry Sancerre and I’m buying into the Cannes lifestyle. 

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With the words of Maugham and the vivid splashes of Matisse echoing around, the train to Paris beckons.  Tara doesn’t approve of shady people and generally neither do I. 

But coming to the Côte d’Azur for a taste of the glamour, panache and intrigue that still burns through this remarkable corner of France still feels deliciously compelling.