SHOPPING Not an inch of space is wasted at Nirvana (10 Rue du Collet; 33-4/93-62-65-88), a jewel box filled floor to ceiling with treasures from India and Asia. Wicker baskets sit by the entrance, ready to be loaded up with intricately beaded bracelets, necklaces, and jewel-toned cotton scarves and sarongs (most for less than $20).
MARKETPLACES Peruse the stalls and pack a picnic at the daily fruit, vegetable, and flower market on the Cours Saleya (6 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday). It's the easiest place to sample three traditional niçoise specialties: pissaladière (onion tart with olives), zucchini-blossom fritters, and the famous chickpea pancakes called socca (about $2 each). Once the sun sets, the booths are taken over by vendors peddling jewelry, artwork, and clothing while musicians and painters put on an open-air show. On Mondays, the Cours Saleya morphs into one of the best antiques markets in the south of France, with an endless array of period furniture, vintage jewelry, and collectible porcelain.
No European resort has gone through more popularity shifts than seductive St.-Tropez. It's sizzling right now, so if you're looking for serenity, go somewhere else: streets and beaches are crowded, and the port is cluttered with yachts. But while this former fishing village attracts a serious jet-set crowd, there's a relaxed "anything goes" attitude to which visitors quickly succumb.
HOTELS The busy cafés and throngs of tourists roaming the port can make the Old Town overwhelming. A few blocks from all that—but worlds away, psychically—stands the Hôtel de la Ponche (3 Rue des Remparts; 33-4/94-97-02-53, www.laponche.com; doubles from $165), occupying a group of cottages in the fishing neighborhood of La Ponche. The rooms have a restrained elegance, with hand-painted furniture, pristine matelassé bedcovers, and marble baths; some have views over the rooftops. • South Pacific meets the south of France at the Hôtel Tahiti Beach (Quartier du Pinet, Ramatuelle; 33-4/94-97-18-02; www.tahiti-beach.com; doubles from $138), where Polynesian statues stand guard at the entrance and a wilderness of orange-and-white-striped chaise longues populate the beach. Slip off your chair and up to the bar, sandy feet and all; then treat yourself to an alfresco pedicure at the hotel spa. • If you prefer the action of the port, stay at the 28-room Hôtel Sube (Quai Suffren, 33-4/94-97-30-04; doubles from $99). Besides its seaside location, the Sube has an artistic pedigree: Raoul Dufy was a regular for more than 30 years.
RESTAURANTS At the dining room of the restaurant at Hôtel de la Ponche (33-4/94-97-02-53; dinner for two $55), the aroma of shallots caramelizing, mushrooms sautéeing, and butter melting wafts through the air. Chef Christian Geay prepares Provençal dishes, such as roast pork with rosemary, rabbit with mustard sauce, and duck breast with figs, while customers gaze out to sea. • Fresh fish is wheeled up from the port and grilled with simplicity at Le Girelier (Quai Jean-Jaurès; 33-4/94-97-03-87; dinner for two $88). Regulars order the poutargue de cabillaud, or cod roe, followed by the morning's catch. • Late in the afternoon, slide into one of the scarlet chairs at Le Sénéquier (Quai Jean-Jaurès; 33-4/94-97-00-90), the town's most revered pâtisserie, for coffee and a creamy tarte Tropézienne. • After sunset, join the evening revelers in line at the Crêperie Grand Marnier (10 Rue des Remparts; 33-4/94-97-07-29; crêpes about $3 each). White-toqued chefs wrap orange-flavored pancakes around chocolate or cherries; it stays open until 2 a.m.
SHOPPING Clemenceau Street is lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques chockablock with clothes, jewelry, linens, and tableware, and everything's priced to sell. A must-stop shop: Au Ribier (36 Rue Clemenceau; 33-4/94-97-10-88), for red-lacquered serving pieces crafted from compressed bamboo (from $20). • A few streets over from Clemenceau, Le Dépôt (5 Rue Quaranta; 33-4/94-97-80-10) sells secondhand designer clothes and handbags from Chanel, Hermès, Gaultier, and Moschino. Some items still have their original tags, and prices are so low, shoppers often suffer from sticker shock—in the best way.
This month, hordes of Hollywood types descend upon Cannes to attend its annual film festival. But there's action here year-round, on and off the Croisette. To avoid it, stay at the 24-room Villa de l'Olivier (5 Rue des Tambourinaires; 33-4/93-39-53-28; www.hotelolivier.com; doubles from $135). Built 118 years ago as a private residence, it sits on a quiet street. Then make the pilgrimage to Roger Vergé's Le Moulin de Mougins (Ave. Notre Dame de Vie, Mougins; 33-4/93-75-78-24; www.moulin-mougins.com; prix fixe lunch for two $96; doubles from $154). This 16th-century olive mill has a shop, a world-famous cooking school, and a small inn, but it's the restaurant—serving tuna carpaccio with eggplant caviar, lamb chops with olive polenta, fig-and-raspberry shortcake—that draws food lovers from around the world.
The French Riviera Museum Pass (33-4/97-03-82-20; www.cmca.net; $11-30) grants entry to as many as 65 museums, including the Matisse and the Chagall in Nice, and the Picasso in Antibes. The Nice Museum Pass (sold at museums; $6) gives unlimited seven-day access to the town's galleries; they're free, however, on the first and third Sundays of every month.
For a group or family—or a stay longer than a few days—a villa rental can be the best bargain. New York Habitat VLF (212/255-8018; www.nyhabitat.com) lists around 300 Riviera dwellings, from small studios to rambling villas. Weekly rentals in high season range from $440 for a studio on the Old Harbor in Nice to $4,753 for a four-bedroom, three-bathroom Antibes villa. For good value, reserve Habitat's three-bedroom, two-bath villa (with a pool) near Mougins for $2,743. Wimco (800/932-3222; www.wimco.com), another Riviera specialist, has 100 villas, all between St.-Tropez and Èze. A five-bedroom, five-bath villa overlooking Cannes goes for $5,750 per week in July and August. Chefs, car rentals, massage, yoga instruction, and nannies can also be arranged by Wimco.