Much as it likes to perpetuate its jetset reputation, bargains do exist on the Côte d'Azur. Here are five stylish budget hotels, whether you're after summer beach or the French Riviera's winter sun
Beyond its grandiose seafront hotels, exclusive peninsulas and gin-palace yachts, lies a more democratic Côte d'Azur.
In summer even Cannes, Monaco and St-Tropez have stretches of free public beach, and many resorts put on inexpensive or free concerts, outdoor film screenings and other entertainment.
Low-cost flights to Nice and Toulon-Hyères mean that Nice and the French Riviera are great destinations out of season, too, when you may not want to leap into the sea (although it's not unusual to see people sunbathing even in December) but the blue skies, exotic vegetation and sea views are just as appealing as they were when first discovered by British tourists in the 19th century, complemented by a lively all-year cultural scene in Nice, some first-rate museums and wonderful Mediterranean cuisine.
The French Riviera has always had affordable hotels, from old-fashioned boarding houses to characterless airport-side chains, but it is also possible to find small hotels with genuine character and the appeal of a personal welcome. Don't expect too much in the way of room service or even round-the-clock reception at these places, but you could stay two months at some of them for the price of one night at some of the Riviera's grandest and snootiest establishments – the choice is yours – though be prepared for prices to shoot up during Nice Carnaval (late February), Monaco Grand Prix or Cannes Film Festival (both at the end of May).
Hôtel Bellevue in Bormes-les-Mimosas (14 place Gambetta)
Where? Set on the main square in Bormes Village, a picturesque hill town swathed in cactuses and bougainvillea, which clambers up the hillside above the coast west of St-Tropez. Some of France's best sandy beaches are down below amid the vineyards of Cap Brégançon, along with watersports at Bormes' beach suburb of La Favière, while the savagely beautiful, densely forested Massif des Maures is just inland.
What? A popular address with knowing budget travellers, the Bellevue combines busy restaurant and small characterful hotel. The owners recently redecorated the bedrooms, ditching stereotyped Provençal prints for new fabrics and pretty lamps, installing airconditioning in all but one room, yet keeping prices amazingly low. Cheaper rooms overlook the square, others, some with small balconies, indeed have a belle view down to the sea.
Double room €39-€64.
Hôtel de France in Monaco (6 rue de la Turbie)
Where? Even the Principality has one true remaining budget option, though they keep it carefully hidden on a narrow backstreet in the Condamine district, which is about as close to everyday life as you get in Monaco, convenient for the food market, the train station and for yacht watching on the Port Hercule. It is an easy walk up to the palace on Le Rocher or to spend all that money you've saved at the Casino.
What? Rooms are functional but well-tended, with colourful walls and curtains and decent beds, though the bathrooms are a bit of a squeeze. No lift and no air-conditioning but there are ceiling fans.
Hôtel Le Mistral in Cannes (13 rue des Belges)
Where? Behind a humble blue-shuttered facade, the recently redone Mistral offers designer style on a budget. This is not the cheapest hotel in Cannes, but it is welcoming, freshly decorated and brilliantly placed just seconds from the Palais des Festivals and La Croisette, whereas many budget rivals are either on the outskirts or disturbingly close to the through-town flyover. If you're planning to head for the beach, note you'll do better at La Bocca, east of the Port-Vieux, than on the crowded public patch squeezed between private concessions on La Croisette itself.
What? A discreet stairway with fashionable waxed concrete walls leads up to the first-floor reception/breakfast room. The ten bedrooms all named, like the hotel, after different winds (sirocco, chinook, etc) are decorated with stripey wood, sophisticated scarlet or dark plum tones and subtle modern lighting.
Villa Rivoli in Nice (10 rue de Rivoli)
Where? A couple of streets back from the Promenade des Anglais, Villa Rivoli is central yet sufficiently far from the tourist throngs for a feel of belle-époque residential Nice. Musée Masséna, the fine art museum, the Russian cathedral and the (pebbly) beach are all nearby.
What? The white stucco villa was built in 1890 to accommodate aristocratic visitors in the days when the Riviera was a winter destination and has been beautifully decorated to create the impression of a private home, complemented by helpful, welcoming staff. A spacious drawing room in gentle tones of grey and beige has comfortable sofas, bergère chairs and family photos around the fireplace. Upstairs are 24 rooms with pretty prints and painted furniture. Extra bonuses are a small garden and limited on-site car parking. No lift but there is air conditioning.
La Jabotte in Antibes (13 avenue Max Maurey)
Where? Sandy Plage de la Salis is at the end of the street and fortified, walled Vieux Antibes a fifteen minute walk – a must for its covered food market and the Picasso museum in the castle where the artist had a studio in 1946. Thanks to its vast marina, Antibes stays alive all year round. Whether you join in the local expat yachting scene with its anglophone pubs is up to you but there are also interesting shops and plenty of good restaurants.
What? Relaxed and boho with attractive colour-washed rooms, eclectic furniture and the owner's artworks adorning the walls, La Jabotte is more like a colourful B&B than a hotel with homemade jam and cakes for breakfast (included in the price) and a white scottie dog that probably runs the place. All but a couple of rooms open directly onto the courtyard garden where you can sit outside under the orange trees.
Double from €86