October 6, 2011

Designer shopping on the French Riviera

Avoiding the "designer" lifestyle on the Côte d'Azur is almost impossible. From the luxury automobiles on the roadways to the luxury yachts docked in harbours up and down the coast, the atmosphere of the south of France more than lives up to its reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. Although visitors to the sun-drenched region are just a 45 minute hop by plane to the haute couture houses of Paris, even the most exclusive shopping taste can be satisfied in Cannes or Monte Carlo. Both are home to world-famous and world-class shopping districts.

The Rue d'Antibes lies in the heart of Cannes and runs almost the length of the city. It is the home of expensive shops selling everything from designer clothing and jewelry to furniture, with chocolatiers and delicatessen shops on hand to revive the flagging retail spirit when fatigue sets in. In addition to runway couture houses like Agnes B, MaxHara, and Missoni, the Rue d'Antibes is home to Chanel, Dior, Gucci, and Jean-Paul Gaultier among others. It's a pedestrian-friendly space, encouraging relaxed strolling and drop-in visits to art galleries, restaurants and cafes. Even for those who can't afford the upscale price tags in the trendier shops and boutiques, there's no better street in the world for window shopping and people watching.

Roughly an hour away by train, Monte Carlo in the principality of Monaco is home to the Avenue des Beaux-Arts, arguably the world's most exclusive and most expensive shopping streets. In one stretch, bedazzled visitors will find Cartier, Hermès, Prada, Chanel, Armani, Sonia, Celine, Akris, Veneta, Bottega, Bvlgari, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint Laurent among others. Side streets off the Avenue des Beaux-Arts are home to smaller, less exclusive boutiques with more manageable price ranges, but this is not a shopping district for the bargain minded. Upscale stores like Eleven Monte Carlo, for instance, near Chanel off the Place du Casino offers Gaultier, Versace, Caovilla, and Emilio Pucci amid its extensive inventory. If you do win big in the casino, you'll have absolutely no difficulty going on a spending spree with your winnings. If you can afford to enjoy haute couture or if your primary pleasure lies in browsing, the cosmopolitan culture of the Côte d'Azur  can and will accommodate both tastes. A smattering of French is not a bad idea, especially a grasp of the polite pleasantries, but English is widely spoken. At least a turn through the designer venues is an essential of any holiday on the French Riviera, where every day is a sampling of "how the other half lives."