10 glamorous alternatives to the French Riviera
By Josh Lew, Mother Nature Network, 2 September 2016.
By Josh Lew, Mother Nature Network, 2 September 2016.
For many travelers, the French and Italian rivieras define what a seaside tourist destination should be. These European sun-and-sea hot spots have a sense of glamour and a timeless appeal that has earned them a top place on many bucket lists.
But the Cote d'Azur is not the only seaside tourist haven that's worthy of your hard-earned vacation days. There are plenty of other places that fit the riviera genre, including Santa Barbara, California (pictured top). Depending on where you're located and what you like to do on vacation, these places could end up being more accessible for your next holiday.
Here are several rivieras around the globe worth a visit.
1. Riviera Maya
Photo: Ken Thomas/Wikimedia Commons
The East Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula holds another beach destination that is reasonably accessible for American tourists. The stretch of Caribbean coast along Highway 307 from Cancun in the north to Tulum (pictured above) in the south is called the Riviera Maya. The region, known for its luxury resorts, hip boutique hotels and ancient Mayan ruins, is being actively developed by local authorities, who envision a strip of tourist cities and towns not unlike the French Riviera.
In addition to typical beach resort pastimes like jet skiing, snorkeling, diving, tanning and sailing, tourists can head inland to explore the aforementioned ruins and to swim in cenotes (natural sinkholes in limestone rock formations filled with groundwater). There are also eco-tourism options like zip lining and horseback treks. The best Mayan ruins are located along the coast near Tulum and inland in Chichen Itza.
2. Makarska Riviera
Photo: Tony Hisgett/Flickr
Croatia's Dalmatian Coast has grown in popularity since the 1990s, with a number of tourists seeing it as an alternative to the French and Italian rivieras. The Makarska Riviera is a 40-mile strip of coastline between the Adriatic Sea and the Biokovo Mountains. The pebble beaches and charming historic towns along the coast have earned high praise from tourists.
The area's small namesake city has been developed for tourism with hotels and resorts surrounding its historic center. The nearby cities of Split and, especially, Dubrovnik, are also tourist havens during the summertime. Travelers who pride themselves on seeking out the next best thing may be disappointed to see that this region has already been "discovered" by mainstream tourists, but it still is a viable (and often cheaper) alternative to the more well known rivieras to the west.
3. American Riviera
Photo: Damian Gadal/Flickr
Thanks to its location on a strip of south-facing coastline between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, the city of Santa Barbara has a pleasant, Mediterranean-like climate year-round. In fact, it is often referred to by tourists and in promotional materials as the American Riviera.
The historic Spanish-style architecture, attractive beaches and full festival calendar add to the allure of this California city. The Santa Ynez Mountains boast a number of quality wineries, many of which have tasting rooms in the city within walking distance of one another. There is even an annual film festival that, while not on par with Cannes, draws a number of Hollywood elites. Best of all, for American tourists, enjoying the weather, glamour and wine in Santa Barbara does not require a passport.
4. Albanian Riviera
Photo: Artur Malinowski/Flickr
Unlike Dalmatia, the Albanian Riviera has remained mostly off the radar. The 80 miles of seaside on the country's Ionian coastline has earned attention for its innumerable beaches, its ancient historic sites and its charming towns. The best trait of this destination might be its low prices. Albania remains a cheap destination by European standards and the stretch between Vlora and Saranda is certainly in the budget range as far as riviera destinations go.
The coastal towns have attractive open-air cafes and a strong sense of history, but a recent expedition to the area by the New York Times found that many of the pebble beaches along the riviera were almost completely deserted and the ancient Roman ruins were uncrowded as well. The waterfront area in Saranda (pictured above) has a slightly cosmopolitan vibe and a busy high season, but both prices and crowds remain light compared to most of the other destinations on this list.
Photo: Reading Tom/Flickr
Torbay is in southernmost England. Located in Devon (Devonshire), this borough has become known by the nickname "the English Riviera." Torbay became a popular vacation destination in Victorian times. Today, tourism remains one of the main industries in the local towns along the coast.
Now that the British pound is weak because of Brexit, the towns of Torquay, Babbacombe, Paignton and Brixham (pictured above) should be seeing more domestic tourists (and perhaps more budget-minded international visitors as well). In addition to gardens, shops, restaurants and a busy marina, there is plenty of history in the area, including the 800-year-old Torre Abbey.
6. Gold Coast
The Australian city of Gold Coast is extremely popular with domestic tourists and is among the top destinations in the country for international tourists as well. The beaches of the city and its aptly named suburb, Surfer's Paradise, are the biggest attraction, but a number of theme parks, including Warner Bros. Movie World and Seaworld, are also on the agenda for many visitors.
Despite the presence of both five star hotels and budget backpacker hostels, most accommodations along Gold Coast's waterfront are four-star rental condos. A dense selection of retail shops and restaurants can be found opposite the beaches as well.
7. Swiss Riviera
Photo: Bernd Brägelmann/Wikimedia Commons
Salt water is not a required ingredient for a riviera. The Swiss Riviera, which is on the eastern portion of Lake Geneva around the city of Montreux (pictured above), is arguably as glamorous as the stretch of coastline around Monaco, Cannes and St. Tropez. There are plenty of celebrity vacationers who enjoy the luxury resorts, gourmet dinner cruises and high-end boutiques near the lake.
The climate is so mild in Montreux that certain species of palm trees are able to thrive and wine grapes can grow on the slopes near the shore as well. The area is a popular spot for music and film festivals, which add to the sense of glamour. Best of all, the famous ski resorts of the Swiss Alps are only about an hour away from the lake.
8. Mexican Riviera
Photo: Corey Thompson/Flickr
On the other side of the country from the more compact Riviera Maya is a long stretch of coastline that has become known as the Mexican Riviera. A number of well-known resort towns are scattered along Mexico's Pacific Coast. Some of these, such as Acapulco, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Ixtapa, are dominated by all-inclusive resorts and a sometimes wild party scene.
The destinations on the Baja Peninsula portion of the Mexican Riviera are a bit more glamorous, with Cabo San Lucas boasting exclusive gated communities and vibrant nightlife. Ensenada (pictured above), just south of the border with the United States, boasts a pleasant Mediterranean climate and a cosmopolitan, international feel. This Baja city is also known for its food and wine, much of which comes from vineyards and artisan producers in the nearby Valle de Guadalupe.
9. Chinese Riviera
Photo: Shasha Zhuhai/Wikimedia Commons
Zhuhai is a city in China's booming Guangdong Province. Located right on the coast, it borders the former Portuguese colony and gambling mecca of Macau. Zhuhai is part of mainland China, but, like Macau, it is considered a Special Economic Zone. The city's warm weather, pleasant waterfront and subtropical urban vibe make it a very popular tourist destination.
In addition to shopping, palm trees and an attractive waterfront promenade, Zhuhai is known as a garden city with plenty of greenery, relatively clean air and a pleasant atmosphere. In fact, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently called this the "most livable city in China." This claim is backed up by the makeup of the local population. Despite being located in the Cantonese-speaking region of China, many of Zhuhai's residents are transplants from the Mandarin-speaking northern part of the country.
10. Fort Lauderdale
Photo: Daniel Dudek-Corrigan/Flickr
A number of places in Florida could qualify for this list, but Fort Lauderdale is notable for its accessibility by air and its recent improvements. The city was once a popular destination for party-happy Spring Break vacationers, and, as a result, it did not have the kind of glamour usually associated with rivieras. However, the city has undergone plenty of redevelopment and has enacted ordinances that have kept partiers away. The city now features a lengthy beachfront promenade with high-end hotels, boutiques and restaurants.
Indeed, Lauderdale now attracts a wealthier crowd, though the local airport is a hub for low-cost carriers. This means that getting here from most major hubs in the country is quite easy and nearly always relatively cheap.
Top image: Santa Barbara, California. Credit: harminder dhesi/Flickr.
[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images added.]