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3km (2 miles) NE of Fréjus; 8km (5 miles) SE of Cannes

It’s a wonder that the Massif de l’Esterel exists at all. This 150 square km protected parkland stretches for 30km (19 miles) along some of the South of France’s most attractive (and most sought-after) coastline. Big hotels and bling are out; wild olive trees and Peregrine falcons are in.

This pristine coastline has a history of adventure. And we're not talking about the 100km (62 miles) of mountain bike trails or 40km (24 miles) of walking trails that wind through the red volcanic rocks along the shore. On Plage de Débarquement, one of the quietest beaches in the South of France, all hell let loose in August 1944 as 20,000 soldiers of the 36th Texas Division stormed ashore. Nearby the peaks of Pic de l'Ours or Cap Roux make for glorious—and well sign-posted—hikes.

 

At the eastern end of the Massif de l’Esterel are the sandy beaches of Golfe de la Napoule. In 1919, the fishing village of La Napoule was a paradise for the sculptor Henry Clews and his wife, Marie, an architect. Fleeing America’s “charlatans,” whom he believed had profited from World War I, the New York banker’s son built a fairy-tale castle by the sea, now the Musée Henry Clews.