By Maureen Jenkins Special to CNN - The French Riviera, that picture-perfect stretch of beach-hugging Mediterranean coastline, looks just like a fabled playground of the rich-and-famous would if an artist drew it. And many of the most renowned, from Claude Monet to Henri Matisse, certainly did.
August is when many French residents escape their cities, towns and villages and head out "on holiday," but weather-wise, it's a great time to visit the Riviera (or the Côte d'Azur, as the Riviera is called en français). But so is the fall, the spring -- even the so-called "off-season" after New Year's for those who prefer their crowds thin, traffic light and prices less steep.
Talk about an embarrassment of riches. From the Italianate pastel charms of Menton and Nice to the sexy, sybaritic lure of Cannes and St-Tropez, the sun-splashed South of France has it all. Here are 10 ways to savor it, no matter when you go.
1. Go strolling in style. Just like a supermodel blessed with natural beauty and great bones, the Riviera loves to show itself off. So take advantage with anytime strolls through these gorgeous seaside and hillside cities and towns. Nice's famed Promenade des Anglais -- a miles-long stretch alongside pebbly beaches and dominated by the Belle Epoque-era landmark hotel Le Negresco -- is one rewarding route; the jaw-dropping allure of the walk between Côte d'Azur villages Villefranche-sur-Mer and next-door Beaulieu-sur-Mer is another.
2. Party like a rock star. The Côte d'Azur is a perennial playground for A-list celebrities such as Rihanna (who in late July hit the streets of St-Tropez in a bandeau bikini top and crochet skirt), Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
But you too can roll like the jet set. Do it in Cannes (May's annual film festival, anyone?) at Le Baoli nightclub where Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz have dropped in. Or at St-Tropez's eternally hot and long-queued club Les Caves du Roy, where stars such as P. Diddy, George Clooney and David and Victoria Beckham get the royal treatment -- and guests staying onsite at the five-star Hotel Byblos get to skip the lines.
3. Get lucky. Unlike the giant casinos in Las Vegas, where gamblers amble in wearing shorts and flip-flops, the grand ones in Monaco are more refined. Even though men are "required" only to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, they can channel their inner James Bond and don jackets at night in the Salons Privés, where roulette, blackjack and other games are played.
Cannes' massive Casino Croisette is one of several, including Nice's glitzy Casino Ruhl, owned by the 100-year-old Lucien Barrière group, which helped launch the modern-day resort concept by combining casinos, luxury hotels and sports facilities on the same site. Both Ruhl and the casino inside the Art Deco-inspired Palais de la Méditerranée have fabulous addresses, facing the sea and the Promenade des Anglais.
4. Soak up the scents. The South of France is home to some amazing smells, thanks to the way-high hillside towns of Grasse and Eze, which send fragrances to the world and explain perfume production to the masses. Grasse, about 26 miles west of Nice, is home to legends Fragonard, whose 18th century factory is still open to the public; Molinard, which also operates a friendly and well-stocked store in central Nice; and Galimard, another 18th century gem that offers free guided tours of its factory and museum 365 days a year (and does the same in picturesque Eze Village).
5. Take an artistic approach. Great painters were obviously onto something when they settled along the Côte d'Azur, inspired by its dazzling blue waters and skies and villages high in the sky. Those who called this stretch home and created world-class works that fill modern-day museums along the French Riviera include Pablo Picasso, whose former château-turned-museum in Antibes houses hundreds of his paintings, ceramics and more.
In Nice, there's Musée Matisse, perched on a hill in the tony Cimiez neighborhood and housing a collection the artist and his heirs left to the city. Musée National Marc Chagall features the 19th century artist's biblical-themed works. In Saint-Paul-de-Vence, you'll find Fondation Maeght, a modern art museum that pays homage to Chagall, Joan Miró and Alberto Giacometti.
6. Take in the scene. There's never a dull moment on the Côte d'Azur with year-round festivals keeping tourists and locals well entertained. Of course, there's the Nice Jazz Festival with international A-list headliners each July (and with many performances staged in an ancient Roman amphitheater in Cimiez). The top-flight and Jazz à Juan festival follows just days later in lively and watersports-friendly Juan-les-Pins.
Cannes lights up the sky each summer with the annual International Fireworks Festival, which started last month and continues August 7, 15 and 24. Also catch the Monte-Carlo International Fireworks Festival each July and August,