This was our first time in the South of France and we decided to start by visiting Nice on the French Riviera. We were drawn by its long pebble beach and its quirky little alleyways which we were dying to explore. Before flying out we had heard that there was little to see and we can strongly confirm that is not the case.
Grab breakfast from The Cours Saleya
This was our breakfast stop every morning in Nice. It’s a quaint little market hidden in a square in old town full of amazing smells and stunning flowers. It has a calm and leisurely vibe meaning you can wander through without be hassled. Some mornings we headed to the fresh fruit stalls where the was every kind of colour fruit you could hope for, other mornings, when there had been a little too much wine the night before we headed to the pastry stall where you could buy freshly baked croissants and baguettes.
They also have little stalls serving cheeses and fresh meats, herbs and spices, flowers and trinkets, pretty much anything your heart desires in the South of France. It’s a failsafe for the bucket list and much cheaper than the surrounding restaurants. Once we’d picked up our breakfast we would wander down to the Promenade des Anglais looping around the sea, perch on a bench and watch the world go by.
Walk along the Promenade des Anglais
This as we have said was our favourite breakfast spot but it’s also a beautiful place to stroll. Along the promenade, as you would expect to find in San Francisco or Rio, there are people taking their morning walks with their dogs, or their early evening run. The promenade is long and we are not suggesting you have to walk the whole way (that would be crazy at 7 kilometres) but just a little stroll does the job.
Head to Rahl Plage for a day sun worshiping
On our first day we wanted sun, all the sun. You can head down to the beach with a towel and set up shop but we decided lying on pebbles wasn’t for us, and as we were on holiday, we wanted a little bit of luxury right? We looked at many of the hotels and restaurants which offer sun beds on the shoreline and settled on Rahl Plage. The blue and white stripy umbrellas were calling our names.
It’s a relaxing and perfectly situated spot with a good number of beds so there should always be a couple free whatever time of day you come down. We headed down early knowing this was our sunbathing day. The beds aren’t cheap at 18(EUR) but they are worth it. We spend the day nipping in and out of the sea ecstatic to have uninterrupted sun shining down on us. They also serve a mean baguette or two and very reasonably priced wine (you’ve got to have the wine when lying in the sun all day.) A perfect start to the trip.
Explore Old Town (Vieux Nice)
Old town is beautiful. It’s set to the east of Nice’s promenade and is a maze of alleyways darting in every direction bringing you out into little squares or the amazing face of a timeless church. The houses are all painted in different pastel colours ranging from terracotta red to sunny yellows and they have charming shutters surrounding every window again painted in assorted colours. It’s magical to walk through and somewhere you could get lost for hours. Being so close to Italy this part of Nice has an extra-strong Italian vibe with most of the restaurants having a heavily influenced menu – but we weren’t complaining.
As we mentioned there are a number of churches dotted round and other important buildings such as Matisse’s House and the Place du Palais de Justice, but our advice would be just to wander round, get lost and see what you find. Pause for a glass of wine and tapas in the squares, grab a quick ice cream as you are strolling and simply take in the atmosphere.
See a birds-eye view from Castle Hill
This we would argue is the best view of Nice. It’s not an easy trek and you can walk from the ‘I Love Nice’ sign as we did, but you can also get a bus up if the sun is really out in force that day. As you walk up the cobbled steps there are a number of different stop off points which get better and better with views spanning over the terracotta tile roofs for miles.
Once at the top you can see over the whole of Nice from the Promenade des Anglais to the hills in the distance. You can also see over into the slightly less visited Nice Port on the other side of the hill. Now, the view isn’t the only thing to trek up here for, although our favourite part. There are also ruins from the citadel used for military purposes in the 11th century and a spectacular waterfall. This again is a must see when in Nice.
Spend a day exploring Antibes and Cannes
As we have never been to the South of France before we were keen not to only stay in Nice but to explore the other gems on the coast. On our second day, we decided that we would catch the train to the west and explore Antibes and Cannes. We had heard that both were charming little towns and held all the wonders we found in Vieux Nice.
Our first stop was Antibes, just under half an hour on the train from Nice, leaving from Gare de Nice-Ville every half an hour or so. We arrived and we were slightly underwhelmed by the view. Pretty shabby houses which were quaint or rustic but as we wondered into the town oh how wrong we were. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local cafe and then headed in. We spent literally hours wandering the little alleyways of the Old Town, running up and down each one mesmerised by the different colours, quirky little doors, flowers climbing up and down the pipes. It was like a fairytale. We found more markets, openings with wide views of the coast and maybe an ice cream shop or two. It’s a stunning town and it has a much more relaxed and local feel than the other surrounding towns such as Nice and Cannes. Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a quick stop at the harbour to check out the crazy beautiful boats.
Next was Cannes, it was a struggle to leave Antibes, we could have stayed there all day – and if you have more time we would strongly recommend doing so. Antibes has a sand beach unlike Nice where you could throw down a towel and soak up the sun for hours.
We jumped back on the train and in less than twenty minutes we were in Cannes. Cannes vibe is completely different to Nice and Antibes. As soon as you get off the train it instantly feels more glamorous and up-market (not necessarily a good thing depending on what you like.) We strolled down from the station to the seafront passing all the shops you would expect to see in Beverly Hills and Mayfair. When we got to the seafront we were instantly presented with the famous red carpet of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, used for the Cannes Film Festival. It was a photo op we couldn’t resist and embarrassingly waited half an hour for the privilege of – not everyone’s cup of tea but when in Rome!
Next, we headed up to Le Suquet the Old Town of Cannes. There is a bit of a theme running here we’ve realised… and yes, we walked past the port and looked at the boats on the way! Le Suquet again was everything we wanted it to be, a town build on the side of a hill with cobble streets tightly packed with towering houses on both sides of all different colours. All the winding roads lead to Notre Dame de l’Esperance church at the top where you have panoramic views of the city. Again, something not to be missed.
After all that exploring it was time for a cool glass of rose and don’t worry there is a cute little bar on every corner.
If you have the time when in Nice this is a must. The train system in France is so simple and easy, it would be rude not to have a go.
Catch a train to Monaco
On our final day in Nice we couldn’t pass up the chance to make a hop, skip, and a jump to Monaco. Our dad and grandfather had brought us up watching the Formula 1 so it’s almost a rite of passage. Also, with the Monaco Grand Prix having been only four days before it was prime time.
We again caught the train from Gare de Nice-Ville and in less than twenty minutes (main spent gawping out of the train window at the insanely stunning coast line) we were in Monaco. We were prepared mind you – our dad said when he had been thirty years ago it was the most expensive can of Coke he had ever drank – re-fillable water bottles and snacks at the ready!
When we arrived it was like stepping into the T.V. As soon as we walked out of the station we saw the track – still completely intact with the advertising arching above. It was surreal to see it in the flesh, although disappointing that there were no F1 cars zooming around destroying our ear drums. You might know us quite well by now so clearly the first thing we did was head down to the port to look at all the little boats. We have never seen boats like it! One was five stories high – that we could see! It was maybe ten times bigger than our house! These boats were monsters and like nothing we have ever seen before. But, what really took the biscuit was the view of the hills in the background, littered with buildings towering over the city. It was truly a modern beauty.
After we had finished discussing which one we would have if we committed to saving for a couple of months/years/centuries we headed towards Monte Carlo, the playground for the rich and famous. With the track still being intact this was actually more challenging than expected and we got lost, very lost – and that’s actually quite hard to do Monte Carlo as it’s tiny! Eventually we found the hub and visited the casino, the palace and the Jardin Exotique. As we mentioned Monte Carlo is teeny and unless you have a healthy holiday purse it’s quite difficult to get the full experience. But, it was worth a wander and won’t take you long.
Monaco was right of passage for us and we’re so glad that we can tick it off our bucket list – however, unless you are wanting to spend a pretty penny you don’t need too long there.
We were blown away by the beauty of the French Riviera and if you are looking for a trip with good food, a pinch of culture, some good alley ways to wander and blissful sunshine, then this is for you.