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Travelling through the French Riviera

16 March 2017 Travel

Passagem Gastronômica - Riviera Francesa

In February I had a week of vacation and wanted to take a 3 day trip to Europe, preferably somewhere that wasn't too cold. We opted for a trip through the French Riviera, which despite not being very hot during the month of February (about 17 c) it is generally sunny. We decided to base ourselves in Nice, as all the cities we wanted to visit were close by, and it was more convenient not having to keep change hotels every day. In Nice we stayed in Hotel Negresco, which is part of the Leading Hotels of the World collection. During the trip we rented a car to make it easier to travel from one city to another, but many people commented that public transportation is efficient there and that it might not be worth renting a car, especially in the summer when the city gets too full. To summarise this super cool trip we made, we have prepared this post full of tips for a trip through the French Riviera.

As we travelled in the winter, the cities were quiet and many shops and restaurants were closed. So, it was quite quick to visit each city – even more so because they are small cities – but if you are going during the summer it might be worth leaving more time to visit each city.

We divided our days there as follows:

First day: St Paul de Vence + Antibes + Cannes

Second day: Saint Jean Cap Ferrat/Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild + Eze + Villefranche-sur-Mer

Third day: Nice + Monaco

1. Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Saint-Paul-de-Vence was my favorite city to visit during this trip. It is a medieval city (similar to Eze), but I loved the amount of art galleries that the city has and the fact that it is flatter that Eze (I'm still recovering from an ankle injury and the hills of Eze were not easy). The central part of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is exclusively for pedestrians, which makes it ideal for a good walk.

What to see:

– Saint-Paul-de-Vence has no “must see attractions”, but it is a beautiful city. At the entrance of the main gate (Porte de Vence) there's a tourist information office where you can pick up a city map. By the way, they had good recommendations for art museums not far away from Saint-Paul-de-Vence, for those who are interested.

– Walk down Rue Grande which covers most of the city center, permitting a good view of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. When you're walking by this street take the opportunity to view the Place de la Fontaine, which is next to the Rue Grande.

– One of the most popular attractions is the Chapel decorated by Folon, a Belgian artist well known in France. The most interesting part of the Chapel is the mosaic, 106 square meters in size, where every piece has about 1 cm.

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2. Antibes

As we were heading to Cannes, ended up stopping in Antibes and we had lunch there. The town itself is charming with a beautiful view of the hillside, but we did not stay long there, so we ended up not visiting many places.

What to see:

– The city has an old centre that is pleasant to stroll through, and where you will find a typical French food market. It's worth checking the market's opening hours first, as it varies by month.

– There are several museums which seem interesting in that town, the most famous is the Picasso Museum, located in Chateau Grimaldi.

– Other areas to visit include the Cap d'Antibes, which is an area close to the sea and is full of villas, and the famous Eden roc hotel is located there.

Where to eat: A restaurant which is very good for lunch is the Le Qu4tre, in the old town. The restaurant is famous for crepes, and they really deserve the fame. (Address: 4 cours Massena, Tel.: 00 33 (04) 93 34 84 83).

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3. Cannes

Cannes was one of the cities that was below our expectations during this trip. I imagine that during the summer it is more interesting, since there are several options of tours to islands that are close to Cannes and which seem like paradise. Besides the beaches, the idea is to enjoy the architecture of the historic center, go shopping and eating at the different restaurants in the city.

What to see:

– La Croisette is definitely the biggest attraction in Cannes, a promenade along the seafront in which are located the most luxurious hotels of the city and a large concentration of luxury shops. A delight to walk there!

– Le Suquet was a region that we could not visit but I hear it's cute. This is the old quarter of fishermen with ancient houses and narrow streets. As it is in a high part of town, the view is stunning.

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4. Saint Jean Cap Ferrat / Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

We didn't have time to visit the town of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat itself, but we went to the main attraction of the region, the famous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. The Villa is a historic property, with a very beautiful and well maintained building, and a huge garden well worth visiting. The estate was created by Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, who ordered its construction after the end of her marriage in 1905. She enjoyed collecting art, and today you can see more than 5,000 itens from her collection which are used to decorate the house.

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5. Eze

Eze is a medieval town located about 30 minutes drive from Nice. We rented a car for the duration of our trip, but we read several reviews saying that the traffic in Eze is unbearable and parking really difficult. So it's worth taking the bus from Nice. The city centre of Eze is exclusive for pedestrians, which makes walking around its narrow streets, that looks more like a maze, a much more pleasant experience. Eze is located 426 metres above sea level providing a wonderful view of St Jean-Cap Ferrat.

What to see:

– The nicest thing to do in Eze is stroll through the centre and get lost in its cute narrow streets. There are several shops and cafes scattered around Eze and among them the shop Fragnard, specialized in scents, creams and soaps that is very traditional and has great products.

– Among the attractions in the city is the Le Jardin exotique d ' Eze from where you have the most beautiful view of the city. We ended up not visiting it, but this garden has good reviews.

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6. Villefranche-sur-Mer

This city is one of the most charming places we visited in the region, where in the past it used to be a fishing village. It was a shame that almost everything was closed in town on the day we visited. It is probably more worth a visit during the summer, when it is busier, nonetheless it's a nice spot to stop on the trip. The old town is very characteristic, and the colourful little houses give a different twist to the city. One of the main attractions is the city itself – exploring the old town with all its colourful little houses and the port.

What to see:

– The Saint Elme Citadel is one of the biggest attractions of the city, where there is a stone fort that was built in 1557 for the protection of the city.

– The Rue Obscure has a hidden passage of 13 meters long, created in the 14 century and rediscovered in the 16. It was used as part of the military strategy of the city.

– The Church of St Michel and the chapel of St. Pierre are very historical churchs and a few of the attractions to visit.

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7. Nice

Nice is the fifth largest city in the South of France and the unofficial capital of the French Riviera. It attracts many tourists who are in search of the sun and beaches with a vivid and transparent blue (but those are not sand beaches but instead rock ones). The city is very attractive with its markets, good dining options and a very cute old town. It is a must for those visiting the French Riviera.

What to see:

– Old Town (Vieux Nice): The main attraction of Nice is definitely its old town. There are not many must see sights in this region, but the environment is busy, with several shops and a captivating architecture. When you are walking around the old town, don't miss the Opera de Nice, the Patisserie Henri Auer (with the most beautiful decoration!!) and the Place Rossetti. Take the opportunity to walk and discover the alleys in the old town. Lastly, I recommend visiting the Cours Saleya flower market with its different colors and scents.

– Promenade des Anglais: Don't forget to visit the Promenade des Anglais, a sidewalk built along the sea that is one of the most visited points in Nice. The sidewalk extends for almost 8 km and is ideal for those who want to go for a walk seeing one of the most beautiful blue seas in Europe.

– Museums: Nice has good options for those who like cultural visits during the trip, since it houses the Musée Matisse and Musée Marc Chagall.

Where to stay: We decided to make Nice our "headquarter" during this trip through the French Riviera. We stayed at Hotel Le Negresco that is definitely the best option in hospitality in the city (the hotel is part of the Leading Hotels of the World, which is one of the largest collections of luxury hotels of the world). Besides its good location, the rooms have different themes and are quite original, and the hotel is filled with art works collected by the family that owns the hotel. I wrote a full post about the hotel in this link.

Where to eat: Unfortunately we didn't have time to try the most typical item of the Nice cuisine, Socca a mixture of bread and pancake made from chickpea flour. There are numerous places that sell Socca in town, and the chef David Lebovitz made a list with his favorite Socca addresses. For dinner in Nice we recommend the restaurant Bistro du Fromager, with an excellent cost-benefit. The wine list is great, the service is friendly, the food delicious and all for a very fair price! It is essential to book in advance (Address: 29, Rue Benoît Bunico).

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8. Monaco

Although Monaco doesn't have many tourist attractions I fell in love with the city for its organization, clean spaces and charming architecture. It is a delight to walk around the city and see so many beautiful spots.

What to see:

– Monaco Ville: This is the oldest part of the city and the one I found the most interesting on our visit. In Monaco Ville you can find the Palais Principier de Monaco, official residence of the royalty (that can be visited during certain times of the year – unfortunately when we visited it was closed); the Saint Nicholas Cathedral that is known to be the church where Grace Kelly is buried; and the Oceanographic Museum which is said to be one of the best in Europe!

– The square where the Casino of Montecarlo is located is one of the most beautiful points of Monaco. It's probably the greatest concentration of luxury and wealth across Europe. Many tourists visit the inside of the Casino – the entrance costs about 10 euros per person – but I read in some reviews that the visit is not so interesting. In front of the Casino is the famous Café Paris that has tables on the sidewalk serving coffee and some food options. Apparently the food is a bit expensive for what it offers but it's a nice spot to relax and have a drink enjoying the view.

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