French Riviera

With some urban exploring under our belt thanks to the past few days in Paris, we wanted to complement that time with some exploration of the French Riviera. Basing ourselves in Nice, we intertwined our rest & relaxation on the beach with exploration along the coast, venturing both east and west to partake in the famous coastal towns, easygoing time at the beach, and Italian influence on the outstanding eats.

Wednesday July 1st

Nice

From Paris we took an early morning flight that arrived in Nice by late morning, and by taxi were at our hotel, Le Negresco, by noon.  The room was not yet ready, so we were comped a drink at the hotel bar for our wait.  After the refreshing drink we grabbed our swimsuits and headed directly across the street to spend a few relaxing hours on the beach. Our hotel had an arrangement with Neptune Plage, one of the numerous restaurants on the beach, for discounted towel and chair rental (definitely beats bringing your own).  We spent several of our afternoons there, ordering snacks and drinks while reading or going for a swim.  First tip: the beaches are not fine sand, so simple water shoes go a long way. Second tip: do not take up the masseuse offers of the passerby women.  Emily fell for a whole body massage, which ended up being a “beat Emily up on the beach” experience and far more entertaining for Garret than Emily.

After freshening up in the hotel we ate dinner at a local Italian restaurant off the beaten path and then wandered into Old Town for dessert.  We had read about Fenocchio having the widest selection of ice cream flavors (“A collection of 94 flavours, 59 ices-cream and 35 sorbets”) and it did not disappoint.  We went bold with the first cone and picked tomato basil + avocado flavored scoops.  They were as good as you would expect, so we discarded them pretty quickly and went back for a second round of your more typical flavors.  This was only the first stop at Fenocchio during our trip!

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A different flavor for every person in line!
Avocado and Tomato gelato, about as terrible as you imagine.
Avocado and Tomato gelato, about as terrible as you could imagine.

Lodging

Our hotel, Le Negresco, was one of the best hotels we have stayed at (although unable to beat a certain Hilton in Bora Bora). Combining Mediterranean architecture, a proud history, and outstanding service, it was our splurge on the trip to stay at this hotel. Location was also key, being right across from the beach and within walking distance of the major highlights of Nice. The interior was just as grand as the exterior, and our room ended up being bigger than our NYC apartment. It served extremely well as our home base throughout our time on the coast.

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Front entrance of Le Negresco, facing the beach.
No jumping on the king-sized bed!

Thursday July 2nd

Saint Tropez

On Thursday we decided to rent a car and drive west to Saint Tropez. There is a Europcar in Nice, and we made an advanced reservation so we could pick it up first thing in the morning.  We took the scenic route there via a winding coastal road (read: 4 hours) and then the modern highway (read: 1.5 hours) back.  While the drive there was long the views were well worth it, and we enjoyed driving through towns we had heard of before but never actually seen: Antibes, Cannes, etc.

By the time we arrived in Saint Tropez, though, we were a bit drained and a bit hungry, opting for a late lunch at a waterfront restaurant. After lunch we did some exploration, consuming gelato as we gawked at the parking lot of yachts in the harbor, then eventually made our way back to the car rental for the drive back to Nice.  If we were to visit again, we would make sure to visit Saint Tropez on a day which the market is open.

We made it back to Nice for a delicious dinner at La Maison de Marie, recommended by one of Emily’s coworkers.  It was a setting out of a movie – a quaint restaurant within a plaza along the French Riviera, apartments overhead with shutters opening and closing as life goes on.

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This sporty little stick-shift from Europcar got the job done.
The harbor at Saint Tropez, filled to the brim with boats.
The harbor at Saint Tropez, filled to the brim with boats.
She's soaking up the crowd from above at La Maison de Marie.
She’s soaking up the La Maison de Marie crowd from above.

Friday July 3rd

Nice Cruise

We started the day with a mid-morning coastal cruise to see Nice and the surrounding area from the water.  We opted for an hour-long cruise, which ended up being a good amount of time and before it got too hot.  It was amazing to see the mansions overlooking the sea, several of them owned by household names (Sean Connery and Elton John to name a few) and then all of the boats out and about along the coast.

Once the cruise concluded we explored the Nice harbor and made our way back to the hotel, deciding it was too hot not to be in the Mediterranean Sea.  We found refuge back at Neptune Plage for an afternoon on the beach before venturing over to Old Town to find dinner.

Old Town Nice (Vieille Ville) is a quaint European experience.  This part of town is enclosed by medieval walls and a winding maze of restaurants and tourist shops.  Walking around trying to find a place to eat dinner felt much like a kid in a candy store. Each restaurant was just as cute and delicious-looking as the last!  After finally picking one we had quite a fun time sitting outside and people watching our way through dinner, watching others go through our same struggle.

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Picturesque views of the French Riviera on the cruise.
Colorful tile on venerable buildings was a common and beautiful sight.
Colorful tile on venerable buildings was a common and beautiful sight.
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Viewing our hotel from the cruise, with the rest of Nice as the background.
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Beach time was just across the street from the hotel.

Saturday July 4th

One more day trip along the coast was on our minds, but this time east instead of west.  The extremely small country of Monaco is less than 30 minutes from Nice by train and so a day trip was in order, with one additional stop along the way.

Éze

One the way to Monaco we stopped at Éze, a very small commune recommended by a friend. We heard of great views of the sea, and it did not disappoint.  The commune was built on top of one of the highest hills in the surrounding areas, and it took a train, bus and hike to get there – we hopped off the train to Monaco at the bottom of the hill and grabbed breakfast while waiting for the bus to take us up to the edge of the town.  Once dropped off  we hiked the remaining distance and into the commune, best described as slight ruins of castle walls containing numerous stairs and shops built up to the top. At the very top, within a Mediterranean garden, was a crumbled structure providing a breathtaking 360 degree view of Southern France and the Mediterranean Sea.  After spending a few minutes taking in the view, and becoming quite toasty from the sun, we hiked back down to the bus and took a different line that went straight to Monaco, just 15 minutes away.

Éze boutiques
Within the walls were lots of boutiques and shops.
Unrestricted views of the French Riviera.
Unrestricted views of the French Riviera. There is a yacht to look at!

Monaco 

We arrived in Monaco right by the customs house, which is more ceremonial than anything else, picking up by far our favorite passport stamp.  Less than three square miles, they certainly make the most out of every square inch of this microstate. For lunch we enjoyed the outdoor patio (under mist spray fans due to the heat) of Café de Paris Monte-Carlo, our first taste of people watching the extreme wealth that can be found all around Monaco.  After lunch we tried to go into the Monte Carlo Casino, but it did not open until 2:00pm so we spent the next hour at the bar of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo to to escape the scorching mid-summer sun.  If people watching is your thing (we sure do enjoy it), and you have an hour to kill, this hotel is your place.  The drinks were by no means cheap but easily worth it for the experience.  The hotel lobby is only open to guests of the hotel / bar, so we had quite the time watching tourists scrunch their faces on the windows and doors for a peak inside of the magnificent lobby.  The lobby smelled of fresh flowers from the ginormous flower display in the middle of the lobby, where they wanted no pictures taken.

After our brief recharge and with the liquid courage from our pricey drinks, we walked across the courtyard, through at least a dozen cars that combined cost well over $5 million, and up the steps into the casino. The Monte Carlo Casino was not your typical Vegas casino (besides being strict on no pictures) and has a really fascinating history, basically an idea from France after part of Monaco voted to join France in the 1800s. It was one of the few casinos in Europe for a very long time, hence its legendary status in movies and countless stories. Inside it is beautifully maintained, and many of the people going into it did not gamble and instead walked around for a tour. Unlike many of the modern day casinos there was no ocean of slot machines to wade through, the layout instead multiple rooms that you steadily advanced through like a palace tour. Garret was hoping for craps tables but they could only be found in high-stakes private rooms, well above our budget. Instead he ended up playing blackjack, coming away with more chips than he started with, and the luck continued when Emily won on one of the few slot machines to be found. The casino was definitely our highlight while there (we did not do the beach there), and with our wallets slightly heavier and an extra kick in our step we departed Monaco on a good note.

We took the train back to Nice and spent the last night of our vacation in Old Town once again, easily finding yet another delicious outdoor restaurant to enjoy the great food and great environment.

Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo
Cheers to at least being able to afford two drinks at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo!
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Front lobby of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, where they constantly shooed away anyone trying to take a picture.
The Monte Carlo Casino
The Monte Carlo Casino, surrounded by cars none of us will ever own.
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Winning on the 4th of July, an American tradition.

Sunday July 5th

We woke up on our final day and spent our last hours in Nice on the beach, and then a quick taxi ride to the airport, where there was a chance we would run into Emily’s cousin Ellena (talk about a world traveler). Our paths crossed for a few minutes, one of the small-world scenarios you encounter sometimes! After that it was all aboard for the direct flight back to NYC! And yes, we took the subway home, no helicopter for the return…

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Who else would we run into at the Nice airport but Ellena!

(De)parting words of advice!

  • Picking one of the main cities (Nice, Canne, Marseille, Monaco) and then exploring the coast is a rewarding experience.
  • Going in the middle of summer means encountering some of the heat waves that seem to regularly roll through France now.
  • Renting a car and zipping through all of the small towns along the coast without getting lost is not as daunting as one might think, although make sure you rent the car in advance (people were getting turned away as we filled out our paperwork).
  • Make a billion dollars so you can park a yacht in Monaco and go gamble with the rest of the elite at the Casino.
Nice was a very nice time.
Nice was a very nice time.

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