The French Riviera was one one of those places that we read and heard about as a vacation destination and when we decided to go on our trip to Europe, it was the perfect opportunity to head down. Also known as Cote d’Azur, it was fabulous to visit in the month of September when both the temperature and crowds were moderate. We loved the time away from the hustle of two of the largest cities in Europe. We took a Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Nice where we rented a car and drove along the coast to Marseille before taking the train to Paris.
How many days should I stay in South of France?
We stayed in South of France for approximately 5-6 days out of our 15 day trip to Europe. For first time travelers to South of France, like us, we wanted to get the most out of our time here and we managed to hit up a lot of stops along the way. I would recommend 6-7 days to get the full experience especially if you love shopping and want to spend more time on the beach.
Driving in South of France
E drove during the entire trip and my god it was stressful as the passenger! (lol) South of France is such a beaut so it is totally worth driving along the French Riviera but here are some things worth noting. Tolls appear in the middle of nowhere and you don’t even see it coming (i.e. at the end of a sharp turn on the highway) They accept cash or you can simply tap your credit card – which we did. But ensure you always have your wallet handy because these tolls are completely random and cars are rushing behind you to get through.
Another thing we noticed was the number of large roundabouts that they have in some parts of France. At one point there were eight exits! As long as you have your GPS handy, you should be good, even if you make a wrong turn.
Cellular Plans and SIM cards
We bought a SIM card with a data plan from EE mobile when we were in London that included roaming in France. However, some areas in France, we noticed we had to turn off our LTE and switch on the good old 3G in order to use data.
When we were selecting our rental car, we actually opted for a car without GPS but they ended up giving us one with a GPS built in and my god – it was a lifesaver! For whatever reason, we both lost data on our phones in Monaco and had to rely on the car’s GPS. But even so, the paranoid me had printed out paper maps prior to the trip just in case and they came in handy when none of the car’s GPS and data on our phones were working – but I think this only happened once during our entire trip.
Where should I stay in South of France?
I have a thing for boutique hotels and that was pretty much where we stayed during the entire time in France. We stayed 3 nights in Nice, 2 nights in Cannes and 1 night in Marseille. I selected all the boutique hotels via Expedia. Since we were driving, I wasn’t selecting hotels that were necessarily close to train stations per say.
Parking your rental car
Street parking was available outside of hotels in Nice and Marseille and is free in the evenings. After doing our research, we only parked on the street outside our hotel in Nice. Cannes, was a more condensed city and the Simone Hotel was pretty much in downtown. We opted for a multi-story parking lot which was a 30 second walk away from our hotel and was discounted by the hotel. Citadines Casteillane in Marseille had their elevator down during the time we stayed and they granted us free parking for the duration of our stay.
Food is incredibly expensive in South of France especially Cannes but if you’re there, might as well live that lifestyle for a week haha. Originally, I had looked up a bunch of restaurants and even made reservations. Then realized when we arrived, it was a much better idea to play it by ear. There are endless amounts of restaurants everywhere you are so your safest bet (coming from someone who likes to pre-plan everything) is to stroll along, take your time looking at the menu displays and just wing it 🙂
So now that you have everything sorted out, and you’re ready to think of places to explore – we have come up with an ultimate travel guide to South of France based on places that we’ve really enjoyed exploring
Nice and up Colline du Chateau
Since we rented a car, we drove up Montée Montfort and parked on the street near the cemetary and hiked up the rest of the way to see Colline du Chateau just for this magnificent view. It was really relaxing strolling around the Chateau. There was even a park up here where people were enjoying a picnic. The hike up to the Colline du Chateau was quite easy. Just a few flights of stairs in all directions and put all will lead you to find Colline du Chateau. In terms of food in Nice, we pretty much went with the flow. There are so many options so you don’t have to ever worry about not finding the “right” place. South of France was during our second week of vacation so we were craving for Asian food and somehow ended up in a pho restaurant next to our hotel. One of the best bowls of pho we’ve ever had!
Villefranche-sur-Mer & Eze Village
Roughly 20 minutes drive away from Nice is Villefranche-sur-Mer. If you’re into taking photos with a gorgeous view, this is the place to be. I could only imagine what Villefranche-sur-Mer would look like during sunrise and sunset. Read more about our experience at Villefranche-sur-Mer & Eze Village here.
It was around lunch time when we arrived at Menton and we decided to park the car somewhere to find a bite to eat. We ended up at a restaurant right on the pebble beach. It wasn’t until when the food arrived that we realized all our worries of being first time drivers in a foreign country went away. Eating lunch on one of the most beautiful beaches was simply heavenly!
Monaco was one of E’s must visit places. We had brought out passports with us that day thinking we would need to go through customs but oddly enough, we drove straight though into Monaco with no signs of any border or customs. Monaco was a completely different vibe. We walked along the waters and made our way to Monte Carlo just before sunset to see the casinos. We stumbled to a Starbucks and purchased a warm beverage and watched the sun slowly set. I highly recommend this Starbucks just for the magnificent view overlooking the waters. The Starbucks has a large patio with comfy couches and lounge area. For dinner, we found a random Italian restaurant that looked quite bustling at the time and decided to join the crowd.
Beach day at Juan Les Pins & Shopping in Antibes
Spending majority of our day at Juan Les Pins playing beach volleyball was one of my highlights of our trip. I purchased the volleyball set for E from Bed, Bath and Beyond in Toronto and brought it over to France (E really likes the sport!). After a couple of hours of fun in the sun, we stumbled our way to one of the many restaurants plotted along the beach. We found ourselves craving for burgers and that is exactly what we had got. One of the freshest burgers we’ve had in a very long time. We napped for an hour on the beach chairs and headed to Antibes for a little bit of shopping. Lucky enough for us, we arrived at the day of their annual sidewalk sale!
Out of all the hotels we stayed at during our visit, my favourite was the boutique hotel at Hotel Simone. I highly recommend it and would love to stay there again in a heartbeat. Everything from the service, to the rooms to all the small touches and even the location suited our needs perfectly. That being said, we spent a bit more time in our hotel room than others during our trip. Our balcony had the perfect view of the bustling streets below (not too noisy in the evening) and we had easy access to all the cafes and restaurants below. We spent an evening walking towards to the water and just relaxed by the beach. I also did the most amount of shopping I’ve ever done in the entire trip during our stay in Cannes. The fashion pieces were up my alley.
Photography: Eden and myself
Content: Eden and myself
Grace, Food in the City Toronto