First impressions often count and for many cruise passengers visiting the French Riviera, the first glimpse of the region is of the beautiful fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer with its stunning ochre colours reflecting in the large bay, whilst others may wake up to a great view of the green peninsula of Cap Ferrat and its luxury villas with the rocky slopes of the Maritime Alps looming in the background.
Then after breakfast, they either take the shuttles to the cruise terminal and jump on a guided coach tour to “do” the French Riviera in a day with Eze, Monaco, Nice and perhaps Cannes (the mere thought of such a superficial visit makes me cringe), whilst the more independent minded walk straight to the train station and head off to Monaco or Nice. Of course, there’s nothing wrong at all with the second option, or even the first if you’re very limited for time and have deep pockets – however, Villefranche does have dollops of charm and is well worth an hour or two of your day to soak in the medieval atmosphere of the old town, explore the free museums in the imposing 16th century Citadel (castle), check out the surreal atmosphere of Jean Cocteau’s chapel on the harbour and especially enjoy the stunning views over the Cap Ferrat… All these added together make for a perfect French Riviera experience, so read on and follow my 1 hour whistle-stop walking tour to optimise your visit!
Although I’ve lived on the French Riviera on and off since 1989 and therefore think it’s safe to say that I know the area quite well, I regularly stock up my bookshelf as there are always new places and nice hotels and restaurants to explore and to discover despite the area being rather small from a geographical perspective.
I recently got the opportunity to receive a copy of the France edition of the Charming Small Hotel Guides by Fiona Duncan, which made for a very interesting read…
The author is a leading British travel writer who publishes hotel reviews amongst others in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper with the Hotel Guru column and who launched the series of Charming Small Hotel Guides in 1986.
The main reason for which I enjoyed the guide was the fact that they provide a totally unbiased but also totally selective view with no advertising and therefore share the same editorial philosophy as the French Riviera Blog, writing about places that the writers and by extension readers will enjoy.
Although the guide covers the whole of France, there is an extensive selection covering the South of France including destinations that I cover on the French Riviera Blog. I particularly liked the emphasis on smaller hotels with personalized service, the detailed “methodology” explanations at the beginning highlight the fact that the only hotels selected are those with under 20 rooms and with a family touch, meaning that the rooms do not feel like a hotel but have more of an individual atmosphere.
The selection itself is pretty eclectic, both in terms of style and price range: the French Riviera hotels mentioned start with the 80€ Auberge de la Madone in the picturesque village of Peillon to the crazily priced Colombe d’Or Hotel in St Paul de Vence with its lovely Michelin starred restaurant (see my article on this beautiful Provençal artist village for more information). Other places listed are mainly pretty traditional such as Chateau de Cagnard in the lovely old village of Cagnes and the Auberge de Tourrettes in Tourrettes sur Loup in the hinterlands close to Grasse but also include exclusive destinations like the lovely Chateau Eza in Eze Village or the exclusive Hotel de la Panche in St Tropez.
The articles themselves are well-written and fun to read, often with small anecdotes about the owners and plenty of practical information.
I would therefore be happy to recommend this guidebook to any discerning travellers looking to visit the traditional side of France and you can find more information on this link. Charming Hotel Guides are published by Duncan Petersen and also exist for other areas of Europe, notably Italy (another of my favourites).
Monaco: gorgeous, but not as expensive as you may think. Follow the advice below for a rip-off free experience!
No, Monaco is not as expensive as you may think… Some of you may be contemplating a trip to Monaco in the near future but have this impression of the Principality as a place where you cannot get by with under 1.000€ per day. Naturally, if you do have the desire to spend that amount, you can easily find hundreds of exotic ways of getting rid of large sums of money in a couple of minutes!
The good news is that Monaco is also a place where normal people, not just multi-millionaires, live and work, and that there are therefore plenty of ways for the common of mortals to have a wonderful sample of what the country can offer on a very reasonable budget. Follow the advice below and you’ll find that, contrary to popular belief, Monaco is much cheaper than most major cities in Europe on several different levels.
The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the biggest and most prestigious regular event on the French Riviera calendar, ahead of the Cannes Film Festival and the Carnival of Nice. Each year, it brings a magical atmosphere to the Principality, really kick-starting the summer season with plenty of private parties on the yachts in the harbour, a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and huge amounts of visitors (and therefore VAT income for the Monegasque government!). Of course, the Grand Prix completely changes the face of the Principality for 3 months, as the roads are full of temporary grandstands, crash barriers, tyres and blockades which are prepared two months in advance and take a month to dismantle afterwards, so there are huge logistics behind the event, the statistics provided by the Automobile Club of Monaco are impressive (see the “presentation” tab). Since the turn of the millennium, there has also been a Historic Grand Prix, which runs every even-numbered year two weeks before the main race, rather interesting to remind spectators of the race’s heritage as the first Monaco Grand Prix was run in 1929, though the first official race in the Formula 1 calendar was in 1950. And in 2015, the first electric Grand Prix, run by FIA under the name “EPrix” took place took two weeks before the F1 event and is set to become a regular annual fixture.
At the start of every year, from December to March, the sunny hills on the western side of the Alpes Maritimes spring alive in a golden explosion, thanks to the blooming of the mimosa trees, with their bright yellow flowers. The tiny village of Tanneron in the Var department is the hub of this “mimosa trail”. Having had a brief walk around there in 2004, I decided to go on a proper hike in the area and see this golden vision for myself…
Yesterday I took advantage of a beautiful sunny spring day to visit Nice and wanted to try somewhere a bit different for lunch, so a friend of mine brought me to Attimi, one of his favourites… Now I understand why!
The area in which Attimi (which means “Moments” in Italian) is located is extremely central but very touristy, which generally means that the quality of the location is inverse proportional to the quality of the food: just off Place Massena on the southern side of the Promenade du Paillon, at the entrance of Old Nice and a short stroll away from the Promenade des Anglais. In general, when I see a large colourful terrace in the heart of Nice packed with tourists, I do the opposite of the aforementioned tourists and escape.
Place Massena, the heart of Nice
However, a quick chat with Fabio, the friendly owner from Alassio, just down the coast in Liguria, Italy, quickly removed these doubts though: his concept is to bring quality Italian “slow food” to Nice. As its name indicates, this concept, that originated in Piemonte, Italy (also ironically the kingdom that dominated Nice for several centuries) is the antithesis of fast food, involving authentic recipes, local ingredients and mainly taking one’s time both to prepare and enjoy the meal to the full. Continue reading →
The legendary ancient Provençal village of Saint Paul de Vence is an ideal destination for a day trip away from the coastline of the French Riviera, especially if you are feeling in an arty mood and want to discover a different side of the area without having to travel too far. Saint Paul ticks all the boxes of Provence stereotypes, as depicted in Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence – old men playing pétanque, beautiful views over the hills, manicured gardens, communal laundry troughs, squares with brown stone fountains, small alleyways and expensive art galleries – but does it all in incomparable style. In the following itinerary, I combine the fairytale beauty of Saint Paul with the more down to earth charm of nearby Vence, both easily accessible by public transport from Nice, but if you are travelling by car, I’ve added an extension to the surprising village of Saint Jeannet.
The facade of the Prince’s Palace lit up in red to celebrate the birth of the Royal twins (C) Palais Princier de Monaco
Those of you visiting Monaco this week will have noticed, in addition to the usual beautiful Christmas decorations on Casino Square and the ubiquitous Christmas market on the harbour, a certain air of joy in the air and spontaneous celebrations throughout the Principality.
This is all because of a historic event that has taken place for the first time since 1958, with the birth on Wednesday 10 December of the first children of TSH Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene:
HSH Gabriella Thérèse Marie, Countess of Carladès (born at 5.04pm).
HSH Jacques Honoré Rainier, Hereditary Prince and Marquess of Baux (born at 5.06pm).
The city of Nice, lying directly on the Mediterranean Sea
Most visitors to the French Riviera will pass through Nice at one point or another, given its central location, the fact that it is by far the largest city of the region and its role as the main transportation hub of the region. But Nice is far more than just a transit zone, it’s honestly a very beautiful city which is well worth spending at least a day visiting. Here are some tips about what to see and do…