Villefranche sur Mer and its beautiful harbour in a one hour walking tour: so much more than just a cruise stop!

Villefranche lagoon (C) K. Hin

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!

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Essential Nice: exploring the capital of the French Riviera

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…

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A week on the French Riviera: the essential sights of the Côte d’Azur with seven unmissable day trips

Fireworks (C) K. Hin

The summer season is fully upon us and the French Riviera is filling up with tourists: this means fireworks, music festivals, farniente beach time and outdoor dinners, amongst plenty of other activities, so here’s a quick guide on how to enjoy a fun-filled week here.

Of course, plenty of visitors just want to relax and enjoy days at the beach, but feel free to pick and mix according to your centres of interest. These day-long excursions are ideal if undertaken from Nice, located bang in the centre of the French Riviera, but plenty of them are also feasible if you are based further down the coast, either east or west, as long as you have access to the main railway line.

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Cannes and its annual Film Festival: kicking off the summer season in style on the French Riviera

Palais des Festivals May 2014 (C) K. Hin

Since 1946, the Cannes Film Festival has been synonymous with the glitz of the Riviera. Along with the Monaco Grand Prix, which takes place pretty at the same time in May each year, it is one of the major annual events of the French Riviera and really marks the beginning of the summer season.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Cannes where the jewellery brand I work for, APM Monaco, was sponsoring several events at the 67th edition of the Festival and therefore managed to soak up some of the atmosphere of this legendary event, which I will be sharing in this article. So if you fancy discovering the lowdown on the Festival, finding out what else to see and do in the town and get some practical information on how to cope in Cannes during the festival amongst the crowds, just carry on reading!

The stunning sandy beach of Cannes, just underneath the Croisette promenade

The stunning sandy beach of Cannes, just underneath the Croisette promenade

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Restaurant review: la Montgolfière-Henri Géraci, Monaco (Old Town)

Montgolfiere outside (C) K. Hin

The Old Town of Monaco isn’t really renowned for the quality of its restaurants: between the souvenir shops, you can find snack bars and different restaurants which, without being bad, aren’t particularly memorable, with a few exceptions – until the summer of 2011, when a very notable “exception” opened up.

La Montgolfière isn’t your run of the mill tourist restaurant – if you are looking for very well-executed traditional Mediterranean fare but with a slightly exotic twist and a charming location, this is the place to go. This tiny and very quaint establishment, located on a small pedestrian street in the very heart of the old town of Monaco, a few steps away from the Prince’s Palace and the town hall square, only seats about 20 people and it is staffed exclusively by the Monaco-born chef, Henri Geraci and his wife Fabienne.

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Saint-Tropez off season: is it worth it?

Morning view of the Old Port of Saint Tropez

Morning view of the Old Port of Saint Tropez

 

Whilst I ran Hotel Notre Dame in Nice, I often got questions from guests asking whether it was worth travelling over to Saint-Tropez and I basically told them no – given the hassle getting there from Nice (either a two hour minimum bus ride in summer traffic or an extortionate boat trip), people wishing to experience a snazzy and sophisticated French Riviera atmosphere could head off to Cannes or Monaco instead in under 30 minutes on the train.

But whilst writing this blog, I recently became curious about the near-mystical attraction that Saint-Tropez has over visitors and that’s why a couple of weeks ago on a bright Sunday morning I decided to get up early, see what all the fuss was about by visiting it from a tourist’s perspective and definitely figure out whether 8 years later, I would have replied the same thing to my guests. So here’s the lowdown on what Saint-Tropez is all about and what to see and do there.

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Spring is in the air on the French Riviera – a quick update!

Monaco harbour on a Saturday morning, March 2014

Monaco harbour on a Saturday morning, March 2014

We’re currently enjoying a great spell of beautiful weather after a rather mild winter, which bodes well for a fabulous summer. Here’s a view taken from the port of Monaco this morning over Cap Martin and the Italian Riviera, with the crystal clear blue skies that you can only see at this time of the year.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank all the readers who have enjoyed my advice for their positive comments, we will probably hit the 200.000 visitor mark on the blog in the coming months and this gives me the energy to keep going on, despite the work it all entails! Plenty of new articles are in the pipeline ahead of the summer, I just need to find the time to write them up, so keep yourselves posted and like the French Riviera Blog Facebook page for the latest updates.

Have a fabulous weekend,

Kevin

Discovering the Cinqueterre Villages on the Italian Riviera: a weekend drive down the coast

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Discover the unique charm of the Cinqueterre villages in Italy, with their multicoloured houses, unspoilt nature and amazing food, that can be visited on a weekend excursion from the Riviera.

As I mentioned when I launched the blog, I am not just covering the French Riviera but also some places that are a bit further afield which I have had the opportunity to visit in order to share my experiences. This Easter, I had the opportunity to discover in some depth the beautiful villages of the Cinqueterre in Italy and I am going to relate my experiences in this article…

From my experience in the hotel business, plenty of visitors who visit the French Riviera, especially those from other continents, tend to use the Cinqueterre as a stepping stone before heading to Florence or Rome, and these five little gems are well worth the visit. Naturally, given that I have very little local expertise of the area, this article is no substitute to a real guide book: my sources are just the French Guide du Routard Northern Italy book as well as local knowledge I gleaned whilst speaking to the very friendly inhabitants of the villages. But I hope this article and the practical tips I will provide, written from a “French Riviera” tourist’s perspective, will help you enjoy your stay in the Cinqueterre and enable some of the inhabitants of the French Riviera to discover a beautiful and very accessible part of Italy, just a  few hours down the coast!

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A walk around Central Nice: the new Promenade du Paillon and the Colline du Château (Castle Hill)

The entrance to the Promenade du Paillon viewed from Place Massena

The entrance to the Promenade du Paillon viewed from Place Massena

The end of October 2013 marked the inauguration with great fanfare of the new “green axis” (coulée verte), officially known as the Promenade de Paillon, covering 12 hectares and 1.2 kilometres right through the heart of Nice. Given the massive amount of hype in the press and social networks and the lovely weather we’ve been having so far this autumn, I decided to head over to Nice and check out what all the fuss was about… At the same time, I also had a proper walk around the Castle Hill so what follows is a nice itinerary to fill a sunny afternoon in Nice, especially if you have kids with you.

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Hiking opportunities on the French Riviera – a practical guide

Vioew from the Col de Tende on the French-Italian border

View from the Col de Tende on the French-Italian border with peaks at over 3000m

When I moved back permanently to Monaco in 2002, one of the first things I did was to take advantage of the fabulous weather all-year round (which, as a Londoner, I’ll never take for granted!) and start exploring the beautiful mountains and villages located behind the coastal strip of the Riviera that had always fascinated me as a child but had never had the opportunity to visit.

The wonderful Mediterranean climate of the Côte d’Azur provides plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors and to partake in activities such as canoeing, canyoning, rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking, skiing and hiking – since I love the great outdoors but hate sports that require equipment and effort, I’ll concentrate on the latter in this article! Over a decade after I started hiking, there are still hundreds of trails that still remain for me to discover, so you will never get bored or run out of things to do.

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