French Riviera (or Côte d'Azur) is one of the best places for families to travel as it offers something for all age groups. While visiting French Riviera during the summer months is a no brainer, winter time does pose a few challenges. Weather is a bit unpredictable during the winter time as it can rain a lot. And many of the business owners take a break in November to reopen before the shopping for Christmas starts. However, if you do not like crowds of tourists, later part of November is the perfect time to visit the French Riviera.
The city of Nice is conveniently located to explore the surrounding areas. Being the low season, we managed to secure a reservation at Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare, one of the highly rated budget hotels in the area. It is conveniently located near the railway station (5 min walk) and about 10 min walk to the shopping district and city tram.
First stop was the commune of Villefranche-sur-Mer in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. It's considered to be one of the most romantic spots for couples. With its serene waterfront and idyllic bylanes, this town is popular with tourists. We spent lot of time on the waterfront soaking the sun and admiring the locals going about their business. The bylanes from the waterfront lead you upto various tourist attractions and mostly end up on a street high above the waterfront. From there, you will get to enjoy the beautiful vista of the bay. Cap Ferat is another attraction in this area and it contains mansions of the rich and famous like Paul Allen. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is another famous attraction in Cap Ferat. We skipped both for the lack of time and decided to instead checkout the Èze village.
Èze village is away from the train-line but well connected by bus network. We did not do any research about Èze village so had no idea what to expect. Moment you step into the village, it feels as you have been teleported back into 15th century. Narrow cobbled stone streets run between old stone buildings. The modern showrooms in these buildings betray the idyllic surroundings. Star attraction of this village however is the exotic garden on the top of the hill. It has a collection of exquisite flora from over the world and provides expansive views of the coast right from Nice to Monaco. As you start walking down from the garden you come across a small deli with an olive oil shop. We stopped to grab a quick bite and enjoyed tasting the wine and olives before heading out towards Monaco for the evening.
Principality of Monaco is one of the most interesting places in the world. It's a micro-state with a population of 30,000 and area of 2 sq.km and its surrounded by France on three sides. It has one the highest per capita income in the world and its also best in human development index. Most often, you'll end up in Monaco when you disembark the train. Monaco railway station is entirely underground as is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. As you leave the railway staiton, you end up on streets lined with high-end shopping outlets which leads you the palace atop the hill.
The palace is in middle of a big square and is still in use by the royal family. You have birds-eye view of Monaco on the East and West side of the palace. The cannons and ammunition setup as display remind you of not so peaceful times the area has seen. We left Monaco with really happy memories.
As part of or tour of the countryside, we ended up early in the morning in the commune of Saint Paul de Vence. It's one of the oldest medieval villages in France and its know for the famous artists it used to host. They village has a resturant which would allow Picasso to dine for free in lieu of his painting. The famous painter Marc Chagal had a loft in this village. The cemetery in this village is his final resting place. This village is really popular with tourists and you can find lot of high-end art galleries here. You can enjoy beautiful views of the countryside from the vantage points in the village. After spending couple of hours we started enroute to our next destination, the beautiful village of Gourdon.
Gourdon is probably the most beautiful villages in this area. Perched atop a rocky hill at an altitude of 760 mts directly above the Loup river, it welcomes you back to middle ages. On all side you have panoramic views of the mountain ranges. The village rests inside the walls of a medieval fortress, with lush green farms and orchards on the side. The main village walk takes you to the fartest point where the village cathedral is located. This village seemed to be less touristy with fewer shops. Fresh air of the Alps and the charm of this village compelled us to make it as our lunch spot.
After a sumptous meal at Gourdon, we departed for the town of Grasse. It is primarily known for its perfurmeries and is loved by toursists. If you don't between Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and Eau de Cologne, then a trip to one these perfurmeries can enlighten you. Most of the perfumeries offer a free tour of the factory and their collection of fragrances challenge your olfactory sense. We toured the Fragonard perfumery which has been in the business for decades if not centuries.
It was really interesting to know that the concentration of fragrance is what distinguishes a Eau de Parfum from other lesser derivates. Also, the same parfum can smell different during different time of the day. This particular perfumery had a very nice collection of fragrances from the Orient, and surprisingly, we found ourselves buying a few perfumes to take home. After enjoying the French perfumes, it was time to experience the world of movie celebrities by visiting Cannes.
A perfumer is affectionately called as 'Nose' in French. Best in the business can detect 3000 different smells. Their training can last as long as 9 years
Cannes lives upto its fame and exhudes an air of opulence and grandeur. The main avenue in cannes is lined with all the top class designer boutiques from all over the world, alongwith some tourist attractions. The famous red carpet on which you have seen many a celebrity walk up the stairs, is surpisingly underwhelming. For a people like me, who enjoy natural wonders more than the man made ones, Cannes had little to offer. However, the weather was really nice that day and I couldn't resist taking a stroll down the avenue. The boat docks were full of expensive yatches and catamarans. Although we did enjoy our time in Cannes, we wouldn't have missed much had we skipped it.
We chose Nice as our base as it offers the comforts of the big city, yet you can get lost in the bylanes of the old town and experience the old times. We spent one whole day exploring Nice and love every bit of it. Nice has excellent public transportation and is well connected by trains, buses and trams. We started our day by walking down the street from our hotel to the English Promenade. It is a walkway built in the 19th century, which was built by and for the English aristocracy, allowing them an escape from the harsh winter at home. Many hotels on the promenade have distinctly English names. Today the walkway is more than 50 feet wide and curves for 5 miles along the Bay of Angels. Its mostly meant for pedestrian traffic but also has some dedicated bike lanes. This was also the site of the gruseome Bastille day truck attack in 2016.
During the high season, various small restaurants spring up on the Promenade. You could easily enjoy a nice glass of wine while watching the waves on the Mediterranean sea. We continued our walk down the Promenade towards old town Nice. For American tourists, this walk has some familiar sights. About half way down the promenade, you can find the replica of Statue of Liberty. This is the second replica after the one in Paris. After walking for about a mile, you reach the old town flower market. As it was off-season, the stalls were mostly empty but one can imagine how busy the market would get during peak tourist season.
For next few hours, we explored the old town Nice at leisurely pace. Almost around every corner, you would find a nice cafe, the kind in which you could curl up with a good book and a nice cuppa coffee. It was fun to sip hot coffee and watch the locals get on with their daily chores. Best part of these cafes is that most of them will offer some freshly baked pastries to go along with the coffee. We always enjoy a Pain au chocolat (a croissant filled with chocolate) with some nice hot brew. Old town Nice is also a good place to have your brunch and try out some of the Niçoise cuisine. One should definitely try the streetfood Socca .
As you depart the old town Nice, you end up in the famous Place Massena square which is where the old meets new. From the fountain of Soleil, as you walk down the avenue, both sides are lined with high-end retail shops housed in buildings from the late-modern period of history. The tram line runs along the avenue allowing you to skip some of the walking and save time.
French Riviera was one of the most enjoyable trips for us as a family. Our toddler enjoyed the trip as much as we did and the lack of crowds during the off-season turned out to be beneficial. Considering we came with no advance plans, this trip to be really wonderful and exceeded our expectations. When it was time to bid goodbye, we felt as if we are leaving back a piece of our soul here.
Please feel free to checkout the pictures in the gallery and hopefully you'll enjoy them as much as we did.