If I had one recommendation from my time here? Get in a car and drive somewhere. Anywhere. Give yourself the gift of complete and utter liberation from cabs, buses and trains for a weekend. And that way, you can stop and pull over when you see views like this one.
Over Halloween weekend, the girls and myself hopped in a car and went on the most incredible 5 day adventure through the Cote d’Azur (Coast of blue in french). There are many names for this famous stretch between Marseille and Monaco and it is better known as the French Riviera or simply as the South of France.
First things first, we arrive at the rental place to find that the car company had overbooked car rentals. We reserved an automatic car with a navigation system, but they were out of the car promised to us. We all look at one another with creased brows not sure what to do when the woman working behind the counter looks up and says “girls, it’s your lucky day.” She hands over the keys to a brand spanking new 3 series BMW. I think she immediately regretted it once she saw us hysterically laughing and in fits about our incredible fortune. Roadtrip!
We hit the road, and 6 hours later, we were cruising through the streets of Nice, France. We were all super excited to check out our hostel, the Villa Saint Exupery (actually ranked as the best hostel in France by hostel world) and we pulled up to a hustling and bustling hostel on the beach. We checked in pretty late (around 10pm) and entered our shared room to find half naked bodies fast asleep in bunk beds and crying baby! Not entirely what you’de expect from a hostel to say the least. We threw our stuff down and headed out to get grab some grub. Little did I know at the time, but Dani spotted a four star hotel on the way to dinner and bounced in to check out the rates as a second option. By some work of magic, she landed us a hotel room with breakfast included for the same price as our hostel!! Score. We ran back to check out and check back in to Hotel Aston. It was the perfect location and ambiance for a short weekend trip.
Let me just say that Nice completely took me by surprise. It was every bit the calm cool collected city that I hoped it would be, but I wasn’t prepared for the inspiring beauty that Nice offers. They say a picture says a 1,000 words. I wouldn’t do Nice justice in simple descriptions, so here’s a taste of Nice through the camera lens!
Stunning! I loved walking along the boardwalk, strolling through the old city, and eating lots and lots of delicious French food. The old city is littered with artsy outdoor markets and cafe’s line the streets. People are casually relaxing and eating everywhere, all the time. It was great to soak up the chill vibe from all the vacationers and local French people. The croissants we had in Nice were the best i’ve ever had in my life. Just the right amount of crust, chewy and a zest of chocolate. Mmm I never realized just how many foods that I love are French! It wasn’t bad soaking up the local language either. A language which I believe is one of the most beautiful spoken languages today. I loved that I could understand many of the signs through having a background in Spanish and through learning a bit of Catalan. It definitely has me considering tackling French after I get back from Spain. Mom, Dad, Rosetta Stone for christmas?
Bright on early on Sunday morning, we hopped in the car and drove from France to Monaco. It’s crazy to think that Monaco is it’s own country (a really really small one at that!). If I had to sum up the drive in two words? Sensory overload. We spent the short hour in complete and utter awe admiring the full green trees extending over caramel streaked cliffs with an abyss of white stained summer homes bordering a sea of endless blue.
Before long, we entered the beautiful and charming principality of Monaco, and found our way into the heart of Monte Carlo, Monaco’s capitol and home to the world famous Monte Carlo Casino. Monaco was uber posh, very well kept, and aesthetically beautiful. Funnily enough, the casino is just that. Any guests are encouraged to stay at the Hotel de Paris which is right next door. We checked out the menu’s at the hotel, there are about 5 restaurants and prices actually are not even listed on some menu’s. Crazy, right? You could say we opted for something a tad more low key haha.
Monaco is straight out of a toy story book or romantic fairy tale. The yachts stationed in the port look anything but real. Even the police offers look like toy soldiers. In every essence of the word, Monaco was magical. Within 2 minutes of being in Monaco, we were pulled over by a policeman who was apparently border patrol. All of us were on the border of a nervous breakdown when he calmly introduced himself and asked for our passports to record our entry into the country. If this doesn’t give you an idea of just how tiny Monaco is, I don’t know what will.
We walked into our apartment in the bordering French city of Beausoliel and then went straight downhill to grab lunch at the Cafe de Paris next to the casino. And boy oh boy was it a scene. Glamour at it’s finest. We chatted and relaxed while ambassadors, socialites and politicians strolled through the area and grabbed a drink in the sun. Monaco is impressive. The entire city is literally embedded into the hills of the coastline and it means a fair amount of walking. On the flip side, it also means a panoramic view of the glimmering ocean at all times. I think it’s well worth it
My favorite part of our time in Monaco? There is a stunning castle on the far side of the city home to the royal family, and a famous garden. Storybook is an understatement. It’s a total hike to get up to the top but you’ll forget about the pain once you reach the top and are transported back in time to another world.
No trip to Monaco would be complete without a visit to the Casino. Given that I had never gambled before, I felt it appropriate that this be my first go at making some cash. They say beginners luck keeps you wanting to come back for more! Well, let me tell you something, we doubled our money on the slot machines playing Blackjack and then I found the “bet all credits” feature to double your points and things went downhill real quickly. Let’s just say I wont be making my way back to a Casino any time soon. I won’t write any more about the inside of the casino, pictures weren’t allowed, and you should go see it for yourself! All I will say is… it feels like you’re the star of an old hollywood flick.
Other fun facts about Monaco: 1) It’s the most densely populated city in the world. 2) It has the highest life expectancy (90 years) 3) It has the worlds highest GDP and the worlds lowest unemployment rate 0% 4) The house of Grimaldi has ruled the country since the 1200′s with the current King being Prince Albert II. 5) Grace Kelly was Monaco’s princess!
(I loved Monaco, could you tell? )
Next, we were off to Cannes passing through Eze and Antibes on our way down South. Cannes is annual host of the Cannes Film Festival and is the playground of the rich and famous. It’s known for it’s luxurious hotels (most notably the Carlton), delicious restaurants and designer shops.
Coincidentally, we were in Cannes at the same time as the 2011 G20 Organization of Industrialized Nations, so the entire city was partitioned off into zones for safety purposes. Security guards and men in suits were everywhere! Basically, it was a meeting for all of the political leaders in the EU (including Pres Obama) to try and find a resolution to the Economic Crisis. We were told by our hotel, that if we left Zone 1 past midnight we would not be permitted to cross the barriers and enter the hotel. You could say that we were very careful that night
Cannes was super chill and there was a fair amount of walking through old streets with lights and lots of character. Cannes was the by far the beachiest town we visited and if i could sum it up in three words: Streets, shops and food. Unlike Nice, Cannes has white sand beaches and is not as hilly as the other notable stops in the French Riviera. I loved walking up to the top of the hill to admire the old City Citadel and ancient church on the top of the hill. What made Cannes especially unique? The detail and “antiqueuy” feel that the buildings have there. It was a very classy feel to it, classy and clean.
The second to last stop on our tour through Southern France was Saint Tropez! You may be suprised to hear that Saint Tropez is actually the most difficult city to get too out of those in the French Riviera. Before settling on renting a car, we were exploring trains and buses to these areas and the only viable option to get there was by Helicopter!! Now wouldn’t that have been something else… Nonetheless you see why having a car when doing South of France is absolutely essential! I must say, the drive from Cannes to St Tropez was on super slick newly paved roads (the same roads that are famously raced for Formula One) and we enjoyed winding through the cliffs and eventually feasting our eyes on huge vineyards with hundreds and hundreds of grape vines. It was completely iconic and every bit the part of France that comes to mind when you think romance and champagne!
It was absolutely incredible. Saint Tropez is a quaint old city, that (of course) borders a beautiful beach. This was my favorite beach town that we went through. Mainly because there is a huge outdoor open market in the city center twice a week. Cottages are strewn through the city and its a mix between old stone walls and new pastels. The other thing that stood out? Flowers and ivy everywhere! I wish we we able to spend more time here, but hey! Next time, right?
Last stop on the way back to Barcelona was Marsielle! Marseille is in fact the second largest city in France (second to none other than Paris) and it is very urbanized and modern. It was a bit shocking to find such a large metropolitan city bordering all of these tiny beachy towns, especially after we felt like we had been taken away from reality for a few days. We didn’t have too much time here, but it was enough to walk around the city center and grab our last taste of French food for the weekend (and a pastry, of course)!
I’ll leave you with this little taste of paradise.
Until next time,