I don’t really know where to start when it comes to talking about the south of France. The entire trip was an exciting whirlwind that’s hard to summarise. France has been known as an elitist playground since forever, in part thanks to the Cannes Film Festival, the yacht scene, well-to-do Monaco and the sumptuous hotels that dot the Riviera. It’s a place dripping with wealth and natural beauty and I decided to come here because of the Ab Fab movie (seriously…)
France is so close to England that it’s easy to forget quite how different it is, especially in the South, where palm trees flank wide sidewalks and everyone dresses like classy movie stars. Note to readers: apparently the French can spot tourists a mile away as we wear too much colour and favour skin-showing short-shorts. If you want to blend in, opt for white, black or neutral colours and cover up. The French have classy, elegant and feminine mastered.
Myself and my travel buddy Maddie, who I’d met in Bali, took 10 days out of our busy schedules to devote to consuming the South of France. Not a day went by that did not involve some wine, cheese or chocolate (and often all three at once.)
Our trip was aided by my friend Adeline, a native of France who now lives in Australia. She had endless tips on how best to tackle this intriguing place. With a loose plan in place, we decided to base ourselves in Nice so that we could explore the surrounding areas before moving on to Bordeax, famed for its wine.
Nice is not the prettiest part of the Riviera (it is pretty though), but it makes a wonderful base. The beach is pebbles (think Brighton) and getting in and out involves lots of wincing and red toes, but the water is beautiful. We stayed in the Le Port area of the city in an airbnb situated closely to public transport links which suited us as we were constantly exploring. Most tourists stay along the Promenade des Anglais.
Le Port is a tad quieter and feels more local. It’s also close by to endless views of picturesque yachts and the striking curve of the promenade. Exploring Nice’s old town is a must as is walking the promenade and taking in the beguiling mix of hotels, including the Negresco (the oldest hotel in Nice). It’s well worth coming for a drink here as each floor is dedicated to a different artistic/cultural theme and the décor is stunning.
It was in Nice that I had pigeons thrust upon me (see below evidence…)
Nice has a very Italian feel and you’ll find Italian restaurants everywhere. Our favourite was Le Local, literally next door to our apartment. It was our Central Perk if you’re a Friends fan. It was here that I discovered my favourite red wine, Lambrusco frizzante. Seriously, try it. You won’t go back. It’s like fizzy wine. Dangerously drinkable…
The Castle of Nice offers a beautiful view over the city in all directions and there’s also a little waterfall to explore. You can easily just spend all of your time in Nice thanks to it’s endless restaurants, bars, museums and cultural sights, but for us it was the hub we returned to after spreading our wings.
When people think of the South, surely Monaco comes to mind. It’s the place where the rich work, play and chill and the yachts are endless. It’s easy to get to Monaco from Le Port. You can take the 100 bus from Le Port. Monaco’s stops are colour coded yellow so whichever stop you get off at, you will be in Monaco. From within Monaco, the buses are well interconnected so that you can travel between stops if you don’t want to walk.
Our approach to Monaco was to tackle it by foot. Although Monaco is small, it’s densely populated and packed and the tourists heave here on a daily basis. There is a famous outdoor pool, the Stade Nautique Rainier III and you can even get your passport stamped at the tourist office.
Not to be confused with the village of Eze, it is on Eze-Sur-Mer that Bono owns a home! Yes, it’s another cobbled beach but it’s more peaceful as less tourists flock here. The views are breathtaking as they are along the entire Riviera.
I was so excited to come to Cannes, city of film, glamour and celebrity. From Nice, you can take the train to Cannes, which takes around half an hour. On the surface, Cannes offers the same as other cities along the Riviera. It boasts beautiful hotels, charming restaurants and sandy beaches and of course, you’ll see plenty of yachts dotting the harbour!
We decided to tick off an Ab Fab destination by exploring the hotel Martinez, which although dated, has quite the history.
We then took a stroll to see some yachts, the epitome of French glamour. This is true Wolf of Wall Street stuff. Our trip to Cannes truly jumpstarted a gear when we took a boat trip to Ile Sainte-Marguerite, the largest of the Lerins islands, and home to the Man with the Iron Mask, a legendary prisoner whose identity remains unknown.
Here we made friends with three fellow travellers from Dubai and explored as much of the island as possible within two hours!
Back at Cannes, we headed to the site of the Cannes Film Festival where you can have your picture taken on the red carpet, before boarding a tourist train that took us around Cannes as the sun set. At night, Cannes sparkles and the view of the palm-laden promenade and the sumptuous old town was astonishing. We ended up in a cab back to Nice, courtesy of our gentlemanly new friends, feeling like superstars.
Eze is a medieval French village based within a fortification, a town within a castle if you will. Although it has become suitably touristic, it retains a gentle charm, elegance and grace that belongs to the past and is wonderfully spellbinding. Yes, it is a shame that such unique places have to be challenged and changed by the tourist industry but at the same time, the village needs to make money. If you can find the time, stop by Karma jewellery store, owned by a wonderful Dane called Dennis. His son Elliot also owns a store. They make the most stunning jewellery! If you fancy staying in Eze long term and really losing yourself in its age-old charm, you should consider staying at the Chateau Eza Hotel. I’m considering coming back to stay here down the line!
For a true taste of luxury, we headed out to Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat where you can find the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, home to Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, a woman with a penchant for pink, flamingoes and animals. In theory, an all-pink house does not sound appealing. It sounds like Paris Hilton’s dream home. In practice it’s just the right shade of warm salmon pink and each room is incredible.
The piece de resistance is the garden, where a water feature accompanied by music springs into life every 20 minutes. Beatrice had the garden designed to represent the deck of a ship and her garden represents the traveller that she was, taking inspiration from all over the world.
Going back to my Ab Fab quest, we sought out the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, a four seasons hotel that you can access by shuttle (you can also walk as we did on the way back.) Let me just tell you that this place is wonderful – an utter gem. It’s huge, gargantuan with white walls and beautiful pink flowers. There’s a beautiful pool with views of the sea and the grounds are exquisite. It’s well worth coming here for dinner or a drink just to breathe in the beauty that this place offers in abundance. This was definitely our day of decadence.
The day of our trip to Bordeax should be known as ‘the day that the fates conspired to defeat us physically, mentally and emotionally.’ We were destroyed by this day. To start with, our flight to Bordeax was cancelled. We were offered the option to stay in Nice but our inner travellers had a desire to push on, to see unchartered territory, and so we opted to travel with Flixbus (no matter how desperate you are, never ever EVER travel with this company!) A ferry to hell would be simpler…
We knew the journey would be long but we hunkered down and prepared for the worst. Besides, I love a bus journey. The bus broke down five times, our driver nearly left us behind, he did leave an elderly female traveller behind and we had to be escorted to a safe place by road side police who happened upon as perched precariously by the side of the road. Our journey ended in Beziers, where we then had to get a train to Toulouse and search desperately for accommodation. We were turned away left, right and centre but managed to secure a room in a 2 star hotel. Thankfully, we were on the bus with Lucas, a wonderful guy who took control and made sure that we were all alright. We were then up at 5am to move on to Bordeax (a two hour train journey from Toulouse.)
Let’s just say we never had the opportunity to give Bordeax a fair shot. We were exhausted from the stress, expense and nightmare that Flixbus subjected us too and the weather was overcast and rainy. We pined for Nice. Our airbnb was gorgeous though, if a little far from the centre and we did enjoy going for a shop to try to Frenchify our wardrobes and of course, sampling Bordeax’s famous wine at a cute local bar called Le Quattre Vins owned by Riccardo. He allowed us to sample a few wines and suggested some delicious reds. This place deserves to be more popular than it is but it’s the local charm that keeps it quaint.
We are already planning to come back to Nice next year for a girly getaway. Let’s just say, even with the traumatic journey in the middle, France has a lot to offer and as it’s only on our doorstep, there is no excuse to ignore it!
All my love