Should we travel or not during the pandemic? That was the big question. After many months in which we stayed at home and respected all the rules of social distancing, we decided to take the risk and go on a beautiful trip to France. We armed ourselves with many masks and disinfectant gels and set off.
Our journey began with the wonderful town:
I know, it is not exactly on the Cote d’Azur, but it is a place that is definitely worth visiting, having been added to the UNESCO list of world heritage since 1997.
The castle surprised me both by its grandeur with its 53 towers, and by the fact that inside the roughly 3 km of walls of the fortress you find a small town with lots of souvenir shops, restaurants, terraces with live music, and even a beautiful church. The entrance to this old town is free, but not the access to the ramparts. You can buy tickets for these online: http://www.remparts-carcassonne.fr/en/.
To better taste the old atmosphere of the knights you must try the cassoulet with a glass of red wine. Cassoulet is a bean dish with pieces of duck meat, sausage, and many spices. I also recommend you try onion soup (typically known outside of France as French onion soup unsurprisingly), as well as the famous steamed mussels and fries (moules frites).
Although we traveled during the pandemic, we discovered a fortress full of life and tourists. Luckily masks were mandatory outside in public as well.
Our journey continued with a drive of about 4 and a half hours to get to:
Nice is everything you could want! The fifth largest city in France benefits from both the bohemian air given by the old town and the beautiful beaches with their infinite blue sea, as well as the hustle and bustle and cultural events specific to a metropolis.
Nice is also strategically located between Saint-Tropez and Monaco, making it easy to travel along the Côte d’Azur (whether you choose the train, bus, or car). Therefore, you have a lot to do and visit, depending on the time you have available.
For Nice, we reserved about two days to be able to fully feel the beauty of this place and we did not miss:
- The famous promenade – Promenade des Anglais – so named because it was built by the English. Palm trees, terraces, luxury hotels, beaches, and sea water will make you forget about the approximately 5 km that you would have to walk to take it all in.
- Bathing in the clear and pristine water of the Mediterranean Sea. The rocky beaches are both public and private. It would be advisable to have a fluffy towel as well as water shoes due to the rocks on the beach
- Albert I Garden and Masséna Square where you can admire the Sun Fountain
- The Negresco Hotel whose founder was the Romanian Henri Negresco
- The Cathedrals of Notre-Dame and Saint Nicholas
- The old town (Vieux ville) with its colorful streets and Provencal air
- The Port and the Castle Hill that will offer you enchanting views and countless pictures perfect for Instagram 🙂
Here everything is superlative! And, if the food in Paris didn’t impress me, I can’t say the same for Nice. Specific to the area are Nicoise salad and ratatouille that you can find everywhere. Additionally, you should taste pan bangat, which I recommend you try at the Tintin Kiosque restaurant. And, if you are still in the area do not miss a visit to Gare du Sud where you will find a market with various restaurants and dishes, a fish market, and a fruit market. The famous Nicoise street-food socca with a few slices of pissaladiere I tasted at the small but locally renowned Chez Theresa. And at Le frog restaurant, in the heart of the old city, naturally I tried frog legs and snails.
For a romantic and scenic dinner, I recommend the restaurant on the rooftop of the Radisson Blu Hotel. And for a beach dinner at Cocoon Beach you will find the tastiest tuna and live music.
Nice offers a wide range of accommodation, so you have many choices to fit your budget. After several searches, we chose to stay at Radisson Blu, as it best met the criteria we had in mind, namely, a wonderful view of the sea, a clean and spacious room, and the indispensable pool.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Eze, and Monaco
Although, initially, we had decided to have a whole day for Monaco, on the spot we changed our plans and we chose to reach the 3 places mentioned above in a single day. Because of this, although public transport is very well set up, we decided to travel by car to be a little faster and better control our schedule.
We started the morning with the lovely gardens of the Villei Ephrussi de Rothschild. You can’t be in the Cote d’Azur and not visit this wonderful place to see how the French aristocrats lived in the early 1900s.
“Ocean line” Île-de-France – is the name that the extravagant Béatrice de Rothschild gave to her villa located in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. With a wonderful panorama over the Mediterranean and the nine gardens decorated with waterfalls, ponds, and flowers, the villa is a perfect place to spend the morning or afternoon.
Another fairytale brought to life is the small village of Eze. Located between Nice and Monaco, Eze is one of the most picturesque places on the Cote d’Azur. Suspended between the sea and the sky, perched on top of a cliff, 427m above the sea, Eze greets you with winding, narrow streets and old stone houses.
The ruins of Eze Castle are located in the beautiful Botanical Garden (Jardin Exotique), along with fifteen goddesses sculpted by Jean-Philippe Richard. Nietzsche’s path (the path that the famous philosopher walked daily and which inspired him in his work “So Spoke Zarathustra”) offers a route not exactly easy all the way down to the beautiful beach.
The Provencal air, along with all its scents, is masterfully captured in the enchanting essences of the Fragonard perfumery. So, don’t miss a visit to the famous factory and shop open since 1926!
We left behind the charming and quiet Eze and in 20 minutes we arrived by car in Monaco. We parked the car in the underground parking lot near the Casino and started walking to discover one of the smallest, and most expensive, countries in the world. Monaco being the second smallest state after the Vatican.
Monaco is a city full of history and charm, where the Grimaldi family has ruled for hundreds of years. It is said that the name dates back to the 6th century BC. from Hercules Monoikos who would have passed by. Built vertically, on the rocky slopes, Monaco is chic and refined. With sloping streets connected by stairs, public elevators or tunnels, with 20-30 storey skyscrapers, luxury hotels and restaurants, Monaco is a magnet for those looking for brilliance. Many of its residents are millionaires from other countries, the natives being a minority in their own country.
The steps took us to the wonderful Harbor with its luxury yachts and to the Princely Palace from where you have a fabulous view over the bay and the rocky slopes. We relaxed for an hour on Larvotto beach to recharge our batteries, as we prepared to visit the famous Casino Royale. The architecture is amazing, but even more impressive is the interior atmosphere, elegant, with amazing stained glass windows, golden columns and walls, and grand crystal chandeliers. We were lucky to arrive just a few minutes before 19:00 when the dress code no longer allows shorts, sneakers, or sandals, but once admitted you can remain all evening. The entrance price to gamble in the casino is 17 euros, of which 10 euros is a credit that you can use either at the bar or for chips. I can also say that, if you are used to the atmosphere in Las Vegas, Casino Royale will seem like another planet 😉
The icing on the cake is the Formula 1 Grand Prix, hosted by Monaco on its streets in Monte Carlo, on the last weekend of May. You can follow the route yourself in the days leading up to the race.
A new day, a new destination. Because we wanted a quieter day, in which to relax under the sun, we chose to take the train from Nice and arrive in about 40 minutes on the sandy beaches of Cannes. Famous for the International Film Festival, Cannes has everything it needs to have a perfect day.
The beach did not disappoint, clean and tidy and with warmer water than Nice, it gave us a few hours of laziness. In general, the beaches are private, belonging to hotels, with terraces or bars, but there are also two public beaches towards each end of the promenade. Speaking of the promenade, you can’t go to Cannes and not make time for a walk along the famous Boulevard de la Croisette and get lost in the streets of the old town, Suquet, which especially comes to life at dusk. The architecture of the buildings impresses you everywhere.
We admired the old port (Vieux port), imagining all the celebrities that must have docked here, while we passed on our way to the ferry boat that takes 15 minutes to reach the island of Île Sainte-Marguerite. The island is a pine and eucalyptus forest and is bordered by bays with crystal clear waters and stunning views of the French Riviera. History buffs will find a seventeenth-century fort on this island, which has gained notoriety for being one of the prisons of the “Man in the Iron Mask”.
Gorges du Verdon
Just two and a half hours from Nice by car is one of the natural wonders of France. Gorges du Verdon is the deepest and most spectacular gorge in Europe, up to 700 meters deep and about 25 km long. It is often described as the second largest canyon on Earth, after the Grand Canyon. The gorge was formed by the Verdon River which is famous for its stunning turquoise green color.
Visitors can enjoy spectacular views either along the road on the edge of the gorge, by car or bicycle, or via the exhilarating hiking trails in and around the gorge. There are also plenty of opportunities to rent boats and kayaks at the lower end of the gorge at the Pont du Galetas.
After a wonderful pedal boat trip along the river we continued our way back to Nice, passing the Col d’Illoire and the Balcony of Mescla for the most spectacular, and Instagram worthy, views over the canyon.
Saint-Tropez and Marseille
Our vacation was coming to an end and I didn’t know where all the time went. We left Nice thinking that we will definitely return, although I rarely choose to visit the same place twice. That’s because there are so many new and wonderful places in the world, that I don’t have enough life to see them!
On the way to Marseille we stopped in Saint-Tropez, and if so far everything has been superlative, Saint-Tropez is more than superlative 🙂 I was very close to giving up the planned last night in Marseille and staying longer in Saint-Tropez instead. In the little time I spent there I fell in love with landscapes with amazing vineyards straight out of a painting. We would have liked to stop for a wine tasting, but we put it on the list for next time.
We quickly headed to the port where we saw yachts even more impressive than those in Monaco or Cannes. The relaxing atmosphere makes you forget you are in one of the most expensive places in the world. I realized this only after seeing the bill for lunch at the SÉNÉQUIER café, which I had read was famous, but didn’t think it was famous for its prices 🙂 So, if you land at this café, get ready to pay between 19 and 22 euros for a cocktail (admittedly delicious).
In contrast to lunch, the wonderful Pampelonne beach is free, and the parking lot next door has very reasonable prices, if you are lucky enough to find an empty spot that is. This beach with its fine sand and incredible colored water is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of all the beaches visited on the Cote d’Azur. A little paradise from which I had a hard time leaving.
The road to Marseilles took two hours, so we arrived just in time to see an extraordinary sunset on the plateau located near La Major Cathedral (also called the “Pajama” Cathedral due to the horizontal stripes on the façade).
A walk through the Port of Vieux is perfect to capture the rhythm and atmosphere of the city. The port is buzzing with tourists, street artists, and fishermen selling fresh fish at the Fish Market. If you like fish, you can try the traditional specialty of the city: Bouillabaisse. It is a soup with several types of fish (whatever is fresh that day) prepared with wine, olive oil, saffron and other secret ingredients. The first course is the soup broth with bread greased with garlic, and then they add the pieces of fish as the second course. I can’t say that the taste impressed me especially considering the extremely high price of this dish, but opinions vary. You will see the price per person (65-80 euros) everywhere, but with the minimum order always for two people.
From the port you have a perfect view over the famous Cathedral Notre-Dame de la Garde located on top of a hill, with a height of over 150 meters above. If you do not dare to walk, Le Petit train is a nice way to get from the port to the cathedral, or you can take the bus.
Certainly Marseille has many more sights to visit, but time did not allow us to get everywhere, such as Chateau D’If, Calanques National Park, Longchamp Palace, or Fort Saint-Jean which we saw only from the outside, because probably due to the pandemic, it was closed.
After nine days we returned home with luggage full of beautiful memories. Definitely the Cote d’Azur is a wonderful place, perfect for any occasion.
We wanted to travel this holiday by car, and to avoid public transport and air as much as possible for obvious reasons, but also to have more flexibility. But, contrary to expectations, the best option, both in terms of price and time, is by plane. France is a pretty expensive country when it comes to parking and tolls. And, in order to reach the desired objectives as soon as possible, it is important to choose the shortest route, which involves quite a lot of toll roads.
We may have left the Cote d’Azur behind, but it will always be in my thoughts as one of my favorite vacations. From the food, to the sites, to the culture, it was nothing short of perfect, if expensive. I may say this often in my posts, but I could not mean it more here, when I say that everybody should be lucky enough to visit this area of France at least once in their lifetime.
I have shared so many of my favorite vacations with you, why don’t you tell me which was your favorite vacation or place you have visited?
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