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Before going to the C么te d’Azur, I have heard a lot about it, reading about “the famous names on the French Riviera beaches”, exclusive resorts, Hollywood stars who once got wet in shallow waters of Cannes, Nice, Saint-Tropez, about princess Grace, Picasso’s retreat. So, I just had to do my own French Riviera hopping.

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The famous harbor of Cannes (Pixabay)

The Film Festival in Cannes or the Casino in Monte Carlo are the things you just have to hear about over the years, and the whole coast is wrapped in such a cloud of glamour-like advertisement that you have to think that this is probably “the best place on Earth”, with “the best sea and the best beaches”, and “the best…” everything! Prices included accordingly, of course.

Well, think again! Or better yet – go there and see it for yourself and you will get the picture.

Sleeping in Toulon

Sure, the coast of southern France is lovely, it radiates that special charm you expect when coming to the country, and it is interesting to swim at the same place you know Brigitte Bardot did just that.

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French Riviera Map (Wikipedia)

Also, it’s quite expensive if you want to dine in popular restaurants or sleep in famous hotels. But, those are not the only options.

Also, French Riviera beaches are lovely, especially in small villages along the coast, but if you are looking for a vacation retreat with the beach and the sea high on your agenda, this shouldn’t be your first pick. People come here because it is the French Riviera, not because it has “the best snorkeling ever”.

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Saint-Tropez, always crowded (Pixabay)

I had some lovely time there, and went from one side of the coast to the other! So, let’s start from the beginning. It was 2003, extremely hot August, I spent few weeks in Paris, chasing around places that the 19th century artists occupied, went to Giverny and Rouen to visit Claude Monet‘s house (more about it in previous Glimpses!), and a friend and I have decided to go swimming for a few days.

We took the train from Paris to Toulon, a port at the very beginning of the C么te d’Azur. Even though the place is a port, not that beautiful as neighboring towns, and it was mostly inhabited by migrants back then (not a lot of women outside in the evenings), it was still a wise decision to stay here. Toulon was still one comfortable town with everything we needed and prices that were far less than in another small town, only half an hour away – Saint-Tropez.

Peek into Saint-Tropez

“The C么te d’Azur stretches from Saint-Tropez to the town of Menton, almost on the border with Italy. If you take the train, you can go from one side to other in just about two hours, and a bit more than 10 euros…

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Charming harbor of Saint Raphael (Pixabay)

In order not to go out of the train every now and then to see one more beautiful small village along the coast and pay four or five euros each time, there is the special rail pass ‘Isabelle’ that costs 10 euros and allows you to hop on and off the train throughout the whole day. That way nothing is actually that far – the Casino in Monte Carlo, the famous English Promenade in Nice or the view of the yachts in Saint-Tropez bay”, this is what I wrote back in 2003.

(I think that the Isabelle pass is now about 12 euros.)

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Long beach of Nice (Pixabay)

So, the first town on the coast, Saint-Tropez, so charming. With the population of less than 10,000 citizens, this small town with narrow streets, bohemian cafes, authentic architecture, gets overwhelmed during the summer when it welcomes about 100,000 visitors.

Not only that the French would advise you not to go because of such crowds, since there are a lot of other pretty little towns along the coast, but you will also stumble upon the same “recommendations” in guide-books (as I did). But, still, I had to peek at least, to take a walk and have a coffee overlooking the sea.

If you take another half an hour by train, you will get to Saint Raphael. This is one lovely town with a sandy beach and typical cafes along the shore walkway, and a pretty 12th century church. (Having a drink here was somewhat cheap compering to other parts of the coast.)

Stroll around Cannes and Nice

Another half an hour and there was the Cannes station. What the Promenade des Anglais is for the town of Nice, that is what La Croissete is for Cannes.

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View of the Monaco bay (credit – Kristine Li of The Petite Wanderess)

One long walkway along the Mediterranean Sea with the beach on one side and the boulevard on the other. To tell you the truth, I did rush a bit through these two towns, being all impatient to see all those other smaller and lesser known places on the coast. But I did take a walk along both promenades, took a swim, strolled around lovely streets and went to the station again.

And so, the two towns remained as actually quite similar to one another in my mind. One hotel dominated the center of Cannes, the other the center of Nice, and it almost seemed like they were occupying the same spots, even their domes were similar…

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Prince’s Palace in Monaco (credit – Kat from Memoirs of a Globetrotter)

There is the old fortress overlooking Nice and you will have one great view of the bay from its terraces. On the other hand, Cannes is proud of its Palais des Festivals et de Congres, where the famous Film Festival is taking place. Both of these towns have few museums, nice wide squares with fountains. And I just loved the Old Town of Nice (such charming authentic architecture), and the Flower Market.

Admire the bay of Monaco

And how about Monaco and Monte Carlo! Everything you have heard about the place – it’s true! You can immediately notice that this is one wealthy city-state, refined in style and taste, with lovely bay, view of the yachts, imposing royal palace overlooking the city, pleasant and cozy.

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Strolling Monaco streets (credit – Kat from Memoirs of a Globetrotter)

Prince of Monaco Charles III founded the famous Casino in Monte Carlo in the mid 19th century when the city had financial difficulties. He didn’t want to impose more taxes on people, so he came up with an idea of the Casino. This brought a lot of visitors to the city and the population grew from merely 3,000 to more than 15,000, and continued to grow further. The Italian translation to prince’s name is Carlo, hence – Monte Carlo.

Tax free zone attracted a lot of companies, so the business grew, a lot of golf clubs, prestigious sport associations were opened, the popular Grand prix emerged, numerous museums. The monarchy turned to tourism and it got even more popular when Hollywood actress Grace Kelly married prince Rainier III.

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Monte Carlo Casino

You might find it interesting to know that the first part of the Casino was designed by Charles Garnier who actually did the design for the Paris’ Opera House. In Monaco it is possible to visit the Royal Palace, the private royal collection of antique cars, Oceanography museum, the exotic Cactus Garden etc. I remember being sorry for missing out on the exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work, which took place only a month before I have arrived.

Next: CHARM OF VILLAGES “SUR MER” (6)

The full France SERIES

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Comments:

  • 05/08/2017

    I haven’t been on the Cote d’Azur in so long! This post definitely brings back memories… and reminds me that we should get back there! Thank you for writing it!

    reply...
  • 05/08/2017

    I just recently went to a couple of great lake towns in France and realized for myself just how gorgeous that country is. I haven’t made it to the riviera yet, but I can see that it’s a must visit. Maybe not in the summer though. I didn’t know that the towns were so close together that a train ride would get you there.

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    • 06/08/2017

      Covered few parts of France, but still have the feeling that there’s more! 馃榾 And there is, you’re so right, a lot to see all around the country.
      I myself was surprised to discover that it’s not actually hard to go from one place to another. Thought the coast was “bigger” somehow. 馃檪

      reply...
  • 06/08/2017

    Cote d鈥橝zur is definitely on my list of places to visit, I have a feeling it would be one of those places where i would end up getting wrapped up in everything around me and find it hard to leave. This post is a great insight, I would love to just stroll around cannes and Nice or just people watch on Monaco bay 馃榾

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  • 06/08/2017

    This immediately brings me back to my trip to Cannes. There really is nothing like the French Riviera.

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    • 06/08/2017

      You probably had some great time in Cannes, right! The coast really is unique. 馃檪

      reply...
  • 07/08/2017

    I never have been to the French Riviera, but I can tell I’ve definitely been missing out! I can’t wait to make it there. I’d love to explore all of these different destinations!

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    • 08/08/2017

      And I’m sure you’d love it! So many options for people who want more than a beach. 馃檪

      reply...
  • 08/08/2017

    I, too, have always been curious about the C么te d鈥橝zur. I am planning a trip that way next year and will be saving this post for my trip planning–very helpful.

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    • 09/08/2017

      Make sure to at least go through few of these small towns, you’ll be surprised. 馃檪 Thanks!

      reply...
  • 08/08/2017

    French Riviera is like a dream and I can’t wait to visit more of it!

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    • 09/08/2017

      Hey Kristine! Hope you’ll go soon again. And thanks for the photo, Monaco is one amazing town. 馃槈

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  • 09/08/2017

    This a lovely place to show the different side of France. When I think of this country I can imagine Paris. But this place is so charming. Cote d Azur sum up the essence of France its irresistibly seductive.

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    • 09/08/2017

      Oh, yes, I agree. France is one beautiful country with a lot to see, it’s not just about Paris of course. 馃槈

      reply...
  • 10/08/2017

    I’ve been to the north of France including Paris. I would love to visit the French Riviera on my next trip to France.

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    • 10/08/2017

      Hope you’ll go soon, it’s beautiful, and keep this series at hand when you do. 馃槈

      reply...
  • 10/08/2017

    Hi,

    when I was in igh school I had a students exchange with other school close to Nice and I have spent there almost 2 months traveling with my friends. Later I went to Montpellier to study French and I have totaly felt in love with Southern France. It is exactly how they show it in movies – beautiful and full of joy 馃檪 I miss my experience there as it helped me to become a real traveler (first time abroad all alone) and I was able to learn french 馃檪

    I gotta not save some money and come back there 馃檪

    All the best,
    Kasia

    reply...
    • 10/08/2017

      That must have been one great student exchange. I can only imagine how lovely those two month were for you. Well, then you know what I was trying to describe here. 馃槈 Thanks, Kasia!

      reply...

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