An introduction to the French Riviera.
As the sun gradually rose over the deep blue waters of the French Riviera, all I could see were the millions of sparkles glistening on the surface of the gently swaying sea. My morning ritual consisted of riding my bike down to the Promenade des Anglais, joining the ranks that already secured a spot on one of the infamous blue chairs that proudly sit on the wooden promenade facing the water. Day after day of this endless blue, I could feel myself slowing down, appreciating the sunshine, never-ending meals and gorgeous light that enticed so many artists to come play in this region. By the end of my time in this mesmerizing land, I could feel the years of New York City life melt away as I succumbed to the French art de vivre.When people mention the French Riviera or Côte d’Azur, they’re referring to the Mediterranean coastline of southeastern France. Literally translated as the Blue Coast, this area includes famous cities like Saint Tropez, Cannes and the sovereign state of Monaco. Known for glitz and glamour with yearly events like the Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Prix, historically this area has always attracted royalty and aristocracy in escaping bitter winters up north. With 310 to 330 days of sunshine per year and some of the world’s wealthiest having homes in the area, it’s no surprise that 90% of all super yachts will visit the coast at least once in their lifetime.
The glitz was quite fun to witness here and there, but for me the real charm went beyond the surface. My art de vivre consisted of exploring colorful villages like Villefranche sur Mer, quietly admiring a Chagall painting at his museum in Nice, going for a swim in one of the tiny inlets around Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat or sitting amongst locals watching the sunrise along the promenade in Nice. Much respect and admiration for France’s devotion to keeping her history alive for future generations to admire. I loved feeling like I was going back in time everywhere I went, and it also greatly helped that everything was so pretty!
For most of my trip, I stayed in Nice, as it was the ideal central point for exploring the area. Besides the airport being just 13 minutes away from the city center, the local train stops at all the major towns along the coast including Cannes, Monaco, Antibes, Villefranche sur Mer and Menton, the last town before Italy. To get a feel for the surrounding area, my recommendation would be to take a tour with a local who can show you all the best coastal views. We took one with Salvatore at Sunny Days Prestige Travel in his vintage 1953 open-top Citroën Traction, and it was the perfect introduction to this paradise.
Nice also had some of the best food I had in the area. To experience traditional local fare in the heart of Old Town, Restaurant l’Escalinada would be my pick. If you’re looking for something a bit more modern with Mediterranean and Italian influences, the innovative creations at La Pescheria were absolutely delicious. For dessert, make sure to get some gelato scoops at Fenocchio. With multiple locations around town, it’s the perfect accompaniment for a stroll around Old Town.
My Favorite Towns and Villages
With over 100 towns and villages in the area, each one seemed to top the next. Like choosing a favorite child, I would never say which one had my heart, but I definitely have one. There’s the colorful, popular Villefranche sur Mer, about 10 minutes from Nice, or the charming hilltop village of Èze with never-ending maze-like streets. Saint Paul de Vence is more inland and was the gathering place for artists like Picasso, Matisse and Chagall—you can definitely tell with its numerous art galleries. Antibes, a quiet coastal town, has more of a local feel with incredible sea views and is home to the brilliant Picasso Museum. Another colorful delight (and maybe my favorite child) is Menton, the last city before reaching Italy. On my way to the hilltop cemetery (I was told it had the best views), I got lost in the most delightful set of narrow streets without a soul in site. It quickly became one of my favorite travel moments.
Private Art Collections Galore
With an accumulation of wealth often comes private art collections and beautifully designed homes. I have never experienced either in such close proximity and variation, and I’ve gone to my fair share of Vanderbilt estates and French castles. On Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is the delightfully pink Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, home to Baroness Rothschild’s art collection, rare porcelain and carpets from Versailles along with 9 unique gardens. Nearby is Villa Kérylos, a direct replica of a Greek villa from Delos.
For hotels, Le Negresco “art hotel” houses over 5000 pieces from 5 centuries and is my top pick for Nice accommodation. Another option is the Hotel Windsor, which has a unique theme for each room that a local artist has painted.
For someone who loves nature, history, culture, the arts and food, the Côte d’Azur may be one of my favorite places in the world. I understand why so many of the great artists were inspired here, creating their best work while living in this magical land. Stay tuned for individual highlights of my favorite places as mentioned above.
Côte d’Azur, merci beaucoup for teaching me your sweet art de vivre. Enchanté et à bientôt!
Vintage car ride: Sunny Days Prestige Travel