Traveling to the South of France and the French Riviera in springtime always sounded like a marvelous vacation to me! In spring of 2022, James scored last-minute tickets to the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 qualifying race (the actual race was sold out unfortunately) so we were able to make that vacation dream a reality! We also tied in a trip out to Sardinia (aka Sardegna) in the middle of our itinerary which was somewhere I never expected I would have been able to travel to, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a gorgeous destination in the Mediterranean.
Day 0: Travel to Nice
Traveling from the US to Nice may require a layover in Paris (Charles DeGaulle, CDG), which was what was part of our flight itinerary. Unfortunately, we booked the connection from Paris to Nice on a separate ticket and so when our flight into Paris was delayed by an hour it caused us to miss our connection to Nice!
We originally had only 2.5 hours to connect which was going to be tight (I would recommend at least 3 hours in Paris Charles DeGaulle airport!), but with the inbound flight being delayed it only gave us 1.5 hours between landing and takeoff. An entire hour was spent waiting in line for immigration, and we still had to go through security after that.
Technically, since our flight from the US had a connection in Toronto, Canada we were not arriving directly from the US so we are unsure if the immigration line would have been different and if we would have had to go through security had we not arrived from Canada. If you’d like to read more about this adventure, check out a post James wrote on why he hates yet also books unprotected self-connecting flights.
Anyway, because we missed our flight, we went to the Air France lounge (since we were flying in business class) and tried to see if they would be able to help us find a new flight. Unfortunately, again because we were flying on a separate ticket, we were unable to get rebooked and would have had to pay cash for another flight which was extremely expensive! Luckily, the lounge agent made us aware of a train route available to take us down to Nice, and it was relatively inexpensive.
The downside was that it was about a 6.5-7 hour ride which was not desirable, but it was the fastest and cheapest way to get there that day (the alternative probably being staying overnight in Paris and hoping we could get a flight out the next morning). Unfortunately that would mean we would have to miss the Formula 1 qualifying race, but we were able to resell our tickets online to a couple that told us later they very much enjoyed it.
So the moral of the story here is: book your connecting flights (especially into Paris CDG) with enough time especially if you are going to risk booking on separate tickets!
We headed out to the train station at CDG, grabbing some food to take aboard (luckily there was a Paul sandwich shop which is a chain but has great French baguette sandwiches) and got on our first train toward Marseille.
We took an express train from Paris to Marseille, which was about 4 hours, but then had to connect to a regional train from Marseille over to Nice that was much slower and stopped a lot of times between. The route from Marseille to Nice was almost 3 hours!
The upside of the long train ride was getting to see parts of the French countryside heading to the South of France.
Transiting through Marseilles wasn’t too bad and the train station was really cool and industrial looking.
The one redeeming quality of the train from Marseille to Nice was the coastal views along the way!
Overall though, I would not recommend taking the train from Paris to Nice if you have the option to fly. It made a quick hop (about an hour flight) into a long day of traveling, especially after a very long set of flights just to get over to France from North America!
Once we got to our hotel (we stayed close to the Nice airport for the first part of our trip since we were leaving to go to Sardinia after 2 nights), we just went to the hotel restaurant/bar for a quick dinner and some much needed beer and wine.
Day 1: Monaco for Formula 1 Grand Prix
Our first full day in the French Riviera consisted of taking the train from Nice to Monaco for the Formula 1 race. Even though we couldn’t make the qualifying race the day before, we decided that we would go into Monaco for the race day even if we didn’t have tickets. We figured maybe we could purchase some last minute, or we would just be happy going to a restaurant/bar and hopefully being able to watch it on TV, and at least being able to experience the race atmosphere!
We passed some gorgeous towns along the coastline, and took some mental notes of where we wanted to visit later!
We arrived in the Monaco central train station, which was clean and beautiful.
We exited the train station (Gare de Monaco) which is located up in the hills.
The views were gorgeous! And looking down below, we could see…
The racetrack! Monaco is one of the few street courses in F1 racing, meaning that they shut down sections of the normal streets to create the racetrack. It makes for a very exciting race, especially in Monaco where there are tight turns and tunnels like the one shown.
After watching a few cars go by (and hearing them, even up high they were pretty loud!), we headed down the hill toward the main part of town and the entrance to the racetrack.
Passing by some old city walls with residences perched above, we wondered how much it would cost to live here…
We entered the center of the city/the race area and wandered the streets looking to see if we could find the ticket office to maybe get lucky and get some last minute tickets! We found it but they looked to be closed (aka all sold out). We also didn’t see anyone trying to scalp tickets so we gave up and decided to just hang out in the city during the race.
We wandered around a bit more, taking in the race sights as well as the gorgeous architecture and mountain landscape behind it, and then found a cute cafe called Huit & Demi to grab a drink and some lunch. We still had a few hours to kill before the race started, and cafes were pretty crowded with people having their pre-race lunch as well, but we got a table pretty much where we could for the moment. We figured when everyone else was leaving to get to their seats, we would move somewhere that had a TV so we could watch the race.
We started off with some local Monte Carlo beer (named after Monaco’s main city, and really the only city, which is named after the Monte Carlo Casino) and an Aperol spritz in an official F1 Monaco GP souvenir cup (you bet I kept that…). We also split a pizza which was pretty good and hit the spot (no picture unfortunately, I guess we were too hungry!)
After some time, we saw everyone was starting to leave for the race, so we asked if we could move over to a table that was next to a TV screen. It was so cool seeing the sights on the screen and knowing we were just a few blocks away! We could even hear the cars in the distance!
We ordered a bottle of Chardonnay to split which was delicious. We were going to be hanging out for a while, so why not?
And they’re off!
The great thing about sitting at a bar watching the race is not having to get up to get more drinks and snacks! We got some pommes frites (French fries) and more beverages…
We also decided we were still hungry even after eating an entire pizza and huge bowl of pommes frites (a case of “the drunchies” aka drunk munchies), so we split a carbonara which was incredible!
When the race was over, we decided to walk down to the marina area and catch some of the after-race action. Not before admiring the views of the city against the mountainside again!
The marina was gorgeous and we wondered how much money was sitting in the water right there…
We also got to see the racetrack from the outside of the fenced area!
And then we were able to walk onto the racetrack itself! This is a common tradition after the race is over to be able to do this!
While on the track, we walked past La Rascasse which is the most popular after-race bar to go to hang out.
As we got closer, we realized there was really no line and so we jumped in and got right into the bar! There was no cover or anything, and we were shocked we were able to get in!
We got some drinks, ended up running into the couple we sat next to at the bar/restaurant during the race (small world!) and then made our way to the second floor. We found a table and realized that this would be a kick-ass (and probably very expensive) way to watch the race!
And look at that view!
We stayed until dark and it got more and more crowded. It was quite a fun party scene!
Eventually we got tired and decided to walk up the hill (ouch) back to the train station to get back to our hotel in Nice to crash for the night.
Another view of the super cool looking train station!
Day 2: Explore Nice and Old Town (Vieux Nice/Vieille Ville)
The day after the race in Monaco, we had to wake up decently early to catch our flight over to Sardinia, which I have detailed in another post. After a few wonderful days in Sardinia, we flew back to Nice to start our “Day 2” of this French Riviera itinerary.
Our hotel was located in the Jean-Médecin area of Nice, which is close to the Nice central station but about a 20 minute walk to Old Town aka Vieux Nice (Old Nice) aka Vieille Ville (Old Town/City).
The Jean-Médecin area is filled with lots of shopping (high-end retail and casual retail) and many chain restaurants. It felt a lot like the large boulevards in Paris, although a bit smaller in scale. If you like spending your vacations shopping, this area is worth a visit. I’m not a huge shopper on my vacations so I wasn’t really interested in spending time here. We picked the hotel in this area because it was close to the train station and much cheaper than staying in Old Town.
We made it down to the iconic black and white checkerboard plaza, Place Masséna, which is super open wide and surrounded by the Promenade du Paillon park on either side.
Once you get to the end near the water, you will see the Fontaine du Soleil which has a statue of Apollo and some horses.
Once you hit the statue, you can either go straight down towards the water, or you can tuck into one of the side streets that jut away from the plaza to get to Old Town.
We ended up walking through the Marché Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya, which is a large flower and farmer’s market. The market was mostly over but we saw a local artist selling paintings and drawings, so we picked one up for a souvenir!
Heading into the heart of Old Town was like walking back in time, just like walking through the old parts of Paris feels (Le Marais district in particular).
I just loved the atmosphere in these tight alley-like streets.
We were hungry for a snack and passed by a shop selling Pissaladière, which is a Niçoise (from Nice) specialty. This is similar to Italian style focaccia topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and black olives. It is like biting into a super savory, umami, salty yet sweet slice of pizza (of a style similar to a NY Sicilian pizza slice).
It was not warmed up (I think there was a language barrier here when the shop attendant said “chaud (hot)” I was too slow in saying “oui si vous plait” so I think he just moved on with getting the order out to me) but it was still delicious.
After scarfing down the Pissaladière, we decided to walk through some more of Old Town and head toward the waterside. We passed by this “American Bar” that advertised “FOOD NON STOP” which felt very American…
We got to the main road right by the water’s edge and the main beach promenade (that stretches allll the way across town!) and decided to walk along and find somewhere we could sit and have a drink to cool down.
The water looked very refreshing! The beach was also very rocky, which is never my favorite type of beach but it can still be relaxing.
We found a cute bar that had a second story where we sat and ordered some drinks and looked out over the promenade and the water.
James had a beer and I had a refreshing lemon cocktail as we enjoyed the view!
We also saw the Corsica/Sardinia ferry come into the port. James said he looked into doing that for our trip to Sardinia (we also considered going to Corsica instead) but it was a long ride (overnight usually) and was a bit expensive. Seeing as the flight was about an hour, hour and a half, and was really cheap we decided to do that instead. Also, I tend to get sick on boats (see my post on Sardinia for some fun seasickness times), so it wasn’t an ideal way to travel for me.
For round 2 I decided to get a cold glass of Provence rosé, which was delightful.
After our drinks, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We also had to decide what to do for dinner! While I was getting ready, James looked around and found this restaurant called Chez Moi with great reviews and what looked like a great classic French menu. We called and got a last minute reservation for 6:30pm (way before normal dinner time in France) and then got ready.
This place was so interesting in its choice of decor. Some might think it creepy, but when you realize this restaurant is in the heart of the Nice theater district, it makes so much more sense!
But it had some really neat decorations and art murals.
We were some of the first customers in the door, but we didn’t mind because it had like a thousand rave reviews so we knew it would be good.
The menu (one side in French, the other in English) was a short and sweet prix fixe menu. You chose a starter, a main, and a dessert, all included in the price (with the exception of the duck confit which was a few euros extra). I chose the escargot (snails), the duck confit, and the chocolate mousse. James chose the serrano ham starter, the steak with Rocquefort sauce, and the lemon pie. He got a beer and I got a glass of the house red wine.
I had never had escargot before in my life and never thought I would (just never appealed to me) but I said “When in Rome” and got it. It was AMAZING! The escargot itself was pretty tender and tasted like other shellfish (almost like clams and oysters but not quite as fishy), and it had this amazing pesto sauce on top. I would have ordered another 6 if I could! James tried it too and said it was good but he wouldn’t have eaten a whole starter of it.
James’ starter was pretty great too!
My duck confit main was also out of this world! It was so crispy and well cooked, and the sauce was glorious.
James’ steak with Rocquefort sauce on it was also to die for, and I wish I could have gotten both mains for myself (lol).
Dessert was also fantastic! We ended up splitting a half carafe of white wine at the end as well (I prefer red but James likes white better, so if we were splitting it that’s the way we were going).
This was one of the best meals we’ve had in France for sure! It was more traditional Parisian French rather than Niçoise but was a great choice for sure.
Day 3: Explore Riviera Towns
The next morning we decided to head into Old Town again for a nice cafe breakfast, and then catch the train from there over to some other Riviera towns in the area.
I just love a good French latte for breakfast! I also had a mini quiche which came with some delicious French bread. James had chocolate cake, which is the breakfast of champions when you’re on vacation in Europe.
After breakfast, we walked up through Old Town a bit further in than we had the day before.
I just love the cafes tucked into these narrow hilly streets.
I also wanted to pass through the area informally known as Le Petit Marais, which is popular for its LBGTQ+ nightlife and takes its name from Le Marais neighborhood in Paris, also popular for its LBGTQ+ nightlife among other things.
The owners of one of the clubs named it “Le Petit Marais” affectionately as a smaller (petite) version of Le Marais. I definitely felt it had a similar atmosphere and charm!
I would have loved to have spent some time at these lovely cafes, had we not just been to a cafe!
The street was painted blue in places and had some rainbow crosswalks.
The Malabar Station looked like it would be a good time at night!
After wandering through Le Petit Marais, we headed over to a closeby bus stop to catch the bus up to a hilltop town called Èze.
We could have taken the train but then would have had to walk up the side of the hilltop/mountain to get to the town. A bus took us right to the top!
Entering through the medieval walls to get to the center of the village.
It was a maze of tiny alleyways to climb through! It was also a bit crowded for as tiny as this town is.
There were some pretty great views of the water and the horizon as well!
Overall though, there wasn’t too much to see and do. There were a few shops, mostly local artists selling paintings and handicrafts, and a few cafes that were very crowded. It felt a bit touristy and not like a real town, since no one actually lived there anymore.
We went to one of the cafes to try and wait for a table but they said it would be at least 30 minutes. Not wanting to wait, we decided to head down to where the bus dropped us off and find a cafe on the street there.
We weren’t hungry, but were very thirsty, so we got some drinks and hung out watching the world go by.
After a while, we did start to get hungry but wanted to check out another town. We got back on the bus and headed out back toward Nice to stop at Villefranche-sur-Mer.
We got off of the bus at the top of the town and had to make our way down to the water.
Luckily there were some stairways that were easy to follow.
There were A LOT of stairs and we were just glad we were going down and not up…
The views were quite beautiful though, so even though it took a good 15 minutes it was worth the walk!
I loved the beautiful and colorful flowers!
We finally made our way into the town and had to go down some sloped streets.
We finally made it to the water/marina!
We walked around a bit to get a feel for the area, and to see if any of the cafes peaked our interest for a drink and a snack (it was now too late for a big lunch).
We picked a cafe with a table right next to the water…
And then ordered some drinks!
Another Provence rosé for me! I love French rosé wines because they are usually dry and not sweet, which is just what I love in a wine!
We didn’t really find anything that piqued our fancy on the menu for a snack, so after were done with our drinks, we went to the Villefranche-sur-Mer train station to take the train back to the center of Nice so we could get cleaned up and ready for dinner.
There was a pretty great view from the station!
I wish we could have fit in some beach time, but looks like we wouldn’t have gotten a good spot anyway!
After cleaning up for dinner, we went to a Niçoise style restaurant closeby in the Jean-Médecin neighborhood called Le Tchitchou.
We split an amazing Salade Niçoise, which was definitely better than I thought it would be (I’m not a huge fan of cooked tuna unless its doused in mayonnaise lol).
For dinner I got a seafood pasta dish, and James got a Niçoise meatball and gnocchi dish.
It seems weird to get pasta in France, but Nice was formerly part of Italy (kind of, not really, read up about it!) so it also has a lot of Italian culture embedded in!
We were treated with a beautiful sunset on the walk back to the hotel!
We also stayed near this cathedral that I thought looked so much like the Notre Dame in Paris…only to find out it is called the Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. So it is actually another Notre Dame! It looked beautiful glistening in the sunset.
Day 4: Nice Beach Day
This was our last day in Nice, and we had to go get our COVID rapid tests in order to get back into the USA (was still a requirement at this time). We got up early and went down the street to do that, which was in this cute part of town tucked behind the large boulevard in Jean-Médecin.
After the testing was all completed we went back to the hotel for a nap and then later headed down to the beach back through this same area. I wish we could have come here for lunch, but we had beach-ing to do!
We stopped in a market to get some drinks and food for a picnic lunch on the beach.
We got down to the water and it looked like it was pretty crowded, but we might be able to fit in somewhere.
We walked down the promenade a little bit to see if there were more free beach areas (ones without umbrellas where you have to pay to sit).
We passed through a few of these covered areas. It was really cute and had some benches where you could sit in the shade and look out over the water. There were a few homeless people sleeping on some of the benches but they didn’t bother anyone.
We passed by the famous Le Negresco hotel, with its beautiful ornate architecture and pink roof. The perspective in this photo is what was in the art we purchased, so I had to snap a picture!
More walking to find somewhere to settle down at the beach!
We also walked by some tourists taking a parachute/paragliding trip over the water. We sat on a bench and watched them for a little bit, and it was funny to watch them land in the water (accompanied by some screaming).
It really was a gorgeous day out on the beach!
We finally found our way down to the rocky beach and found a good spot to settle down.
The rocks definitely can hurt your feet, so make sure you bring good shoes to walk on them! I wore my pair of Tevas with straps, but you could wear flip flops if you want.
I was so happy to finally get to relax on the beach! We did see a few topless bathers, so just be aware of that (it didn’t bother me, but I know it could bother some people, especially if they’re with young kids).
When the sun started to get lower in the sky, we decided to make the walk back towards our hotel to get cleaned up before dinner.
For dinner, we decided we would check out a Vietnamese restaurant Chez Tanh with great reviews.
The restaurant had a beautiful atmosphere! We were some of the first in the restaurant which was great because they filled up quickly, even as early as we were around 6:30pm!
We ordered drinks (mine was adorable! A lychee cocktail with a cute decoration) and an appetizer plate of some fried spring roles and a few other fried things that were super delicious.
There were a few dipping sauces with our appetizers, and we wrapped some of the fried spring roles in lettuce with some fresh mint, and it was delicious!
For our mains, I had a scallop peanut curry (which the menu said was more of a Thai curry than Vietnamese), and James had a saucy beef dish with rice.
Everything was really great! I was also happy to have some more seafood while I was able to!
We were super stuffed at the end of this meal, and was definitely a great choice!
After dinner, we just walked back to our hotel to start packing up and get to sleep early for an early flight out the next morning. We were heading home (boo!) after a great trip.
We passed by the Notre Dame of Nice again and got another view of it in the sunset.
I enjoyed visiting the French Riviera and thought it was incredibly beautiful! I didn’t really care for the Jean-Médecin area of Nice (except maybe tucked behind the main busy street), but thought Old Town was gorgeous. I loved visiting the other Riviera towns, and wish we had another few days to explore more of the towns like Cap-d’Ail, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Antibes, and even Cannes. I very much enjoyed visiting Monaco, and I would recommend going over there even if you aren’t attending the Formula 1 race activities. I wish we had more time to explore Monaco, like the Palace of Monaco and other sights! I enjoyed the main beach in Nice but would also have liked to visit one of the other beaches in the area as well.
The only thing I really disliked about Nice was the first day we arrived it had just rained, and when we walked on the sidewalk it was SO SLIPPERY! Like, there was so much scum and dirt on the sidewalk that it was slippery and the water was brown/gray! I had sandals on that didn’t really have much grip, and James had sneakers with grip and it was even difficult, and we were both struggling to remain upright. I was wearing white so I really didn’t want to fall…When it was dry out, the sidewalks were fine (definitely still dirty though) but be careful when it rains because it will be slippery!
I would say that Nice and the French Riviera are definitely worth a trip if you can, especially during late May/early June when we were there. The weather was very warm but not too hot, and it was not as crowded as it might be during the peak months of July and August when all of France (and even most of Europe) goes on summer vacation. The water was chilly but refreshing to dip your feet in. The food was incredible (as usual in France) and was an interesting mix of French and Italian culture all around the city. I would definitely visit the French Riviera again!
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