French Summer, 2017
For us, Cote d’Azur was ravishing in every way. I had always, always wanted to go but never wanted to attempt it as a student because well… it’s the kind of place you want to stroll around romantically with your life partner, no? When you feel more of a grown up, more settled in your own skin and definitely more in charge of your wallet! And I think I made the right choice to go when I did. We spent about 3 weeks in France, 12 days in the South and the remaining in Paris. Being in this sensational part of Europe for such a period of time (ages and ages by our standards) during a rather challenging year for me was very helpful in quenching the emotional dehydration I was experiencing back to an equilibrium.
As I’d explained in my Montparnasse post (click here) our Gallic summer was about attending a wedding, enjoying a reunion with old friends based in London and Paris and also spending a week holidaying with my brother in Paris. After coordinating with all the competing schedules of everyone involved, we started of with Toulon where the wedding was held, and then to Monte Carlo (to get out of France) before edging our way back in again in the route of Nice (with a visit to Villefrance Sur Mer), Cannes, Mougins (with a visit to Grasse). If you want to read about my take on Mougins, you can click here.
Toulon was all about the wedding so we spent less time exploring the city but even from our brief walkabouts of this naval port we were already getting excited about the days ahead. The water was such a brilliant blue, the town square was so cute and the wedding was beautifully memorable.
My friend looked breathtaking, her husband equally dashing, and who can forget the moment when two people you have much affection for express their love and promises for each other in a magical residence overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. They pulled together an event which I think is so reflecting of their personalities – warm, casual, fun, light-hearted but still super tasteful and elegant. In the exchange of vows,one of the reasons why the groom said he fell in love with her was because of her bravery, which touched me. Not only did I think that was true, that my friend was one of those ‘brave’ creatures who always took life by the horns with what seemed like an effortless, joyful ease, but that it’s such an important quality when looking for a life partner. Because life throws us curveballs all the time and to last a generation with someone, a huge dose of bravery is probably the top 3 desired traits necessary to last a marriage. Click here if you want to see what the venue looks like, and here are some of our memories of the wedding.
We stayed for one night at Hotel Amiraute because we arrived in Toulon closer to 10pm and we just wanted a place to lay our heads. There is little to say about this hotel apart from the fact that it’s close to the Garre and the town centre, it is not looking to give you a luxurious or unforgettable stay and will price you accordingly, but it is great if you want to stay at a very small, clean, decent place with all the amenities right in the heart of town. My one take-away from this place though was this cute view of Toulon from the window and the balcony..
The following day we stayed 2 nights at the Best Western, which was a hotel recommended by the bride and groom given its proximity to the wedding. This is the only waterfront location in Toulon, we were told. The service was good, everyone was very helpful, friendly and polite. The toiletries provided in the bathroom were great products-the Nuxe brand which one always associates with stellar French skincare. The rooms were modern, clean and well equipped with all necessities, kettle, hair dryer etc. It is of course, a steep price for an extremely small room (about 190 Euros per night with no breakfast). We paid for a city view but what we received was some type of barren plot of land, so not quite the silhouette of Toulon town. If you want a luxury chain with a beautiful view and believe that 190 euros may get you that you may be disappointed. Conversely if you are aware that in the South of France this amount will give you more of a small boutique without a view and you want to be across the waterfront, you will be satisfied.
Opulent, colourful, the last word in luxury. And a must-see since we were already in the vicinity. Monagesque architecture was more flamboyant, liberal lashes of Belle Epoque and I could spend all day photographing every street, every property, and the jewel blue sea. We were there only for one night where we squeezed in the Hop On and Hop Off City tour (which is always a great option if you want a quick scan of the city) walk around and ate dinner at Boulevard du Larvotto and early morning swim after breakfast the following day before we had to grab our train to Nice. We spent too little a period of time for me to have any specific impressions of the city state apart from the fact that superficially it pretty much fulfilled all our expectations of what it might be like…
We booked one night at our ‘go-to’ Starwood property for point collection which was Le Meridien. Mainly we were looking for a seafront property and as there aren’t many boutiques in Monte Carlo, (it’s mainly the big jazzy snazzy chains) we went for this. Overall, we had a wonderful experience here, especially for Europe. The service was super pleasant. Owing to availability and hopefully because of our SPG loyalty, we were allowed to check in two hours earlier to an upgraded room with full sea view and not partial sea view. The rooms were large (for Europe), the terrace was a nice place to sit and unwind after a full day as you gaze out to a stunning view of the Mediterranean sea. Apparently the only hotel with a private beach (free) and so we enjoyed sunbathing and feeling the icy morning water against the strong sunshine. It’s also really easy to get to from the Garre, we took bus no 5 – the last stop leaves you a short walk away . There is also the shopping street Boulevard du Larvotto a short walk away and the breakfast was decent with the usual staples of both hot and cold food. So far, Le Meridien has never let us down where ever in the world. Go in there knowing that it will be a chain like Marriot, Hilton etc so you won’t be getting those extra unique knick knacks and you won’t be disappointed.
And then we left the millionaire’s playground to get real in Nice…
It’s not possible to spend time in the South of France without dropping by Nice, the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes. I wouldn’t say it was the most beautiful part of the South of France but it’s certainly the largest (at least population wise at 1 million approx) and with any big cities, it comes with it the big and the less quaint. We spent 2 nights in Nice and after our compulsory Hop Off and Hop On expedition we mostly walked through the Cours Selaya and Rue du Pont Vieux for shopping and eating, strolled through Boulevard d’Angleterre to just soak in the niceness of Nice, went for a French Riviera cruise and visited Villefrance Sur Mer for a day, the nearest beachside town to Nice. We also hung around the beach which was literally across the street from our hotel but because its so pebbly, we couldn’t get comfortable enough for a swim. We realised there was a trade off – nice sandy beach and you get less clear blue waters (aka Cannes) or hard, pebbly beach and you get super duper azure waters (Nice).
My main take-away from Nice is that 1802, Le Chetalard is a fantastic souvenir store – most of the products are Lavender based and I got all manner of soaps and bath products for friends and family here. We also bought a Lavender pot puree pouch which we keep between our pillows and until today, I hold responsible for giving us deep, restful sleep (and still retains its wonderful smell). Drop by their Nice store on Rue du Pont Vieux if you happen to be in the city. It also has outlets in Cannes and Antibes.
We stayed at La Ville Nice Promenade which we found really charming and would highly recommend. We were abit nervous before we came after experiencing Toulon hotels where price did not guarantee space. But we were thrilled by this hotel for various reasons. The location is superb – a stone’s throw from the promenade, right opposite a Carrefour and 5 min bus ride from the Garre (take bus 12 to Gambetta from the Garre). The space: the superior room on the 5th floor it almost felt like a studio in its layout. there was definitely beathing space for us and far bigger than any of the rooms we had in Toulon (one of which was more expensive than this hotel) with a quaint deck and loft window to see down Rue St Phillipe and snippets of the beach. I adored the deco- French vintage chic- such cute accessories to give it a quirky, pretty ambience and everything felt brand new – do click here to see my photos of the place. Admittedly the service, while efficient and not flawed was not as warm, delightful and friendly as it was from what we received in Best Western in Toulon or Le Meridien in Monte Carlo, and the room does not have a fridge, kettle etc but perhaps this is the difference between 4-5 stars and 3 stars. If you are looking for a comfortable hotel near the promenade with useful facilities nearby such as a supermarket, late night kebab joints and laundry, then this is a gem.
After Nice, Cannes felt very cute, contained and more chic. I would pretty much agree with the popular infatuation for this town because it’s the kind of place I can imagine staying at a bit longer to explore alone and feeling somehow safe to understand and enjoy her. While some might find Nice overwhelming in its size and population and Monte Carlo a bit boring and inaccessible in its heavy focus on the upper crust, Cannes I felt had the best of both worlds. If I were to return, I would enjoy the little things longer such as strolling on Boulevard de la Croisette and Rue d’Antibes for food and shopping (much smaller than Nice’s promenade and comprising of a palatable mix of high street and high end in comparison to Monte Carlo), going through the various inner streets to inspect different fromageries and curios shops and chilling by the beach which isn’t necessarily the best blue but was sandy enough to just sit and tan, eat ice cream and read a book with occasional dips in the water.
We stayed at the Barriere Le Gray d’Albion. Although its a little less boutiquey a’la Nice’s La Ville Nice Promenade and a bit more generic, we would still recommend it. First the location is literally a 3 minute walk from the Garre (straight road down), and between Boulevard du la Croisette (beach and food) and Rue d’Antibes (food and shopping). Monoprix and Carrefour is also a short walk. Service was decent, we were upgraded to a better room upon availability so we got the 8th floor. Chocolates came at turndown. The room was refurbished, spacious and new with a good size balcony. It had a kettle and a few mugs which was important for us. There was free wifi though there were options to pay if you wanted to upgrade the connection which we didnt find necessary. Things which may be a negative for others though we were not bothered by was the fact that you needed to pay 29 Euros to have access to their private beach – we just went to the public beach which was literally across the street and cost nothing. All in all we were happy and satisfied – it was a great base for an introduction to Cannes.
Grasse was a half a day visit from our 3 night base in Mougins. It’s about 19 kilometres north of Cannes. It’s speciality is perfumery and is home to the Fragonard Perfume Factory and Museum. A guided tour takes you through the history of the perfume world and you can create your own scent after that or have a field day shopping their amazing collection of scents and soaps, so adorably packaged and presented. It was a great learning (and shopping) experience and the town was also quite sweet but I wouldn’t probably make Grasse my base if I was planning a trip to the South of France mainly because I love to be by the sea and Grass is more of an interior location. But for a short day trip to learn something unique about this region and fill your bags with souvenirs, then knock yourself out.
A lasting memory from our day trip here was that of getting lost in our journey back to Mougins. We took a bus we thought took us towards Mougins but then landed up halfway there and couldn’t have access to internet to figure out how to get to the last half of the journey. It was a Sunday and couldn’t detect a taxi to flag down or order an Uber without internet. After maybe an hour ambling around the street with some confusion and under the scorching summer sun, we chanced upon a teenage couple and asked if they knew how to get to the villa we were based at. They showed us the way on their smartphones and it seemed like a complicated 3 kilometre route but my husband at least understood the direction and we started to make our way. They were kind enough to offer us a ride with their car and we were touched, they pretty much stuck their neck out for us as they were not heading in that direction and were not even planning to have their afternoon interrupted by foreigners roaming around the town. I thought it was a good experience to remind myself how much being helped means to those stuck in a bad spot as he really made a difference to our day. God bless him!
I still have strong visceral memories of this vacation. It’s probably unlikely that we would return given its distance from where we are presently based at and it’s certainly a trip which would require a lot of planning and saving if we want to enjoy it in the way we like. But the Mediterranean waters, and the French Riviera is just one of those spots on earth you can never forget because of its seductive beauty, charm and style.