The French Riviera has it all - seaside towns, sophisticated resorts, sandy beaches and cutting-edge museums, but where is the best place to stay? Why not consider a few stops along the coast rather than opting for one location? We spent a couple of days in Nice, Monaco and Cannes which provided a snapshot of the Côte d'Azur.
With its central location and role as the main transportation hub, Nice makes a great base for a trip to the Riviera. Don’t rush through Nice though, spend a day or two and take in the charm and character of the city. Note the Italian influence as you wander around and soak in the mix of old and new.
We flew into Nice Côte d'Azur Airport and caught the bus directly into Nice city centre - not the easiest thing to do with a baby, a buggy, a suitcase and three pieces of hand luggage!
Stay at the famous Hotel le Negresco, located next door to the gardens of Musée Massena, just across the road from the beach. The flamboyant 5-star hotel is home to thousands of pieces of contemporary artworks, antiques and sculptures, transporting guests through a mixture of eras and styles. The hotel’s signature pink dome has dominated the Promenade des Anglais for more than a century.
If ultra-modern is more your style, then The Boscolo might be more appropriate. A boutique hotel offering guests a luxury spa and rooftop pool.
If you're happy to clock up the steps, take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais towards the old town, where you'll find an abundance of stalls selling everything from fresh meats, cheeses and flowers to furniture, paintings and other home accessories.
From here, make the climb to the top of Castle Hill (or take the elevator if you’re feeling lazy!), and discover the castle ruins, cool down by the massive artificial waterfall and enjoy spectacular views of the deep blue Med - all 92 metres about sea level.
For lunch, head to Chez Pipo, a favourite with the locals, to sample their homemade Socca, a naturally gluten free chickpea bread found throughout Nice. Spend the afternoon wandering the narrow lanes of the old town and stop for a glass of wine at one of the many Al fresco bars.
For art lovers head straight to the Musée Matisse and be blown away by one of the world’s largest collections of Henri Matisse’s works, tracing his evolution from his beginnings through to his final pieces.
All socca'd out? Niçoise Salad is another classic dish found in Nice. Traditionally made of tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, anchovies, and dressed with olive oil, this dish is best served with a cold glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc. If you're looking for something a little more elegant, JAN is a Michelin-starred celebration of South-African and French hospitality.
Monaco is the world's smallest city but boasts the most billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. Known for its casinos, super yachts and designer boutiques, Monaco is the playground for the rich and famous.
Day trips can be done to and from Nice, but for a more relaxed break, stay for a couple of nights to really experience Monaco. Take the bus or train from Nice and arrive at Gare de Monte Carlo. (The bus is slightly longer, but promises sensational seaside views along the coast, however, the train does only take 20 minutes.)
In the less touristy area of Fontvieille, you’ll find the Columbus Hotel. Adjacent to the Princess Grace Rose Garden and a two-minute walk from the Fontvieille harbour, you can’t ask for a better location. The cosy boutique hotel offers a cooler and less stuffy feel than that typical of a hotel in Monaco. With contemporary decor, a swimming pool and views to die for, the hotel is perfect for those looking to obtain a taste of the luxurious lifestyle whilst avoiding the hustle and bustle of Monte Carlo.
A short 15-minute walk from the hotel will have you right in the old town. Start at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, which has been the official seat of the Grimaldi family for over 700 years. The best time to visit is around 11:55am when the traditional ritual of the changing of the guard takes place. Then, head down to the cathedral, the final resting place of many of the Grimaldi’s, including Grace Kelly and Rainer III.
Dedicated to Saint Nicolas, the cathedral is an impressive monument definitely worth a visit. A mere 200 metres away sits one of the oldest aquariums in the world – The Oceanographic Museum. Set 90 metres above sea level, dive into the marine world and explore over 6000 marine life creatures.
A stay in Monaco wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Monte Carlo. Marvel at the size and beauty of the casino, dine at Cafe de Paris and be prepared to spend some serious money. Even though the crowds of tourists and Louis Vuitton clad locals distract from the luxury of it all, a trip to the capital is a must.
A modest 20-minute walk or 10-minute bus will take you back to the Fontvieille harbour.
5* hotel and double Michelin star restaurants are the norm in Monaco, but if that’s not your cup of tea, you’ll also find a whole host of informal, budget friendly restaurants.
Blue Bay, a restaurant within the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, will awaken your taste buds with fabulous food pairings and a view to boot. The menu mostly comprises of Caribbean and Mediterranean cuisine, but for the ultimate experience, go for the six-course tasting menu.
Just a few steps away from the Prince’s Palace you’ll find La Montgolfière. Run by renowned Monaco-born chef Henri Geraci and his wife Fabienne, this delightful little restaurant serves up insta-worthy food at reasonable prices.
If you’re looking for somewhere closer to the hotel, the Fontvieille harbour is lined with eateries. Enjoy nachos and dance music at Nacionalista and hang with the locals at Beefbar.
Fancy a night in? Columbus Monte-Carlo's new restaurant Tavolo delivers delicious Mediterranean dishes and superb cocktails, all in a relaxed yet sophisticated setting.
Èze Village is one of the most picturesque spots in the region. Situated between Nice and Monaco, the clifftop gem sits 400m above sea level and promises spectacular views overlooking the Med. Èze is full of charm and character, resembling something not too different from a medieval movie set with its winding streets and cobbled roads.
A walk around the exotic botanical garden is a must. Here you’ll find an impressive collection of cactus, plants and rare vegetation surrounding the remains of an ancient château. If you enjoy walking, take the Nietzsche Path from the village down the beach. The path is about an hour walk and marks the spot where Nietzsche composed part of his work: Thus Spoke Zarathustra. There is also a bus from the village for those who aren’t so eager to hike!
Other points of interest include La chapelle des Pénitents Blancs and the Parish church and its baroque nave.
Bursting with original boutiques, Èze makes shopping hard to resist. You will find souvenirs, local crafts, perfumes, and herbs.
Enjoy a meal at the Chevre d’Or, a five-star hotel with one of the world’s most famous restaurants boasting two Michelin stars. The service is impeccable, the food exquisite and the views are to die for.
You can reach Èze by bus or train from Nice or Monaco. The bus will take you to the village, whilst the train will take you to Èze Sur Mer – the beachfront.
I didn’t have high hopes for Cannes, I’m not entirely sure why. I’m thankful we went though as it ended up be my favourite place on the Riviera! It has the charm of old town Nice, but the extravagance of Monaco, without the pretension – the perfect combination.
The train from Monaco to Cannes only takes about an hour and passes through Eze Sur Mer and Nice.
Stay at The Grand Hotel. Right on the Croisette, the hotel shares a block with the likes of Fendi, Akris and Bottega Veneta, so you know you’re in good company. The luxurious 5-star hotel offers a private beach, a Michelin-starred restaurant - Le Park 45, and the only gardens on the boulevard – a picture-perfect setting to unwind after a long day. With Bulgari toiletries, a terrace and stunning sea views it seems almost a shame to leave the room!
Cannes has many fascinating cultural attractions as well as some great places where you can relax and indulge. Take time to stroll around the old down, most notably Rue Meynadier - a narrow, pedestrianised street filled with cafés and shops. You’ll find everything from touristy souvenirs, clothes and accessories to fine wines, cheeses and meats.
If fashion is more your forte, Rue D’antibes is the street for you. From high street to high end, you can spend as little or as much as your budget allows.
For the ultimate view of Cannes, take the gradual climb to the Church of our Lady of Esperance. The hilltop Gothic-style stone church was built between 1521 and 1627 making it the oldest church in the city. If you don’t fancy the up-hill walk, you can always take the petit train!
Explore the Lérins Islands. Just off the Bay of Cannes, the tranquil islands of Lérins make a refreshing day trip destination, bursting with history and natural beauty. A quick 15-minute ferry will have you on Île Sainte-Marguerite, the largest of the islands. Search for the Fort Royal tower that, according to legend, was where the mysterious ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was imprisoned. There are some gorgeous scenic walks over on the neighbouring island of Saint Honorat too, as well as a medieval monastery dating back to the 5th century.
For a completely chilled day, laze around on the beach, before sipping on baileys coffee at the Armani Caffè – just a couple of doors down from the hotel.
With a Michelin-starred restaurant literally on your doorstep, why would you want to go anywhere else? Le Park 45 is a gastronomical delight, serving fresh, Mediterranean cuisine to be enjoyed in the dining room or on the terrace. From milk-fed Limousin veal to tender fillet of Simmental beef, this really is fine dining at its best.
If you are looking to get away from the hotel, Le Caveau 30 is just a 20-minute stroll away. With contemporary art deco-inspired décor and a terrific French menu, it’s no wonder Le Caveau 30 is a hit with the locals. We stopped for lunch and were shocked at how good the food was - the lamb was cooked to perfection and covered in a rich gravy, served with homemade ratatouille and chunky chips. Our best meal on the Riviera.
Antibes is just an 8-minute train away from Cannes, making it an easily accessible day trip destination.
Upon arrival, head down to the waterfront and see the multitude of incredible mega yachts moored up at Port Vauban. From the harbour you can see the 16th-century Fort Carre perched on the edge of the Saint-Roch peninsula. According to research, Napoleon was imprisoned here for some time during the French Revolution.
You'll find museums and galleries peppered all over Antibes, from The Naval and Napoleonic Museum to the History & Archaeology Museum. Our favourite? The Picasso Museum. Step inside the medieval castle, Château Grimaldi, to admire many of Picasso's works.
Picasso lived in Vallauris from 1948 until his death in 1955. He used one of the rooms in the castle as a workshop where he made paintings and drawings, many of which he gifted to the town of Antibes.
For an afternoon stop off, Choopy's Cupcakes & Coffee shop offers gluten free dishes, desserts and homemade cupcakes. Nestled on a quiet street in the old town, it’s the perfect place to take a breather.
If you have a little more time, venture down to the Cap d’Antibes and discover the many beaches, including family friendly stretches of golden sand and rocky coves, perfect for snorkelling.
All in all, the Cote d'Azur lived up to its reputation. I don’t think I’d be in a rush to re-visit Monaco, but it’s safe to say I’ll be returning to Cannes in the near future.