In our pursuit of seeing France while here, we decided that we may as well try and see the sunniest and warmest parts of France. Right? Why not? So we booked train tickets down to the Côte D’Azur. Luckily, the Inoui/ TGV highspeed train is a great option. Direct to Avignon in Provence with a few stops along the way (Cannes, Antibes etc) the train takes about 5 hours from Paris to Nice.
When exited the Gare de Nice, the first thing we noticed was the sun! While it has been an unseasonably warm and sunny spring in Paris, the air quality is terrible and filters the light in a rather inexplicable way. Hitting the sea air in the South was invigorating. Fresh, sunny, warm, brilliant, glittering. We liked it so much we extended our 3 night stay to a week!
We stayed in lovely St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, just 25 minutes south of Nice. In early April, everything is just opening up from its winter slumber. It was peaceful, quiet and beautifully devoid of hordes of tourists. Nice is a great homebase as its relatively centrally located to explore the area.
We spent a day driving to Cannes (about 30-45 minutes drive) and stopped for lunch at a beachside cafe beside the famous Carlton Beach Club. We could almost imagine Cary Grant sucking in his tummy on the beach. I’d been to Cannes once before back in 2014 for the Film Festival. It was nice to see the town in its normal routine.
After lunch we made our way back in the direction of Nice for a stop in Antibes to see the biggest marina on the Med. Yachts everywhere, we quickly realized that Antibes is homebase for the yacht charter industry with employment offices and yacht wear (aka crew uniform) shops everywhere. We wandered around and found the old town centre and the charming market. We also found some clothing shops which was necessary since we extended our stay we needed to pick up a couple of things. We decided to divide and conquer. So I took off with the Big Kid to try and find her a new bathing suit. I texted Monsieur to let him know where we were, what’s the name of this store? OH MY GOD! Its called Slam 69. How do I text this to my husband? No we’re not in some random strip joint, I can assure you. But how, how can this be the name of this store? I found the kids section and there in all their glory are piles of bathing suits for KIDS with the name of the store emblazoned across them. What in the actual… Well, we hightailed and found a much more appropriately named shop a little further up the street.
The following day we decided to take the 25 minute drive to Monte Carlo to see the changing of the guard at The Prince’s Palace. Apparently it takes place every day at 11:55am sharp. Well we got on the road at 11am thinking we had plenty of time. We enjoyed the winding drive along the seaside through Beaulieu Sur Mer, Eze and other cute little towns. We rounded a traffic circle crossing the border into Monaco. After that, it was mayhem. Monaco feels like a place where they added streets after the fact, wherever they could find space. And when they couldn’t find space, they built tunnels. Everything is so compact, the GPS struggles with getting you in the correct lane. Well, suffice to say we made one wrong move and were then in a kilometre long tunnel taking us back towards Nice. We came out at the first traffic circle and found ourselves back in France. Now we were starting to sweat a little as we were closer and closer to 11:55am. We rounded the traffic circle and crossed the border back again into Monaco.
Back where we started we didn’t make the same mistake twice, luckily… it was close. We then found our way into the City Centre headed towards the Palace. Well, the Palace is up on a hill and you can’t drive there unless you have a pass. The Monégasque Police force directed us away from the GPS directions so we headed the other way, away from the Palace. Faaaack. Time is ticking and now we’re caught on a road that is destined to be part of the course for the upcoming Formula 1 Race. High fences lined either side of the street. Circling around again, we finally find a parking garage. We decided to just park the godforsaken rental car and attempt the rest of the journey on foot.
Well, parking garages in Monaco are shall we say… compact. Designed for tiny little cars, our SUV is a beast in comparison. We finally find an available spot. Monsieur pulls in and we immediately realize its too small a space. Luckily I find a wider spot with an empty space beside it a little further down the lane and we decide to move there for easier in and out. Well, now the car’s anti-collision mechanism is in full swing and it will not back out. All the beeps keep beeping and we can’t move more than an inch. After 10 minutes of Monsieur battling the car, I get ready to push the goddamn bucket of tin out of the spot. Its 11:50am at this point and Monsieur and I are frayed, nattering and at our wits end. The kids are convinced that we are now headed for a divorce and are working on their best appeal for peace in our marriage. I’m mad, he’s mad, kids are mad and the fucking Prince’s Guard are about to put on the show that we’re going to miss because we’re stuck four floors under the city of Monte Carlo. At last, the angles worked in our favour and the BMW software algorithm was now satisfied that we were not going to hit the wall, the neighbouring car or the pole behind us and set us free. Wahoooo.
Still mad, we trudge our way up the flights of stairs finally to the surface. We follow the GPS to the Palace and realize the only option is to walk up hill. Well guess what, that’s what we did. We got to the top, arriving in an empty square with all the guards firmly ensconced in their guardhouses standing on duty. Well, I hope they had fun getting there. We did a little wave to Albert and Charlene, a lspin on the narrow streets out front of the palace and then headed back down the hill to the City Centre. We’re only just a little bit mad at each other at this point but we’re definitely hungry.
We decide to head towards the Casino, by way of the Marina. Filled with a collection of some of the biggest yachts I’ve ever seen, we made our way to a Marina-side restaurant for some mediocre club sandwiches and a big glass of rose or two. After lunch, we navigated up the other side of town towards the Casino. Monte Carlo is a city where everything seems to be uphill both ways. We made it to the front door of the famous Casino, took a picture and decided it was time to get back to our hotel. No time for any Bond-style martinis or dropping any francs on the roulette table. We were DONE.
Walking back to the car – which luckily we remembered was below the Princess Caroline Bibliotheque – we struggled to navigate on foot as the fencing for the Formula 1 seemed to block access to where we needed to go. I was dressed for lunch in Monaco darling, not for climbing fences. Finally we found a gap, and descended to the bowels of the parking garage to our awaiting chariot. Luckily, we knew the way back to Nice since we’d already done it once that day. We arrived back at the hotel and tossed the keys to the valet hoping we would never see that godforsaken car again.
The next day was established as a ”chill day”. We stayed close to the hotel although Monsieur and I found a great walk along the seaside into the town of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Monsieur forgot his sunglasses. Knowing this was a boating/ beach town, surely we’d find a beach shop with some cheap shades. We found a beach shop, but they only had Tom Ford, so Monsieur had to squint the whole time.
Shopping in Cap Ferrat wasn’t much to write home about. Over-sequinned and over-priced. The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny, but a fierce wind whipped up and stuck around for a couple of days. I had left my trusted Lululemon hoodie back in Paris, so I was craving a cozy sweatshirt. I found a cute one for a mere €350. I learned to embrace the shiver. Where were my hotflashes now????
On our final day, the kids preferred another hotel hang out day. Monsieur and I wanted to explore Old Nice. What a treat. Its a lovely place filled with charming shops, cute cafes and lovely squares. We started at the flower market just off the beach and then just wandered around the narrow little streets and alleyways. The churches were all preparing for Palm Sunday the following day, so it was cool to see them all decorated with palm leaves. We especially enjoyed a small little antique shop called Maison Pampille. It was a fun and inexpensive little treasure trove of cool artifacts of the Côte D’Azur.
In the evening we visited the town of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. Also a treat. Wandering along the waterfront, we wanted to escape the wind so we climbed the narrow alleyways up the hillside. Super charming.
We were grateful for the warm and brilliantly sunny days in Nice and a break from the hustle, bustle and rain of Paris. We realized that a week wasn’t long enough and know we definitely need to go back so we can explore this gorgeous region of France some more.