If you crave travel, culture and relaxation by escaping to exotic destinations that tickle the taste buds and appeal to your adventurist side then you probably have a list of dream vacation destinations you can't wait to explore. When I perused the streets of Paris, Venice and Rome I knew I had toured some of the most beautiful cities in the world, but France is a gorgeous country with exciting terrain and rustic hideaways that offers much more than the iconic Eiffel Tower and Louvre. If you seek a holiday that delightfully overloads your senses and appeals to your every whim then I strongly suggest moving the French Riviera to the top of your bucket list. Côte d’Azur is a must for thrill seekers, beach combers, history buffs, art lovers and those looking to indulge in a lush oasis of tranquility
I began my journey in Sainte-Maxime, a small, charming town on the French Riviera conveniently situated across the bay from Saint-Tropez. My hotel was luxuriously nestled into a quiet street a couple blocks from the sea with lovely views. Many travellers choose to stay in Sainte-Maxime instead of Saint-Tropez which is popular among celebrity elite and yacht owners for its quiet exclusivity. Although the vibe is laid back and as mellow as the Caribbean it is more accommodating and offers travellers a bit extra in terms of seaside dinning, shops and picturesque evening strolls.
Best Western Hotel Montfleuri 3 Avenue du Montfleuri Sainte-Maxime, FR
The Bateauxvert ferries cross the bay frequently so getting to Saint-Tropez is quick and easy. The ride provides fantastic views of the port and impressive yachts bobbing leisurely on the deep blue sea. Once across I toured the town by foot, stopping at the local boulangie to pick up some food for a romantic picnic overlooking the old city of Saint- Tropez.
If you fancy some retail therapy there are both high-end and mid range shops where you can purchase anything from couture to souvenirs and I recommend having some ice cream as you make your way to the castle on the hill for a bird’s eye view of the harbor.
Despite all the hype and lavishness surrounding this little sanctuary it is calm, peaceful and rather quiet before the throngs of tourists arrive and crowd the small streets. Saint-Tropez makes for a great day trip especially if you arrive early as you don’t need much time to cover the points of interest.
There are a few modes of transportation available when making your way around the Riviera including boats, local buses, tour buses, taxis, cruise ships and the train. I think the best way to see the coast is by renting a car and making unexpected stops along the way at your own leisurely pace. Like most cities car rentals can be picked up at the airport and signs along the coastal roads and main highways are easy to follow; we navigated with a good old fashion map and a sense of adventure! Be aware that there are highway tolls and traffic can be quite tiresome in the cities. Tourists must be extra vigilant, especially if it is your first time maneuvering the steep, narrow European streets and motorcyclists don`t adhere to many road rules. (Also note that an international drivers license may be required to rent a car, our Canadian licenses were acceptable as they are written in both English and French).
We drove from Sainte-Maxime to Marseille which took approximately 3 hours. The city is beautiful with a Middle Eastern- French Fusion and a great port. It has everything a tourist seeks in terms of history, art, food, shopping and sightseeing although the streets can get a bit congested with pedestrians and unsavory scents. Although spending the day in Marseilles was energetic and interesting you need at least a few days to cover any real ground and it didn’t quite make my list of top dream destinations.
Saint Vincent de Paul Church, Marseilles
Next we headed up the coast to Monaco and the drive was breathtaking! The view of Monte-Carlo from above, nestled into the mountain slope and jutting down towards the sparkling Mediterranean Sea is unforgettably dazzling!
Monte-Carlo is extravagant! It’s where people go to play, enjoy the nightlife, soak up some sun on the boardwalks and beaches, shop and be pampered. Although it is popular with the rich and famous who often drive their yachts right up to seaside restaurants for dinner it is also a must-see for travellers and it gets a honorary place at the top of my list for its unique lavishness and interesting design.
While exploring this side of the coast I stayed in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin which is located between Monaco and Menton. Hotel Victoria is perfectly situated for touring both the French and Italian Riviera and it is just steps away from the beach with sprawling mountain views. I highly recommend it you'd like to stay close to Monte-Carlo.
Paris was my favorite city to visit until I ventured into Nice and became completely smitten! On one side of the city there are rolling green hills adorned with colorful towns and striking buildings iconic of Southern France. In the heart of the city you have all the gorgeous architecture of Parisian streets with artistic, intricately designed buildings, churches, museums, cafes, patios and more restaurants than you can count! The smaller side streets that dive deeper into the city are lively, bustling and as charming as the narrow alleys of Venice with local treasures to discover around every corner.
On the coastal side of Nice you find the boardwalk, one of the nicest I’ve seen including Venice Beach in L.A, South Beach in Miami and even my beloved Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. This stunning boardwalk runs between a splendid beach and lovely hotels, cafes and many gelaterias. Then there are the gardens, parks, fountains, palm trees and all the little nooks and crannies overflowing with vivid flowers and fabulous places to sit, relax and take in all the sights and sounds.
Musee d'Art et d'Historie Palais Massena, Nice
On our way back from Nice we stopped in Villfranche-sur-Mer which of course is also magnificent!
I ended the trip on a high note driving from France to the Italian Riviera and onto Sanremo.
Russian Orthodox Church, Sanremo
Sanremo is also known for its local market so I had to stop by and pick up some fresh honey!
One thing is certain- I have to go back to the Riviera and do a lot more exploring! If you have any questions or comments please leave them below and I will try my best to reply.