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Family Trip to Côte d’Azur

I’m planning a family trip to the French Riviera in late June 2023. It will be 11 of us, parents, siblings and nephews/nieces. Planning to stay there for exactly 1 week. Activities wise we’ll be interested in going to the beach and exploring the region. I’m thinking of renting an Airbnb that fits us all and would like some recommendations as far as the best central location especially if we are interested in visiting Nice, Monaco, Antibes, St. Tropez & Villefranche-sur-Mer. Also, I would like to rent a van that fits us all, so far I haven’t seen any online from the usual rental cars. Does anyone have any recommendation as how to get a van that fits 12 people if any? Thanks!

Posted by
22481 posts

A general comment about logistics: There's a regional train line running along the coast that goes to all the places you mention except St-Tropez. St-Tropez is the one place we've all heard of that has no train station, so it must be reached by bus, boat, car or taxi. Tickets for those trains do not need to be purchased in advance; the fares do not escalate as the travel date approaches, and they cannot sell out, because there are no reserved seats. There is also bus service in the area, providing access (not necessarily frequently) to villages in the hills like Eze, St-Paul-de-Vence and Vence. For the places on the train line, it's much easier to travel by train unless your group includes folks who are mobility impaired--in which case, keep in mind that the Riviera is not flat once you move away from the coast.

For trips to multiple hill villages, staying in Nice is convenient, because a lot of the buses fan out from there. For trips by rail, the town you choose doesn't make much difference logistically as long as you're comfortable walking from the hotel to the nearest station. I'd also want to be staying somewhere with a lot of good restaurant options in the immediate area.

Check with the often-recommended consolidators AutoEurope, Kemwel and Gemut to see what sort of vehicles they offer. However, I recall earlier comments on the forum that in at least some countries, renting and driving a vehicle of the size you are seeking requires a chauffeur's license rather than a regular driver's licence.

I believe finding parking for a vehicle of the size you would need would be very challenging.

The usual recommendation here is to rent multiple smaller vehicles, rather than one large one, however, for the Riviera (as opposed to Provence), you may not need a vehicle at all.

Riviera beaches may not be what you are anticipating. You can search the forum for earlier posts about sandy beaches; many Riviera beaches are rocky. I'm afraid you'll find the sandy beaches to be considerably more crowded than you anticipate.

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks a lot for the tips. Definitely will look into train and we can do without St. Tropez if it creates more headache especially that we’ll only be there for a week. Worse, we can rent 2 cars provided we find a 6 seaters at least.

I travel to Marseille pretty regularly for work and love the city and the calanques, which is a big national park directly to the southeast. Public transit is very easy to move around with, and transit will take you into the calanques via bus. I'll be honest, I've never had the time to hike in the calanques yet, but they're hard to miss and very beautiful!

The Vieux Port and Noailles are other favorites of mine. There is a marina right in the vieux port and really charming old buildings. I haven't traveled Europe much outside of France, but the coast here is gorgeous. In Noailles there's a rich north African community with great Moroccan cuisine and little shops to check out.

The Notre Dame de la Garde is also worth checking out for the architecture and the view of the city! It was built after WWI in honor of the French navy, I believe.

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks for the tips, sounds like public transportation there is superb and we won’t need to rent a car. Probably I need to look into Uber as back plan for maybe those off beat trip which won’t be more 1 or 2.

Posted by
22481 posts

I suspect trains will suit your needs most of the time, maybe all the time. When you have a list of your potential sightseeing destinations, post again and folks can give you transportation tips.

Incidentally, there are pickpockets working on those coastal trains--maybe precisely because the tickets are so cheap. Don't carry much money, and don't make yourself an easy mark. No, a front pocket is not safe. The pickpockets are professional thieves; you are an amateur traveler.

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks! And yes I will post again when I finally narrow down which sights we intend to see while there.

Posted by
8893 posts

Look at Ramateulle as well. It sits up high with water views but is easy access to a wide, beautiful SAND beach, not a pebble beach like Nice and much of the French Mediterranean coast.
We stayed in Nice a few years ago for two weeks, our third trip there. The city offers a lot to do and is very central for days trips. If you stay in Nice, you can use buses and trains and forget having to deal with driving and parking. Nice was part of Italy until 1860 so is a blend of Italian and French cultures but has it’s own distinct personality and Nicoise cuisine. Restaurant Lou Pistou serves local Nicoise cuisine.
When we traveled as a family group in Tuscany we rented three cars. Large vans would be difficult to maneuver in hill towns with their narrow roads and parking would be a problem too. We always book our cars through AutoEurope.com.
If I were you, I would stay in Nice, Antibes or on Cap Ferat.

Posted by
29201 posts

Most cars in Europe are a maximum of 5 seats. If any of the nephews/nieces are small children they require by law a booster seat or child seat, and those aren't small. You'll probably need 3 cars.

If you go for what Americans call vans, they are very hard to park on the Riviera, and more expensive to hire than 2 smaller cars.

Lanes and roads are VERY narrow (I had to pull my mirrors in on my Honda Accord in Villefranche sur Mer) along the Riviera, and parking spaces are very small - if you can find one. Many people in Nice leave their parking brake off so people nearby can park "by braille". Many of the cars dents from such things.

This is based on many many years of nearly annual visits...

Since one of your stated aims is "Activities wise we’ll be interested in going to the beach" I'd really advise you to research that carefully. As said by another upthread, most beaches are rocky and/or sharp gravel or sharp sand. Bare feet are a no-no, water shoes are required, and if you want to lie out make it a thick towel. Some few have soft sand, Antibes is one, and a small beach on the Menton end of Monaco, and some private beaches where sand has been trucked in and high prices are charged.

Posted by
37 posts

Wow, you guys are amazing. Lot of good tips here and definitely van is out.
Can you hire like a local guide or chauffeur? And any idea how much that will cost?
I feel like depending where we end up staying, we like do a day trip to like 2 nearby cities then rest of the time spend it home chilling or visiting that town (thinking Nice).
Some of the people in the group may find it hard to use public transportation or lot of working so trying to take that into account as I plan. Thanks!

Posted by
57 posts

We stayed in Antibes at the beginning of July for the sandy public beaches. Our first day was good with the beach and swimming, but on the second day at the same beach, two of us were stung by small jellyfish. Painful like a wasp. Helpful locals let us know that the lifeguard had hydrocortisone cream for that. The flag was green at the beach that day (they were not flying the jellyfish warning flag that I had read about watching for in July and August) and there were other people in the water and who stayed in the water, but I later realized they were wading near the shore, rather than swimming out further. Other than noticing that others were just wading or maybe asking the lifeguard, I don't know if there was a website we could have checked or if some of the beaches are better than others.

Posted by
541 posts

You might consider Antibes and the area close to Juan Les Pins. There are wide stretches of beach on that side. That being said, the distance to the train station is pretty far and depending where you are, the old town of Antibes is a bit of a schlep. Nice is better from a transport link and central location, but doesn't have the sandy beaches.

I generally recommend Friend in France for private tours but their vans have a limit of 8. There are a number of companies operating in the area. The challenge of course is, as people mentioned, getting around in such a vehicle can be cumbersome, especially with respect to parking

Ramatuelle is excellent (with a beaitiful long beach), as is the entire area between Hyeres and Saint Tropez. But it is cut of from the main, central part of the Cote d'Azur. The traffic in/out of the Region can be thick.

Posted by
4 posts

Hi,
I visited Nice and the coast numerous times; recently right before Pandemic. Cannot agree more that you should definitely stay in Nice or the Antibes. Large air bnb or even better a 3 bedroom apt would be my advice.
I’ve had a very good luck with British owners of the apartments in Nice. Their places are modernised, well equipped and most are centrally located.
I recommend using the area buses for transportation around Cote D’Azur. They are safe, comfortable,frequent, and cheap!

Nina

Posted by
1115 posts

Another vote for Nice or Antibes leaning toward Nice due to the group traveling. Besides the train in Nice you can take the Hop on/Hop off bus which includes Villefranche. I'd skip St Tropez. No van will fit 11 comfortable and parking would be NO fun. Don't expect the beach to be sandy... it's not. If beach time is a must, get a good guide to the free beaches.

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks everyone, looks like Nice is a winner based on its easy access to public transportation. I’m excited and a bit nervous about this trip since I have never planned a trip for a large group like this. But time to start doing some serious planning and hopefully everything will go as smoothly as possible.

Posted by
1 posts

I've been traveling to French Riviera for vacation several times now and Nice is the most convenient place to stay. Lots to do and easy to get to other cities from there. Staying near the center of town, between the train station and the beach is really convenient because then it's a 10 minute walk in either direction. But even if that's not possible the Lines Côte d'Azur has a tram that goes from the airport and parallels the promenade and it takes you to the main street Av. Jean Medecin. For larger excursions instead of renting a van/car, contact one of the tour operators on Trip Advisor. There are companies that offer group tours to the hillside villages and the neighboring cities. I would recommend contacting them and reserving a private tour.

Nice is a great central location. You can fly straight in to Nice and take taxi or uBer from the airport to your lodging. You may find an AirBnB gives you more breathing room. uBer is very active and accessible in Nice. Be careful of overscheduling. You want to be able to experience what the French Riviera has to offer and not be in a race to get from one place to the next.

consider arranging private tours for your group who will take care of transportation and navigation and local knowledge. Eze and St Paul de Vence are also charming to visit.

Posted by
3924 posts

Having done large groups like yours on 2 occasions, my recommendations.

While some rentals may say they’ll sleep your group look closely at not only # of bedrooms, but # of beds not including sleeper sofas. For a group as large the # of bathrooms are equally important.

A quick search on booking.com brought up this one in Ville Franche sul Mer Is a Villa w/ pool & sea view up in the hills. You’d need to check about
transportation to the train station 2000 ft. 8 minute trip to Nice

https://www.booking.com/Share-RlTVbP

Your other option would be individual hotel rooms in Nice.

https://www.booking.com/Share-ZvAHqN

Edited.

Posted by
15327 posts

If walking is an issue for some of your group, Nice is the best suggestion. Much of center is a gentle slope down from the train station to the seashore. It is also far and away the largest city, so it has a wide selection of restaurants, bars, attractions. As has been noted, most of the beaches along the coast are pebbled. Take water shoes (or buy them there - I would image they aren't hard to find). For those with limited walking ability, choose your jaunts carefully and consider leaving them to chill while others go farther afield. Menton and Antibes are level and easy walking. The Antibes market is great for stocking up your kitchen with local products if you stay in a flat. Villefranche is built on a hillside. I skipped Monaco but it looked quite hilly.

Posted by
8971 posts

FYI Chani, Monaco is filled with public escalators and elevators to take people up and down from the train and garages to the main sights.

Posted by
15327 posts

Thanks, Bets. Good to know since I'll be there soon for the Christmas markets.

Posted by
22481 posts

There are a couple of nice gardens in Menton that are outside the center of town and located on hillsides; they wouldn't be appropriate for folks with mobility issues.

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks everyone who has commented, your tips and recommendations are very much appreciated.