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The French Riviera - does it live up to it's reputation?

I'll be basing in Provence (about 5-6 miles east of Les Baux) for three weeks next summer in a FREE home exchange, and I'm trying to decide if it's worth the added expense $$$ of a couple of nights hotel (we would need a family room or two hotel rooms) to visit the French Riviera? There are many, many day trips we can take from our base, so I'm not sure if seeing the Riviera is necessarily necessary. I don't think I'm overly interested in Cannes, St. Tropez, Monaco, and destinations of that sort (glitzy, expensive, etc...), but I am considering whether we should visit Antibes, Nice (for the old town) and the inland Riviera (Vence, St. Paul de Vence). The main reason we are considering traveling this way is that my mother would like to visit the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence (designed by Henri Matisse). However, it's not worth the many hour drive/train just to do that, so we are tying to figure out a good itinerary for two overnights. We could drive (although, it will be summer and we hear traffic is quite bad) or we could take the train to the coast; but we are not sure what our options are for getting inland to Vence? Any suggestions, opinions, etc..would be helpful.

Posted by
249 posts

We stayed two nights in Le Lavandou, which is about halfway between Les Baux and Vence. It's not at all glitzy, rather a nice, reasonably priced family (all French spoken on the beach) vacation place with nice sandy beaches. We had a car however, couldn't speak to train travel. We were there in late June-traffic wasn't bad while we were there. The biggest traffic jam was when I blew a tire on a narrow street and couldn't get completely off the road to change the tire. :)

Posted by
501 posts

Nice might fit your needs, a lot more then just old town. Check out Rick S. guidebook for more details. Hotel Suisse with balcony, fabulous views, reasonably priced.

Posted by
254 posts

Yes, it does live up to its reputation, and yes, you should do it. I found Cannes to be charming! And the Mediterranean is something you should see, in my opinion. I found Monaco to be beautiful, and not so ritzy that its offputting, the yachts and the palace and the wealth make it a fun place to visit. I liked Nice, but only spent an evening there. One of the tiny towns on the coast that we found fascinating was Eze, it only takes a 1/2 day to explore it. I found St. Tropez didn't live up to the hype and wouldn't recommend it. The train that runs from Cannes all the way to Italy along the coast is quite easy to manage, I don't know how far inland it goes.

Posted by
1340 posts

the answer is YES. It exceeded my expectations. I thought nothing could beat the Loire Valley, but the South of France really is worth visiting.

Posted by
32265 posts

Kerry, I believe that a visit to the Riviera would be worthwhile, as long as you don't "spread yourself too thin" by trying to visit too many locations. A few thoughts on some of the places you might tour in that area..... > Cannes is not worth the effort (IMO). > Nice would make a great home base to explore a few places in that area (Eze, Villefranche, etc.). The "old town" area is certainly one of the attractions, but there's also the Chagall and Matisse Museums and an evening walk along the Promenade des Anglais is always nice. > Monaco would be a worthwhile place to visit. While it is somewhat "glitzy" in parts, there's an awesome Oceanographic Museum there, the Church where Princess Grace and Prince Rainer are interred and the Changing of the Guard at the Palace (11:55 daily, as I recall - not as large as the Buckingham Palace version but still very impressive). The #100 Bus from Nice is only €1 each way (again, as I recall). > Monte Carlo is just across the bay from Monaco (walking distance), and IS really "posh" and probably not necessary to visit (unless you just want a brief look). The famous Casino has a mandatory dress code, so you'll need to keep that in mind if you want to go inside. If you do get to Monaco / Monte Carlo, see if the Lady Moura, is in the harbour (usually there in the summer). Happy travels!

Posted by
7075 posts

Kerry, I stayed in Nice this past summer prior to my week in Provence and it was definitely worth it. Didn't get to Cannes or St Tropez but did take the train to Monaco (short train ride, very inexpensive) for the changing of the guard and visited the cathedral and also the botanical garden. Also, there is a bus from Nice to Vence that takes about an hour and costs a little over 1E. I didn't go to Vence but the same bus goes to St Paul de Vence in the hills and I just loved it there, well worth the trip. Nice itself was one of my favorite places, I could have stayed longer.

Posted by
893 posts

I also vote yes for the Riviera. Monaco is stunningly beautiful and it has a Carrefour (large grocery store with normal prices) so it isn't all super glitzy over-the-top. Has a great aquarium that was once run by Jacques Cousteau also. I also love Cannes. It was so good to see someone else here post that they found it charming. I was not as charmed by Nice, though. Big city and not-so-nice beaches. Antibes is quaint and I loved seeing all the artisans there. So much to do and see, but best to just take it easy and soak it all in.

Posted by
1986 posts

The view of the Mediterranean as you are driving along the coast is sensational- I still remember my first such trip- th contrast of the green trees, red cliffs and startling blue water is something i will always remember. I was also surprised to enjoy St Tropez- very easy to get away from the glitzy harbor and get into a typical small town.

Posted by
9865 posts

Check out the Hotel Grimaldi in Nice (check on TripAdvisor; I really liked it and stayed several times, but that has been a few years ago now).

Posted by
11613 posts

Bus 400 from Nice to St-Paul de Vence and Vence, about two euro one way.

Posted by
792 posts

Wow, I woke up to a wealth of information. I love it! Thanks for the great information!

Posted by
3941 posts

We stayed in Villefranche sur Mer, but only had 2 nights. It is a very short ride to Nice or Monaco, and we loved it. We can't wait to return. Nice was lovely - a good full day there could do it - we visited the Old Town (but we didn't explore long enough, and we walked around instead of figuring out the public transport, which would have been better), the Russian Orthodox Church, the Promenade d'Anglais, Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill, the park overlooking the city). Also had a quick trip to Monaco and Eze...it is a beautiful spot...if you can visit for a few days...GO! I should mention that we took the train everywhere, but we used airbnb for accom and the lady we stayed with in Villefranche took us in her car up to Eze, but we really only had 45 min there for a quick look about..but the car ride was fun!

Posted by
4684 posts

If your biggest target is Vence, then Nice is the only base from where it's really easy to reach by public transport.

Posted by
792 posts

Thanks everyone. I guess we'll look to spend three days (two nights) in the area. I'm thinking now that we will do it at the end of our trip and then fly home from Nice. We are flying into Marseille. Any hotel recommendations in Nice. We will either need 2 doubles or 1 Quad room.

Posted by
32265 posts

Kerry, I would highly recommend the Hotel Suisse in Nice. It's located at one end of the Promenade des Anglais, and within easy walking distance to the old town. Depending on which room you get, the views are incredible! Opening the curtains in the morning and seeing that incredible vista is one of my best memories of Nice.

Posted by
4065 posts

Another Matisse destination is his museum in a Nice suburb. http://www.musee-matisse-nice.org/index3.html That site loads slowly but is handsomely illustrated. It also mentions the Rosary Chapel nearby at 466 Avenue Henri-Matisse.
I have been less charmed by the Riviera than some; I'd settle for "pleasant". Be cautious about beach expectations. The few large crescents of sand are highly commercialized; the rest of the coast is marked by small and often rocky coves. The Steve Martin-Michael Caine comedy Dirty Roten Scoundrels is a funny reminder of how much pretence is rooted in the posed glamour.

Posted by
10349 posts

Loved that movie. So funny and quirky. It was filmed in Cannes.

Posted by
3050 posts

If you want a low-key, non-glitzy town on the sea, Cassis just 20 minutes or so from Marsielle fits the bill. It's small and there's not a lot to do, which I think is entirely the point. Chill on the beach, hike or boat to the Calenques (small fjord-like landscapes, very pretty), eat seafood, it's wonderful.

Posted by
4174 posts

Near the Matisse museum in Nice you will also find the Chagall one. In 2009 we stayed in Antibes but took the train to Nice just to see those two sites. From the train we walked a bit and took a bus up the hill, and it is up, to them. We reversed all that to get back home. I've always loved Matisse, but I was never much of a Chagall fan until I saw his work there. Amazing! You could make your dreaded driving a part of the experience by going along the coast at least part of the way. This year we stayed in Aix-en-Provence and made a special trip to see where the Esterel mountains meet the Mediterranean between St-Raphael and Cannes. Go here to see more about that http://www.provence-hideaway.com/247.html. For us, the getting there is as much fun and seeing the site itself, so I suppose we are a little odd. From where you are staying, another fun side trip is to go to the Camargue and drive to Saintes Maries de la Mer. The Mediterranean there is totally different from what you see farther east. Whatever you do, I recommend that you do get to the water somewhere. I am always amazed at how clear and beautiful it is even after thousands of years of habitation.

Posted by
10349 posts

@Sarah: from spring break, all the way into the fall, Cassis is a zoo of people and bumper to bumper traffic. We were there for six months one year. It's totally different in late fall, winter, and early spring, but suddenly at Easter everything opens, springs to life, and tons of people arrive until the end of the season. We're at the other end of the Cote visiting family near Monaco every summer. It's just as busy as anywhere on the Riviera.

Posted by
3050 posts

I was in Cassis in August 2011 and while it was busy, I didn't find it to be unpleasantly so. Obviously every town on the water is going to be busy in the summer.

Posted by
792 posts

Hi all, I am checking in to see your wonderful comments. We definitely plan to visit Cassis. It sounds lovely. I plan to go to the Camargue and also the Verge du Gordon where we will probably spend one or two nights.

Posted by
7 posts

I have been to the Riviera/Provence 3 times in June and July and in the Fall and was surprised at how wonderful it was. One year we stayed in Ville de Franche su mer,and another year in Nice - both ideal locations to take forays around the area. On my first trip - when my Mother's friend left to return home it was my turn to rent a car - alas I had forgotten my driver's license. That was for the best as we walked to beaches or took buses everywhere and enjoyed it immensely. And surprisingly we joined the crowds to relax at the beaches - and of course saunter into the bakeries! I highly recommend going to Menton to see Cocteau's studio museum on the waterfront as well as Picasso's museum in Antibes. There is a book called Artists and Their Museums on the Riviera by Barbara Freed. It lists over 40 museums. Makes for creating wonderful itineraries. Do plan visits to towns on their marketdays!(both farmer's and flea). The one in Menton is in a beautiful Beaux Arts building. This spring I hope to get back down to the Riviera to places I missed after I finish up with a painting class near Mt Ventoux - a dream come true for me! I know that I can get almost anywhere by bus! Even those little petit tourist trains are a hoot to ride on.

Posted by
792 posts

Thank you Leslie, Menton sounds nice to me. You mentioned the museums, did you enjoy the town or beach there? I will be visiting the Cassis while I'm in the area too. My mother will be coming on this trip with us, after six months of chemotherapy, and she is an artist herself. Could you recommend any art classes in the area that she might be interested in. We are staying for three weeks in one base, near Salon de Provence (centered between Arles, Avignon and Aix). She mostly works with mixed media and abstract art, not landscapes.