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Our Guide To Visiting Provence And The French Riviera

To the point

Born on the French Riviera, more precisely in Nice and Marseille, we would like to introduce you to this beautiful part of France. You will quickly fall under the spell of this beautiful French region.

The French Riviera is one of those regions that can be visited in several stages. The boundaries are still unclear, but I peronsally think that Marseille is part of it with its famous Calanques, even if Jean-Maximilien insists that Marseille is not the French Riviera: it is Provence. The debate is fierce, even in the family!

Imagine a 250 km road dotted with towns or villages, with lively and colourful markets, creeks or beaches, of fine sand or pebbles, under a beautiful sun. We’d just be stopping every turn. That’s why we come here, then we go back and we can’t help but return later on.

Why, you ask me?

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The charms of the French Riviera

Like a being that charms you, the French Riviera has a few treasures that take time to discover. Every time you visit, it will blow your mind.

Of course, it seduces you immediately with its sunshine and warm temperatures. Who doesn’t like to bask in the sun, especially when the sun shines 300 days a year? Shorts and dresses are the essentials of a French Riviera man’s wardrobe, not to mention a pair of sunglasses. Cicadas and pine trees enhance the atmosphere.

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The other thing that makes you fall in love with this region of France is the seaside. In French, it’s called “Côte d’Azur”, which literally translates to “Sky blue coast”. The French coastline flows into the bright blue Mediterranean Sea.

Cliffs, creeks… the Italians have nicknamed it “riviera” to translate the brutal contact of the mountain with the sea. A landscape all along the coast that we like to contemplate from early morning to sunset whether by car, train or during our various landings on the tarmac of Nice Airport.

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The Mediterranean Sea A sea that can go from an intense blue to different shades of turquoise or even crystal clear water. In some places, shades of pink, grey and pearl can be seen, all due to the quantity of micro-organisms, the weather, the current or the tides.

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It’s up to you to find your own beach. For this is a point that divides many people in Provence. Do you know how we call people of Provence in French? “PacaÏens” and “pacaÏennes” – this is how the inhabitants of the French Riviera, which belongs to the Provence-Alpes-Côtes-d’Azur region, are referred to.

Each beach has its own particularity. There is no lack of choice!

When you think of visiting the French Riviera, you naturally think of its beautiful beaches. Be aware that you will only have sand on part of the coast. The rest can be pebbles, grains of sand or small pebbles, or rocks.

Enfants
Alexandra et Arthur sur la Plage de galets de Nice

The real people of Nice, for example, will not be afraid to jump into the sea and brave the pebbled beaches, their feet being used to it over the decades. Besides, the elders are the bravest and the first to go swimming at the end of winter – or even all year round!

Those who are keen on nature will take the boat to the Lérins islands (Ste Marguerite and Honoras) off Cannes or the Porquerolles island off Hyères. But simply stroll along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice or the Croisette in Cannes.

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The hinterland is no less interesting. Between its pine forests, its small villages, its hikes in the Verdon gorges or in the Mercantour park, its ski resorts, its lakes, a real breath of fresh air less than an hour’s drive from the seaside resorts.

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Mediterranean cuisine is simple and tasty, respects food and is known to be very healthy. Fresh vegetables are sliced, mixed and simmered in olive oil, fish and meat are grilled with herbs from Provence. Nothing could be easier or more delicious! The restaurants offer a varied and homely Mediterranean or international cuisine, never without a drop of olive oil.

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What to visit on the French Riviera?

Don’t hold it against me, I can’t list in a single article all the towns, villages or nice little places to see on the French Riviera. Of course, there are Cassis, Le Lavandou, St Tropez, St Cyr, Théoules, Toulon, St Raphael, Antibes, Vence, etc.!

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For this first overview, I’ll help you discover Marseille, Cannes, Nice and some other beauties.

Marseille or Massilia by the Phocaeans

Part of Provence for some, or the French Riviera for others, the Phocaean city, over 2,600 years old, is my hometown, next to Nice (2 hours away).

It has everything one can hope for, its inhabitants with their singing accent, its lively streets, the “Good Mother” who protects you from the top of her hill, its Provencal colours and its cicadas.

Known for its stadium and its football team, the OM for “Olympique de Marseille” and its Provencal atmosphere, is a city that has evolved a lot in recent years, particularly in terms of infrastructure, public transport with the extension of the metro to the north, urban and commercial developments, limiting traffic jams, offering a multitude of shopping centres and allowing the pedestrianisation and greening of certain areas such as that of the lower part of the Canebière.

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Examples of activities or points of interest to visit

The must-see neighbourhoods are:

  • From the Panier district to the Old Port with its terraces overlooking the Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral, its fishing boats and its markets. It is in the Panier district that the famous French series “Plus belle la vie” was filmed. The view from the Cathedral is sublime too.
  • From the Endoume and Roucas Blanc districts to the Pointe Rouge for its Corniche, beaches, parks and summer activities. You will have to look up at the hills and observe the majestic villas built on the slopes of the cornice.
  • The Cinq Avenues district for a lively atmosphere with its restaurants and bars, its magnificent Palais Longchamp and its zoological garden.
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Marseille has two main parks with beautiful assets. The Parc Borély and its castle, near the racecourse. During our walks, the children love to ride the electric car, feed the ducks and geese. A sublime rose garden is also a must. On the nature side, the Campagne Pastré is more authentic and offers a space of more than one hundred hectares. The sportsmen can train while the families meet there for big birthday parties around the beautiful Bastide from the XIXth century. Finally, some can also take riding lessons.

La Joliette is an evolving district thanks to the construction of the Terrasses du Port shopping center or the MuCEM museum (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) with its art and history exhibitions, or for its surprising views over the city. La Joliette is also the departure point for various ferries going to Corsica or Morocco for example.

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To get away from it all, take the shuttle bus for about 15 euros each way to the Old Port of Marseille which will take you to the Frioul Islands. Many rentals are possible including Airbnb. You will enjoy the wild creeks, the magnificent sunsets and views of Marseille or visit the Château d’If, which inspired Alexandre Dumas for his novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

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To meet the artists, you can choose between the Friche La Belle de Mai or the Cours Julien. Shows, concerts, restaurants, animations, street art or exhibitions are regularly held there, making it friendly and animated.

Finally, organize a day in the Calanques. Several buses can drop you off at different points from where you can start your hikes and go to the Calanques of Sormiou, Morgiou or En-Vau for example. Take enough water, sunscreen and good walking shoes.

Our little pleasure? We go to Les Goudes for a small evening in one of the restaurants (book beforehand!) or just come and watch the sunset over the Château d’If and the island of Frioul.

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Cannes

Cannes attracts many tourists because of its luxury shops, the steps of the Festival with its red carpet and its Croisette. It is good to stroll with the wind, sunglasses on. You can choose to be chic or go to the beach!

From the Old Port, take the shuttle to the Lèrins Islands and find a sunbathing spot on a cove, or visit the Musée de la Mer at Fort Royal if you have some time left!

In the hinterland, Grasse is where perfume factories Fragonard, Molinard or Galimard are located. During your visit to Galimard, you can create your personalized perfume.

Nice

It’s hard to find such an atmosphere anywhere else around the world. Some will find that Nissa la Bella has a Miami feel, with its Art Deco buildings. The city is loved for its Promenade des Anglais, its old quarter, its old coloured streets.

Examples of activities or points of interest to visit

Start your visit from the unique hotel Negresco and have coffee at the Rotunda. The room is richly decorated and represents a carousel. Then get on a blue bike and ride along the Promenade des Anglais bike path to the port of Nice to get to the Vieux-Nice.

The Cours Saleya is lively from morning to night, with its fruit and vegetable market and craft market in the evening, its restaurants and bars. Stroll through the narrow streets of the old town to one of the ice cream parlours in Piazza Rossetti, Fenocchio’s (a huge choice of flavours) or Azzurro’s (homemade cone).

Our little pleasure? Ending our evening in one of the bars in the old town of Nice, like at the Distilleries!

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The Parc du Mont Boron will give you a breathtaking view of the bay of Nice. The people of Nice generally come here to get a bit of fresh air on its plateau and near the Casteu waterfall on hot summer days. You will be able to attend the traditional midday gunfire on the castle hill which has been giving the exact time to the people of Nice since 1861.

There are several options for getting up there. The easiest way is to take the free lift from the bottom of the ledge to Rauba Capeu. For the more athletic, the ascent can be done in an hour by the steps on the seaside. A small train also makes the ascent. Finally, free parking is available in the heights on Montfort and Eberlé streets, but you should arrive early.

The city has done a lot in recent years to suit families with its “coulée verte” for example, which runs along a good part of the center, its new tramway from the airport to the port.

The “coulée verte” – or Promenade du Paillon – offers children’s games and water games, a beautiful walk in the center of Nice. The old carousel called Palace of Nice still attracts many families, and events are regularly held on the square such as jazz concerts, and the Christmas Village in winter with its stands and its ice rink.

A Ferris wheel on the Place Masséna also allows you to admire the expanse of the Bay of Angels and the various points of interest in the city. For more information on activities and festivities in Nice, visit the RécréaNice website.

Small aside. The Church of St. Pierre d’Arène is where we were married. It has the distinction of being very lively and proactive in the community. Many events and exhibitions take place there. One day a year is set aside, for example, for blessing pets. Rather atypical, isn’t it?

St Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Apart from its beaches, the place is known for its famous villas inhabited by celebrities and its beautiful walk along the rocks on the customs path that leads to the Cape lighthouse.

The visit of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is famous and also worth the detour with its magnificent gardens.

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Èze village

Èze-Village is a perched at a height of more than 400 m, accessible by the middle ledge. Its advantage: it offers a breathtaking view of the coast. Stroll through its old streets; the hardest part will be finding a parking space.

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The Nietzsche Trail connects Èze-Sur-Mer to Èze-Village in 45 minutes by foot. An undeniable charm to discover during an afternoon.

The most beautiful waters of the French Riviera

  • The beach of the calanque of En-Vau in Cassis is one of the most famous, but is for the brave. No less than 50 minutes of walking are required to reach it, so access must be earned!
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  • Beach of Gaou island in Six-Fours-les-Plages
  • Beach of Almanarre in Hyères
  • Beach of Notre-Dame de l’île de Porquerolles
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  • Jean Blanc beach in Le Lavandou
  • Pampelonne beach at Ramatuelle in the Gulf of Saint Tropez.
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  • The beaches of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat are famous. For example, the beaches of La Paloma and Les Passables are the most popular because of their natural setting, but also the Plage des Fossettes.
  • Lac Louise in the Gorges du Verdon
  • La Mala beach (private beach) in Cap d’Ail

The beaches are beautiful, the spots are expensive. Expect the beach spots to be taken by storm, or to pay vetween 20 and 40 euros per day for a deckchair.

Another tip: buy “jellyfish” or beach shoes for pebble beaches. You’ll enjoy it all the more.

Finally, watch out for jellyfish, the real ones this time! When the water warms up, it is not uncommon to see them.

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Activities on the French Riviera

Sailing clubs are located all along the Mediterranean coast. At the Pointe Rouge in Marseille, I suggest you trust the company Bleuevasion for an organized sea trip or to rent a boat.

If you want to rent a boat with your family, or rent a water scooter/sea-doo, you will need a licence in hand.

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Sportsmen will be happy: try climbing, windsurfing, kite-surfing, diving, paddling, jet-skiing, or canyoning. Not to mention the hiking trails.

Many of them go through the Massif des Maures, the Gorges du Verdon, the calanques (Port Miou, Sugiton, Sormiou or Marseilleveyre), the ascent of the Sainte Baume, the tour of Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat or the one of the Cap d’Antibes, and many more. One more for the road? Le Corbusier’s walk in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin!

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Culinary specialties of the French Riviera

  • Bouillabaisse, of course, a fresh fish soup that has become an institution in Marseille and the region, accompanied by bread croutons and rouille: a delight. There are a multitude of recipes. My ideal bouillabaisse does not has any tomatoes or potatoes.
  • Daube provençale, a beef stew simmered in red wine
  • Fresh sardines grilled in olive oil
  • Green gnocchi
  • Stuffed peppers and other stuffed products
  • Ratatouille made with fresh vegetables cut into small pieces and simmered for a long time
  • Marseille “navettes” with orange blossom, a perfume that will carry you away
  • Oreillettes (Marseille), still called ganses in Nice, sprinkled with icing sugar
  • Vegetable fritters such as zucchini flower fritters…delicious
  • Pissaladière, a pizza dough with anchovies and onions
  • Socca niçoise, a pastry made with chickpea flour

Oh la la, there is also the salade niçoise, the fougasse, the soupe au pistou, the raviolis, the panisses, the tapenade, the escargots, the tropézienne, the oreillettes, the pompe à huile and so on… !

It is customary to present the 13 Provençal desserts on the big dinner table during the New Year’s Eve meal.

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A little culture

Nothing better than watching or reading classics such as the works of Marcel Pagnol. Qriter, novelist and video maker from the city of Aubagne, Pagnol is a great lover of Provence to whom we owe Marius, Fanny and Caesar or Manon des sources, The glory of my father, The castle of my mother … classics that all French know!

Aubagne is the city of Marcel Pagnol but also the city of the santons of Provence! Every winter the Santon Fair is held in the main square.

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Getting there

With points

During the tourist season, there are many direct flights between Montreal and Marseille / Nice.

From Montreal, for example, it starts from 35,000 Aeroplan points one way.

Alternatively, you could also find a flight with other airlines like Air Transat or Air France and redeem your travel points to the cost of the flight! You could use American Express Membership Rewards points, BNC À la carte Rewards points, Scotia Rewards points or HSBC Rewards points!

Or use BMO Rewards points through the BMO Travel Portal!

Here are 5 great travel credit cards we recommend:

Do not hesitate to book a flight to Marseille to leave from Nice. This is what we do on a regular basis.

A direct flight from Montreal to Nice or Marseille is possible. And you can enjoy an airport lounge in both Nice and Marseille. Provided, of course, that you have the right credit card.

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Accommodation

It all depends on what you are looking for and your budget! To visit the French Riviera, every option is possible, from camping to caravanning, from classic rentals to Airbnb, from bed and breakfast to luxury hotels. Check out the provenceweb site, which gives a detailed list of accommodations in the region, or our map of Marriott hotels.

Of course you can find a Marriott Bonvoy or a Best Western hotel. For a romantic stay, why not opt for a charming starred hotel, if you have the budget!

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Generally we are hosted by our respective families, however here is a list of reviews for all the accommodations tried in the area:

For example, we enjoyed a free night at this charming Best Western in the heart of Nice thanks to the Best Western Rewards® Mastercard.

Finally, those who wish to live a true experience and have a bigger budget will not be disappointed with the list of luxury hotels and palaces from Marseille to Monaco.

If you don’t want to stay there because of the price, a small detour for a coffee can be nice for an afternoon (of course with an appropriate outfit). Our usual guilty pleasure? A drink at the Bar de l’Hôtel de Paris on the Place du Casino in Monaco! James Bond atmosphere guaranteed.

There are more than a dozen hotels in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program if you want to visit the French Riviera.

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If you want to earn Marriott Bonvoy points, the easiest way is to apply for for the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card, of which this is the current offer:

Getting around

If you are renting a car, you will have to make sure that you can return it to Nice in the rental options. Count in your expenses the tolls on motorways or tunnel in center town as in Marseilles, during holidays in France. These costs are not negligible on a holiday budget.

If you are on foot, no problem: the region is very well served by trains. You will be able to navigate from center to center. It takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to travel from Marseille to Nice by TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) or TER (Transport Express Régional). A ticket can cost between 25 and 50 euros depending on your destination and the fare class you choose.

The SNCF trains are comfortable and allow you to enjoy the seaside landscape. Note that it is not uncommon for an incident on the tracks to delay arrivals, so be patient.

For the sportsmen who want to visit the French Riviera, the bicycle is an interesting option allowing you to stop from village to village.

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Three credit cards with no conversion fee

Don’t forget to carry a card credit card with no conversion fee for your foreign currency transactions! That’s a 2.5% savings on each transaction!

Here are the top 3 card s with no conversion fees in Canada, ideal for travelers:

The essential guides to visit the French Riviera

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Informations pratiques pour visiter la Côte d'Azur

When to go

The climate is temperate. As mentioned above, the French Riviera is very sunny and the temperatures remain mild for a long time. The South is definitely synonymius with a pleasant way of living. The minimum temperatures can be -5 degrees Celsius. It is even common to have some warm days in winter, with +20 degrees! The seashores are then invaded by all.

What to take with you

Beach towels, caps, sunglasses and sunscreen are essential, but think about icaridine-based mosquito repellent, suitable for the whole family, depending on the area you are going to.

If you plan to stay on the beach, Decathlon stores offer good solutions to protect the little ones from the sun such as beach tents.

Beach shoes for young and old if you plan to go to the beaches of Nice to swim in the sea!

Finally, brimg your Ulysses guide in your suitcases!

Conclusion

As you will have understood, the French Riviera is best explored while following the coast line. Since this is my native region, I have way too many favourite spots. A single article would not be enough to reveal all its secrets!

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