The French Riviera, a dream destination. Our road trip in actuality started in Milan, and also included a pit stop in Cinque Terre, but focusing on the French Riviera for one trip would have been plenty. We managed stops in Monaco, Nice, Toulouse, and Marseille, but be warned this required A LOT of driving. Toulouse was our final destination for a for fun work World Cup Soccer Tournament, so we made it work, but I definitely recommend keeping your radius a little tighter especially on a short schedule!
Driving in Europe
Driving in France and Italy was fairly easy – they drive on the same side of the road, the roads are well maintained, and people are fairly polite. There are huge highway systems that make it fast to get from place to place, but they come with pretty high tolls. You also may get a discount if you can drive a manual as these are more common at rental shops. Lastly, if you are going to Italy, get an International Drivers Permit in advance of traveling. You’ll still be able to rent a car, but if you get pulled over you can get a fine. France doesn’t have the same policy.
Monaco was just a quick pit stop on our journey from Cinque Terre to Nice, but was definitely worth seeing. We chose to park near Monte Carlo (there’s a very convenient parking lot right near the casino that was surprisingly affordable) and shamefully passed by at least 15 Ferraris in the process. There is wealth and nice things dripping out of every pore of Monaco.
We spent some time walking around the famed Casino in Monte Carlo and also tried our hand at a few penny slots (lost 20 euros in about 20 minutes). We wanted to actually play some cards in the Casino, but you need to be dressed according to dress code and my boyfriend had shorts on, which was probably for the better. The casino makes for plenty of great photo ops!
We then thought about grabbing some snacks and a drink at Hotel de Paris, but we saw the prices (more than 20 euros a drink) and decided just being there was enough. We walked around past the port and ogled at the plethora of 100 foot yachts in the harbor before finding a cute coffee shop outside of the designer shops and just relaxed. Our last thing to hit on our way out of Monaco was driving on the Formula 1 Route and seeing the landmark for the trail!
Monaco was a quick trip, and was a little extravagant for my taste, but a unique part of the world worth seeing.
Nice was so nice! But jokes aside Nice was both of our favorite cities on our tour of Italy and France. I wish we had had more time here to explore! There is plenty to do to keep you busy, and plenty to do to relax completely, all set on the backdrop of beautiful deep blue ocean.
We stayed at Le Meridien in Nice right on the ocean front. If you can make this hotel work, I highly recommend it. I saw one picture of the rooftop lounge, plus we had enough Bonvoy points to cover our stay, and I was sold.
We got checked in at Nice and headed right out to explore! We walked down the boardwalk across the city to the harbor, checked out some old churches there, cut through the Place Giuseppe Girabaldi, and wound our way back through the Promenade du Paillon, with a quick detour through a few streets of Old Town. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of the beautiful streets, museums, and other sites in this city, and we definitely missed the trek up to castle. I guess leaving things undone gives you a reason to go back!
For dinner, we went to Le Petit Ecailler de La Douce for some amazing seafood. This street was super touristy, but also super cute and the food was delicious. We met up with a few other people and did the large seafood platter, as well as a healthy portion of Provencal Rose (the best in the world in my humble opinion). The seafood is so fresh, and I was surprised one of my favorite parts were the Periwinkle Snails – so little and yummy!
The next day in Nice, we walked down to the beach, but then headed up to the roof of our hotel to enjoy the expansive views and beautiful couches. I will say, I was decidedly unimpressed with all the beaches we visited in Italy and France. I know I’m spoiled growing up in Southern California where we have incredible white sand beaches, but I didn’t expect all the rocks and pebbles at these famed beaches either! Definitely worth renting chairs in my opinion!
Our primary reason for visiting Toulouse was to play soccer with 450 of our closest coworkers from 17 different countries in a World Cup adventure. This was such a fun experience, but it meant that we had barely any time to see the city of Toulouse, which was beautiful. Rivers cut through the city and make so many bridges absolutely picturesque, with old churches and buildings. Getting around Toulouse on public transit was super easy. One of the nicest places we all went was Le Rowing Club, a fun but still upscale restaurant with lawn games, ping pong, and AMAZING French food and barbecue.
Our last stop before heading back to Italy was Marseille. I hadn’t heard much about Marseille – we chose it primarily for it’s location and the lower price of hotels there, however we thought it was cute and perfectly quaint for a quick stopover. This primarily port city has possibly the most history of all the cities on the French Riviera as one of the oldest cities. There are plenty of sites and activities to keep you busy, and would recommend staying near the old town or the beach!
Marseille is arguably most famous for a fish soup known as bouillabaisse, and we were told by multiple people this was a must do experience while in Marseille, the city that invented this famous soup. As we started doing research, we discovered this soup is really expensive!! Ultimately, we decided if this was the Marseille experience, it was worth it. This soup takes a long time to prepare, thus the price tag despite fairly pedestrian ingredients. The soup base is tomato broth flavored with provencal herbs including fennel and saffron. Each fish – some are considered required as traditional but could include a huge variety here – is cooked whole in the broth, then filleted for you by the restaurant and served on the side of the broth. As you eat you dip the fish chunks into the broth, and the whole dish is served with toasted bread and rouille, essentially a saffron scented aioli.
We decided to have this experience at Chez Fonfon, as this was told to us by several people to be the best. It was also in the moderately price range (50 euros per person) so we made a reservation and gave it a go! The location was a highlight, as well as the atmosphere of the restaurant. It’s quaint and homey and there are photos of celebrities all over the walls. While I’m not sure I would pay 50 euros again for fish soup, I’m glad I had this essential Marseille experience while I was there!
This trip was fast paced and there are so many more things I would love to do on the French Riviera and Provence – Cannes, St. Tropez, more time in Nice, wine tasting, and lavender fields to name a few – but I’m so glad to have gotten this amazing experience and have so many reasons to go back!
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