The French Riviera
Following our annual tradition of getting away for our wedding anniversary, we decided to venture to the beautiful French Riviera. We were looking forward to exploring the coast, enjoying the local food and drink and seeing if the place is really living it up to be the “playground for the rich”.
After a short flight with some amazing views of the coast on the approach to Nice, we were greeted by the warm and humid air of the Mediterranean Sea. A perfect welcome.
We struck it lucky by choosing Menton as our base. It is a beautiful and quiet little town on the French-Italian border. It turned out to be a place full of old fashioned charm, right on the beach and not too overcrowded.
What I liked about Menton is that you get the best of both worlds here. Because of the proximity with Italy, you get the Italian friendliness and delicious coffee and on the other side the amazing food and straightforwardness of the French. The Italian border is only 3km away and the nearest Italian town of Ventimiglia is a 15 min train ride away and worth a visit if you want to experience a feel of another country.
Menton is a typical seaside town with narrow streets lined with plenty of shops mostly selling products made from locally grown lemons. It boasts lots of cafes and restaurants serving deliciously smelling pots of garlic mussels and obviously a promenade which is ideal for strolling at night when the temperature drops down.
However, there is more to Menton than just the beach or mussels. Like most of the coastal towns on the French Riviera, there is always an old part of the town with narrow steep streets and winding alleys. The buildings here are painted with various colours of gold, light pink and orange with typical wooden shutters and narrow staircases. These colour schemes perfectly complement the azure shades of the Med.
The Best Views in Menton
There are some stunning views of the town if you are willing to climb a fair bit. The first vantage point with some clear views of the bay is St Michael’s basilica which seems to be the focal part of the Menton’s landscape. Its towers are visible from almost every corner of the town. As it is on the hill, you can either get there by steep and cobbled streets or climb a few flights of stairs. Both ways are very unforgiving in the 30 degree heat.
However, the best views are from the Old Chateau Cemetery situated about 10 min uphill walk from the basilica. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place. Most of the tombstones are a work of art and I spent quite a while exploring the place. There are some stunning 360 degree views of the coast towards Monaco and Italy and also the views of the Alps to the North. The cemetery is definitely worth a visit. A perfect place for reflection, cooling down and enjoying panoramic views of the French Riviera.
A Day in Monaco
Monaco, like other cities along the French Riviera, is easily accessible by a reliable and quite affordable train. It took us around 15 min from Menton to get there and the train journey along the coast offers some beautiful views of the rocky cliffs, hidden beaches and expensive yachts cruising the Med.
As the city is quite small, it is very easy to navigate. We started our tour with climbing up to the top of the Rock of Monaco which is the location of the Prince’s Palace and the impressive white cathedral where Grace Kelly got married. It is also where the oldest part of the city is. As it is high above the rest of the city, the views over the bay and towards Monte Carlo are breathtaking. It is worth wandering through the Palace grounds, the narrow alleys and the luscious green gardens which are ideal for shading from the heat.
We had a lot of fun exploring the rest of the principality on the little tour train on which we hopped onto on the spur of the moment. This audio guided tour takes 30 min and it covers the main sights of Monaco. The little train goes along the Grand Prix route, the harbour, past the small and secluded Sainte Devote church and of course the casino in Monte Carlo before it finishes back at the Old Town.
The visit to Monaco cannot be complete without a stroll past the luxurious yachts docked in the marina. And if you fancy a cool down, there is also an open air olympic size swimming pool at the Marina. It is open to the public and has some lovely views of Monte Carlo.
The Riches of Cannes
Cannes was the furthest place we visited on the French Riviera. Its streets were busy and crammed with trendy cafes and restaurants. You definitely get the feeling from all the designer shops and posh hotels on the sea front that Cannes is geared mainly towards the wealthy tourists.
The beach was very busy and mainly operated by private clubs. It looked like it was the place to be and to be seen. You actually can’t see the beach from the promenade because of all the parasols and canvas roofs. However, we had no problem accessing it just to walk along the sea and doing a bit of people watching. At the end of the promenade we had a look at the Festival Palace with its famous red carpet and which is a location of the annual film festival. Not far from here, there is another landmark celebrating Cannes’ links to the film industry. Les Murs Peints is one of the series of murals around Cannes depicting famous film scenes or actors.
Unfortuantely, we didn’t manage to see the old part of Cannes as it was quite a walking distance and we were ready to enjoy a glass of wine before our train back to Menton.
I am not going to lie but Nice turned out to be one of my favourite towns that we visited on the French Riviera. I really enjoyed its vibe which was more relaxed, however I particularly loved the architecture here. It is a mix of the typical Mediterranean orange colour buildings in the Old Town and the symmetrical and grand looking building near the Promenade des Anglais. You do spend a lot of time looking up and admiring beautiful white houses and hotels gleaming against the blue sky.
Like Cannes, Nice has its own Old Town with narrow streets, orange and yellow buildings with shutters and churches all crammed into small spaces. It is a real joy walking down these streets as you never know what will pop up at the next corner. We did not manage to climb up to the castle as we were dragging our cabin luggage with us and it was too much of a hassle.
However, there is also another side to Nice near the Promenade des Anglais which stretches for quite a distance. Expensive hotels and buildings in a Belle Epoque style line this famous strip of Nice. It was busy with tourists, cyclists and locals but it was not overpowering – just like a typical seaside resort.
There is a lot of shaded seating along the Promenade and also flip seats facing the sea for watching the sunset which I thought was a brilliant idea.
As far as the beach goes there were definitely more free public areas here than in Cannes. The colour of the water was just divine and it was no surprise it attracted so many sun seekers willing to cool down from the immense heat. To be honest, there was no way you could get tired from the views here. From the azure hues of the Mediterranean to the crisp white colours of the buildings overlooking the beach.
To be continued…
We will definitely be back to the French Riviera and this time we will introduce the kids to its beauty. We thoroughly enjoyed our little escape and can’t wait to return to Menton and explore the old part of Nice. For now we will enjoy the memories and slowly fading tan lines.