A Week in the French Riviera - Summer Memories
Come, walk down with me on memory lane and the footsteps of history, as I explore one of the best holidays of my life so far, and that is saying a lot, as I had many great ones.
I enjoy traveling and experiencing new places but have a particular affinity towards Italy. If I have the time, I usually book at least one holiday a year either to a coastal town, a small village, or some historical city. This year I got convinced to throw that out the window and book a stay in Nice and one in Villefranche sur Mer, which is a small coastal town just a 15-minute train ride away from the city.
Let me tell you, I was not disappointed!
It might be due to the fact that the entire area has cultural influences stemming both from France and Italy, with an eclectic cuisine and vibe due to this, or it might just be the simple fact that it is just such a gorgeous and refreshing vacation to take.
In order to understand my experience, you have to understand the place and its history as well.
The History of the French Riviera
First and foremost - have you ever thought about the meaning of the word “Riviera”? I was standing at a scenic spot, right in the middle of my week spent at the Côte d'Azur when an interesting question bubbled to the surface of our macaron-fueled mind: what does the word Riviera mean anyway? I looked out at the incredibly blue sea meeting the lush greens of the mountainy coast and had no idea. Ironically, it means the following: Riviera is an Italian word that means "coastline", ultimately derived from Latin rīpa, through Ligurian rivêa. Part of the Mediterranean coastal region of southern France and northern Italy, extending from Cannes to La Spezia, it is famous for its beauty, mild climate, and fashionable resorts. Great. I could have figured that out myself, but me being me, I did not.
The history of the French Riviera is a tapestry woven with threads of ancient civilizations, artistic inspiration, and a touch of royal glamour. Its roots can be traced back to the time of the Ligurians, who inhabited the region as early as the 4th century BC. The Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans followed suit, leaving behind their marks in the form of ruins, temples, and amphitheaters that still stand today.
However, it was during the 18th and 19th centuries that the French Riviera truly began to flourish. The region's mild climate and breathtaking landscapes attracted the attention of aristocrats and artists alike. Writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and painters like Henri Matisse were drawn to its luminous skies and picturesque landscapes, capturing the essence of the Riviera in their works. It was a place of inspiration, a muse for creativity, and a refuge for those seeking solace and beauty.
One of the pivotal moments in the transformation of the French Riviera into a playground for the rich and famous was the arrival of Queen Victoria in 1882. She fell in love with the stunning vistas and pleasant climate, paving the way for European royalty to follow suit. Soon, the Riviera became a fashionable winter destination for European monarchs and nobility, with the coastal towns of Nice, Cannes, and Menton emerging as exclusive retreats.
The early 20th century witnessed the rise of opulent hotels, lavish villas, and grand casinos, transforming the French Riviera into a hub of luxury and decadence. Celebrities and luminaries from the worlds of entertainment, fashion, and politics began to flock to the Riviera's glamorous casinos, making it a hotspot for the global elite.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Riviera further solidified its reputation as a symbol of luxury and sophistication. Iconic film festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, brought international attention to the region, attracting movie stars and directors from around the world. The jet-set lifestyle of the French Riviera was immortalized by legendary figures like Grace Kelly, who became Princess Grace of Monaco after marrying Prince Rainier III.
Today, the French Riviera remains a captivating blend of history, culture, and unparalleled beauty. Its sun-kissed beaches, vibrant markets, and charming villages continue to draw visitors from across the globe.
As I have mentioned before, I chose Nice and a small coastal town as my base - it might not have been the full experience but it was the one that I needed and wanted.
Vibrant days in Nice
I arrived in Nice after dark, and at first, I was disappointed by my flight itinierary, because I wanted to experience the city as soon as possible, but the landing I had at the airport made up for the loss of daytime because the entire experience is like landing on a jewelry box. At the same time, while the logical part of your mind knows that you won’t land on water, you still somehow hope that you won’t be the exception in this case. It is a rollercoaster of emotions, but maybe it was just me, as I am someone who gets excited very easily.
My morning began with a leisurely stroll through the historic heart of Nice - Vieux Nice, or Old Town. The narrow, winding streets with their colorful facades were a feast for the eyes. I couldn't resist stopping by a boulangerie to grab a fresh croissant and cappuccino (although I am a Flat White kind of girlie) for breakfast. The warm aroma of the buttery pastry and the rich aroma of coffee set the tone for the day.
After this french-italian and very satisfying breakfast, I continued the exploration of the Old Town, discovering hidden squares like Place Rossetti, where yet again, I could not resist a scoop of locally made gelato. The rest of the day was a blur of walking around, amazed by the architecture and gorgeous facades, right until I arrived at the Promenade des Anglais, a stunning waterfront promenade. The palm-lined boulevard offered panoramic views of the sea, so I obviously took a leisurely walk along the azure waters. The sea breeze was both refreshing and invigorating, and my travel partner and I both knew this was just the beginning of a gorgeous holiday, a thought that filled our hearts with tremendous joy.
My second day in Nice was dedicated to art, with a stop at the Matisse Museum. Housed in a 17th-century villa, this museum is a tribute to the works of the renowned artist Henri Matisse and should be on every art lover's schedule upon visiting this part of the world.
After my artistic interlude, I sought out a cozy café to relax and refuel. Nice is known for its coffee culture, and I wasn't disappointed, so naturally I spent hours at a local café, sipping espresso and people-watching. Honestly, the relaxed pace of life in Nice was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of daily life but the best was yet to come.
Out suggestion for a stay in Nice: Apart-hotel Nice S2
Calm waters in Villefranche sur Mer
Leaving the vibrant streets of Nice behind, I journeyed to the idyllic Villefranche-sur-Mer, just a short train ride away. You can also take the bus there, it is basically the same length of time, you can arrive at Villefranche sur Mer in just 15 minutes. Honestly, you will spend more time standing in line buying a ticket for the train, because for some reason the online app wasn’t cooperating with us (and not just us) so standing in line was the only option. If you choose to use the bus service, keep in mind that you will have to buy a card from the driver, download an app, transfer some money to the app, buy your ticket, and transfer that to the card, which was…interesting to say the least but I am not one to get mad about these things during my travels and I did my best to always use the bus with a valid ticket, although I am not sure it always worked out that way…so please don’t go telling on me!
The charming coastal town welcomed me with its serene beauty and tranquil atmosphere. My week-long stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer was a true escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and I will share some of its best-kept secrets with you.
La Darse Beach
There are a lot of beaches in Villefranche sur Mer, and most of them are wild, free, and totally alluring. I have somewhat of an obsession with staying in places that are situated on a hill, looking over the sea, but this also means that I go uphill and downhill quite a lot during my holidays. In my opinion, it is a small price to pay for beauty. La Darse Beach was directly under the apartment where I was staying and every day I took around 300 steps to get there, 300 steps of great vistas of the sea, of the setting sun, of the sun coming up in the morning. I met a number of cats during these walks, gave numerous pets, and breathed in the salty sea air mixed with freshly cut Mediterranean bushes.
The beach is hidden under a centuries-old wall and looks out directly at the villas of Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The pebbly beach offered a sense of seclusion and tranquility, while the calm, turquoise waters were perfect for swimming and snorkeling. We decided not to move an inch from this small beach, where there were only a few people, and had a nice shower and a clean, working bathroom area nearby.
So we came back day after day, sometimes with fresh pain au chocolat, a croissant, or a chilled bottle of French wine in the afternoon, because “wine-not”, right?
Villefranche sur Mer Old Town
The town's picturesque Old Town with its pastel-colored buildings and cobblestone streets was a delight to explore. Each evening, I dined at local restaurants, savoring fresh seafood dishes paired with local wines or Italian specialties due to the closeness of the Ligurian culture.
There is a highlight I would recommend, from the bottom of my heart. It is having dinner at Les Garçons restaurant, where anything you try will most definitely surpass your expectations, but make sure to top it off with the famous dessert of the region: café gourmand. It is a ristretto coffee with 4 types of desserts, so you will have the chance to try many types of French delicacies without having to order a full-sized one (the French don’t mess around when it comes to their desserts).
There are a lot of boulangeries and cafés in the town, and there are so many types of fresh pastries, I arranged a tasting for every single morning of the week, but still couldn’t try the entire scope of it.
A trip to Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild
There are some things I enjoy to an extent that should not be permissible, and these include the following: a nice garden arranged in a weird or otherworldly way (like the Boboli gardens), the sea, a good museum, coffee, and desserts.
When I saw that the Rothschild Villa offered all of these with a nice little bow on top, I was on a bus towards Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat before you could even say macaron.
It is everything it promises to be and more. The vistas from the villa are top-notch, and the gardens offer a variety of landscapes such as a Spanish garden, a French garden, a Japanese one and so much more. I spent hours roaming around in between the lush vegetation and just being totally zen, it was absolutely meditative. I would recommend doing this part during the morning hours and using sun protection…trust me.
After this, I walked into the actual museum part of the villa, learned about the fabulous Béatrice de Rothschild, and pretended I was in the 1920s for a few hours. And you guessed it, I had a perfect cappuccino with an exquisite macaron in the perfect little restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
I would recommend this activity to anyone who enjoys a nicely furnished villa with a breathtaking view.
All in all, the French Riviera had cast its spell on me, and I left with a heart full of cherished memories and a longing to return to this enchanting corner of the world.
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