The French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) is the name given to the southeastern part of the French Mediterranean coast. It is one of the most famous holiday destinations in the world, and home to the Cannes Film Festival (le Festival international du film de Cannes) and the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco (Grand Prix de Monaco).Some people say that the French Riviera is famous for being famous, and they aren’t entirely wrong. The beaches are not much to write home about, the towns are crowded around the year, and there aren’t too many exciting places to see or things to do.
However, the French Riviera is an excellent place to not do anything. It is a fantastic place to escape from a busy and tiring existence, if you have one. It is a place to lie down on the narrow beaches along the calm, blue Mediterranean waters. It is also a place that is best visited on someone else’s money.
Whether or not you decide to spend some time on the French Riviera - and you should, if only for the brag-value of a vacation - here are some things that might make your vacation more enjoyable:
When to visit: While the rich and the famous visit the French Riviera in the months of summer, the budget-conscious would be well advised to plan a trip for the winter. Its location along the coast ensures a reasonably moderate climate even during the months of December and January, and there is plenty of sunshine to keep the chill away. The hotels and restaurants lower their rates during these months. On the flip side, there are some activities that do not take place during the off-season - like a glass-bottomed boat ride on the sea.
Where to stay: Nice. There are two reasons to stay there - its almost central location on the French Riviera, and the availability of relatively cheaper accommodation. Book in advance over the Internet to avail some good discount schemes. The French Riviera is a very tourist-friendly place and the hotels are considered safe from thefts.
Where (and What) to eat: There is no lack of restaurants in any of the towns on the French Riviera. The day’s menu is usually hand-written on a small board outside the restaurant. It is often considered impolite to enter a restaurant and make enquiries about the menu. Most places offer the same things with little variations - Crêpes, Paninis, Baguettes and Pizzas are the most common offerings. There are many restaurants with speciality cuisines from around the world, but they tend to be slightly on the expensive side. Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants are quite affordable though.
It is unthinkable in France to have a meal at any time of the day without having a drink to go with it. Take your pick from any of the table wines that the restaurants offer, or just ask for a Diet Coke. But make sure that you have something to drink, or be prepared for stares and hushed conversations from the staff. This affinity for having something to drink along with the meal is perhaps rooted in the dry nature of French cuisine. Indeed, it might be quite a task to swallow a bite of a typical Panini 3 fromages without a sip of beer/wine/cola.
France has its own version of McDonald’s, called Quick. It is perhaps the only place that serves a decent Cappuccino at a reasonable price. Most restaurants only serve Espresso, and if you ask for a Cappuccino you are likely to get that same Espresso with a dash of milk. Not the same thing, as Cappuccino aficionados would attest.
In France, once you get yourself a table at a café, it is yours for the day. Yes, even if there are people standing and waiting. No restaurant staff would ask you to if you need something else or drop other such hints to make you leave. Patrons of Sagar in Delhi might find this hard to believe, but it really is true.
What to do: There only three activities that you should be doing on the French Riviera - lying at the beach, taking a walk along the beach, and people-watching at the beach. In short, you should stay at the waterfront as much of the time as possible. Quite frankly, there is little else to do. As stated earlier, the French Riviera is a place to not do anything.
You can, however, take a short hike to the artificial waterfall that overlooks Nice. It gives you an enchanting view of the sea and the orange-tiled roofs of the town. In Cannes, you can visit the country fair along the waterfront near Palais des Festivals (venue of the famous Cannes Film Festival, the red carpet is a permanent feature). In Monaco, you can take a walk (along the waterfront, of course) and pass through the world famous F1 tunnel, which provides you some excellent views of the Mediterranean waters. You can also visit Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (Musée Océanographique de Monaco) and be amazed at the ‘Shark Lagoon’ and gawk at the 66-foot skeleton of a whale.
General Advice: As far as possible, book everything (intra-France travel, hotels, rental cars) in advance and over the Internet. In France, you will always get a better deal that way. Carry a credit card with yourself because some establishments might actually refuse to accept cash (or tell you that they do not have change to return). Never throw away your ticket for any journey (even on the Metro) till you exit the station, because there are plenty of surprise checks and sometimes you need a ticket to exit the station (on the RER, for instance).
At the risk of repeating myself, let me say this one more time - the French Riviera is a place to not do anything. As long as you keep that in mind, you are guaranteed a good holiday.