The French Riviera – immortalised in the 20th Century by F. Scott Fitzgerald as an escape for the Jazz Age aristocracy – a place of glamour, sophistication, and excess. Not much has changed since Fitzgerald’s time; the very mention of the Cote d’Azur still evokes imagery of decadence and luxury. From the Cannes film festival, the sports cars and casinos of Monaco, to the yachts and celebrities occupying Saint Tropez, there is no doubt that the Riviera remains a stomping ground for the world’s elite. For those of us not born with a silver spoon and a hefty bank account this experience of the Riviera may seem out of reach! I for one never want to appear like a tourist when I travel, the rucksack, sketchers, and map in hand are definitely not my style. As naïve as it might seem I always try to seem like a local when I’m away – until the Irish accent and indiscrete Googling of directions give me away. Whilst in the Riviera I bluffed my way along with one designer handbag and my nicest high street wardrobe! I think it worked as myself and my boyfriend had our pictures taken by tourists in Monte Carlo and we were never given a second look getting into places we heard are quite strict on entry. No one suspected I had less than €50 in my purse!! So with these tips you can soak up as much of the Riviera as possible, experiencing it like a star and without the lavish price tag!
The largest city on the Côte d’Azur, Nice has long been a popular destination for the British, American and Russian upper class. Today it is the second most popular city in France after Paris. The length of its stone beach is abundant with various water sports, while the newest part of the city offers a wide variety of shops. The Promenade des Anglais is a must see, especially early morning when it is jam packed with rollerbladers and joggers before the mid-day sun hits.
Where to Stay: Vielle Ville – the old town of Nice is filled with bustling markets, winding cobbled streets, and charming earth-toned 19th Century buildings. Here you can get an Airbnb right beside the beach for as little as €40 per night for 2 people. I would advise staying in Nice for the duration of your trip as it contains the only international airport in the Riviera and is centrally located, making it easy to access surrounding cities by bus or train.
Where to Eat: Castel – right on the beach this restaurant has a menu with something to suit every taste; the staff here are also so friendly and accommodating. Our waiter ensured we were sat right on the seafront where we had a stunning view of a firework display taking place across the coast line.
What to See: Le Château – the walk up to the ruins of this castle is so beautiful as you are surrounded by foliage and blooming flowers. When you proceed up the hill you are presented with the most breath-taking panoramic views of the city. There is also a waterfall hidden along the winding path to the castle. On your way back retreat down the hill on the opposite side to Port Lympia where there are amazing yachts docked.
Where to Save: Ensure you pay a trip to the Cours Saleya morning market. This bustling flower market is also abundant with fresh produce. Purchase fresh fruit and bread to bring back to the apartment for breakfast.
Where to Splurge: Opéra de Nice – to fully experience Nice like a star, dress up and head to the Opera for a performance of opera, ballet, or a classical concert. Visit www.opera-nice.org to see the full calendar of upcoming performances
Renowned world-wide for its annual film festival, Cannes is a holiday favourite for celebrities year round. It’s also one of the few beaches on the Riviera with sand. The Promenade de la Croisette starts from the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès where the film festival takes place. It is lined with palm trees, couture boutiques, and sports cars – it’s hard not to feel like a celebrity as you walk along the water front.
Where to Eat: Le Suquet – the old part of town, this hill begins at the Rue St Antoine. The winding hill has a multitude of restaurants with many offering first class 3 course meals for as little as €30. After dinner, continue making your way to the top of the hill, here you will find the 15th Century church of Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Espérance, where you will also be met with a stunning view overlooking Cannes.
What to See: Intercontinental Carlton – located along the Promenade de la Croisette this hotel is where Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier. The exterior and history alone exude glamour.
Where to Save: Plage Macé – this is one of Cannes only public beaches, the rest are private and you must pay to enter. Despite being public this beach is immaculate and so safe, there is definitely no need to feel unsure of leaving your bag and towel alone while you go for a swim.
Where to Splurge: Armani Café – what better way to feel like a celebrity than sipping on an espresso hiding behind your over-sized sunglasses in a café owned by Armani?
Perhaps the most extravagant location along the Riviera, Monaco is not part of France but an independent sovereign state. The country is so wealthy that to gain citizenship you must have millionaire status! The capital of Monte Carlo, with its prestigious annual Gran Prix race, port filled with super yachts and illustrious casino complex is a mecca for the world’s rich and famous. Once home to Princess Grace, the city is scattered with pictures and facts highlighting the princesses’ impact on the country.
Where to Eat: La Sailiere – located in Fontvielle Harbour, this upmarket Italian restaurant is a really accessible price point compared to most places around Monte Carlo, offering pizza for as little as €12 whilst you enjoy views overlooking the harbour.
What to See: I really couldn’t narrow this down to just one thing as there’s so many unmissable things to do here. I’d recommend beginning your day at the aquarium – Musée Océanographique de Monaco; make sure you take a trip to the rooftop where there are unforgettable panoramic views of Monte Carlo. Next, make your way past the Cathédrale de Monaco to the palace. There’s no photography allowed on the tour as the current monarch still resides here, but it’s definitely worth it for the amazing interiors along with multiple paintings and sculptures of Grace Kelly.
Where to Save: Monte Carlo Casino – Save? In a casino? – Bear with me! The casino is located in Place du Casino – here’s where the elite really exhibit their wealth. The square is filled with flashy sports cars, and here we seen a guy tip a valet €100 for moving his car about a meter! Unless you really want to gamble – if you’re dressed well the doormen will allow you to enter the main lobby of the casino. Here you can take pictures of the interior and in front of a back drop fit for a red carpet. This was enough for us and we didn’t spend a penny!
Where to Splurge: Helicopter – There’s a helicopter that travels from Nice Airport to Monte Carlo every 15 minutes for 100 euro, the journey takes only 7 minutes. It may seem a bit extravagant but what better way to experience the Riviera like a celebrity than to have a lifelong tale of: “So I landed in Monaco in the chopper…”
- Antibes and Saint Tropez
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit either of these places so we’ll definitely have to return as Antibes was recommended to us by every local! The beach here is a mix of sand and stone so a perfect combination! Definitely top of my list for when I visit here is Le Sentier du Littoral, this coastal path is meant to have amazing views. In continuing to experience the Riviera like a star, Saint Tropez should definitely remain at the top of your list. The main thing to do in Saint Tropez is simply be there, it’s all about the beach and nightlife and being seen! If you only have one splurge it needs to be sipping a pina colada at Sénéquier or Club 55, where everyone from Bono, Ivanka Trump, and Johnny Depp are known to frequent. If you get tired of living the celebrity lifestyle and want to get off the beaten path, another destination top of my list is Villefranche-sur-Mer. Adjoining Nice, this small seaside town is reputed as being one of the top five most beautiful bays in the world. There is nowhere in the world quite like the Riviera and I’m sure there’s multiple locations, restaurants, and sites I haven’t mentioned so if you’ve any recommendations or have been anywhere listed above let me know in the comments below!