Planning a trip to the Côte d’Azur? Today I’m sharing my best French Riviera Travel Tips to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.
If you love living vicariously through others, and don’t like to leave the comfort of your own home, maybe today’s post isn’t for you.
However, if my recent posts on visiting Monaco, Nice, Saint Tropez and Cannes, France have inspired you to plan your own trip to the French Riviera, allow me to share some information that will hopefully make your vacation smooth and easy!
French Riviera Travel Tips
It’s tempting to overpack for a trip to the Côte d’Azur. After all, what if you get invited to an evening soiree on a Russian ba-zillionaire’s yacht, or a masquerade gala at a glitsy casino. You need to be prepared with an array of sequenced ballgowns, bulky jewelry, and 6 inch heels… Right?!
In reality, traveling in the French Riviera is no different then traveling anywhere else in the world, as far as packing goes. Most of us overpack for trips and only use/wear about 20% of what we carted around with us. If you plan to hit different cities and seaside villages, it’s even more important to pack light so you don’t find it difficult to tote your luggage. Plus, losing your baggage on a flight to another country is way worse than having limited clothing options. You may not get it back!
I always take the largest carry on roller bag allowed on airlines, so I have my bag with me at all times. Mine is a Samsonite 4-Wheel Spinner in the 22 inch size. (The current standard carry on size limitation is 22 X 14 X 9 inches.)
The french tend to have smaller wardrobes than Americans, yet buy higher quality items they can mix and match. They also tend to look slightly more “dressed up” than we do on any given occasion. (I don’t think they ever go out in their yoga pants, if they even own them. *wink*) So when in
My suggested packing list for a week in the French Riviera would include:
- Your Little Black Dress, for dressy occasions (or one suit for men)
- One pair of versatile heels or dress shoes
- 4-5 travel dresses (like easy-wear maxi dresses) or light weight “business casual” outfits
- 2-3 casual shorts outfits in the summer months
- One pair of really good walking shoes that go with everything… plus blister pads and triple-antibiotic cream (With all the hiking around you will get blisters, guaranteed.)
- One light cardigan sweater that goes with everything
- One bathing suit and cover up
- One pair of good flip flops
- Small travel size toiletries
- Voltage adapter/converter (I have two of these.)
- A small good travel camera (I love this one – Super high quality images and a wifi connection to pull photos into your phone for social sharing! All the images on my French Riviera trip were shot with this camera.)
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and aloe
If you’re shaking your head in disbelief, remember, I just returned home from some of the most luxurious locations on the planet and never felt under-dressed or out of place. All of these items fit neatly in my itty-bitty carry on suitcase, making it easy for me to move around and cart my belongings up stairs when needed.
You could spend a week or two in one location along the French Riviera. It’s definitely tempting to do that. However, when you spend the money on overseas airfare and luxury lodging for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s important to do and see all you can. What if you never have the opportunity to go back?
Pick several locations with easy access to surrounding villages and sites, and move down the coast every few days. Most of the towns along the French Riviera are within 30 minutes of the next town or village. If you stay in the places most appealing to you, you will still have the opportunity to get out and see more of the region if you want.
As mentioned in another post, last summer we did a lot of driving in Italy. Personally, I have a hard time recommending anyone drive in Italy, because it’s internationally notorious for scary driving experiences. However, France in different. At least it is outside of the big cities. Driving in the French Riviera is not only safe (as safe as in the US), it’s the best way to see the coast and get to many out of the way hotspots. You can certainly take the train or a ferry to most locations, but it takes up a lot of extra time. If you have the means to rent a car, do it!
P.S. You do not have to have an international driving certificate in France, like you do in some countries. Yet I do suggest paying for the extra “full” insurance coverage through the car rental company. Parking garages and side streets in Europe are pea-sized compared to what we’re used to. If you get stuck and scratch the rental, no harm no foul.
Do Your Research and Know When to Splurge
You’re going to the French Riviera… There will be plenty of opportunities to spend your money. However, if you’re traveling on a budget, decide upfront what to spend the “big money” on. Personally, I suggest splurging on one high-end hotel experience for a couple of nights, so you have a chance to feel like royalty. (Do it at the end of your trip, so the rest of your lodging experiences aren’t a let down.)
Then splurge on a couple amazing restaurants. The Côte d’Azur is known for its plethora of Michelin Star dining experiences.
Other ways you might decide to splurge in the French Riviera:
- Take a helicopter ride
- Rent a yacht
- Shop in the opulent shopping districts
- Go on a sailing trip
- Take cooking classes
- Drink your way through the wineries
To save money, you can book discount lodging through companies like Airbnb.com.
Eat Street Food
You’ll be surprised by the quality meals and snacks you can find at street carts, cafes, and bakeries. Make sure to taste regional specialties like socca, fougasse, salade nicoise, and barbagiuan.
Shop the Open Air Markets
One of the most endearing things about France, at least to a cook, is the quality of fresh foods you find at the street markets.
Walk the markets and pick up snacks and picnic supplies like fresh-made bread, local cheeses, fresh fruit and veggies, olives and sun dried tomatoes, regional candies and more. The vibrant colors, sounds, and aromas are something to experience!
Do the Free Stuff
Along with the occasional splurge activity, make the most of the free entertainment around town.
Visit the public beaches. Hike to the high point in town and look out over the Mediterranean Sea. Visit lavishly decorated hotels even if you aren’t staying there. Walk around the ports and watch the fishermen. Visit ornate cathedrals. Find local parks and fountains. Even some museums are free.
Get out of Town
There is much to do in the larger cities like Nice, Grasse, Antibes, Cannes and Monaco. However, there are many small villages in the region, that are worth your time.
These little hilltop towns seem to operate at a much slower pace, allowing you to truly relax. Walk the meandering cobblestone streets, sip local wine, and enjoy the calm of the french countryside.
Visit an Island
Another way to get out of town is to take a ferry to a nearby island. Many of the islands along the French Riviera have rich history, colorful stories, and glorious scenery. Spend an afternoon climbing castle stairs or sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in.
Hike to the High Point
I mentioned this above, but want to reiterate… When we travel to places we’ve never been before, we always find the highpoint in town and climb up. Sometimes it’s a park on top of a hill; sometimes it’s a watchtower or building. Yet getting up high enough to see the lay of the land is a great way to fit in a little exercise, take some amazing landscape shots, and make lasting memories, all at the same time.
Then you can hike down and enjoy an ice cream, guilt-free!
Contact Your Phone Service
An easy mistake when traveling abroad is to forget about international cellphone coverage, or lack there of. Contact your cellphone provider to determine the best option for you. Most providers have international data plans, yet they may or may not work where you are headed.
Other options: There are international travel apps to help with mapping, and wifi locators. You can purchase a cheap go-phone in the country upon arrival. I also know some travelers who use an old phone with a different provider just for travel. Just make sure to do a little research before you go.
Even if you aren’t a wine drinker, you need to take a sip in the French Riviera. We experienced some of the most bright flavorful wines I’ve had in years while working our way down the coast. Be sure to try the regional sparkling wines and rosé.
Expect Gravel Beaches
The allure of the Mediterranean Sea is the crystal blue water that seems to stay clear 30, even 50 feet down in some places. Yet, the Mediterranean wouldn’t be this way with powdery sand mucking it up.
Most of the beaches along the Côte d’Azur are gravel or pebble beaches. They are unique, beautiful to behold, and even therapeutic on your feet in some locations. Yet they are not soft to sit or lay on. (If you happen to see soft sand, most likely a hotel brought it in from another location.)
Gravel beaches don’t have to make or break your vacation. Look at them as part of the experience and plan to sit on a beach chair.
Prepare to See Boobs
American travelers are often shocked the first time they visit a French beach. Boobs everywhere. Hanging out for all to see. All shapes and sizes represented. (And nude beaches in some places.)
Bathing suite tops are optional in France. It’s part of the overall beach experience. You can either A) modestly turn your head, B) join in, or C) wear dark sunglasses and gawk.
Last summer we used the boobielicious beach experiences to teach our kids about cultural differences and being comfortable with their bodies. I think overall it was a positive teaching opportunity. They don’t seem scared from overexposure to boobs. *wink*
Make a Friend
Getting to know a local or two is a great way to discover insider information like the best local coffee shop or ice cream parlor, the best times to drive certain routes, or finding “hidden gems” during your stay. Every local we met along the way was hospitable and kind to us. I even got email addresses from a few new friends to keep in touch.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
How to I say this without sounding offensive… Americans don’t always have the best reputation in other countries. We think we’re awesome, but not everyone else does.
In different cultural situations we often come across as: LOUD, spoiled, uninformed, and down right rude. Please travel abroad with sensitive consideration, for all our sakes. Combat the negative stereotype with your actions.
Expect meals and service to take longer in other places than they might take in the US. Expect personal space to have a much smaller circumference, and don’t overreact when someone walks into yours. Get to know the local customs so you can treat people with the respect they deserve.
Be polite, patient, and courteous. Make us look good, so we are all welcome back!