Last but not least on my French Riviera tour, visiting Saint Tropez and Cannes, France. Ooh lala!
You can take a train from Nice to Saint Raphael, then take the ferry to Saint Tropez (there is no train station in Saint Tropez.) However, we were told that driving in the French Riviera was a must, so decided driving this leg of or trip would save us the most time.
P.S. After our driving experience in Italy last summer, I thought there was no way I would ever drive in this part of the world, but we noticed driving in France seemed very similar to driving in the US. Plus no need for an international driving certificate.
As long as you avoid driving in or out of Saint Tropez from 5 to 7 pm, the route in easy and quite a treat off the highway. You curve through other alluring little towns like Sainte-Maxime and Port Grimaud.
We pulled into Hotel Benkirai, which was located conveniently between the village side of Saint Tropez and the beach side. We found Hotel Benkirai offered complementary transportation to both locations.
Hotel Benkirai is a true retreat from the world. Quiet. Slightly out of the way. And full of luxurious amenities.
We took the shuttle into town to walk the Streets of Saint Tropez. I didn’t really know what to expect, other than lots of Brigitte Bardot photos and references, but loved finding a small seaside village with old-world architecture and unpretentious style.
You can certainly see plenty of flaunty pretentious tourists in Saint Tropez… Just walk down to the port along side all the yachts to find them. But they are also easy to avoid.
We preferred meandering along the narrow side streets and popping into shops.
If you happen to be in Saint Tropez at sunset, you should walk to the left end of the port, away from the over-priced stretch of restaurants, and walk out onto the docks.
Or take a ride on the carousel at sunset.
After the sun went down we walked back into town to find a restaurant the hotel concierge suggested, Le Dit Vin a small multilevel bistro serving fresh seafood and pasta.
The next morning we decided to check out the line of beaches in Saint Tropez. The beaches run down one long coast with private beach clubs and public beaches mingled throughout.
You can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas at the private beach clubs and receive food and beverage service in your cushioned lounger… but it can be a little pricey. Many people just bring their own beach chairs and make themselves comfortable on the public beaches.
I should note that the French Riviera is known for being very open-minded about what qualifies as appropriate beachwear. At least to the American eye.
It’s very normal for women to be topless. In fact no one seems to notice, except the American tourists.
There are even some nude beaches along this stretch of the Côte d’Azur. (Ahem… Neptune Beach and surrounding public beaches.) If you plan to walk the full length of the beach, you will pass naked people. You can either modestly turn your eyes out toward the sea or gawk away.
If you prefer to gawk, I suggest big dark sunglasses. *wink*
We visited quite a few of the beach clubs in Saint Tropez, but ended up eating lunch at luxurious Nikki Beach Club, located right behind the main beach. Although it’s not on the water, the atmosphere was very chic and the sushi was amazing.
The best part of visiting the beach in Saint Tropez is getting out on the water. Amanda and I rented a glorified paddle boat and made our way out among the yachts. The water is so clear and inviting it would have been a shame to not get wet!
After such a short time in Saint Tropez, we were sad to leave. However, we had plans in nearby Cannes, France and had to move on.
My final thoughts on Saint Tropez is that the village and beach are both charming and alluring for many reasons. Yet if sand quality is how you rate a beach, these beaches do not stack up to most American beaches. The sand is tough in some areas, even painful, not powdery as we are used to. However, the gravel-like sand is the price you pay for crystal blue water in which you can see 30 feet down.
All in all, you don’t go to Saint Tropez for the sand. You go for the exotic luxury everywhere you look. For the people watching, boating, and lovely gentle aqua waves. You go to say you’ve been to Saint Tropez!
After a long day at the beach, we packed up our car and drove into Cannes, France. Cannes (pronounced can) is the third largest city in the region and is best known for hosting the annual Cannes Film Festival with a wide red carpet leading up the steps of the convention center to welcome various international movies stars.
Although we didn’t see any movie stars while we were there, we did find a city worth visiting any time of year!
Cannes, France is considered the most affordable city in the Côte d’Azur. Although you will find 5 star hotels, Michelin star restaurants, and elite shopping, you can find clean affordable lodging, dining, and shopping as well.
The streets tier back from the sea according to shopping price range, so to speak… The road running along the water has the highest-end shopping. The second street back has mid-range shopping geared toward average tourist shoppers. And the third street back from the sea is for locals and bargain shopping. You can find fun places to stop for snacks on all three streets.
Just past the main shopping district, is Old Town Cannes.
A friend from FrenchRiviera.com helped set up a wonderful tour of this part of town through the Cannes Tourism Board. Narrow winding streets lead up a steep hill overlooking the sea and two small islands, that you can visit by ferry. One of which contains the prison that held the infamous “man in the iron mask” in the 1600s.
Old Town Cannes, is a lovely place to walk around and take in the old-world atmosphere.
Another major attraction in Cannes, France is the popular Forville Market. Stop by in the morning to mingle with locals and find the freshest produce, flowers, and seafood.
Socca is a regional pancake-like snack made with chickpea flour.
If you make it to Cannes, France, you must stop and enjoy a steaming wood-oven baked piece of socca, and chat with the delightful local artisans at Forville Market.
We stayed at the Clarion Suites in Cannes, a conveniently located 4-star hotel, just a couple blocks off the water.
Choosing a hotel right in the heart of Cannes made it easy to get out and sight-see on our short stay.
And after eating amazing french-mediterranean cuisine for a solid week, the food in Cannes, France did not disappoint.
One of my two most memorable meals was a lunch at the chic Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez ZPlage Restaurant overlooking the water. We gorged ourselves on enormous burgers, lightly fried fish, artful salads, and the “L’oreal Dessert” complete with a pastry purse, ice cream lipstick, and a real lipstick to take with you.
ZPlague is known for its creative dishes and its night life!
Our last dinner in Cannes, and probably the most memorable of all, was a meal we helped make. Thanks to the support of Friend-In-France.com we were able to visit the home of Chef Elaine Muskas for a “French Bistro” cooking class.
We gathered with a small group of new friends to cook, sip wine, and learn the ins and outs of classic french dishes like Pork Short Ribs and Whipped Potatoes. Chef Muskas’ class is rated the #1 attraction in Cannes, France on trip advisor!
Our time in Saint Tropez and Cannes, France was very short, but we packed in as much adventure as possible. These two cities along the French Riviera are breath-taking, unique, and worth your time to visit.
I’ve already started making a list of the things I need to experience on my next trip to Côte d’Azur!
Disclosure: I partnered with several companies on my French Riviera Girls Getaway, including Clarion Suites, Hotel Benkirai, and Friend In France. As always, I only work with companies I believe in, and all opinions are my own.