This sun-drenched shore has beckoned the famous and infamous for centuries. Here our girl-about-globe Ashley Dobson shares the allure of the French Riviera’s history… as well as the latest trends and tips for this hot destination.
Cruising along in a silver Aston Martin, taking in the full coastline of the stunning Côte d’Azur, we finally pull up to the grand façade of the Monte Carlo Casino. Dressed to the nines in a tux and long fitted gown, we walk up the red carpet, get our photos taken inside and make our way to the bar to grab a drink – shaken, not stirred.
Did I just describe James Bond’s night out or my husband and I on his annual birthday trip? Every year, instead of a party, we take a trip together to celebrate. But choosing the right location for the perfect birthday trip can sometimes be a challenge. It needs to have the right blend of relaxation, sights to see – but not too many – and a place to properly celebrate. This year it needed to be even more special because my husband, Cameron, was turning another decade older and we needed to ring in his milestone birthday in style. The French Riviera delivered on all of these requirements— and more.
CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION
The only international airport in the Riviera is in Nice, France. As the largest city on the Côte d’Azur, Nice makes the perfect home base for your trip. We arrived late in the evening and headed straight to our hotel, which overlooked the crystal clear water. There is nothing better than waking up to the soft sound of Mediterranean waves crashing upon the shore.
We began our first full day by enjoying coffee on our hotel room balcony, and then we strolled down the Promenade des Anglais on our way to Old Town. You could be forgiven for spending the majority of your time in Nice on the Promenade; the views are spectacular and it feels as though the ocean is actually calling to you. But there is so much more to see.
We left the Promenade for the Cours Saleya pedestrian street in Old Town and spent some time shopping in Nice’s daily market. Striped awnings stretched over stands overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, and handmade items for sale. We couldn’t resist the fresh pastries, and we also picked up some lavender-scented soaps made in neighboring Provence.
The Côte d’Azur is nothing short of inspiring with its unique architecture, stunning water, and fields of lavender, and we are far from the only people who felt that energy. Artists have flocked to the region for centuries, and the Riviera features more than 100 museums to prove it. Twelve of these museums are dedicated to a single artist who worked in the Riviera, Marc Chagall.
The Musée Marc Chagall houses the artist’s most impactful pieces, the 17 Biblical Message painting. Henri Matisse is honored in the Musée Matisse, located near the artist’s former Nice residence and the cemetery where he lays buried, which holds some of the artist’s best known works. After a day full of sightseeing and walking along the beach, we retired back to our hotel, where we indulged in in-room massages. Feeling relaxed and happy after a perfect first day on vacation, we looked forward to the next day of our adventure.
If the first day of our vacation was about seeing everything the Riviera had to offer, the second day was about experiencing its epicurean offerings. The French Riviera holds more than 50 Michelin stars spread amongst 38 restaurants, not to mention all of the adorable cafes and bistros tucked along almost every street. Good food is easy to find; the harder choice is narrowing your options. We let reservations and location help make this choice for us. A word to the wise – many restaurants in the Riviera are booked up months ahead of time, so if you have your heart set on a particular place, it helps to call ahead.
We managed to secure a seating at Jan, a popular spot located in a former motorcycle repair shop, not that you would ever know it thanks to the elegant décor. Every detail from the blue walls to the unique dishes was hand picked and adds to the restaurant’s sophisticated, yet comfortable vibe. Jan has a world-renowned reputation thanks to its South African chef and namesake Jan Hendrik.
The menu, a mix of South African and French cuisine made with all fresh ingredients from local markets, was inspired by Hendrik’s grandmother. There is no option for a la carte; you must have the chef’s selection – but rest assured, he won’t steer you wrong. Even if the flavors sound like they won’t work—Cucumber Ice Cream, is this for real?—you may just discover your new favorite dish.
CANNES DO ATTITUDE
The French Riviera is sometimes referred to as a playground for celebrities. In fact, the region has earned this reputation from the annual Festival de Cannes, the international film festival. The invitation-only festival previews new films of all genres from all around the world. This year the Festival de Cannes celebrated its 70th anniversary, with special events at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.
The Boulevard de la Croisette is the street on which the festival takes place; and this neighborhood offers a spot with just the right amount of star power. ’ Five-star luxury hotels, luxury shops, and top restaurants line the famed boulevard. One such destination is the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes. The hotel was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief and the hotel still pays tribute to this 1955 cinematic masterpiece. Guests can stay in suite 623 where the film was shot or in a suite named for the film’s leading lady, Grace Kelly. The hotel also honored the brightest stars who have called the hotel home for a night or two, by naming ten Prestige Suites after them. If you really want to vacation like a celebrity, Cannes is the place to see and be seen.
MONTE CARLO MYSTIQUE
The different flavors of each city on the Riviera are what make the area such a vibrant and exciting place to visit. Monte Carlo, though located in its own independent principality, is considered a part of the French Riviera and we dedicated our final day of the trip to exploring what this city had to offer.
When I think of Monaco I immediately think of Grace Kelly, so my first stop had to be the castle where she lived out every girl’s dream of being a real-life princess. Most know Kelly was an American actress who became the Princess of Monaco after marrying Prince Rainier III in 1956. The Prince’s Palace of Monaco is still the residence of the royal family, so it is heavily guarded, but you can still see the Renaissance-style façade and catch a glimpse of the view she must have had from her tower.
As we walked around and took in the view, there was one thing we couldn’t help but notice. Beyond the architecture and the sea front, there are luxury cars as far as the eye can see. Ferraris, Buggatis, Maseratis, Aston Martins, you can find them all. Lamborghinis are basically the Honda Civics of Monte Carlo — commonplace and ubiquitous. There is something about Monte Carlo that insists you step up your game to join the glamourous fun. It is the perfect place to celebrate a birthday, or indeed any landmark occasion.
For our final stop, we headed to the famed Hotel de Paris, a recognizable landmark from movies such as The Red Shoes, Iron Man 2, and GoldenEye, and stepped into the very lobby where Audrey Hepburn was discovered as a film starlet. With a marble staircase and a stunning chandelier, it oozed old-school allure.
Cameron chose the historic Salle Empire restaurant in the hotel for his birthday dinner and we were greeted at the entrance with glasses of champagne. Our three-course meal was nothing short of pure decadence, from the cheese plate to the lobster to the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. The windows of Salle looked out over the Monte Carlo Casino entrance and we grew more excited about the next stop of the evening as we watched men and women get out of their exotic cars and climb the red carpeted steps.
We soon followed their lead and found ourselves following in the footsteps of James Bond into the fabled casino. The slot machines were not kind to us, but we found our luck at the Roulette table. A few rounds in and it was like we hadn’t spent any money at the casino at all. We decided to leave before Lady Luck decided to favor someone else. After such a perfect vacation, it truly felt as though we couldn’t get any luckier.
This historic hotel is the perfect choice for anyone looking to stay in Nice. Located right on the Promenade des Anglais, it offers an incredible view of the Mediterranean. Known for its staff costumed in outfits based on 18th century clothing, everything about this hotel is over the top from its rococo décor to the original artwork to the famed Baccarat 16,309-crystal chandelier in the Royal Lounge. The hotel has its own private beach, as well as a Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Chantecler.
Hotel Negresco, 37 Promenade des Anglais, 06000 Nice, France
Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel
Just a few feet from the French border on the private Larvotto peninsula, the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort is full of the type of grandeur you would expect from Monaco. It boasts three restaurants, including one with a Michelin star, its own casino, a private beach, a Cinq Mondes spa, heated indoor and outdoor pools, and a sandy bottom lagoon with waterfalls. The property is surrounded by lush gardens, and the posh rooms come with fantastic views.
Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel, 40 Av. Princesse Grace, 98000 Monaco
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc
If you are looking to live like Gatsby himself, there is no better place to escape to than Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. This stunning property from the late 1800s looks like a movie set, and its guest list usually reads like one too. A heated infinity pool overlooks the Mediterranean, and guests also have access to five tennis courts, 33 cabanas, a boutique, and the Sisley spa. The hotel is also known for its concierge, which goes above and beyond for its luxury guests.
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Boulevard J. F. Kennedy, 06601 Antibes, France