Planning a Road Trip on the French Riviera
The French Riviera- the stretch of Mediterranean coastline that starts just east of the southern port city of Marseille and ends at the Italian border- has a reputation as one of the most beautiful areas in the world, and for good reason. Not only is the weather fantastic pretty much year-round (310-330 days of the sunshine per year!), the beaches are pristine, the cities colorful, and the history rich. The French call it the Cote d’Azur- the Azure Coast– and it has inspired generations of artists and writers, from Hemingway to Picasso to Monet, with its picturesque vistas and grand, storied villas.
As much as it has a reputation as a luxury destination, it’s actually a surprisingly affordable area to visit if you plan correctly, and extremely easy to get around- driving from Cassis, at one end, to Monaco at the other takes roughly two and a half hours to drive on the highway. It’s a great place to visit year-round, though if you want to avoid high tourist season it’s advisable not to go during July and August.
Decide How You Want to Travel
The area can be traveled fairly easily by both train and car, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each option. Trains in this region are relatively cheap- the regional train from Nice to Monaco costs about 4€ and runs regularly, so if you’re planning on mainly visiting larger cities like Nice, Cannes or Monaco, this could be the most economical route for you. Additionally, there are public buses that will take you to some of the smaller towns that sit further inland. However, the downside to taking public transport is having to work your schedule around the transport times.
Your other option is to rent a car, and there are several options to do this in France: Avis, Sixt, or even an Airbnb-for-cars type service called OuiCar. Rates will vary depending on the kind of car you get, and if you’re under 30 you will pay a higher rate, no matter how long you’ve had your license. If you’re unaccustomed to driving in cities in France, this option may not be for you, as French drivers tend to be more aggressive than, say, an American would be used to. Parking is also a concern, as it is scarce and pricey in larger cities like Nice. But renting a car will also give you a wider range of options of the places you can visit, as well as allowing you to set your own schedule.
Choose a Home Base
Your next task is to choose a home base for your trip, as this will make planning your transport routes easier. Most people will select either Cannes or Nice, as both of these cities have various accommodation options at a wide range of prices.
If you are planning to use public transport during your trip, Nice will be the city for you. Options are plentiful for reaching various destinations, and the city itself is a vibrant Mediterranean mecca begging to be explored.
If you plan to rent a car, your options expand, and you may find you prefer the calmer setting of a smaller city like Cannes to base yourself. Outside of peak season, parking is easier to find, and as the city is much smaller, even if you can’t park next to your accommodation, your ride won’t be far away.
Pick Your Destinations
This is the most exciting part of planning your trip: picking your destinations. Besides the big cities, there is so much to see in this region, and depending on how much time you have to spend, you’ll want to understand what each destination has to offer.
If you want to spend time chilling on the beach, then Menton and Nice are great places for you. Menton has much more of a village feel, but with adorable colorful buildings along the shoreline. Nice has the famed Promenade des Anglais, which you can stroll while holding a cone from Fenocchio, the most delicious ice cream on the Riviera.
If you love feeling the burn in your calves as you search for high-up vistas over the coastline, Saint Paul de Vence and Eze will be your favorite locations. While Saint Paul is a walled-in village with picturesque streets but only one real spot in the old town to get a view over the coastline (it’s overlooking a cemetery if you can find it!), Eze has a succulent garden at the top of the hill it’s built on with some of the most incredible views you’ll find anywhere on the Riviera.
If wandering through chic old towns is your thing, check out Antibes and Monaco. Antibes, formerly an ancient Greek town, is home to the Chateau Grimaldi, which houses the Picasso Museum as he lived there for six months in the 1940s, and has a bustling market in the center of the old town where you can buy a French woven picnic basket and fresh fruit and bread for lunch on the beach. If visiting Monaco, a bus can be taken from the train station to the old town, which overlooks the entirety of the municipality, is the location of the Monegasque royal residence, and has the most adorably colorful side streets.
One of the most important things to understand about the French way of life is that it is not rushed. They take the time to leave the office and have a real break for lunch, to go for a stroll, to have a drink with friends after work, to sit and read a book instead of looking at their phones. Especially on the Cote d’Azur, where it feels like everyone must be permanently on vacation, speeding around to get from one place to another and not really getting the feel of anywhere you visit really defeats the purpose of going to this popular vacation spot.
The main reason that this guide does not have a step-by-step itinerary is because the French Riviera is not that kind of place. However, to be realistic, no matter your mode of transportation, plan to do two destinations maximum in a day. If you get bored quickly and leave one early, it will give you more time in the second one. The best way to plan which places to visit on which days is simply to choose two destinations that are close to one another and have transport routes that connect them. For example, Saint Paul de Vence and Eze are easily doable in one day; Nice may be the only destination that could take multiple days to really explore.
Now that you have a general idea of how to plan your French Riviera trip, you can use the Inspirock itinerary planner to solidify your plans, book your itinerary and be living la vie française in no time!
About Our Guest Blogger
Emily is an American who has made Paris her home (and all the clichés that come with it). She enjoys exploring through her camera lens wherever she may be and annoying her Frenchman by mispronouncing French vowels.