For my 25th birthday this October, I decided to treat myself to a Eurotrip. The first part of my vacation I spent on the French Riviera-Côte d’Azur: 2 weeks in Nice and vicinity and a day each in Marseilles and Montpellier.
And what a great choice that was. I absolutely loved it there. Even at the end of October, the weather was stunning: highs of around 20C. Water temperatures were not comparable to Caribbean but I still swam a few times to make the experience more complete. And there were a lot of other people take a dip or doing a full-on swimming practice.
What I wouldn’t give to bite into a freshly baked, crunchy french baguette or a croissant, which are sold on every corner in Nice. That stereotype is 100% correct: French love their pastries. There is plenty of other food to indulge in if you are not a fan of the sweets (shame on you, though!): sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, steaks, mussels, etc.
If you visiting Nice, you absolutely must see the following in Nice: Promenade, Arènes de Cimiez, Vieille Ville, Place Massena; and around Nice: Monaco (I liked it not for all the posh things there but for the beautiful landscape of the city-state), Villefranche sur Mer (it has a nice beach) and Eze village (it has a castle that used to be a small town and is now home to numerous restaurants, shops and a tropical garden. You will not regret visiting this place; it has the most magnificent panoramic view of the Mediterranean coast!)
If you traveling with children, there is a massive, awesome playground that starts at the Place Massena and goes along Promenade du Paillon. It is a very nice, clean park that has a lot of tourists and locals talking a stroll and enjoying the weather. Parks in France have gates and are closed at night.
Despite it being late October-early November when I visited, there were still a lot of tourists so I can only imagine how crazy busy it gets in the summer months. In my opinion, end of September or beginning of October is the perfect time to visit this city because the tourists are not as numerous and the weather is just perfect for walking around and even swimming.
A couple of things to be aware of: Nice and south of France in general hosts a LOT of poop on the sidewalks (Yes, I am serious). You have to watch where you step, especially if you are wearing fancy shoes. The sidewalks and roads are paved so you can wear heels without breaking your ankles. Another thing to keep in mind is that all the public washrooms are paid, even in the malls and train stations (cost ranges between 0.30 and 0.60 cents) so I suggest you do your business at home as much as possible. Last thing that I had to adjust to is the EVERY OTHER person in France smokes. Compared to North America, French are tobacco trains. If you can’t stand the smell of smoke, like me, deal with it cause there is no way you can escape it; people there smoke everywhere!
With all the recent political turmoil, be prepared to see many militia with big, scary guns (especially at the air ports and train stations).
As expected, almost everyone in the food and service industry speaks at least some English, although if you know basic phrases, you will be better off because a lot of signs and announcements are done in french.
A roughly 4 hour train ride gets you to another city on the French Riviera, Marseilles. Sadly, I missed the excursion that I really wanted to see on the day I arrived and because I was there for only 1 day, I couldn’t make it to the one next day. If you have the opportunity to do a boat excursion or drive to the Calanques, I suggest you do it. From all the pictures and videos I have seen, it is definitely a place worth visiting and I will most likely be back to Marseilles some time in the future to visit this stunning natural phenomenon.
The city itself is big and, unfortunately, dirty. If you are woman traveling alone, I suggest sticking to the very downtown, close to the old port/vieux port. If you venture outside of that area, you are more than likely to be subject to verbal and perhaps even physical harassment from the local men, even during the day. At night, do not walk the streets alone or at least without a pepper-spray.
The architecture of the city is very impressive but as I have mentioned the streets are dirty and deteriorating. It is a shame! If you are traveling with kids, there is a great park you can take them: it is in front of Palais des congrès du Pharo. A lot of people have picnics there and the view is quite beautiful.
I stayed at Appart’City, which is not too far from the old port. It is in an area that is being re-developed and I felt quite safe getting there on foot in the evening. The hotel itself was great: it has a gate for those coming back in the evening. The room was spacious and clean, with a full kitchen (stove, microwave, fridge, dishwasher). The room and hotel are modern and, overall, I liked it (especially for that price).
This is a tiny city (if I can call it that), located about 1.5-2 hours away from Marseilles by train. The city is mostly made up of students and I felt very safe here, even walking around the city at night. Because of the younger general population, it feels friendlier than Nice and Marseilles. Despite being tiny, there are quite a few things to see here. One day was enough to cover most of what wanted to see: the old city, Antigone, La Promenade du Peyrou and Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier. I visited the city on a Sunday, which meant that everything except the very center-the old city and Antigone, was dead (which I actually liked).
Architecture of the city is very inspiring and there are a lot of things to photograph. The city is pretty clean and easy to get around by foot. In the main square of the city, you will find a tourist office, where you can get a map of the city and the main attractions.
I stayed in Appart’City once again and, although, the building and the rooms were older, it was a good experience. A lot of the people in the hotel are students that renting rooms long-term. The hotel is about 10-15 minute walk from the train station (depending on how big your suitcase is) and downtown.