Funny how this region sees on average 300 days of sunshine per year, because we saw plenty of clouds and rain during our visit. But even with the less than stellar weather, even with my California-spoiled eyes, and even with my unfavorable opinion of beach resorts and glamor, I still found this place to be too beautiful for words.
The Côte d’Azur (or French Riviera in English) has attracted celebrities and the filthy rich for quite some time now, making it a tourist magnet. Private yachts larger than military ships proudly bob in the marinas, grandmothers dressed like teenagers confidently strut along the beach in their painfully high heels, and everyone around dresses to impress–clearly, the people watching promises incredible amusement.
Two cities we visited along the French Riviera were Cannes and Nice, but we found that the most beautiful views were not the cities themselves, but the overlooks from the coastal drive. Unlike California’s Highway 1, this coastal drive passed through handfuls of opulent towns with luxury condos and marinas full of private yachts. While California’s coastal route was woodsy and rugged, the French Riviera was colorful and pretentious.
En route to Cannes:
The French Riviera didn’t seem to favor motorhome culture (motorhomes don’t exactly pair well with glitz and glamor), so we were forced to think creatively for parking. Luckily there was one service station in west Cannes at a Hyper Casino supermarket, and the streets all along that area had plenty of free parking. We weren’t the only motorhome parked on the street, and there were plenty of convenient buses (Line 1) that took us into the heart of Cannes for €1.50 per person, one-way.
Coincidentally we arrived to Cannes just four days before the Cannes International Film Festival! Stages and tents were being set up left and right.
Beautiful shopping neighborhoods and giant boats:
The best view of Cannes was from the top of the historic quarter, which predates the modern-day classy Cannes:
And of course, the views from the beach were sweet too, particularly at sundown.
We were glad to have had a hint of sunshine in Cannes, because the weather worsened as we arrived to Nice. Because Nice only had one decent option for motorhomes, one that was notoriously crowded, we left Cannes a bit early on a Sunday morning to arrive to this parking lot by 10am. There was 1 spot remaining, just for us. WOO! But unfortunately buses weren’t running that day for whatever reason (typical France) so we had to walk 30 minutes to the train station to take the train into Nice.
From the train station we walked to the museum of contemporary art (MAMAC) to see Warhol’s original Campbell Soup Can, where it was supposedly free to enter. Nope. Not free. But the Loch Ness Monster fountain out front was adorable.
From there we wandered through lovely city parks to the historic quarter of Nice, where bars, restaurants, and cafes were lively with people. The must-go to eatery? Fenocchio, the ice cream shop with dozens of unique flavors including tomato-basil (which I thought tasted like cold spaghetti sauce) and beer. Our favorite flavor was Speculoos.
The must-do in Nice: a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais. Unfortunately the weather prevented us from venturing too far along the curved beachfront. Despite the gray skies, the water still shimmered blue as ever.
Because the weather for the remaining week looked grim and the buses weren’t running, we decided to leave Nice for Italy. As I mentioned earlier, the French Riviera’s most beautiful views were not from the cities, but from the coastal highway. After navigating the windy roads and hairpin turns, we were rewarded with these views between Nice and Monaco:
Budget-minded travelers can’t spend too much time in Nice. Not only would we need to be willing to break the bank, we would need to have a different mindset of wanting to be seen. I’m not a glamorous girl, nor do I like to spend money on things I don’t find a great value, but I loved Nice for its beauty and diversity and I’d love to return during finer weather. I’m sure the French Riviera would be even more beautiful.