Above is my painting inspired by our time in the tiny fishing village turned celebrity hotspot: Saint Tropez
If Italy was all about la dolce vita, then our time in France can similarly be described as full of joie de vivre: the French expression referring to the cheerful enjoyment of life through whatever means one prefers. Henri Matisse, one of a generation of artists who made the Côte d’Azur their home, once said “When I realized that each morning I would see this light again, I could not believe my luck.” And so we followed his lead….making this gorgeous strip of land our home for two weeks.
We both look back on this time fondly, and not because we packed in a lot of activities or sightseeing. Quite the contrary: our days were often spent doing normal things: morning jogs along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, mastering the perfect breakfast crepe in the comfort of our Airbnb kitchen, or enjoying a glass of rosé with dear friends in Saint Tropez. A perfect combination of familiar and new, exciting and routine.
While we by no means saw everything that the Côte d’Azur and Provence had to offer, here are some snapshots of our French sejour, a time we will not soon forget.
I lived in France for 6 months during my junior year in college, and ever since I’ve had a poster of Nice hanging up in my bedroom, hoping to someday return to the lovely capital of the Côte d’Azur. So we decided to make Nice our home for 11 days, allowing us to take day trips to neighboring villages while also enjoying the culture and amenities found in this (relatively) large town.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the heart of the vieille ville (old town), overlooking the Flower Market, and steps away from the Promenade des Anglais as well as the famous pebbly beach. For anyone interested in coming to Nice, we highly recommend staying in this area: the narrow streets are made for wandering, and the plethora of artist galleries, cafes, bars and boutiques tucked away on the side streets ensured we were never bored.
Some of our favorite local highlights were:
- Gelateria Pinocchio – Nice has a very Italian vibe, after all it used to be part of Italy, so gelato is plentiful. This place was just a few steps away from our house, and is a must-try. Their lavender gelato made with the local lavande Provençale was my favorite.
- Les Distilleries Idéales – One of the best places to get a drink and people-watch in old town Nice. We would usually take our change from the day and spend it on €2 wine and cocktails.
- Caju Vegan – I love a good vegan spot, and was happy to learn that there was one just a few steps from our house. Caju Vegan is a great place to grab lunch and rejuvenate. The menu is small, but everything is tasty.
- Le Plongeoir – We went running along the boardwalk almost daily, and on one of our runs, we discovered Le Plongeoir, a restaurant with a mini island connected to it by a little bridge. We ended up there one night, and while we didn’t get a table on the island, the experience was beautiful. Highly recommend.
- Museums – Nice is a big city, and you can spend your days attending museums if you so desire (which I did on several occasions). My two favorites were the Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain (MAMAC) and the Musée Matisse.
When Gaetan and I moved in together, he brought with him a huge framed “Hôtel du Cap” Slim Aarons photo as one of his few contributions to our home decor. Staring at the photo daily made us want to visit this gorgeous hotel one day. When in Nice, we took the TGV to Antibes, and then a quick uber to the Hôtel du Cap, an amazing property situated on Eden-Roc: the edge of Antibes. Walking in was like stepping into a Saint James boutique, with wait staff outfitted in crisp (if somewhat kitschy) breton stripe tops, and an all-white cliffside grill overlooking the iconic pool.
After drinks, we enjoyed the sunset while walking around the lush property and then drove back to downtown Antibes, where we dined at Chez Helen, an amazing vegan restaurant, owned by Helen (an American) and her French husband.
We closed out the evening by exploring the Antibes port area, a tourist hotspot with a photo worthy ferris wheel. Due to a train delay, the one spot we didn’t have a chance to check out is the Picasso museum, created in the artist’s former residence, as he spent 6 months there in 1946. All the more reason to come back!
Saying that we truly experienced Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat would be a lie, as we mostly just visited the Grand Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, an iconic property recently converted into a Four Seasons. As our friends were staying there, we ventured over for dinner as well as a pool day. The grounds are gorgeous, and the pool – which looks over the cliffs and the famous Cap-Ferrat Lighthouse – is to die for. If we’re ever back in the south of France for a special occasion, it’ll be a toss up between this place and Hôtel du Cap in Antibes.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is another tiny beachfront village bordering Nice and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It sits on the Bay of Villefranche, which is aptly named one of the most beautiful bays in the world. We drove in for dinner one night and spent some time walking around. The village itself retains much of its old world, medieval charm, yet still has a posh waterfront dining scene. We joined our friends and their amazingly well behaved baby for drinks on the quai and then moved onto La Mère Germaine, a tasty local seafood restaurant with a great view of the bay.
The best part of dining on the quai is the street performers, who play classic tunes for passerbys and vacationers every evening, whether they like it or not!
Èze was a perfect day trip from Nice, and a welcome change from our daily beach view. There is a list of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages’ in France, and it’s one of the famous “perched” villages, sitting 1,400 feet above sea level. A quick uber from Nice got us there in no time. Despite the fact that it was about 99 degrees out, we needed to check out the famous Jardin Exotique d’Èze (botanical garden). The view of the Mediterranean alone was worth the trek up, but the unique collection of flora, cacti, trees and sculptures were beautiful to see as well. On a hot day, the misters available on the east side of the garden provide a much-needed cooling effect.
One of the main draws to Èze is the famous two-Michelin star restaurant at the Chèvre d’Or. It was indeed beautiful, but we didn’t have a chance to splurge for lunch there. Instead, we opted for a quick lunch at Deli’ Èze Village, before heading back to Nice.
I was excited for a trip out to Cannes since one of my last projects at work was for the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. While quitting my job just a few weeks before the festival hampered any plans of actually going there for work this year, I was excited to check out the town and have drinks at the venue that Pinterest had picked for their HQ space this year: the Carlton Pier at the InterContinental.
Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed in Cannes. While I can see why the town might be a favorite of the conference and yachting crowd, as a regular tourist, it didn’t charm me the same way as some of the other villages had. The town was crowded, overly opulent, the beaches were surprisingly dirty, and there was not much else to do besides eat and shop. Even the one museum we went to – La Malmaison – was not impressive in its exhibition of the works of Paul Mansouroff. That said, the nighttime view of Cannes from the Golfe de la Napoule (the bay) was truly impressive!
Gorges Du Verdon
I was getting a bit restless after too much time on the beach, so on our way to Saint Tropez from Nice, we made a pit-stop at Gorges Du Verdon for 2 days and 1 night. Gorges Du Verdon is essentially France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. It’s about 2,300 feet deep in spots, and a popular place for hiking, mountain-climbing and kayaking. I’d pinned this location several years ago, and had been dying to kayak through its turquoise blue waters for quite some time.
The best place to kayak is where the Verdon river meets Lac de Sainte-Croix: you will find several kayak and paddle-boat rentals. Word to the wise: go in the morning before it’s too crowded, otherwise you will spend several hours in line for an available kayak. While kayaking through the gorge was beautiful, due to the heavy drought the region had been experiencing for nearly 6 months, the water level was at an all-time low, making it difficult to see a lot of the gorge, and also creating quite the river traffic jam with all of the other kayaks and paddle boats! After kayaking, we recommend checking out Lac de Sainte-Croix, which is actually a reservoir but still maintains that beautiful blue color, with several beaches great for an afternoon picnic.
Bordering the Gorges Du Verdon, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is another one of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages,’ coming highly recommended by Gaetan’s mom. It was a beautiful part of Provence, the town itself is built into the mountains, and has a stream and multiple waterfalls running right through the center. One of the main highlights is the historic monument Chapel Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, accessible only after climbing the 262 steps of a polished (and quite slippery) stone stairway on the flank of the hill. At the top you reach the chapel that overlooks the village. On the way to the chapel – in addition to the beautiful view of the town – you will see the famous gold-painted star, suspended between two mountains. According to legend: when knight Bozon de Blacas was held prisoner by the Saracens during the Crusades; he vowed to hang a star over his village if he was able to return.
We stayed the night at Bastide Du Calalou, a gorgeous resort not far from the gorge. Though our time in Provence was short, we loved the short break from the coast, and would love to return to experience more of the cuisine, the lavender fields, and the small towns of this region.
Saint Tropez has a reputation as a glitzy resort town. Sure, it has its fair share of celebrities, yachts, and exclusive clubs, but at its heart, it’s a small fishing village, and certainly retains some of that original charm. Given the amount of attention it gets, you would think that Saint Tropez is on par in size to somewhere like Cannes, or even Nice. However, given its location in the shoreline, it feels much more remote than most other places on the French coastline.
Although I wasn’t sure this would 100% be our type of scene, we had plans to spend 4 days here with friends, and I was excited to check it out. Upon arriving at our amazing Airbnb right in the middle of everything, I felt right at home. The town struck me as the French version of East Hampton, which I was no stranger to during my life in New York.
With its tiny alleyways, pastel-colored doorways, and plethora of boutiques and art studios, Saint Tropez was so charming that I hardly noticed the hoards of yachties (though there were many!). Since we were here for a few days, these were a few of our favorite hangouts.
- Sénéquier – This place is an institution in Saint Tropez, after being featured in the Brigitte Bardot movie, “And God Created Woman”. It’s right in the marina and has arguably the best view and people watching galore. The service is really wonderful, making It great for coffee, drinks or dinner. For something more casual, there is a Sénéquier to go in the tiny square behind the main restaurant.
- La tarte tropezienne – Saint Tropez is known for its famous pastry: tarte tropezienne, or “trop” for short. It’s a dessert pastry consisting of a filled brioche sprinkled with sugar. This patisserie is known for these cakes, among many other delicious french specialties. There is usually a line, so make sure to come early!
- La Cave du Golfe – This place more or less sums up our Saint Tropez experience because we spent the majority of our time in and around this lovely wine shop, trying local Cote d’Azur wine, and chatting with Armel, the wonderful owner. It’s located in a tiny square just behind the marina – complete with a bakery and cheese shop – providing the perfect place to open a bottle of wine, bite into a baguette and sample some truffle brie.
- Cabane Bambou – Most of the Saint Tropez beach clubs are actually in the neighboring beach town of Ramatouelle, on the famous white sand Pampelonne Beach. Cabane Bambou is a casual beach club where we had a delicious seafood lunch one day. I highly recommend their shrimp appetizer and grilled fish entree. Club 55 – another famous Saint Tropez beach club – was on the agenda for the next day, but as Archie – the youngest member of our group – was not having it, we made a call to not go. It’s definitely on my list to check out next time!
And that’s a wrap! After Saint Tropez, we made the questionable decision to take an overnight bus to our next destination: Ljubljana, Slovenia