Nearly two months out from our trip to France, and I’m still mesmerized by every photo. That palpable feeling of joy, of overflowing gratitude — it’s highest for me when I’m near salt water and doubly so when it involves France. I’m dreaming of deep blue water, clear as a bell. Silvery fish, darting amongst the rocks. Colorful sunbaked buildings cropping up along the shore. In short, I am homesick for France, for our (admittedly unrealistic) life there. It’s a lifelong love affair that I’m never able to fully get over.
I adore a beautiful beach with crystal clear waters, and the only thing that’s better than that is to add in a dash of French culture and art de vivre. All those things come together on the French Riviera, or the delightfully named Cote d’Azur. And azure it is indeed – those crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean promise languid afternoons and plenty of sunshine, a glass of rose in a tiny shop, talking about everything and nothing with a quirky and delightful vendeuse.
- Paris to Avignon via TGV
- Pick up our rental car at Gare d’Avignon
- Lunch in the old town
- Drive through Provence to Le Mas des Herbes Blanches, ten minutes from Gordes
- Dinner in Menerbes at Le Bistrot 5
- Overnight stay at Le Mas des Herbes Blanches
- Take the autoroute the next day towards Nice
- Arrive in Villefranche-sur-Mer, check in to apartment
- Spend the next few days wandering up and down the coastline
- Fly home to the US from Nice
HOW TO GET TO THE MEDITERRANEAN FROM PARIS
For Jude’s first trip to France, Simon requested that we maximize our trip and get out of the city to see part of the south. I was only too thrilled to oblige – I knew it’d be a total hit since as a family we tend to be beach people. Now, there are plenty of options for getting to the south, depending on how much time you have and how much money you want to spend.
The TGV is so easy; you can literally hop on minutes before it departs from the Gare de Lyon in Paris, sit in relative comfort with snacks, bathrooms, wifi, etc. all at your fingertips. And zero waiting to get through security. But – the downside is that it does take substantially longer than air travel. Plan to spend 6 hours on the train
Now, in the age of budget airlines, you can hop down to Nice for cheap on airlines like RyanAir, EasyJet, etc. Take note – sometimes those flights leave from obscure airports. Which means you’ll be spending more time/money getting to the airport in time for your flight. So. It all boils down to how much time you have and how much you want to spend.
Do you need a car? Ehh. Depends. Along the coastline, the train stops at all the little towns. It’s cheap, efficient, and easy to navigate. But – if you like having the ability to roam on your own terms, a car is a great way to explore. NOTE: If you go into Provence, you absolutely will need a car. Parking can sometimes be a pain, and the roads are narrow with plenty of hairpin turns. Oh, and let’s not even talk about how horrible the traffic is in Monte-Carlo. To suggest that it’s a cluster is putting it mildly. Park your car and take the train into Monaco. The end.
WHERE TO STAY // COTE D’AZUR
To me, the true charm of this part of France can be found in all the lovely little towns dotting the coastline from Marseille all the way to the Italian border. I want easy access to the beach, a pretty place to stay, within walking distance of the train, and with lots of good food. The most famous locations along the Cote d’Azur are Nice, St-Tropez, Cannes, and Monte-Carlo. Nice is sprawling and busy, and not my favorite stretch of beach. Monte-Carlo is equally crazy but much more glitzy with plenty of yachts and expensive cars to dazzle.
But my personal favorite is Villefranche-sur-Mer. Sleepy and beautiful with candy-colored buildings stretched along a crystal-clear bay full of gently bobbing fishing boats (with the occasional yacht thrown in for good measure), it was our favorite town when I was a student to hit the beach. Plus it’s so darn charming — the old town rises from the bay up the hillside and it’s almost too good to believe. How could anything be that beautiful and real?