The French Riviera

As it is currently grey and raining across the East Coast, and I’ve been caught in flight delays and train transfers between Boston and New York all week, I figured I’d reminisce on one of the most beautiful, sunny places I’ve traveled to. Unlike the sunshine in cities, which is often filtered through pollution and smog and the shadows of buildings, sun on the French coast is clear and warms your skin tenderly, without forcing an immediate sweat like direct sun like the Atlantic coast sun often does. When it hits the water, it reveals a multiplicity of colors, all in a gorgeous spectrum of blues.



The French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur, is one of the most picturesque places I’ve been. Accurately named the “blue coast” in French, the views do not disappoint. The region includes a vast stretch of southern France, along the Mediterranean coast. We first arrived in autonomous Monaco, which had a muted, subtle beauty, and then traveled to Nice, a vibrant coastal town.


Monaco is nestled against both the water and the craggy mountains of southern France. The colorful buildings wind alongside streets teeming with activity, and gradually make their way up the mountain where the feel is more village than bustling international destination. There isn’t too much to do in Monaco aside from window shop on  streets, go to the casino, or eat. If you have a taste for luxury, of course the fast cars and beautiful yachts don’t hurt the experience either. Monaco is a place best enjoyed with a hefty budget and open schedule, so you can enjoy the indulgence of spending a lot to do very little.


One of my goals when traveling is to a get a read on a place, looking to locals for example activities to pursue. In Monaco, we took the approach of a celebrity (albeit, with a far reduced budget) or other wealthy local: taking the time to savor leisurely experiences, rather than cram in as much sight seeing as I normally would. We wandered through the town, stopping to have a glass of wine, and venturing into a couple fashion events that were open to the public and offering free appetizers. I was struck by the way that Monaco maintains its luxurious feel without feeling overwhelmingly elitist to young travelers.


There is, of course, a multitude of shopping available, hidden in fashionable boutiques and sprawled across the small town. We ultimately went to a French restaurant for dinner, and were seated among racks of sample clothing for a fashion event happening at the restaurant later in the evening. Every so often, the waiter would brush past expertly juggling wine so as not to disturb the garments.


There is perhaps nothing more French than a perfectly cooked steak and red wine, which we savored. Of course, a trip to Monaco wouldn’t be complete without a trip into the casino after  dinner. We aren’t huge gamblers so we went more for the experience rather than big wins, but it was still fun.


After our night out, we wandered back to our Airbnb, which was set up on the hill, a fair walk from the glitz of downtown Monaco. It was nice to get a feel for the city beyond the glamorous sights – it had the feeling of a smaller French town, complete with beautifully tiled homes and neighborhood churches.


The following morning, we woke up and got flat breads at a local bakery before catching our train to our second Riviera destination, Nice. The train is fabulous, and truly hugs the coastline, offering one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen from a train as it grazed the water, often times running no more than 10 feet from the water on a raised track (the train from Stockholm to Copenhagen was similarly striking, but forest views rather than water). We arrived and were struck by the beauty and sunshine that Nice offered in contrast to Monaco’s brooding grey.


The town is similarly cheery, with beautiful candy-colored architecture that evoked the glamour of the 1920s films that popularized the region. We happened to arrive in time for the big soccer tournament in town, which was shown on screens in every park and had a large viewing platform dedicated to it in one square on the second day we were in town.


Nice is a much larger city than Monaco, and feels very much like a sunnier and friendlier version of Paris. It’s streets are lined with cafes, book shops, restaurants, and pharmacies, and people sit outside and leisurely enjoy their time, seemingly without scheduling or rushing from one activity to the next.


As a current resident of NYC, seeing people crowding the streets to socialize and relax was a nice change,  and we spent the day wandering around the town, and across the beautiful beach front promenade. Of course, we dropped into a cafe to sample some cheese and wine during the afternoon.


For dinner, we went to one of Nice’s up and coming restaurants, where we enjoyed a traditional French meal: escargot, steak, and souffle. The restaurant also gave us a shot of their house-brewed vodka, which was a delicious end to the meal.

Our second day in Nice, we spent the day wandering the beach front area, and climbed to a viewing point high above the city.


From above, Nice is an incredible mix of orange roofs and deep blue water, offset by a similarly impressive spread of yachts dotting the coast. The view from the hill lets you see the entire curve of the coastline, all the way to the airport at the far edge of the city.



The light is so vibrant and the blues are incredible – photos cannot do the coast justice. After we came off of the mountain, we sat and watched the soccer match with the rest of the fans and had wine. There is something so fun about European soccer culture – in all of the European countries I’ve been to, I’ve had the fortune of watching a game with locals. Different countries have different ways of cheering and different levels of drunken excitement at victory, but it is always a good time.

For me, the draw of the Riviera is the relaxing nature of being in the midst of natural beauty, French culture, and the luxury of just stopping to savor experiences. While it isn’t as calming, I’ll have to settle for French food in some of New York’s best restaurants until I can get back to the Riviera.


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