Going to the French Riviera (or Cote d’Azur) has been on my “to do” list for quite a while. But places like Bali, Thailand and Greece loomed much larger in my mind (and pocketbook, given I’m UK-based), making them the priority for the past few years. Once I crossed those further flung places off my list, I was able to concentrate on the places a little closer to me—but nonetheless, very exotic! Here’s the budget travel guide to Cote d’Azur French Riviera. Enjoy!
Where is French Riviera?
French Riviera is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. Situated at and to the east of the point where the Alps meet the Mediteranean, it is an area that enjoys a wonderfully mild to warm climate all year round. It’s no surprise that the French Riviera is a major tourist attraction.
Its largest city is Nice. But this time I decided to stay in Cannes, which is most famous for its annual Film Festival, which after the Hollywood Oscars ceremony is the biggest annual event in the world of film. I went to Cannes during the end of August. It was still sunny, the water was still warm and clear, but the throngs had thinned out and there wasn’t the overly crammed high season feel many beaches get in the height of summer. Best of all, the high season prices were on the decline, so I definitely would recommend visiting the area around this time!
Getting In & Out
To go to Cannes, we traveled from Paris Gare de Lyon on a TGV. There is one stop to switch trains about 2.5 hours in, which can be annoying if you want to take a nap. But it can kind of fun if you want to stay awake to take in the views of the country, which change from urban sights to craggy mountains as you cross in to the Alps to amazing sea views as you get closer to the Riviera.
The total trip is about five hours. There is food and wine on the train, which is perfect for me! Each of the bigger cities along the Riviera has a train station, so that makes it pretty accessible. There are also several airports that serve the region. There is also Uber, which makes for easy transport between the station and accommodation (although I prefer to walk, with loads of luggage, that isn’t always possible!).
What to do?
I find that this is always a challenge on a beach holiday, as I want to take in as much as I can but I also want to relax on the beach! Cannes get started pretty early, with the local boulangerie opening at around 7am. If you’re an early riser, get your croissant and café au lait, drink it down, slather on the sunscreen and hit the beach early.
There are tons of private beaches in Cannes. You can pay to access or it come along with a hotel stay if you’re staying at a beachfront hotel. We opted for Airbnb, so we had the public beaches. Although they are usually pretty busy, I like the fact that there are always people watching. It makes me feel safer to swim far out in the water with so many people around! (Not that it should matter, the water is so clear you can see the very bottom!)
After hitting the beach, we went to Bijou Plage and Plage du Casino. Over there, you can find many ice cream stands on the boardwalk, places to rent paddle boards and paddle boats (which we did, and had a blast diving into the water from the boat!) and spaces to sunbathe. The initial crowds generally thin out around lunchtime and people usually head back to the beach at around 5-6pm for another hour or so.
Along the beaches and directly behind, you’ll mostly find a maze of restaurants and shops—to be honest, most of the shops are ones you can find in any major European city. They are also too expensive (for most people) to be realistic.
The coolest part about walking around the town is peering into the VERY expensive cars that line the Boulevard de la Croisette, which usually include the contact details of the owner in case you want to take a picture and tag them on social media.
I’d recommend a little detour to Le Suquet, which is a bit further than the Festival Hall. It’s the “old town” part of Cannes. It is very pleasant to walk and feels very Mediterranean. It also offers great views of the Old Port and the rest of the city.
You should definitely take at least one full day to explore the surrounding area. The trains are very frequent from the central station in Cannes, so you can easily access Antibes, Nice, Monaco and even Sanremo. We spent a full day in Nice and Monaco. The train leaves around noon and returns to Cannes around 7pm. It gave us plenty of time to wander, including a nice leisure lunch in Monaco near the casino. Dress to impress (but still, comfortably, it’s quite hot) for Monaco!
Where to stay?
Instead of staying in an expensive hotel, we opted for an Airbnb just outside the center of town. Anything within a 10- to 15-minute walk to the beaches and Boulevard de la Croisette will give you an easy access to the town. It is a really, really beautiful city to walk around, so you’ll be in for a treat if you adventure a bit further out.
Where to eat?
In Cannes, most of the restaurants are very expensive. We had a lovely dinner at La Mome, which was a fabulous French restaurant in the center of town. The price tag is pretty high though, with mains ranging from about 15-30 euro, and drinks from 12-15 euro.
After enjoying that one fine-dining experience, we stuck to catering for ourselves. I especially adore French dairy products and baked goods. We had a lot of yogurt, cheeses, pastries and breads for breakfast and lunch from the local bakery or the local supermarket. We also went to cafes for dinner- we found several in Le Suquet that aren’t too expensive.
Also, never underestimate the fun of grabbing a bottle (or two) of wine from the local shop and drinking it on the boardwalk, instead of having to pay for entry and alcohol at one of the fancy clubs. If you sit close enough to the entrances, you can even hear the music without having to shout over it as you would in the actual club!
I’ve heard a lot about France and many people say that it’s the most romantic country in the world. Without Khaleelah Jones, I probably wouldn’t know how beautiful French Riviera is. And with her tips and guide, now I know that the best time to go is August to avoid the crowd and enjoy its true beauty. Curious to find out more about Khaleelah’s journey? Check out her biography and read her stories!
If you enjoy her post as much as I do, feel free to comment below and share your thoughts. Been to French Riviera before? Great, Share Your Stories and start inspiring others too!