Travel has always been a core part of my personality, and as I navigate through my adult life, I want to make sure I take every opportunity I get to explore the world in all that it offers. So in September, I made a bold move. By the sheer will of my desire to see new parts of the world (and some major convincing to my boss) I was able to spend 30 unforgettable days in the French Riviera – and I learned a lot.
Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France, the Riviera extends from the beaches of Saint Tropez all the way to the Italian border. Often associated with glamorous festivals, shimmering beaches and a few Emily In Paris episodes – the Riviera has, over decades, rebranded itself to be the crown jewel of the premiere Mediterranean lifestyle.
So while it may be beautiful, its charm doesn’t only come from yacht parties and expensive hotels. The French Riviera is a big part of France’s geographical identity, and if you’re willing to explore, it can show you the best of what the country has to offer. Check out some tips I have for living your best coastal grandma, grandpa, grand-person fantasy on the Côte d’Azur.
Disclaimer: Everyone has their own take on travel, and mine is based on my personal experience living there for a month.
The train is your best friend
One thing I was worried about when travelling down south was getting around. After visiting Paris many times, I really appreciated how accessible everything is by transit. Because the Riviera has so many cities, I wanted to make sure I was able to see them all without renting a car.
Luckily, the train service SNCF runs through 99 per cent of the major cities (minus Saint Tropez). It made getting around really easy and low cost, which… if you’ve ever been to France, saving money is nearly impossible. An average roundtrip to any city can cost around € 3-18 depending how far you go.
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Venture outside Nice
I know it might be easy to pick Nice as your default home base because it’s nice and all (see what I did there), but I genuinely think you would be missing out on the chance to stay somewhere that is true to the lifestyle of the Riviera.
Nice, though filled with history, is quite modern in all senses. It caters to tourists at every turn, which for me, makes it lose a bit of its charm by comparison. Cities like Antibes, Menton and Beaulieu sur Mer, on the other hand, are quintessential Riviera abodes. There’s a healthy balance of tradition with generous sprinkles of modernity.
Eating alone is totally normal
I can hear the bellowing cries of extroverts everywhere as I type this out, but fear not: eating alone is OK.
Rather than treating it like a milestone, locals often enjoy eating alone as much as they do eating in large friend groups. I think it’s a great way to become more familiarized with local restaurant owners and people in general. I’m a big advocate for not siloing yourself in social settings – even if that means you’re reserving a table for one at a busy restaurant. Trust me, you’ll make friends.
Most food is very affordable
I was honestly shocked when I went to the local markets and saw that fruits, vegetables, bread and even cheese and wine were significantly cheaper than Canadian prices. For context, 200g of a Gouda in Toronto would cost roughly between $11-15, whereas (even with the conversion) France would charge $4-6 – I call shade.
I do have to emphasize that most food can be affordable. Products like meat and fish remain a budget-crasher nearly everywhere you go, so unless you’re raising chickens yourself, be prepared to pay up.
Monaco is MID
To sum up Monaco in one word – meh. While the bougie restaurants and sealine views were nice, Monaco lacked personality to me.
If you’re into shopping at Hermes and Chanel, and perhaps spending $$$ at the casino everyday, then this might be your home away from home. Otherwise, I wouldn’t chalk this up to more than a day visit. It’s a 2-km-wide country with a heavy price tag, no Ubers and no train past 9:30PM – cute for the ‘gram though.
The fashion is a mixed bag
The great thing about the Riviera is that it has very “come as you are” energy. If you’re a high-fashion gal or low-key king, there’s a runway for everyone to showcase their personal style. The common theme seems to be the classic linen trousers, sun dress and some good runners. It’s a far cry away from the pretentious vibes Paris typically gives off.
Private beaches are overrated
Can you pay €25 or more for a lawn chair on a crowded beach? Sure. Should you? Probably not, but to each their own. Funnily enough, when they say “private beach” it’s really a small white picket fence plotted on the sand separating the people who paid to have a chair versus people who didn’t.
Yes, there are definitely beach clubs who elevate the experience with quality food and cocktails to order (extra), but they’re too hit or miss to chance wasting money on a generic experience. Save yourself the coin and walk 2 meters to the public beach literally next door.
Most people speak English
I don’t advocate visiting a country and not knowing at least a couple greetings, but if you’re in a pinch or really struggle with learning languages, most people in the south of France speak English to some degree. Tourism is big in the Riviera, and with its shared history of English travelers as far back as the early 1900s, it makes sense that it almost acts as the second language. There are usually English translations on restaurants, and I spotted plenty of English on signs, transit maps and shops.
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The locals are very friendly
Contrary to popular belief, I found France to be very friendly. Yes, there are plenty that refute this claim but I ask you – have you ever ventured outside of Paris? During my time there I found the people to be very friendly and conversational, even outside of the retail setting. There’s something about that Riviera sun that boosts the serotonin like no other.
Visit during the shoulder season
The Riviera is hot during the summer, and personally I’m a big fan. However, the amount of tourists that come through you would almost mistake it for a mini California. As a tourist myself, I know how we can be sometimes, so I try to stay away from the noise as much as possible. The shoulder seasons (May/September) are my personal favorites. They’re still hot and lively with plenty of things to do from the Grand Prix to the Cannes Film Festival. Plus, you save a bit on airfare.