Seeing the French Riviera was an absolute must for us before we move on from Geneva, but we didn’t want to fight the crowds in the summertime. So for the second holiday weekend in May, we decided we would check it out and see what the hype is all about!
Nice is about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Geneva (without construction or traffic, which never happens!), so we decided to break up the drive and stay in Provence. We headed out right after school on Friday and still managed to hit quite a bit of traffic, but wound up at our charming B&B in Orange in time for a welcome jug of wine (!) and a run around the garden for the boys. We stayed at Les Tilleuls and while it was nothing fancy, we liked the fact that it was on the outskirts of town in the beautiful Provence countryside and the hosts were incredibly kind and accommodating. They also had a family room which was huge and perfect for our one night stay. And a cherry tree right outside our room, just about ready for picking!
On Saturday, the forecast for Nice was partly cloudy with showers, but Provence was beautiful and sunny so we decided to spend the day exploring. Our first stop was the Roman theater in Orange, which is one of the best preserved Roman theaters in the world and dates back to the 1st century AD. The theater was incredible and it was so hard to believe that something as old as that could still be intact. So impressive!
The guys were ready to take the stage!
Next stop was the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that is really an amazing feat of engineering. The aqueduct was used to carry water and it is the highest of all elevated aqueducts and the best preserved. The setting on the Gardon River is really beautiful and people kayak and swim in the river to get even better views of the aqueduct. You can park on either side of the aqueduct and walk across and there is a children’s playground, indoor play area, and a restaurant on site.
Our final stop was in Avignon, one of the most popular towns in Provence, with its famous Papal Palace. We saw the impressive palace from the outside, but didn’t go inside since we read there isn’t much in there. The highlight in Avignon is walking up the hill beside the palace to the park called Rocher des doms. The views of the town and the Pont d’Avignon were beautiful. The kids loved riding the toy horse and chariots they had for rent and playing at the playground, and afterwards we enjoyed coffees/ice creams at the cafe next to the little duck pond.
We were so glad that we spent the day exploring Provence. Just driving through the countryside was stunning with lots of yellow flowers in bloom everywhere. We finally made our way to Nice and drove through a huge rain storm. Just as we arrived in Nice, the rain let up and by the time we checked into our VRBO apartment, it was nice enough to enjoy dinner outside. We tried some delicious local specialties (fried zuchinni blossoms! pesto! rosé!) and crashed after a full and exciting day.
Sunday morning we woke to a gorgeous, sunny day so after a leisurely breakfast at our apartment, we set out to explore. We stopped first at the super playground on the way right next to the Old Town, then we had fun wandering the streets of the Vieux Ville and the busy market at Cours Saleya.
Of course it didn’t take long for us to hit the beach and even with the pebbles, we were quite impressed! We had a lovely lunch at Castel Plage (of course we had to try the Nicoise Salad-definitely tasted better in Nice).
One of the things that was recommended to us in Nice was the Castle Hill and it was amazing. You can walk, take a mini train, or take the elevator up to the top of the hill where a castle once stood. Now there are just stunning views and nice playgrounds for kids and it was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.
On Monday we wanted some beach time and we had read that the best place for sandy beaches near Nice was Antibes, specifically the little village of Juan-les-Pins where the millionaires and celebrities have their mansions. We took a quick 15 minute train ride and arrived in paradise. The weather was perfect and although the sea was still quite cold, it didn’t stop my crew of guys from testing the waters. We set up shop at Juanita’s and rented chairs (at a more reasonable rate than available in Nice), ordered drinks, and ate lunch, then parked ourselves there for the afternoon. It was perfect and the kids were in heaven. Ok and we were too. 😉
We had fun yacht spotting and looking for celebrities, but I think they were all in Cannes for the film festival! Or maybe just hiding out on those yachts…
By late afternoon we decided it was time to move on so we walked to Antibes with some stops in the cute shops along the way. We had debated about walking or taking the train, but walking was definitely the best decision because the views on the walk in were just stunning. We wandered around the town and had dinner, marveling at how quiet and empty it seemed…then after doing some reading I learned that there had just been a huge star studded event at one of the restaurants in town just a couple of nights before. Exciting!
On Tuesday it was sadly time for us to say Au revoir to the beautiful Cote D’Azur, but we planned for one more stop on the way. After a brief adventure of almost running out of gas, we arrived in Monaco and had fun checking out this swanky city-state. Lukasz was thrilled to step inside the famous Monte Carlo casino and to see all the preparations being made for the Monaco Grande Prix held at the end of May. I have to say I was probably least impressed by Monaco, but maybe that’s just because I had really high expectations for it. It was definitely worth seeing, but I’m glad we only spent a morning rather than a whole day there. The highlight for me was the amazing view of Monaco on the drive out of town-it’s definitely most impressive when you see it from above!
The drive home was filled with jaw dropping beauty as we took the route up the coast of France and into Italy. Every tunnel we went through brought us past one more lovely beach side village and it was so hard to resist stopping. Right past Monaco, we couldn’t get over the staggering views of Menton and now we’ve added that to our list in hopes that there’s a next time for us to visit this area!
I have to say that despite the fact that the sea wasn’t warm enough for a proper swim, this was a perfect time of year to visit. I think it was a completely different experience without the hordes of tourists and the weather was ideal-not too hot or cold, just perfectly comfortable. Definitely a successful trip and hard to believe it’s just a half day’s drive from where we live!