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Who was traveling? Ages?
Michael McLaughlin (38) and Jessica Dunham McLaughlin (36)
Date of trip?
Departed Boston on Saturday, April 15, 2023, and returned to Boston from Nice on Sunday, April 23.
We were originally on a Boston to JFK to Nice connection for our outbound flight, but weather delays at JFK made for a full ground stop. When we at last left Boston, we thought we’d make it to our Nice connection, but instead, we watched it take off down the runway. Fortunately, we were able to get on a connecting flight that night to Paris and then from Paris to Nice. All in all, we were about seven hours off of our original landing time.
What do you think we should name the episode? What’s a good theme for our conversation?
- A Riveria Review
- Riveria Rendezvous
- Reflections on the Riveria
- Relaxing on the Riveria
- A Slice of Mediterranean Paradise
A good theme might be balancing relaxation with unique sights/experiences on the Riveria. It is all about the mindset – and Michael especially discovered that while there is a tendency while traveling to be on the go, sometimes making the most of the trip is just letting go and taking in the sun and (at least in Cannes) the sand.
Where did your trip start and where did it end? Where did you stop along the way?
We flew into Nice and took a taxi to Cannes where we stayed for two nights. We then took a train to Nice and taxied to our hotel given that we were new to the city and had our large suitcases with us. We stayed in Nice for five nights, but from Nice did a day trip by train to Monaco, an afternoon via the hop-on/hop-off bus in Villefranche-sur-mer, and a day (thanks to Uber) exploring Èze village and visiting the Rothschild Villa on Cap Ferrat.
Rank your favorite activities and places on this trip (list at least 10)
- Cannes Series Film Festival
- This was really unique! We had tickets to see the first two episodes of a French crime show (BRI). We got to walk the pink carpet, sit in the seats in the festival hall, see the stars make their entrance, and then view the film — and then went out to the beach for fireworks!
- Shopping in Cannes
- We talk a lot about food in the section below and how much we enjoyed eating our lunches (and going to the Hotel Carlton) in Cannes, but shopping was a treat too. I’d been searching for the last couple of years for a particular watch from Swatch that is only carried at select stores and I found that in Cannes. It was even fun to window shop the luxury designers on the beach front – though we did also make our way inside one luxury locale for a special purchase for Jessica!
- Stroll of Cannes Old Town (Le Suquet)
- This is not #3, but I’ve listed it here because #1 and #2 were both in Cannes so it may help for flow!
- We made our way to the top of the Old Town and were treated to excellent views and enjoyed the narrow lanes and cute shops/resturants built into the hill. It was an entirely different vibe than the beach which convinced us that Cannes would have offered us enough variety of activity and scenery for the week if we had opted to have Cannes be our home base.
- Day Trip to Monaco: Old Town in the Morning
- We are both big royalists and history buffs – we actually went to the Coronation of King Charles III the week after our trip to France – so the Old Town, or Monaco-Ville, on the Rock of Monaco was a great experience for us. We had read several books on Monaco, including one on the modern royal family, in anticipation of the trip. Though the ascent to the Place d’Armes was steep, it was worth it as we could look at the main port off one side of the rock and the newer district off the other. We watched the changing of the guard, had tickets for a self-guided audio tour of the palace (our favorite!!), and had the opportunity to visit the Cathedral and see the royal burial chamber.
- Day Trip to Monaco: Monte Carlo in the Afternoon
- Neither of us are big gamblers, but we could not come to Monaco and skip out on Monte Carlo. I felt like I was in a James Bond film — from the luxury cars parked out front to the several checkpoints for dress code, security, and membership to evetually get into the main gaming saloon. Prior to arriving, we became members of the Monte Carlo Club which allowed us access into the main saloon. The artwork and atmosphere of the casino was beautiful! We enjoyed a drink in one of the lounges and tried our hand at a couple of rounds of roulette. When Jessica came out ahead on one of the slot machines, we made the decision to end our visit (her winnings paid for our drinks) and head back to Nice.
- Boat Cruise of the Bay of Angels
- This experience and the next two on the list (Rothschild Villa and Perfume Workshop) as well as #10, Castle HIll Tourist Train, were all inclusions on our 3-day French Riveria Pass.
- The pass was good value for the money in the sense that it would have been more expensive if we had done several of these activities without the pass – and it introduced us to a few sites that might not otherwise have gone to.
- At the same time, the pass somewhat prompted us to make sure that we got the most value out of it and made our itinerary more aggressive than we really should have.
- This experience and the next two on the list (Rothschild Villa and Perfume Workshop) as well as #10, Castle HIll Tourist Train, were all inclusions on our 3-day French Riveria Pass.
- We make reference to this in the “mistakes” and restful/stressful questions later in the trip report document.
- We enjoyed this hour-long cruise that departed from the Port of Nice (Port Lympia) and took us along the coast to the bay of Villefrance-sur-Mer where we could see the seafront (where we had visited earlier in the week for lunch) and could also see the mansions and gardens of Cap Ferrat. On the way back, we could see the snowcapped mountains on the horizon and could appreciate the stunning World War 1 Memorial that is carved into the cliffside of Castle Hill. The tour extended down to the Hotel Negresco and then ran back parallel along the Promenade d’Anglais before docking at port.
- Rothschild Villa on Cap Ferrat: house tour and garden stroll
- This was a stunning home, and the guided commentary made the architecture, art, and the stories of the Baroness Rothschild come to life. The second floor balcony provides a stellar overlook onto the extensive gardens and the fountains that are set to music in one of the ornamental gardens.
- Perfume workshop at Galimard in Èze
- A stroll to the summit of medieval Èze is a must and anyone who had been to Nice before us told us this – and we’ve shared the same to anyone we know who is heading there. Breathtaking views in the gardens, and the cobbled, mazelike streets will transport you to another world.
- We enjoyed visiting the Galimard Perfumery where we worked 1:1 with a “nose” who taught us about perfume in the most hands-on way, by helping us each design our own. We smelled different scents for the base note, heart note, and top notes and were able to combine those to create a unique scent that we were able to take home as a souvenir.
- Nice Opera Opening Night of the ballet “Cinderella”
- We enjoy going to performances, and saw that the Nice Opera House was playing the ballet “Cinderella.” The ballet was a great opportunity to get inside of this majestic building and experience what it must have been like for the aristocrats in days gone by when they came to Nice to take in the sea air. We had tickets in a private box and had a great view of the stage – and it was very affordable to do so. The story was familiar and the artistic team’s approach made the ballet very interesting to watch.
- Tourist Train to the top of Castle Hill
- It is part of my morning routine to go for an hour or so walk, and on the first morning, I made the ascent up most of Castle Hill to check out the view. The Tourist Train (which has two routes) departed not far from our hotel, so another morning we took it to the very top of Castle Hill through the ruins of the old fort to enjoy the view of the Bay of Angels together and listen to commentary about the history of Nice, including such characters as Catherine Segurane who we had learned about in listening to your podcast.
- Russian Orthodox Cathedral
- This was a little out of the way, but it was worth taking the stroll to enter the grounds of the Cathedral and see the architecture – the onion-shaped domes and striking ornamentation both inside and outside of the church. It is a good example of how the Nice of old really had an international appeal for the wealthy and powerful of the 19th century – Queen Victoria and the Russian Imperial Family (and their courts) as perhaps the most famous examples.
Did you stay at hotels or apartments? Please list them and write a sentence or two of what you liked and didn’t like about each.
We stayed at hotels. In Cannes, we stayed at the Hotel Barrière Le Majestic for two nights. We were so excited to arrive, and we were treated so warmly upon our arrival. After our long journey, it was such a beautiful sanctuary for rest and relaxation and to make our home base while in Cannes. Its location could not be beaten! The hotel was hosting the MipTV conference and anniversary gala, but we still felt very welcomed in the hotel and were not at all inconvenienced despite this massive gathering happening on the property. In fact, the function at the hotel created an atmosphere of glitz and glam that I can only imagine is what the Cannes Festival must be like in May. We enjoyed the fireworks over the bay and how our hotel was illuminated pink for the gala – we may have also enjoyed some of the star-studded party itself!
One thing which neither of us really appreciated was that in Nice, the busiest street is the road that runs parallel to the Promenade des Anglais and the beach – and without any trees or other buildings to absorb the sound, it was very loud when we opened the windows and the sun beat down on that side of the property which further warmed the space.
As it was mid-April and the air conditioning had not yet been turned on at the Westminster – but we also couldn’t get relief from opening the windows due to the noise.
Unfortunately, we didn’t fully appreciate this until the middle of the night.
The staff at the Westminster were helpful and accommodating. They put us in another room so that we could at least catch some sleep and then worked with us to refund our card for the remaining four nights.
The Hyatt was great – and we learned our lesson from the Westminster to request a mountain view. What a difference it made in terms of the noise from the balcony and, best of all, we had the benefit of the air conditioning. For our Nice-stay, it was a good location in terms of being a short walk to a number of attractions.
Did you have favorite restaurants? Please list them and say what city they were in.
As I noted earlier, my routine every morning was to wake up and go for a long walk (for example, in Nice along the Promenade and through the Old Town) to take in the morning air and pick up croissants or breakfast sandwiches on the way back. We have this routine wherever we travel. To that end, we didn’t get Starbucks but we did get really nice iced coffees at the Columbus Cafe (Cannes) and at the Co-T Cafe in Nice.
For the most part, we ate at brasseries because they were pretty relaxed and offered a good variety, but as it was our honeymoon, we also had few more memorable meals:
Mademoiselle Gray Plage Barrière (Cannes) – it had a great vibe and amazing views. The restaurant had some creative cocktails and tasty food. Jess ordered a kabob skewer which came out on a hanging rack that was really impressive. I had a veal knuckle Moroccan pie and it was served with the most delicious truffle mashed potatoes.
La Plage du Festival (Cannes) – this was located a little further down the beach from our hotel but worth the trip. Again, really great mixed drinks and at that point we were both craving a burger, and the chef did not disappoint. The burger was a smashed patty and cooked perfectly.
Rosanna (Cannes) – we love going out to breakfast, especially on vacation, and this spot was just a block from our hotel. It had a great vibe and good service. It proved to us that there were a lot of restaurants just a couple of blocks north of the beach that offered great variety and good prices which dispelled the notion that Cannes is just for the wealthy.
We also lucked out with being able to enjoy an afternoon drink at the Hotel Carlton in Cannes which had just recently been reopened after being closed for renovations. The greeters in the lobby were very friendly and impeccably dressed. Being that it was later in the afternoon, they opened select areas to non-hotel guests. We were able to enjoy some snacks and, again, a creative cocktail in the tranquil courtyard of Bar 58 listening to the fountain and admiring the gardens while we just relaxed and talked on our honeymoon.
In Monaco, we had a special lunch at Castelroc in Monaco-Ville. We had timed our journey to Monaco to be able to secure a great vantage point for the changing of the guard ceremony and then turn around and walk right to the restaurant where we had a table reserved for us overlooking the Port and the redeveloped (or developed) Fontvieille district. Close to the Palais and in the shade, we enjoyed a nice amuse-bouche and our lunch. I had been in touch with the wonderful staff and the hostess called Linda in advance. It was a great stop before we visited the Palais on a self-guided audio tour.
In Nice, there are plenty of offerings on the Cour Saleya. While it is a provincial market in the daytime with flowers, fruits, vegetables, and local products, in the evening, the area boasts all sorts of al fresco dining. One evening we ended up at a place called Bo N Gusto. This reflects the Italian influences on Nice cuisine. Jess really enjoyed the steak and the sauce that it was prepared in, pepe verde, a savory peppery sauce.
What were your favorite foods on this trip?
We mentioned this a bit in sharing some information about the restaurants above, but we enjoyed some creative drinks on the beach.
- Jessica’s favorite was the Hugo Spritz which had St. Germain, prosecco, soda, menthe, and citron-vert. She found it at a few locales, each with a slightly different take but enjoyable all the same. It was a refreshing drink in the afternoon.
- I tried a Monaco which was a mix of a local beer, lemonade, and grenadine. It reminded me of a radler in Germany.
- The Hotel Carlton Bar was exceptional. Again, the ambiance really did it for us. We enjoyed the “Champagne and Rose” and a Paloma.
In terms of food, Jess really enjoyed the beef dishes, and we both found the baguettes and croissants to be very fresh and quintessentially French.
How did you get around? Trains? Car rental? Metros? Walk?
We used a combination of transportation methods. Uber was really easy to use and helped us to access places easily and quickly, though we also found Cannes and Nice themselves to be very walkable. We took the train from Cannes to Nice and then again on our day trip between Nice and Monaco.
What did you learn about France on this trip?
- We appreciated the rich history of the south of France. So much of what we read or had been taught in school focused on Paris and points north, but in preparing for our trip we read and learned about other parts of the country.
- It was also neat to see the different architectural influences of the places we visited – from the more Italian-inspired architecture in Nice and communities to the east (i.e. Villefranche and Èze) to the Parisian influence of the Nice train station and the areas of the city that are more removed from the seaside.
Did you make any mistakes on this trip?
- See 6a in the Top Ten List Question regarding the French Riveria Pass. It was (and is) good value for the money, but in our case it somewhat led to a more aggressive itinerary than we wanted.
- We needed to have a longer thought about what our aim of the trip was and perhaps watched a couple of travel programs, rather than just relying on guidebooks, as that would have likely changed how we allocated our nights in Cannes/Nice.
- We needed to do a little more research on our hotels.
- We had our outbound connection in NYC rather than in Europe, and we wished we flown direct to Europe and connected to Nice there instead.
Is there something you didn’t like very much and wouldn’t recommend?
- All in all we were very pleased with how our trip went. When we travel to the South of France again in the future, we’ll make sure that our connection is in Europe as opposed to New York to take better advantage of the steady stream of flights into Nice from European hubs and plan to make Cannes our homebase so that we can explore more of the locations closer to it – though the destinations we explored from Nice are still an easy and quick journey from Cannes.
What tips do you want to share with other visitors?
- Plan our your visit in terms of prioritizing the locations – cities and attractions – that you want to check out and then hone in on your home base from there. The train is really convenient for day-tripping!
- Keep an eye out for cultural events and festivals that may be happening during your visit and then learn how to take advantage of being a part of them. We ended up with tickets to the Cannes Series and got to experience a glimmer of the glitz of Cannes and enjoyed a night out at the ballet at the Nice Opera House.
- Language – we found that English was widely spoken but that taking the time to learn some French phrases and making an effort to use them helped us make connections with others and demonstrated our efforts to respect their culture and heritage.
Overall was your trip restful or stressful?
- It was more stressful than it should have been. One somewhat expects that a travel hiccup like flights or hotels might occur, but we found that patience, positivity, and flexibility went a long way.
- Knowing what we know now and what kind of trip we were looking for and needed, we likely would have made Cannes our home base and day-tripped from there. In Nice, there was somewhat of an expectation of going to do and see things, especially with our French Riveria Pass, and if that is what someone is looking for, Nice may be the ideal spot.
How did the podcast and other trip reports help you prepare for your trip?
- There were three previous Join Us in France podcasts on Nice that were helpful to us in terms of providing context:
- Episode 145 really focused on the draw of the French Riveria as a romantic destination and confirmed that we were on the right track in selecting this locale as our travel destination.
- Episode 345 (with Elyse – my favorite regular guest on the program) included a nice overview of the history of Nice and made mention of some of the other sites that we ended up visiting like Monaco, Villefrance, and Èze. I like to have a sense of the history or some of the stories of a place, so I felt this episode did an excellent job of showcasing some highlights.
- Episode 384 with Jeanne Oliver and her walking tour of the Old Town was great as it provided some context for my morning walks and, as it came out post-COVID, helped to calibrate expectations with information that was more current as #145 was from 2017.
- We also made use of a travel guidebook but were perhaps too heavily influenced by the book as it wasn’t very keen on Cannes and encouraged making extensive use of public transit, which we found was not as convenient for some locales as making use of Uber which is very widespread.
Feel free to add anything else you think would be helpful to prepare for our conversation.
Jess and I married in December of 2022 in Woodstock, Vermont. We chose to postpone our European honeymoon to the spring so that we weren’t exhausted from the wedding festivities while on our honeymoon and to take advantage of the warmer weather of springtime in the south of France.
We both love to travel and were history majors in college so we are both interested in the stories of the places that we visit. Over the last 15 years, Michael has been leading groups of students on tour and therefore usually likes to plan things out well in advance and have a plan from daybreak to dusk but traveling independently as a couple really required a different mindset, and our trip together on the French Riveria has helped us to establish our flow for what a successful trip for us looks like.